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Sarah Hughes' blog: ITNY cocktail party

Weir 'dares to be different', encourages others to donate in Beyoncé's honor

Sarah Hughes and Johnny Weir pose together at this year's ITNY cocktail party.
Sarah Hughes and Johnny Weir pose together at this year's ITNY cocktail party. (Sarah Hughes)

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By Sarah Hughes, special to icenetwork.com
(10/12/2011) - Last year's 25th Anniversary for Ice Theatre of New York's benefit gala honored the legendary Dorothy Hamill, a name synonymous with figure skating. Grace, beauty and elegance are some of the first adjectives that come to mind. On the heels of the Silver Anniversary, Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY) is going back to its more abstract roots in performance art. This year's Gala theme is "Dare to be Different." Fittingly, three-time national champion Johnny Weir, this year's honoree, is someone who has branded his entire persona on daring to be different.

Ice Theatre of New York provides artistic skating shows across the city in Rockefeller Plaza, Bryant Park, as well as in Queens and Harlem; gives emerging choreographers and performers a chance to present new works; and hosts community outreach clinics free of charge to school children.

ITNY's latest project is an out-of-state ice-show production held in Dollywood. Yes, you read that correctly: as in Dolly Parton. Moira North, founder and artistic director of ITNY, has high hopes the Dollywood production will also start a touring leg in addition to the show at the Pigeon Forge, Tenn., park. I wouldn't be surprised if it did. Since I started working with ITNY almost two decades ago, it has produced and participated in various kinds of skating shows. In my icenetwork blog about last year's event, I mentioned the time I skated in four shows in one day with them in Annapolis, Md.

At the annual gala, you never know who will come to watch. It's a collision of the dance, art, skating, fashion, music, pop culture and avant garde worlds. You also can't be sure of who will come to skate. They are, after all, the company that brought us the piece of one of the most viewed skating videos on the Internet -- and it's not even a competitive program. Ken Moir, a longtime ITNY supporter who runs the skating school at Chelsea Piers, performed his "In A Nutshell" number at the ITNY two years ago. The number had the audience in stitches. It follows the progression of a skater from a beginner to a professional in a nutshell. He starts by holding on to the boards and goes through the stages of learning edges and school figures, and ends with some spins and jumps.

Earlier this year, ITNY collaborated with Improv Everywhere. As part of the collaboration, Moir went to Bryant Park to perform the routine. Entitled "Worst Ice Skater Ever?", the video has over 1.6 million views on YouTube. Going by reviews, the video is somewhat controversial. Even though just under 15,000 people "liked" it, over a thousand people opted to click the "dislike" button. I always have to laugh when I look at these statistics, but I guess one thousand people "dared to be different" than the majority of viewers.

At a cocktail party held in Johnny Weir's honor two weeks ago to formally kick off ITNY's skating season, Weir spoke about growing up awestruck by the edges and creativity of the "Nation's Premier Ice Dance Company."

Hosted by Kathy and Phil Feuerstein in the beautiful Majestic apartment building on the Upper West Side, Weir shared how he would stop to admire the troupe's beauty as a 13-year-old training in Newark, Del., as guests enjoyed food catered from Blue Ribbon Restaurants and One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

"I remember seeing people in these black sweatshirts with white writing all over on them," he said of Ice Theatre's signature colors while standing in front of a magnificent backdrop that showcased sweeping views of Central Park. "There was nothing more glamorous to me, then and now. I feel like it's such an amazing honor to be invited to skate with these ice artists every time I perform with them, and to now be honored by the Ice Theatre." (Although it's difficult to picture Weir in a sweatshirt, I have included a picture taken at the rink last year that depicts what I think he might be referring to as a "sweatshirt.")

Weir was introduced at the reception by Aja Zanova, the two-time world champion and 2005 ITNY honoree. Aja has supported ITNY since its inception and her generosity has helped the company grow.

The social aspect of the program is vital to its survival since Ice Theatre's pieces are performed as art, even though the Gala show will alternate ITNY troupe numbers with performances by elite skaters such as Weir. The program is partially supported by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs but mostly sustains itself through private funding. With the downturn of the economy, much of the public funding has been cut, resulting in the increased necessity to sell ad space in the journal.

"I couldn't be more thrilled," he said of being honored. "And," he added in an effort to boost funding for the artistic side of skating, "we're working so hard from my end to sell lots of tickets and to sell journal space. I don't even care if we congratulate Beyoncé on her milestone. We just need to sell out the journal. That's the job I'm posing to all of you. And selling out the show and having a beautiful night."

The gala will be held Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. with performances by ITNY and Weir at Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. Immediately following the show, honorary chair Dick Button will host what's billed as "a star-studded benefit" at The Lighthouse in Chelsea Piers. The benefit includes a cocktail hour, silent auction and sit-down dinner. Aja Zanova, ice show promoter Tom Collins and Johnny's agent, Tara Modlin, will co-chair the event.

"I'm going to skate beautifully," Weir promised of the show. "We're in New York. Special, glamour, loveliness."

"And I have all of you to thank for honoring me," he added as he wrapped up the evening.

Last year's dinner had a few surprises, including a video of Donald Trump discussing his crush on Dorothy Hamill after watching her in the Olympics. In Weir's ITNY playbill bio, he thanks his mom and Lady Gaga for her inspiration. I am hopeful that this year's the surprise won't dare to be too different from last year's.

And perhaps someone will take out an ad, as Weir suggested, "congratulating Beyoncé on her milestone." With this crowd, you can never be sure.

For more information call the ITNY office at (212) 929-5811 or visit its website at www.icetheatre.org.

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