One of the most refreshing, organic and interesting young choreographers I've seen in recent years is Adam Blake, who got his proverbial start in choreography as a competitor in YAS (Young Artists Showcase) during season 1 of the program, and went on to WIN the second season with truly diverse and exuberant choreography and performances. In perhaps one of the most compelling interviews yet, I was thrilled to have a chance to ask Adam about his background, concepts, choreography and opinions on the sport. I am absolutely certain you will find his responses as interesting as I did:
Q: What first drew you to the ice and what can you share about your experience as an amateur skater? What prompted you to turn professional?
A: I, essentially, grew up at my skating rink. It was hockey that I had my heart set on at first, but it became evident that I needed to learn how to ice skate. So, I then started figure skating and haven't stopped since. My amateur experience was not typical though. In all my years of being an amateur, I never competed. Weird, I know. I started skating for the art of skating. I trained as more of a trick skater, trying to infuse my style with acrobatics. I tested up to freestyle 9 in the ISI testing system but without the thrill of competition or agony of defeat, my style remained sort of untouched from the realm of ISU order; I was able to skate for myself and really understand my relationship with the audience as a performer. With that, turning professional seemed like the only way that I could stay true to myself and my style of skating. Skating professionally in a show was a dream come true.
Q: You have toured as a principal skater with Disney On Ice. How would you describe the Disney On Ice experience? What goes into putting a show like this together and did you find the traveling and constant shows grueling or were they something that didn't phase you?
A: The Disney On Ice experience... it's really up to you as to what you make of it. For me, it has been one of the most essential experiences to have influenced my career. For a good majority of skaters, you say, "Disney on Ice" and it's amazing how fast their faces turn green. A lot of coaches look down on shows, figuring that it distracts from "the big picture". For me, Disney is a huge part of my big picture. I have grown in many ways as a skater, performer, choreographer, and professional through working with the mouse. Anyone who has ever worked with Disney On Ice can attest to the time, money, and heart that is put into every production. Ingredients are: 1) Renowned Choreographer/Director/Set Designer/Lighting Designer/Costume Designer 2) At least 35 professional level skaters, 8 of them principal 3) The means to put all of these artists onto one ice surface with the props/set/lights ($$$$$). It really does take a town to produce an ice show. It's completely and utterly invigorating to travel all around the globe, meet new people, and on the weekend, play ice show! I don't know of any job quite like it. It's one of those jobs, where if you are bored it's because your eyes have been glued shut! It has its days where you miss home or that third show at the end of a Saturday doesn't seem possible but you'd be amazed on what you are able to accomplish in (and, for that matter, out of) a fish costume!
A: It was Doug Webster who introduced me to the Young Artists Showcase. At that point in time, I was really starting to find my style and voice as a choreographer. The Young Artists Showcase gave me the tools and the confidence to pursue and refine my craft and turn "numbers" into "pieces". This competition is revolutionary to the sport. As you've said, programs nowadays are as cookie cutter as they come. What this competition is doing is bringing the creative artists of our sport out of hiding.
Q: One thing I noticed in watching your performances with YAS was your versatility both in style and movement but also your ability to project and reach out to your audience. Is this something that comes naturally to you or has skating professionally really brought that out?
A: I've always lived off of the performer/audience relationship. For me, I started out just being aware of the relationship and seeing what I could pull, but through being a professional I've learned so much about learning who my audience is and what they enjoy (and what I can get away with!).
Q: Where did you get the concept for your "Propeller Seeds" piece? I think it is brilliant and portrays such an ethereal quality.
A: Thank you! For me, it all starts with the music. I am an avid Imogen Heap fan, and I came across her song "Propeller Seeds", which was a song about Imogen meeting her soon-to-be husband. But for me it was that airy, almost nonchalant beauty through the very minute details in the music that sold me on the concept. The tinkling notes acting as the thousands upon thousands of seeds falling in eerie synchronization, the sweeping vocals taking control as the large gust of wind takes the seeds as their consequential master. The feeling just made perfect sense to me, and it just seemed like the perfect dance to take to the ice.
Q: How did you learn the cantilever?
A: The cantilever! I actually learned it at my home rink. I came back from a Disney On Ice show, where I saw the Genie do the trick. I thought it was the COOLEST thing ever, so I asked my coach and we got to work. But for the longest time I had to deal with all the ridicule during it's adolescent phase. When you first start learning one, you look like you are simply "sitting on the…" Yeah... And my mom gave me the biggest flack on learning it! It's one of those things where you just have to keep at it, while in the meantime telling everyone, "Trust me, it'll make sense!".
Q: How do you think Young Artists Showcase has evolved since the first season? It's getting bigger and bigger, with Kurt Browning acting as a guest judge this year. How can it continue to grow and why should skaters and aspiring choreographers push themselves and take on this great challenge?
