Boitano is breaking new trail with ice show due here tonight

November 20, 1990|By Deborah Wilker | Deborah Wilker,Fort Lauderdale News & Sun Sentinel

Two years after his Olympic gold-medal triumph, Brian Boitano is still training two hours a day, executing the most difficult triple jumps and generally acting as if he could take on the best skaters in the world -- not the usual behavior of a champion in post-competition "retirement."

Unlike many former Olympians whose skating slides into disrepair once they turn pro, Boitano hasn't taken the easy road.

"He's the best male skater in the world -- ever," says Billy Schneider, a top national coach who knew Boitano when the two came up through the amateur ranks as youngsters. "Brian just keeps getting better and better. No one can beat him."

Show-biz offers piled up on Boitano's doorstep after the Calgary games, during which he bested long-time rival, Canadian Brian Orser, in a media-hyped duel dubbed "The Battle of the Brians."

While other athletes from the summer and winter games seized the relatively short post-Olympic afterglow, Boitano quietly hired an agent, then looked the other way.

"I wasn't in this to make a million dollars quickly," he said.

What he really wanted to do was just what he had done all his life: "I wanted to keep skating. I love it."

And so he has done just that. Training hard, he has grown artistically and athletically under the guidance of Canadian choreographer Sandra Bezic.

It was Bezic who first suggested casting him in the role of masculine historical characters for his competitive skating programs. Now, as a professional, Boitano's strong, Baryshnikov-like style continues to evolve; his explosive athletic technique meshed with a newly acquired dancer's grace and nuances that set his skating apart.

With Olympic women's champion Katarina Witt, Boitano has embarked on a mission. He wants to enhance figure skating, not merely make a living at it.

Last year, he formed his own skating company -- a troop of 15 world and Olympic competitors who swear they won't let down simply because those long-faced judges are no longer holding up score cards. This year's show -- Skating II -- began its second season touring U.S. cities Sunday and comes the Baltimore Arena tonight.

"We've included more pop this year," said Boitano, 27. "We've had to have an eye toward what people want to see."

Still, there will be several classical and jazz numbers, among them interpretations of Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite" and Bizet's "Carmen."

Among the more contemporary numbers will be Witt's rendering of the Prince song "Question of U" from "Graffiti Bridge." Boitano plays the part of Billy Joel's "Big Man on Mulberry Street."

In forming his own company, Boitano has taken a cue from other elite skaters who have learned the hard way that challenging post-competition options aren't plentiful.

After what is usually an expensive, full-scale childhood career, most amateur skaters, champions or otherwise, find few adult applications for their years of training.

There are no college teams or university scholarships. There is no competitive tour awarding the big money earned by other pro athletes. There is rarely a movie contract, or a run on Broadway. Some skaters appear in ice shows or in casino nightclubs. But for most, there is simply a teaching job back at the local rink.

Touring with established shows such as The Ice Capades traditionally has been the best choice, but Boitano never considered it.

Recalling the post-Olympic blues that beset his friend Rosalynn Sumners, who starred in Disney's World on Ice in 1984-85, Boitano says performing "21 times a week makes you lose everything that you ever loved about skating.

"Rosalynn had to take a lot of time off to love it again. Those shows just kill you. You're being killed every night by these skates that you used to love. You want to skate well every time, you want to entertain people, but with six shows a weekend, how can you? It's impossible. I'll never do that to myself."

Tickets for tonight's show at 7:30 at the Baltimore Arena are available at the door for $35, $22.50 and $20.

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