|Since the removal of figures, skating has evolved very rapidly so it is not surprising that we sometimes have trouble keeping pace. But is is important for everyone to put their best effort into understanding new branches, otherwise we run the risk of continuing or implementing redundant and/or inappropriate programmes. Interpretive Skating is a new branch of skating in Canada formerly known as Artistic Skating. Tests and competitions are available at the Introductory, Bronze, Silver and Gold levels.
Towards an Interpretive Skating Philosophy
The success of any Programme depends on a clear philosophy underlying both the design and evaluation of performances. Perhaps because of a lack of clarity Artistic/Interpretive Skating has been plagued by controversy and differences of opinion since its inception. The confusion haunting it must be resolved before this branch can take its place as a legitimate facilitator of artistic growth.
The current definition of Interpretive Skating is:
"... a programme in which emphasis is placed on the skater’s ability to use their skills to interpret music rather than on their technical prowess."1
Curiously there is no mention of movement or theme in the definition- interpreting music is the sole aim.
And yet the Interpretive Skating guidelines are full of references to movement and interpretation and theme. A misunderstanding of the terms 'interpret' and 'theme' may be the reason Interpretive Skating has not found widespread acceptance. Interpret means to perform (a creative work) in a way that conveys one's personal understanding of the creator's ideas. The goal of Interpretive Skating is not to translate music into movement but to communicate one's own idea(s). These ideas, or themes, may be derived from or inspired by the music but they are not physical manifestations of the music. Skaters do not interpret music, musicians do. Skaters communicate themes through their use of movement and use of music..
Themes in Interpretive Skating fall into one of the same three categories as Free Skating- programmes based on stories, programmes based on external themes and pure skating programmes (see Evaluation). Interpretive Skating also uses titles. A good title can lead the viewer to attend to certain aspects of the performance but a good programme will not need a title to define it- the theme will be self-evident. Titles contribute to confusion in designing and judging programmes when they are just elaborate descriptions of the action. These titles promote guesswork as viewers try to 'find' the title in the performance. Assumptions that a descriptive title is the theme lead to crass, literal interpretations followed by understandably bungled judging. A good Interpretive performance doesn't mime, it speaks.
Confusion surrounding the choice of theme may be related to the order in which the music and movement is selected. The Interpretive Skating Test Standards Manual states that:
"Interpretive skating programs are generated by starting with either a specific musical selection or a particular theme."
In Interpretive programmes the music may very well be chosen before the theme but it would be in the context of highlighting and developing the skater's abilities. Regardless of whether it is chosen first the music comes before the finished choreography and the use of the music supports the theme, the music does not become the theme. Choosing music prior to choosing the choreography does not make the programme's theme a musical interpretation.
Music and Movement
What distinguishes Free Skating, Pairs, Free Dance, Compulsory Dance, Skills and Interpretive Skating are their elements. These elements are not just the tricks like turns, edges, jumps, spins and lifts. Because music is used, there are presentational elements such as expression, timing and unison which are also marked.
Each branch values these elements in different proportion. Free Skating and Pair Skating value tricks above presentation. These branches will not tolerate a marked reduction in technical proficiency in lieu of a marked increase in expression. Free Dance will not tolerate a marked reduction in expression in lieu of technical difficulty but does still have stringent technical requirements.The Skills branch does not value a musical connection at all. In fact it is unclear why music is even included. Compulsory Dance values timing and expression but not necessarily music as evidenced by the ease with which each dance can be performed to any number of different musical selections. Interpretive Skating is the only branch based on proficiency of communication. With the exception of Skills in which music is unimportant in any sense, music may provide inspiration for a theme but is then used to support that theme, it does not become the theme.
Music through its pulse and rhythm can provide skaters with a driving force and an overall structure but movement is the true province of skating. In any branch movement and music should appear as one, mutually supportive and enhancing one another.
Skating and especially Interpretive Skating is often compared to the arts. Although art forms are routinely combined the resultant art is not a hybrid but remains an example of the primary art form. For instance, a dance performed to music is not an entirely new type of art or a piece of music that has undergone interpretation, it remains a dance.
" ...Dance normally swallows music as music normally swallows words. The music that, perhaps, first inspires a dance is none the less cancelled out as art in its own right and assimilated into the dance; and for this, many a third-rate musical piece has served as well as a significant work." 2
This is also true of skating performances- they remain skating performances not musical interpretations. Although comparisons to dance are natural Interpretive Skating is a sport (see Sport or Art?) and not a dance (an art form) or a hybrid and we cannot directly transfer dance theory to skating. Music and movement must be considered in terms that support the aims and recognize the unique characteristics of skating. Figure skaters use music differently than do dancers. Both base their activities on movement but skaters use music to enhance their elements. Dancers use music to support their artistic statements. Neither makes musical interpretation the basis of their activity. It is the musicians who interpret the music through their handling of the composer's score.