A: The Young Artists Showcase is figure skating's reclaiming of artistry. It has evolved to this highly celebrated competition where artists of the ice can finally have a voice again. It has grown to an international level where choreographers, judges, and YouTube personalities are corresponding with each other from all across the world. Audrey Weisiger, Doug Mattis, and Sheila Theilen made history in creating this competition. For me, it was one of the hardest undertakings I have ever done, and I miss every second of it. The exposure that these young choreographers are getting is HUGE and is still growing. It's the Project Runway, or So You Think You Can Dance of the ice. You fall in love with these choreographers, and you learn about your style and voice.
Q: You started doing choreography for other skaters at the age of 16. Who has been the most compelling person you have worked with or met in figure skating and what has been your favourite piece you have choreographed?
A: For me, it's Yebin Mok. The vibe that is present when we are feeding off of each other is unreal. She has this ability to completely lose herself to the ice, and she believes in every single movement I give her knowing that it is there for a reason and surrendering herself completely to the choreography, the ice, and the music. As to my favorite piece, it has to be "Some Nights" at Rockefeller Center. It has to be one of my favorite memories of my life. To have skated that with such an amazing group of professionals and to have done so on the world's most famous frozen stage was incredible. It was everything I could have imagined, and everything that I choreograph for.
Q: Tell us about one idea that you have conceived for choreography but have yet to translate onto the ice.
A: Oh Geez! There's quite a few! I have a concept of a group number where half of the skaters are blindfolded. I'm working on using Spoken Word artist Aaron Samuels poetry to dictate the movement. But the one that is coming soon is my next big project and could be slightly controversial; (A commentary) faceless skaters behind the most known face in figure skating….
Q: Who are your favourite figure skating choreographers and what are some of your favourite pieces?
A: My favorite figure skating choreographers are Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Robin Cousins, Lorna Brown, Cindy Stuart, Kurt Browning, Sandra Bezic, and (of course) Sarah Kawahara. Robin Cousins' "Satan Takes a Holiday" was pure genius! It was subtle, smart and extremely effective. Kurt Browning's "Nyah" was f-ing* brilliant. It was a dance. Pure and simple.
*Note to Adam: We say 'fucking' here, we're all adults, and I talk like a sailor. A really gay sailor.
Q: What was the opportunity of working with the Ice Theater Of New York like and why do you think ice theater has really taken off in the last several years?
A: It was magical. Getting the chance to perform live at Rockefeller Center was something I will treasure for the rest of my life. Moira North and Doug Webster have really taken the Ice Theater to new heights. They have expanded their productions to the Dollywood theme park, and have made recent appearances in television and in the celebrity world that is making figure skating RELEVANT! Ice Theater of New York is the celebration of art in skating. You don't have to be a bloody mathematician or IJS technician to feel like you are a part of their world, because with Ice Theater, you just need watch and listen. It's just that easy.
Q: Speaking of the Ice Theater Of New York, I recently read that choreographer and World Professional Champion Lorna Brown is encouraging skaters to work together to revive a World Professional Figure Skating Championships. Is this something you feel the sport needs right now and/or something you'd get involved with?
A: Well, anything that Lorna is for, I'm totally behind! She is a brilliant, brilliant artist on and off the ice. I really do think we need a World Professional Championship. I'm down to see a program that doesn't look like a coach/choreographer is checking off a grocery list of needed points. And it would be fun to see what ex-competitors do without the IJS noose around their necks! Oh the stories they could skate!
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
A: I love Taylor Swift... Hate me if you want! I think she's great! I don't care what anyone says, I think she's a strong and talented young lady!
Q: If you were to be stranded on a desert patch of ice with three figure skaters past or present, who would those three skaters be and what would you choreograph?
A: It would have to be Yebin Mok, Kimmie Meisner (always had a huge crush on her), and Ilia Kulik. Discarded Toys… Kimmie is the Sad Ballerina, Yebin is the Blackbird with the Broken Wing, Ilia is a Jack-in-the-Box, and I'm the stepped on G.I. Joe. A kinda Breakfast club Of Misfits.
Q: What's the biggest life lesson that figure skating has taught you?
A: Nothing happens if you don't put yourself out there. I would not be half the skater/performer/choreographer I am today if I didn't take those risks and put my work out there. I bombed the first YAS, so I tried again! It's amazing what persistence and drive can do. Don't be afraid of what others might think of you or your work. Dare to be different and own it. Make your voice known.
As a final note, I want to make a suggestion. If you're not familiar with Adam's work, check out http://www.adamblakeice.com or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/adamblakeice. If you're not familiar with YAS, check out http://youngartistsshowcase.net. Check out choreographers like Adam, Garrett Kling, Kate McSwain and Mark Hanretty (and too many more to name) who have choreographed in and skated in this program. There's no much positive energy going on with both Adam's work and YAS to allow negativity about IJS/CoP to rent space in your head long term. So don't be sour - spend an hour watching some great skating.
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