Student and Alumna Spotlight: Ice Theatre

By: Staff Writer Rebecca Wu 

Freshman Daisy Chiu, Senior Justine Wong, and Alumna Ceci Leng will be competing as part of the San Francisco Ice Theatre (SFIT) team at the upcoming 2015 Nations Cup Ballet on Ice in Paris, France on April 24-26, 2015. The Smoke Signal sat down with Chiu, Wong, and Leng to discuss their involvement in this competitive sport.

Smoke Signal: What is ice theatre, and what does a performance consist of?
Justine Wong: Theatre On Ice (TOI), more commonly known as ice theatre or ballet on ice, is a competitive sport that combines figure skating with theatre and dance. It includes technical jumps and spins with unique choreography, ice dancing, pair’s moves, and synchronized skating to tell a story or act out an emotion or idea. It’s like Disney on Ice without the Disney and we compete. Teams consist of between eight and 30 skaters with a range of levels from adult to senior, which is the highest. The programs are judged by regular U.S. Figure Skating judges and are evaluated on technical merit and presentation with emphasis on originality, costuming, artistry and musicality.
TOI consists of two programs, a free skate and a choreographic exercise (CE). The CE or “short program” is a two minute program with three elements we have to incorporate—theme, body movement, and choreographic process. This focuses more on the technical aspect of the competition and will also determine the places and thus order in which we skate for the long program. Our five minute free skate or “long program” uses props and scenery to portray an original story or theme.

SS: What is the upcoming competition, and how did your team get involved?
Ceci Leng: We are going to be attending the 2015 Nations Cup Ballet on Ice competition, which is a prestigious international competition where all the top theatre teams around the world compete. It is a competition that runs every two years, and because SFIT won first place in the Juniors level at the National Theatre On Ice competition for the past two years, we have been chosen to represent the United States in this competition.

SS: What other competitions has your team competed in, and how did it do?
Daisy Chiu: SFIT competes in only Nationals, and this year we are competing in both Nationals and Nations Cup. We also perform shows such as Silver Spin, Spring Jubilee, and Fall Gala, as well as having been invited to perform with New York Ice Theatre. During the years that I have been on the team, SFIT has placed first for two consecutive years at the Nationals competition, which qualifies us to go to Nations Cup.

SS: How did you first get involved with ice theatre?
JW: I actually had no idea what ice theatre was at the time when I first joined SFIT. Since the team was also fairly new, they were recruiting members where I skated. I was kind of reluctant to join since I dreaded having to go to the tryouts where I wouldn’t know anyone, until one of my friends was asked to consider joining the team as well. She didn’t want to do it alone so we made a pact to go to the auditions together. This is where I met Daisy and Ceci, whom I recognized from a mutual friend’s birthday party. I have been on the team ever since.
Originally I wanted nothing to do with it. I had joined a small theatre team as a child, and it had just been broken up. I was cherishing my weekends sleeping in, and having stopped competing as a solo skater, also didn’t have much reason to practice. But one of my mom’s friends had a son already on the team, and, having been formed only one year earlier, the team was short of members. As a result, my mom brought me to the audition, which I dreaded. Waking up at four in the morning to skate in a cold ice rink was not my idea of a good start to the weekend. I also did not like the idea of auditions, since I knew I wasn’t a strong skater back then, not to mention the fact that I probably did not know anybody. However, the original team proved to be open and friendly, and I met Justine. I didn’t know her too well, but we had met at a mutual friend’s birthday party once before, so we recognized each other and became friends. And with that, I joined the team.
I originally didn’t start with SFIT. I was on a team in Redwood City, but I quit after two years and joined San Francisco because I had more friends on the team.

SS: What do you find most rewarding about ice theatre?
CL: Ice theatre actually helped me improve my skating. I quit being a competitive single skater at a young age, so I never really had anything to work for. As a result of joining the team, the different tricks and techniques that the coaches would push us to learn encouraged me to practice more and try new things out. On top of that, our team is kind of like one big family. We all help each other out, and it makes suffering through the early Saturday and late Sunday practices worth it.

SS: What is the hardest part?
DC: I think that the hardest part is the week of Nationals. We constantly have practice and it’s sometimes hard to find time to rest. We also get stressed if there are mistakes or if a member loses a prop or costume. Another hard part of being on this team is the dedication we need to have for practice. Our practices are Saturday morning from 5:30 to 7:30 AM and (sometimes) Sunday night from 5:15 to 7:45 PM.

SS: What advice do you have for anyone else wanting to pursue this competitive sport?
JW: You don’t have to have a triple axel to join! As long as you are passionate about the sport and dedicated to the team you can have a great and fun experience, despite waking up at 4 AM every Saturday for three hour practices, although each team is different. Having a background in a dance such as ballet is beneficial, too. And joining a team gives you many opportunities to travel, improve skating skills, and of course make new friends!

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