Ice-Semble Chicago prepares for theatrical performance

By Katy Nielsen

Figure skaters twirl and glide across the ice with ease, but these skaters are not competing for medals. They are members of Ice-Semble Chicago, the city’s original ice theater company, choreographing one of their many lyrical routines.

The ice theater company held one of its first meetings of the year on March 16 at McFetridge Sports Arena, 3843 N. California Ave., to practice for its upcoming show on May 5 at the Winnetka Ice Arena, 490 Hibbard Road, in Winnetka, Ill.

“It is more eccentric than regular figure skating,” said Meah Helfand, process engineer for GE Healthcare, skating instructor and a member of Ice-Semble Chicago, who has been with the group since it formed in 1996. “It’s really about the art of skating. It’s about movement, self-expression, being a character and dancing. All of that is an incredible part of skating.”

The ice theater company has created unusual shows. One program involved skating in the dark with glow sticks. The ensemble performs throughout the year in the Chicago area, including at the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink at Millennium Park, and is a way for adult skaters to stay in shape, express themselves artistically and continue learning new routines.

“[Ice-Semble Chicago] is a way for former skaters to come and enjoy skating without the pressure of jumping,” Helfand said. “To come and do something that has some camaraderie, some team aspect to it.”

For adults who wish to continue sports later in life, finding leagues and making time to practice can be difficult, according to Helfand.

“We get up at 5:30 in the morning to open the rink for practice in Winnetka,” she said. “That’s just what we have to do.”

One dedicated skater, Katrina Nelken, a motion designer at a postproduction house for music videos and commercials in Chicago, was invited to join the group when she graduated high school in 2005.

“It gives me a chance as a 24-year-old to keep skating,” Nelken said. “If I don’t skate for a reason, I just won’t do it at all. This gives me a reason to skate and express myself again.”

Figure skating coach Kathy Janik said she joined the team last year because she wanted to find a way to keep figure skating and artistic expression in her life without the pressure of competition.

Instead of emphasizing mastering difficult jumps and tricks, members of Ice-Semble Chicago focus on the lyricism and art of figure skating, according to Janik.

“It provides a blank canvas for skaters,” said Liz McShane-Beberdick, artistic director of Ice-Semble Chicago.

According to her, the group’s goal is to put together ice shows that resemble professional dance company performances.

“We’re interested in working with former professional skaters who want to choreograph work without spinning and jumping in the pieces,” McShane-Beberdick said. “It’s getting on the ice, taking a piece of music you’ve always wanted to skate to and creating your own choreography.”

For Janik, working with the company has been a way to express her creativity on a stage with like-minded skaters.

“It’s all about the flow of it and the feel of the music and the edge quality you’re using,” she said. “It’s less about the technicality and more about the feeling.”