(Ice) Dancing Beneath the Stars

Sun Valley has always been famous for figure skating. The top competitive and artistic skaters have performed in Sun Valley for decades during the summer Sun Valley On Ice productions and the iconic outdoor skating venue draws thousands of athletes and enthusiasts to the ice each year. For the past three years, Sun Valley has also hosted some of the most beautiful performances on ice with the residency of Ice Dance International (IDI).

Sun Valley favorite Erin Reed performs “Nocturnes” with Ice Dance International. Beauty, grace, speed, and athleticism are part of every program (credit: David Seelig)

In late summer, the ensemble members of IDI returned to the Sun Valley rinks with another special residency from September 4 to 22. The company (founded by Dick Button, ballet legend Edward Villella, Linda Villella, Debbie Gordon, and artistic director Douglas Webster) mission is to elevate skating from sport to art.
The talented group is passionately dedicated to sharing the joy of skating through performance, its educational programs, community engagement, and expanding the audience of ensemble skating throughout the world. It truly is beauty and grace on ice; a discipline of lyrical athleticism and storytelling that draws the audience in.

Company members set an evocative mood in “In the Light” choreographed by Douglas Webster (credit: Diana Dumbadse)

“Ice Dance International is about cultivating an appreciation of the athleticism and artistry of skating,” Douglas said. “We want to inspire. The ability to work in Sun Valley for a month certainly contributes to this inspiration and to our vision.” Douglas, who choreographed the summer ice show for three seasons, an accomplishment he calls, “a highlight of my career,” said skating in Sun Valley is simply special. “I’ve always felt proud to a part of skating in Sun Valley since 1995. It’s an amazing community to celebrate the joy of skating. You get a sense of the beautiful outdoors at every turn, of flight. You get energy from being in an environment like this. We consider this our home in a way.”

The gentlemen have it! Rehearsing a production of a program called “Three Smokers” (credit: David Seelig)

This appreciation for Sun Valley is one of the main reasons IDI decided to make filming an American Public Television special part of this year’s Sun Valley residency.  On September 22 and 23, starting at 8 p.m., the ensemble cast of IDI will work with a local film crew to shoot a special to air in the spring of 2018. The film will feature company repertory as well as documentary style footage about the history of ensemble skating and Sun Valley Resort. “This is a great opportunity to share and encourage more opportunity for the public to see great skating,” Douglas said. The film, entitled “The World of Ice Dance International,” is dedicated to Marilyn Kasputys and company founder Debbie Gordon who both passed away this year. This year’s residency is also named in honor of Kasputys, a lifelong skater, integral member of the Sun Valley ice skating community, and committed supporter of IDI.

Douglas said, “Skating right now has to grow, it has to increase audiences and visibility and has to be seen in an opulent way.  Cross branding with Sun Valley and featuring this spectacular place in our film is the perfect fit; IDI and the resort are both known for class and elegance.  There will be many documentary elements to highlight the storied history of skating here.  It has been great to work with the local film producers Mark Oliver and Spencer Cordovano, the Resort, and Sun Valley on Ice show producer Scott Irvine.”

Lights, camera, action! Members of IDI rehearse for a PBS documentary focused on the company and also starring skating in Sun Valley (credit: David Seelig)

If you are a fan of Sun Valley summer ice shows, you will see many familiar faces in the IDI film. Favorites like Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, Ryan Brady, Erin Reed, Jonathon Hunt, Lauren Farr, Neill Shelton, Joel Dear are also members of IDI. Iconic skater Jo Jo Starbuck hosts the film with Ryan Bradley. The company is also made up of: Naomi Lang, Todd Gilles, Beata Handra, Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker, Carly Donowick, Mauro Bruni, Anastasia Olson, Ian Lorello, and Jordan Cowan.

Three new pieces created during this year’s residency will be featured in the documentary, one by Edward Villella and Douglas Webster set to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade,” a second by Webster to Philip Glass’ “In the Upper Room” and the third by Benoit Richaud to “Take Five” by Dave Brubek.

Once this major project is completed, the company plans to return to Sun Valley in 2018 to create a whole new show of touring repertory to include work by well-known choreographer Trey McIntyre.

Sun Valley ice dance favorites Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre work with ballet legend and choreographer Edward Villella during a past residency

Douglas says IDI, in addition to working hard on repertory during its residency, also loves to work with the community in Sun Valley. To this end, in the past few weeks, company skaters collaborated with Higher Ground for a program with children with special needs. They also taught clinics to share the joy of skating, and hosted events including live discussions, performances, and outreach. One special night featured a talk with Edward Villella on his extraordinary life in ballet and another offered a conversation titled From Athleticism to Artistry: the Making of an Ice Ballet Company with Dorothy Hamill, Judy Blumberg, Edward Villella, and Webster. Expect similar intimate access and interesting offerings next year.

“We are truly thrilled to be back in Sun Valley,” Douglas said. “We can’t wait to share this special place and our company's work with the PBS audience. The public is welcome to come watch some of the taping on the 22nd and 23rd, too [for free]. Come see what we do!”

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