The History of Ice Shows | Skating Esquire

Skating Esquire

By Olga Fluegge,
special to World Figure Skating

Low season (off-season) is attractive to fans of figure skating by its opportunities to visit different ice shows, which usually held in this time of the year featuring the best world skaters.

The first ice shows appeared in the United States in 30th years of 20th century. Their appearance is directly related to the name of the three-time Olympic champion Sonja Henie. With her “Hollywood Ice Revue” she traveled around the world and had a huge success. In the summer time Sonia starred in Hollywood performing on the competitive ice during winters. The structural composition of the artists of such shows was simple: the star, Sonja Henie and the corps de ballet. Show had different complex sets and expensive costumes. For the first time in history there were used special effects: the ice was filled with ink to get the absolute reflectivity.

Sonja Henie skates Sun Valley Serenade, 1941.

At the end of 30th and at the beginning of 40th years in the United States were created new ice projects – “Ice Follies”, “Ice Capades” and “Holiday on Ice”, which showed that skating was not only a sport, but at those times it began to turn into a commercial activity for a wide range of audience. New ice shows in the first decades of their existence were a mix of sports, musical, dance and circus. In the center was a star of the troupe (lead singer or soloist). Basicly it was an Olympic or World champion. A troupe revue included female and male dancers (12-36 participants), three to five artists of comic genre, two or three singers and two pairs of high level. In 60th years “Holiday on Ice” funded the amateur career of some of the skaters, with the condition that after winning medals at world championships, they immediately will sign a contract with the ice show.

Vienna – the capital of the world figure skating in the first half of the 20th century – wasn’t accidentally the birthplace of “Wiener Eisrevue” (1945-1971). This show staged performances with its own specificity, such as ice operetta. Its performances had the amazing Viennese charm. They were based on rich traditions of the Viennese musical culture and Viennese school of figure skating. The best European skaters of those years performed there: a three-time world champion E. Danzer, European champion E. Pavlik and I. Wendl, two-time world pairs champions M.Kilius-H.J. Bäumler and many others. “Wiener Eisrevue” was the first Western world show which arrived in 1959 to the Soviet Moscow. In its best times the troupe included 110 skaters, giving 350 performances a year and had up to four million spectators. In 1971 it was purchased by financially stronger competitor, American “Holiday on Ice”.

Wiener Eisrevue, “Traumrevue”, 1959

“John Curry Theatre of Skating”, created by the Olympic champion with six others skaters, no doubt had a special position among other ice shows in 1976. John Curry was trying to create a symbiosis of ballet and figure skating: “I want to see skating become a form of real theatre and not remain always at a superficial level.” (K.Money “J.Carry”,1978, p. 78) The main idea of the founder – to use the capacity of ballet in figure skating. All members of the show took lessons in classical dance choreographer Joyce Graeme. In both productions of classical and contemporary dance performanes Curry collaborated with famous Kenneth MacMillan and Norman Maen.

John Curry, Afternoon of a Faun, 1980

In 1986, four-time World champion and Olympic champion Scott Hamilton organized his own project, which proved to be successful all the previous ones. The concept of his new show “Stars on Ice” was significantly different from the existing “Ice Capades”. Participants were included in a small group of skaters of the highest level, world and Olympic champions, who performed with the group and individual programs.

In 1995, in Switzerland appeared a new European ice show “Art on Ice”, which is significantly upgraded all existing forms of content and presentation: the show as a single whole performance with live music on the stage. The main feature of this ice show is unique performances, which people can see only one season. “It is very important to change the look of the show every year even though the concept remains the same. The music and what we produce on the stage is always different.” said O. Höner, producer, in an interview with International Figure Skating magazine in June, 2011. “Art on Ice”, having a great success at home, performs in different cities around the world.

Art on Ice Show, Sarah Meier & Romain Gazave, 2008

Additional sources:

Polednik, Heinz: «Sport und Spiel auf dem Eis“, 1979;
Wendl, Ingrid: „Eis mit Stil“; 1979;
Money, Keith: „ John Curry“, 1978.

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