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Performing is a holiday for Rohene Ward

Popular skater triumphs in Speed, relishes opportunities to choreograph

Rohene Ward performs eight numbers per show in the <i>Holiday on Ice</i> production, <i>Speed</i>.
Rohene Ward performs eight numbers per show in the Holiday on Ice production, Speed. (Holiday on Ice)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(06/21/2012) - No rest for Rohene Ward.

Since returning to Chicago on May 22 after nine months in Europe as a principal skater with Holiday on Ice's latest production Speed, he has been working on choreography for the students of coach Kori Ade.

"Jason Brown cannot afford to not have programs," Ward said. "So as soon as I came home, I said, 'Here I come.'"

Ward, who turns 29 next week, decided to commit to Speed after having done a short-term Holiday on Ice contract the previous winter.

"From the day I got the phone call to get offered the show to speaking to the director, to the first day of rehearsals and the first opening, it was an amazing process," he said.

Speed, which was directed by Bart Doerfler with choreography by Simone Grigorescu Alexander, is different than other Holiday on Ice shows. There are only 28 skaters -- as compared to 45 in the show Energia -- as well as four dancers and two aerialists. For Ward, who has an extensive dance background, working with dancers was fascinating.

"It was really cool to see everyone work in their own element. It made you want to be better in your element," Ward said.

With the relatively small cast size, the principal skaters were called upon to skate more. Ward appeared in eight numbers.

The upside? He's in really good shape. The downside? Getting into that shape was grueling. He participated in all the conditioning classes (not mandatory for principals) during rehearsals to get into top shape and also to feel like part of the group.

"Being in so many numbers was great for me because it made the show go by fast," he said. "I like feeding off of other people."

He also loved watching the director and choreographer during the creative process. Ward said the raw, edgy style of the show suited him perfectly, and he was able to show his natural personality.

Ward often wished there was a way to both skate and dance in the show, but Doerfler told him to focus on the ice. In the first year of Speed (most Holiday on Ice productions tour for three years), they toured Germany and France. Rehearsals for year two start Oct. 8 in Utrecht, Netherlands. Next year, the tour will go to Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Austria.

Life on the road did not faze Ward one bit. Not only didn't he mind the constant traveling; he loved everything about it. He said a creative touring show like Speed is a perfect match for him. To perform to the fullest, he needs a large ice surface and places to explore.

"[Speed] definitely lit something in me that I didn't know still existed," he said. "It really pushed me and challenged me as an artist, because I was able to go in different directions than I would normally go. I was also able to work with a lot of other skaters in the show from day one of rehearsals on elements and stuff because I still teach a lot, and I love teaching and choreographing.

"I was able to challenge not only myself physically, emotionally and mentally, but also to challenge other people."

The cast has "in-shows," which are shows they put together amongst themselves. Ward choreographed programs for several skaters, which he hoped let company management know he can do more than just skate. As much as he loves performing, he can also envision himself as a choreographer or performance director.

For the next three and a half months, Ward is choreographing for and co-coaching Ade's students. He's on the ice with Brown daily working on jumps, spins and execution. The group will spend the month of July in Colorado Springs, Colo. Then it's back to Chicago until Ward is ready to head back to Europe, which will be the week before the kids go to regionals.

On tour, Ward will see the sights, sample the food and soak up the connection with the audience.

"I am a performer at heart," he said. "Performing so much made it become more of a natural, regular thing. It taught me how to harness it and keep it at that same level all the time.

"Doing a show is cool because you can be inspired by different things and aspects," he added. "When I come home to work with the kids, it gives me something greater to pull from. It broadens my horizons and I give them more."