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Buttle joins "Stars on Ice" creative team

World champion shows his gifts for choreography

Jeff Buttle spent much of the fall balancing his own skating with choreography duties.
Jeff Buttle spent much of the fall balancing his own skating with choreography duties. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(11/24/2010) - When the 25th anniversary tour of Smucker's Stars on Ice opens in Lake Placid, New York, this weekend, the ensemble numbers for which this tour is renowned will include the work of a new creative force. The group routines were choreographed by Renée Roca and assistant choreographer Jeffrey Buttle, 2008 world champion, three-time Canadian men's champion and Olympic bronze medalist.

"I had such a blast choreographing with Renée Roca," says Buttle, 28. "I know this is eventually going to be the next stage in my involvement with skating. I was excited they asked me to participate.

"It started out as myself and Renée making up all the numbers," he adds. "Then Tara LaFerriere came in near the end and we all worked together the three of us.... I hope I do this show justice."

Buttle, Roca and LaFerriere laid out the ensemble routines in Los Angeles. They set the patterns and carefully detailed them. They taught the routines to the skaters as they arrive in Lake Placid and are getting them in sync during rehearsals. He found working with Roca an incredible experience.

"Everything that she does is with such a level of energy and passion," he notes. "It's inevitable it's going to work because she's talented. It was great working with her, learning from her and being a part of it."

While very much still committed to performing, Buttle spent much of the fall balancing his own skating with choreography duties. When he and Roca were done laying out the programs for Stars on Ice, he headed home to Canada to work on Battle of the Blades as part of the choreography team.

Some of the skaters, Kurt Browning, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, were in Toronto participating in Battle of the Blades until days before opening night of Stars on Ice. Buttle did his best to teach them the routines in Toronto, so they won't have to scramble to learn choreography when they get to Lake Placid.

Another challenge is that the cast of Stars on Ice varies a bit during the season.

"We were very creative in LA in the way that we choreographed the show," Buttle explains. "Up until the day that I left LA we hadn't gotten confirmation on who exactly the cast was. There was a lot of 'If this is so and so in the show then we'll put the back flip here. If it's not so and so, then we'll do this.' There was a lot of plan A/plan B going on during the process."

Director Jef Billings is very clear in giving his vision and concepts for the show and then leaves the choreographers to bring it to life.

"Once we're in Lake Placid, if he sees something that he would change or modify, he's vocal about making sure," Buttle says. "He's done it for years, so when he has a vision and knows what he wants he's really good about making sure that it materializes."

Buttle cannot reveal any details about the new production, except the obvious -- this being the 25th anniversary there will undoubtedly be a bit of nostalgia and historical elements.

"At the same time, embrace the future," he says.

Choreography seems an obvious next step for Buttle, who established himself on the international scene by having unique and creative choreography. Amazingly, he says as a young skater he had little interest in choreography, but after working with David Wilson he became fascinated with it.

"Throughout the years he opened my eyes about the process," Buttle says. "The respect I give towards the choreography and the character of the program [come from working with David Wilson]. Basically, it's through working with David that I realized how much I love the choreographic process and trying to bring that creativity out of each skater."

After Smucker's Stars on Ice opens, Buttle puts choreography aside for a while and dives back into performing. He will perform with Holiday Festival on Ice in Western Canada. Then it's onto Holiday Celebration on Ice in Ontario. He'll have a few days at home to celebrate Christmas with family and then he heads to Europe for some new year's shows. He will perform on the Japanese stops of SOI and then return in the spring for the Canadian tour.

"You certainly can't beat being busy," he says.