It’s like stepping into another world. The walls are grey, reaching up into a high ceiling, circling a huge white ice rink. It is bitterly cold and the frost wakes me up. I sit down on a wooden, leather cushioned chair on the second row of seating. Opposite us are lines of empty seats. Rows upon rows, circling around and around us. Once we leave here it will be dark again. The seats are hard and cold. I forgot to bring a jumper – I didn’t think about the fact that an ice rink would be cold.
As the lights fade down, my heart skips a beat. Five bodies skate onto the ice. I don’t know how to write about ice skating. None of the moves really stick in my head, and I don’t know the technical terms. But I can tell you how it felt.
They glide together. Shadows caress the walls and line up and move apart again, like those paper cut outs that hold hands. The sound of their skates scratch against ice and it sends shivers down my spine. They circle each other, creating a hypnotic oval in the centre of the rink. The music is a steady beat, pounding and moving the skaters into new positions. One body breaks away. Arms out, fingers extend, skate, skate, turn. The other four slow and slow and the lights die, and he skates alone. His arms extend and whoosh out beside him. The others follow his movements with their skates, turning and turning. Then he stumbles, falls, and stops. He turns back to look at them. They skate together again; an ever-moving ever-turning organism. Bodies collide and break apart, limbs extending into an eternity. Lifting off the ice and then back down, they are falling//held. Pull together, leg extends. This body moving in this certain way makes something stir, does something words can’t. His body on the hard icy floor, lying heavy and strange in its uncomfortable mass. I wish I was as weightless as the specs of dust you kick up.
It must feel like flying, when you move like that. When you are flung round the edges of the rink and you don’t even have to skate because the momentum pushes you round, I think that is what flying must feel like. I don’t care that my bones are icy with cold. Gently, one places a hand on the shoulder of another. Shadows graze the walls and catch my eye again. His hand grazes the surface of the ice.
Then you play.
Shouts and claps and jumps. Moments ago these bodies were static, stoney-faced, and now they smile with ease and call to each other across the flat ice landscape. Again and again and around and around – in unison and then out of time again. I think maybe you’re dancing about how we talk to each other, about how we pick up the speech patterns of those we spend time with, and how humans are made to have companionship. You dance in words I do not understand but somewhere the juxtaposed ways of communicating lock into each other and it all makes sense.
And then, we are led out to warm up. A short while later we are escorted back in, this time to sit on the ice. The seat is hard and cold underneath me. It is colder down here, and everything is intensified. They re-emerge, forming shapes with their bodies – arms at right angles to legs perpendicular to ice skates. At the back the bodies form a line; five structures illuminated in the glow of a backlight. It is so beautiful. You are so small. Then you glide towards us, faster and faster and the collision almost almost happens and then as quick as you arrived you turn again. It is so cold my teeth hurt. Strip lights glow on upstage and downstage at opposite ends of the rink. Up close, we see your faces. The stubble on your cheeks, the knots in your hair, the holes in your trousers. You look at us and our bodies as we look back at you. The blinders flash up and the bodies are silhouettes now, pirouetting out of the darkness and into the light. The composition of the music is like shattering glass, like skates squeaking on an icy pond. You circle each other and then coalesce to one body//one mass.
Now it is silent apart from your skates and our thoughts. His fingertips slide across an icy terrain. The bodies skate around and around and now we finally applaud and you smile and play once more. It is like a dream rather than a memory. A clouded memory you are not quite sure of. Far away from the centre of the city, far away from the noise, five bodies skate in unison and create something quite new, quite extraordinary, quite magical.
Vertical Influences is a co-production of Dance Umbrella Festival (UK), Théâtre de la Ville de Paris (France) and the National Arts Centre (Canada). It’s on at Murrayfield Ice Rink until 25th August. More info here.