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Aerial skating act wows audience, judges on 'AGT'

U.S. ice dance medalists Navarro, Bommentre headline six-member Aerial Ice

Members of Aerial Ice, including Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre (right), perform on Tuesday's episode of <i>America's Got Talent</i>.
Members of Aerial Ice, including Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre (right), perform on Tuesday's episode of America's Got Talent. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(07/11/2013) - Skating fans watching the NBC talent competition America's Got Talent (AGT) got an unexpected surprise Tuesday night, when they saw six skaters, including Kim Navarro, Brent Bommentre and Joel Dear, perform an aerial skating routine.

The troupe, known as Aerial Ice, performed a number to Krewella's "Alive." They skated on a sheet of synthetic ice on the stage of the Pantages Theater during the Los Angeles audition show. The judges greeted the performance with terror and glee, and gave the group a unanimous "yes" to move on to the next phase of the competition in Las Vegas.

"I like it!" judge Heidi Klum said during the on-air comments. "It was nerve-wracking, it was exciting, it was dangerous, it was spectacular. I loved it."

Ice dance team Navarro and Bommentre and professional pair Tosha Hanford and Chris Trefil performed adagio moves on either side of the stage while Dear and Angela Kim performed on aerial silks in the center. The audience cheered enthusiastically throughout and gave Aerial Ice a standing ovation, even before the group was finished skating.

Navarro, Bommentre and Dear are skating in the cast of Sun Valley on Ice this summer. They said that Jill Schulz, the daughter of cartoonist Charles Schulz, came up with the idea of a skating/aerial group audition for AGT.

"I grew up at Snoopy's Home Ice, the rink Charles Schulz built," Navarro said. "I've known his daughter, Jill, my whole life. It was Jill's vision that we do this. She's the group's artistic director."

Navarro and Bommentre suggested their good friend Dear right away, because he has been doing aerial work, which he calls "flying," for five years.

"'Flying' was something I was always obsessed with," Dear said. "When I was little, I wanted to be Peter Pan. Coming off my last competition season, I decided I needed a change; I wanted to stay involved with skating, but I wanted to try something different. I took a jump off the deep end and moved to San Francisco, to train at the Circus Center of San Francisco."

On AGT, Dear and Angela Kim both skated and flew above the stage on long strips of fabric called "silks." Kim is a silks specialist, while Dear's main apparatus is an aerial hoop.

Before its audition, Aerial Ice met up in Los Angeles for a week of rehearsals in a warehouse that was already rigged for aerials. They put down plastic ice and got to work.

Schulz choreographed the number, with input from the skaters.

"It was exciting," Navarro said. "This was an adventure; when we got to the audition, it was really rewarding. What you saw on TV was the first time we had performed in front of an audience. It was the first time we had worked as a team, so to get such a good reaction was super fun.

"I was nervous; the whole thing was so wild and crazy. Brent really brought us together. He said, right before we skated, 'Well, somethin's gonna happen.' That became our motto."

"It was a huge theater and a packed audience," Bommentre went on. "We're a new group, and we were just trying to figure ourselves out. You could tell as the program went on that people were standing up and getting excited."

Simlutaneous bounce spins, or "headbangers," naturally drew gasps and shrieks from the judges and audience. Hanford and Trefil are pairs skaters, but it's unusual to see a dance team like Navarro and Bommentre do the scary spin, where the man swings the lady by the feet, her head sweeping inches above the ice on every revolution.

Bommentre said the duo learned the spin after they left competition.

"It turned out that after a lot of cajoling, Kim would let me swing her around by her feet," Bommentre said. "We've been doing it for four years, and it's pretty comfortable on the ice. But now that we're on plastic, I've got to tell you, it's pretty dangerous. The dynamics are so different than ice. I'm pretty sure that for at least half of it Kim's head was hanging out over the stage."

Navarro and Bommentre already have some TV experience. Navarro was a contestant on CBC's Battle of the Blades, and Navarro and Bommentre skated in an episode of Glee last year. Nevertheless, AGT was a new experience for all the skaters, and for the show; Howie Mandel noted during Tuesday night's episode that the show has never had an ice skating act before.

Judge Melanie Brown, the former Spice Girl who goes by Mel B., said, "I've never seen anything like that before. Yes, you had me nervous, and then I was nauseous, [afraid that] someone was going to fall and their finger was going to get sliced off by the blade. ... It was brilliant. I loved it."

Judge Howard Stern liked another aspect of the group's performance.

"This is fantastic," he said during the segment. "I've been saying for years, let's bring back hot pants, and you are doing it, and I love it."

After their first experience on the show, the members of Aerial Ice are eager to continue. Dear, who is also a choreographer, said he would love to choreograph something for the group.

"I love working with groups and ensemble pieces," he said. "I think it would be a very exciting experience, especially with this group, because everyone's level of talent and experience is just crazy."

"I think it's an amazing thing for skating," Bommentre said. "There's zero figure skating on TV in the summer, and we're excited because we're on NBC and the Olympics are on NBC. Hopefully, we'll turn a whole bunch of people on to the amazing sport of ice skating."