by ROBIN SIAS
The sport of ice dance is glamorous, romantic and dramatic. And August is dance season at the Sun Valley Summer Ice Show.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto will join the show’s resident ice dancers, Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre this month. All promise to outshine the broad canopy of stars that hang over the rink.
For anyone who has attended a Saturday night show this summer, the beauty, grace and passion that is ice dance has been readily apparent in the weekly performances of Navarro, 30, and Bommentre, 27.
Besides their inventive choreography, the two bring youth, vitality, daring and frankly, a good dose of sex appeal, to the show.
Navarro, the daughter of a skating coach, grew up in northern California and competed in figures, freestyle, pairs, partners and dance throughout her childhood before settling on competitive ice dance. A 2004 graduate of ColumbiaUniversity in New York City, she managed to excel on the ice and in academics.
Bommentre began skating at age six at his grandmother’s behest. The Philadelphia, Pa. native moved from freestyle to ice dance when he was nine years old.
“I landed three axels and decided I really didn’t like jumping,” he laughed.
Together, Navarro and Bommentre have made sparks fly for seven years, tapping into the intangible chemistry, the energy that flies between a man and a woman. Such chemistry makes them irresistible to watch. That is the magic element that makes ice dance special, according to Bommentre.
“There is something primal about watching a woman and man skate together,” Bommentre said. “Good dance teams make you feel something. It should be almost voyeuristic.”
Upcoming headliners Davis and White, and Belbin and Agosto exude that chemistry, and then some.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, Davis and White, the 2011 U.S. gold medalists and 2010 Olympic silver medalists, will bring their signature speed, athleticism and unmatched unison to the show.
Coming off a historic competition in April where the dance pair won the first-ever U.S. gold medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, Davis and White are at the pinnacle of the sport. They are ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Skating Union, and are three-time defending U.S. champions.
On Saturday, Aug. 27, it is Belbin and Agosto’s turn to wow the crowd. These Olympic silver medalists and 5-time U.S. gold medalists will bring their precise step sequences, creativity and spellbinding style to Sun Valley in a performance hot enough to melt the ice.
To many audience members, the differences between ice dancing and pairs skating are nuanced at best. But the two disciplines are very different.
Ice dance is, essentially, ballroom dance on ice, incorporating steps of well-known dances like the foxtrot, cha cha and waltz. The man is not allowed to lift his partner above his head and the pair doesn’t execute big jumps. The interpretation of the music, and the telling of a story are integral parts of the performance.
According to Bommentre, the beauty of dance is in the details.
“People should watch for the transitions,” he said. “Watch how the skaters are changing hand holds. It is very intricate. The in-between moves in ice dance are just as important, maybe more important, than the really noticeable highlights.”
Just because the building blocks of ice dance are standardized, no two couples link the steps, rhythms and transitions in the same way. The artistic and interpretive components also distinguish one dance pair from another.
Another element that differentiates couples, especially on tour or in shows, is whether they are currently competing.
Navarro said that because Davis and White are actively competing, their programs will likely contain many required elements, including very intricate footwork and a focus on absolute precision. In competitive programs, ice dancers focus a great deal on staying in exact unison and skating in perfect sync to the rhythm of their music.
Belbin and Agosto retired from competition two years ago, allowing them more leeway in their choices. Navarro said audiences can expect programs from them that take chances artistically and technically.
“Their performance promises to be more open and more free,” she said. “They have great emotional depth.”
Both performances will certainly wow the crowd.
And Sun Valley’s resident ice dancers think that the incoming headliners will surely enjoy being part of the show.
Unlike some productions in which Navarro and Bommentre have skated, in Sun Valley there is a lot of camaraderie, interaction and sharing that goes on behind the scenes between headliners, featured skaters and members of the ensemble.
“If we’re working on a trick, some of the pairs or other skaters will often come by to make a suggestion or work with us,” said Navarro. “(Freeskate soloist) Dan Hollander makes suggestions for music. Everyone has each other’s back. Pro practice sessions are one of my favorite parts of the week.”
That family-away-from-home feeling is just part of the reason Navarro and Bommentre keep coming back to Sun Valley. They appreciate the intimate nature of the Sun Valley outdoor ice rink that allows them to see and hear the audience and the beauty of skating under the stars. They believe Sun Valley is the ultimate working vacation.
Like so many others who have fallen in love with this area, Bommentre and Navarro inched their way in.
“The first time we performed here as guest headliners we stayed two nights. The next year it was four. After that, we were here for the whole summer,” said Navarro with a laugh.
During their hectic tour schedule throughout the rest of the year, they literally count down the weeks until they arrive in Sun Valley.
For the 2010-11 season, the ice dancers spent seven weeks in the Netherlands, four months in Germany and four months in France, performing up to three shows per day.
“We relish being here,” said Bommentre. “It’s an incredible place. I spend every minute off the ice doing things I love to do—road biking, hiking and camping.”
Yoga, a regular Pilates schedule and bike rides to Hailey’s Powerhouse for burgers and beer are all part of their off-hours routine. Last week, Bommentre even took Navarro to the Wood River Community YMCA in Ketchum to introduce her to rock climbing.
“I kept going up and up and up,” she recalled. “Down was harder. I had to trust the person belaying me.”
Thankfully that person she needed at the rock climbing wall was Bommentre, whom Navarro trusts with much more than a simple belay. She trusts him not to drop her on her head on the ice, not to let go of her while she is in a bounce spin; small things like that.
Gaining that trust and competence takes years and years of practice, more than a few leaps of faith and a few quirks specific to the world of ice dancing. One of those quirks is securing a partner with whom you will succeed and flourish.
Meeting a dance partner is akin to a mix between speed dating and an arranged marriage. Many competitive skaters attend partner try-outs, to do just that—try out partners. And skaters usually have only about three days to choose this make-or-break partner.
There is, of course, the physical component of dancing together: Height, body frame, even length of leg. But there is much more to finding a life partner in ice dance.
“There is an emotional and goal component as well,” said Bommentre. “If I want to go to the Olympics and she wants to do shows, we will not be a good match. It’s really a look at what you both want out of life. No pressure at all!”
When it works, sparks fly.
“We have a great collaboration, almost and a yin and yang kind of thing,” said Navarro. “Brent is a great technician and is amazing with skating skills.”
Bommentre chimed in, “and Kim is super at big picture. She is the more creative one.”
It is this marriage of creative big picture concepts with the attention to the tiniest detail that makes this dance team so beautiful to watch.
From their choice of music (this season “In These Shoes?” and “Mercy”); to Navarro’s exquisite and barely-there costumes; to the intensity with which they regard each other, they accomplish what ice dancers set out to do. They create a story between a man and a woman that the audience can’t help but be drawn into.
It’s not too late to get a great seat for these upcoming glamorous, romantic performances.
Tickets to the season’s remaining ice shows are available at seats.sunvalley.com, by calling 622-2135, or toll free 888-622-2108, by stopping by the RecreationCenter at the Sun Valley Mall or at the gate prior to the show. All seating is reserved. Shows begin at dusk.
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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.