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ITNY marks silver anniversary by honoring Hamill

Hughes, Weir join 1976 Olympic champion at Chelsea Piers

ITNY founder and artistic director Moira North with Dorothy Hamill at the 25th anniversary gala.
ITNY founder and artistic director Moira North with Dorothy Hamill at the 25th anniversary gala. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/26/2010) - There's still a bit of the shy, nearsighted teen in Dorothy Hamill -- the girl who charmed 1970s America by squinting to see her marks.

"Is it my turn to speak? Oh, gosh," she said as she took the podium to accept her colleagues' accolades at the Ice Theatre of New York's benefit last night at New York's Chelsea Piers.

As part of its 25th anniversary celebration, ITNY -- founded by ice dancer Moira North in 1984 as a fusion of figure skating and dance -- honored all sides of Hamill. Film clips and photo montages chronicled the 1976 Olympic champion's journey from fresh-faced youngster skating on Greenwich, Conn.'s, Binney Pond; to everybody's all-American Clairol "Short and Sassy" girl; to dedicated performing artist.

Tributes poured in from everyone from five-time U.S. champion Janet Lynn Solomon, an old Hamill rival, to Rachael Flatt.

"You've been a teacher mentor athlete icon and inspiration," the reigning U.S. champion said via video.

Fashion maven Vera Wang, a member of the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame for her contributions as a costume designer, recalled long-ago days skating alongside Dorothy when both youngsters trained under New York coaches Sonya and Peter Dunfield.

"Watching Dorothy evolve from young skater to great champion was an unforgettable experience for me. Her talent, determination and spirit were genuinely infectious and she lit up the rink with her boundless energy and enthusiasm, to say nothing of her edges and posture."

Hamill reflected on the joys of skating in ensembles like John Curry's Skating Company, the New Ice Age and ITNY.

"Moira, congratulations on making this beautiful company, ITNY," she said.

"After the Olympics I went into the Ice Capades and "Short and Sassy" and all those fun things but when I got to skate with John Curry's Skating Company I realized I didn't really know how to skate anymore. It wasn't about jumping and spinning it was about edges, it was about the tilt of the head, gesture of the arms. There is so much more to figure skating than the Olympics. . . I love to watch the Olympics but it's very important for skaters to have another venue to go to."

Many also saluted ITNY and its ongoing commitment to developing figure skating as a performing art. For Peter Carruthers, who hosted the program, the evening was a revelation.

"This was the first time live and in person I was able to see ITNY perform and it was outstanding," the 1984 Olympic silver medalist said. "Tonight's ensemble, to Mahler's "Adagio," took me back to why I started skating. My dad took us [Peter and sister Kitty] to the ballet; my mind drifted and once again it was the freedom of skating. That is the reason we love it. That is the reason we as skaters perform."

North thanked ITNY supporters, including many who have passed away, and promised many more years of artistry to come.

"Many of you here with us tonight saw the promise of the company and vision. We've come a long way but we have a long way to go, with this [connection] of the skating world and dance world . . . It's very spiritual and I'm looking forward to the next 25 years."

In the benefit skating exhibition, Sarah Hughes and Johnny Weir took to the ice with their own tributes.

"I grew up skating with Ice Theatre of New York from when I was very young, and it's nice to come back and celebrate the 25th anniversary, especially when they are honoring someone like Dorothy," Hughes said.

"When we [Sarah and sister Emily] were real little, I remember one night I did a new year's show in, I think, Annapolis [Maryland] and I did four shows in one night. So Ice Theatre trained me well for the touring I did later on."

The 2002 Olympic champion dedicated her number, choreographed by Douglas Webster to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," to North's recently deceased husband Jay Colton.

"I was playing it in the rink one morning, just skating around, and Moira said 'This is Jays favorite song, you have to do a number to it' so it was extra meaningful that I did it tonight and it was part of the show."

For Weir, who performed an inspired version of his self-choreographed "Heartbroken," ITNY is all part of being a New Yorker.

"I'm East Coast all the way, no surprise there, so performing here is something I'll always want to do," he said. "That's amazing, 25 years. It's a difficult thing to wrap your head around because these people aren't competing for medals or international prestige; they are performing for the sheer joy of performing."