Montréal has always been the home of doing things a little bit differently; a base for the revolutionary Cirque du Soleil, the director of gravity-bending Fringe hit Leo, and street-style circus group The 7 Fingers. So it’s little surprise that the city would also be the first place to reinvent the art of ice skating.
Le Patin Libre ("Free Skate") has created something special in ditching the frills, lycra, frozen smiles (no pun intended) and draconian strictness of traditional skating culture. By founder Alexandre Hamel’s own admission, he was kicked out of various skate schools - something the troupe pays tribute to in a satirical sketch where a lone outsider incurs the wrath of a uniformed Sergeant Major by swapping rigid drills for stylish flips.
It’s this relaxed, fun-loving vibe that's the most enjoyable thing about the show; the company is at its coolest (go on then, pun intended) when letting go, goofing around, moshing to 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', or showcasing the performers' own idiosyncratic tricks and flourishes.
But the transitions between sketches feel laboured, the commentary is impossible to hear—though both these issues could be early venue teething problems—and sometimes it’s hard to know whether the choreography is there just to frame the skills, or to communicate something in its own right.
Having a party at the end where we all get on the ice to have a go is a stroke of magic though: at least then it’s immediately clear just how bloomin’ difficult the swishing skills are, that the troupe make seem effortless.