The media coverage of figure skating in recent Winter Olympics has been good news and more good news to professional skating companies like the venerable Ice Capades, which comes to the San Diego Sports Arena on Wednesday.
The good news is that it has heightened interest in ice extravaganzas. The more good news is that it has helped provide a greater pool of talented young skaters from which to draw.
Among the huge company that will take to the ice this week for the Ice Capades is 24-year-old San Diegan Rick Scarry. He made it to national competitions as an amateur before joining the professional company two years ago. This week Scarry will make his hometown debut as a professional skater, and he was noticeably excited about it.
“I joined the show right after it appeared in San Diego, and then we went to the East Coast,” Scarry said. “So I never got the chance to perform here. That’s the downside of being in Ice Capades. You’re away from friends and family so much.”
Scarry has been serious about skating since the ninth grade, when he was forced to leave his formal education behind in order to perfect his craft.
“You can’t get the training you need in San Diego, so when I realized I wanted to compete, I had to leave school,” he said. “I continued my education with tutors, but it’s impossible to go to school in San Diego and prepare for competition. I had to go to Los Angeles for training. You have to be willing to sacrifice your schooling.”
By the time he was 22, Scarry was tired of competing and abandoned his dream of the Olympics in favor of steady work with the Ice Capades.
“This is my third year here, and I’m very happy in the show. I couldn’t get a better job anywhere. What’s so great is that I’m doing my first featured role this time. You can work your way up the ranks here.
“But, of course, there are a lot of good skaters around, so there’s still a lot of luck involved,” he said. “And the big-name skaters start off in starring roles. They never work in the chorus.”
Ice Capades continues to cater to the small-fry set with Disney-style characters that put the accent on storytelling rather than crackerjack dancing. But, Scarry noted, “the overall level of virtuosity and athleticism has improved significantly.”
“The company has gotten a lot better in the last two years, since the new ownership took over. I thought just doing chorus wouldn’t be that challenging, but that’s not true now,” he said. “You do eight to 12 shows a week. And it’s hard on your body, so you really have to stay in good shape. Everyone gets hurt, but I try to eat right and get enough sleep. I also work out in the gym a few days a week.”
When Ice Capades was on hiatus last summer, Scarry was back on ice here, dancing in Sea World’s mini-ice show.
“It was fun, and such a change from this,” he said. “But I only stayed till the end of July. Then we had to rehearse and get ready for the new Ice Capades show.”
After almost 50 years on the road, what’s new at Ice Capades this year?
The formula never changes, but this season’s “Salute to Hollywood” show, starring world professional ice dance champions Carol Fox and Richard Dalley, takes the Ice Capades into formerly uncharted terrain. A strikingly costumed production number titled “Black and White” strips the dancers down to faceless chess pieces and propels them through a geometric pattern of near-miss collisions, with clockwork timing and precision.
As performance director Roxanne Watson said: “This is a new concept for the Ice Capades. There are no stars in this number. Everyone is buried under bulky chess costumes, and no one is more important than anyone else in the dance, like in a repertory company. It’s a real ensemble effort, and it took a lot of rehearsing to get it to work.”
“Salute to Hollywood” is a lavish, 10-part production number that celebrates Hollywood’s 100th birthday as the movie-making capital of the world. With Busby Berkeley-style dance spectacles, Ziegfield-style chorus capers and tongue-in-cheek tributes to the brightest stars in the history of Tinsel Town, the piece is a paean to glamour and glitter.
This production has its obligatory comic bits, a rock ‘n’ roll number that showcases rising stars, such as Scarry, and the high-tech flying ballet it has perfected over the past few years. But the pure ice dancing by a finely tuned cast that numbers nearly 50, is reason enough for most fans to seek out the Ice Capades.
“Ice Capades is more popular than ever,” said Scarry, “and people are more knowledgeable about what they see. That makes it great fun to perform. I like to travel and see wonderful places. There’s always something interesting to discover. The only bad part is not having a stable life.”