Since Interpretive Skating is rooted in music and movement appreciation it is odd that the guidelines outline more musical and movement limitations than any other branch. These include:
The choice of music to
‘the three most suitable forms- melodic, rhythmic and dramatic, eliminating intellectual, bravura, impressionistic composition, the ‘big’ piece, the well-known programmatic piece, the too-complex composition, the cliche-ridden and the commonplace.' 3
Any musical limitation will hinder artistic freedom. If the intension is to encourage skaters to stretch their range of musical choices it is enough to ask that they please try to be as original as possible.
Great discretion must be exercised if one chooses to use vocal music. It is the choice most conducive to mime and choreographic laziness. Vocal music hinders skaters’ efforts to establish a theme within the structure of the programme by setting up a conflict between what is seen and what is heard. Most 'interpretations’ of vocal music become unbearably literal and redundant. Nevertheless, in the interests of artistic freedom voices should be available as an option.
The choice of movement to that which conforms to post-1930 dance theory. Presumably this refers to fall and recovery, contraction and release. These theories encourage the exploration of level including the floor. Lying on the ice is, of course, frowned upon in skating so a description of how these theories are expected to be adapted to Interpretive Skating would be helpful in understanding why pre-1930 dance movement is unsuitable.
The choice of theme to those which are unknown. There are no unknown themes. Assuming this means themes which are rarely explored in skating whether it is 'known' or 'unknown' is of no consequence; what is important is how the theme is handled. The theme is simply what the piece is about. There is nothing inherently wrong with a well-known theme like, "The Clown" provided the movement is funny and not just a series of inexplicable reactions in a clown suit. What should be at issue is the skater’s skill in communicating the chosen theme.
Limiting the music, movement and themes available to achieve what ought to be the ultimate goal of Interpretive Skating- creative expression and communication- only limits the tools available to solve artistic problems and does not solve the problem of ambiguity in the guideliness.
The Role of the Coach/Choreographer
Branches of skating do not instruct- coaches do. Only training has the capacity to improve performance. Free Skating, Pairs, Skills, Dance and Interpretive tests and competitions do not themselves improve a skater’s ability to skate. They are merely a format in which the skater can present his competence for evaluation and/or comparison.
Skaters improve their Interpretive Skating skill through training which has a technical component- edges, turns etc. and the ability to manipulate their body, space, force and time as well as an artistic component- the manifestation of a theme through the skater’s use of movement in connection with music. In order to do this the components must undergo an organizational process- choreography.
Children are not born with the ability to choreograph meaningful skating performances. Good coach/choreographers help children learn skating movement, movement theory and the choreographic process so they can eventually make meaningful musical and movement choices themselves. Coaches may use improvisation in Creative Movement classes as part of the educational or choreographic process but there is a difference between improvisation and interpretation. Interpretation is a choreographed presentation designed to elucidate a theme. An improvisation is an extemporaneous exploration. Improvisations are used to train skaters, they are not meant to be contemplated except by the coach for the purpose of training the clarification of movement.
The choreographic process may explore a large amount of improvisational work but the resultant material will have undergone quite an extensive process of evaluation and modification before finding its final place in the finished work. Allowing skaters to rehash their improvisational idiosyncrasies with little or no direction under the guise of allowing them to 'develop an awareness of their innate choreographic creativity' 4 is no more useful in developing artistry than denying skaters lessons on jumps in the hope that they will discover their innate jumping ability.
A New Definition of Interpretive Skating
Skaters in all branches need to find creative solutions to their unique technical and artistic problems. Interpretive Skating is no different. But instead of concerning itself with jumps and twizzles and so on, its problems involve the use of music and movement as a means of communication. Good Interpretive Skating guidelines will accurately and consistently define intent in the broadest, general sense and so provide a stimulating problem-solving environment. It will be up to the skater and the coach/choreographer to decide which specific ‘problems’ will be chosen to demonstrate proficiency. They must be free to use whatever tools they deem necessary to communicate their solution to these self-imposed problems, in other words, to express themselves. The judge’s job is to evaluate the skater’s ability to communicate effectively. The capacities of the human body should be used and valued not only for its ability to perform skilled movement but to stand as metaphor.
If we are truly to support skaters efforts to use music more creatively and effectively we must make the rules of Interpretive Skating clear and expansive. This necessitates a change in the current definition:
Interpretive Skating is a sport in which the intent is to communicate a theme using movement and music. Proficiency is determined by the skill with which the theme is revealed as the piece unfolds.
1 Skate Canada Rulebook, C- Interpretive Skating Tests, Definitions 1.1 Interpretive Skating, 2000 Edition
2 Suzanne K. Langer: Problems of Art. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957
3 Interpretive Skating Test Standards Manual, Skate Canada, 2002
4 Interpretive Skating Test Standards Manual, Skate Canada, 2002