Next Ice Age finds its roots

Skaters : The artistic ice dancing troupe will perform at the Columbia Festival of the Arts next month in the community where it started

Columbia

May 28, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

The Next Ice Age has come home.

The innovative ice dancing troupe is practicing at the Columbia Ice Rink for its performances June 16 and 17 at the Columbia Festival of the Arts. The company began its unusual blend of ensemble skating 12 years ago with a performance at the rink.

"We are so excited," said Nathan Birch, artistic director for the company. "We started in Columbia, and to be presented in this festival really helps to legitimize us in our minds."

Based in Baltimore, the Next Ice Age began with an ending. Birch and fellow skater Tim Murphy had been members of a troupe headed by their mentor John Curry.

When that company folded, they were left searching for something to do.

"We were artistically frustrated," Birch said. "So we decided to form the Next Ice Age to do contemporary, artistic, ensemble skating."

What has followed has been a dozen years of performances that have taken them from dance festivals to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which built a rink to accommodate the dancers and an orchestra.

"This is what Nathan and I live for," said Murphy, who is associate director of the company. "We've built choreography in this rink before, so it's comfortable to us."

Murphy has choreographed a 40-minute piece titled "Turn" to original music by Jean Sibelius. Birch's piece, choreographed to music by Michael Torke, will follow at the festival.

At a recent rehearsal, the black-clad skaters swirled across the ice going through their paces under Murphy's direction.

"Nice, nice," Murphy called out as the skaters grasped hands and flew across the rink before flowing into a synchronized series of movements. "Just like that."

Birch and Murphy have worked with skating legend Dorothy Hamill, a resident of Baltimore, with Murphy serving as her choreographer since 1991. That association has given them access to hundreds of skaters across the country.

"In the world of dance, skating is very important, and we have been fortunate enough to attract some incredibly talented skaters," Birch said. "Ensemble skating is really growing."

GigSiruno, 29, a skater based in Los Angeles, said he is looking forward to the performance, which will involve theatrical lighting and sets built on the ice.

"I find it very challenging," Siruno said. "It's a different avenue for my skating, and I find it helps to take my skating to a new level."

Chrisha Gossard, 22, is from Severna Park and has been skating since she was 6. Gossard, also a model and an actress, has skated with the Next Ice Age for five years and said she is always amazed by the performances."[Birch and Murphy] always find a way to make things exciting and fresh," Gossard said. "There is no other place in the world where you can get a greater appreciation for the artistic merit of skating."

And audiences enjoy it, Gossard said.

"Even people who haven't had that much experience with skating come in and feed off of what we are doing," she said. "It kind of draws the emotion out of you."

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