When Olympic gold medalist John Curry set out several years ago to fuse figure skating and dance into a new artistic medium he called "ice dancing," both dancers and skaters expressed doubt that it could be done. Applying the principles of dance choreography to skating, some feared, would destroy the sport's physical thrill and charm.
But judging from the delightful special, "John Curry Skates Peter and the Wolf and Other Dances" tonight at 8 on Channel 26, the 32-year-old former world champion is doing an admirable -- if not wholly successful -- job of creating a unique and enchanting art form.
Curry is not the first to be intrigued by the exciting dance possibilities inherent in skating -- particularly the freedom of movement and exhilarating spatial reach that can be achieved on the almost friction-free ice. Dance notables such as Edward Villella, Jose'Greco and Gene Kelly have experimented with ice-skating choreography since the '30s.
But Curry's effort at ballet on ice is broader and bolder than those precedents. This is most evident in the program's strongest number, "Tango, Tango," a sizzlingly sensuous pas de deux set to music by Igor Stravinsky and Jakob Gade.
Choreographer Peter Martins of the New York City Ballet masterfully combines the crisp, clean articulation of the classic tango with the sultry, sweeping turns of couple's skating to create a breathtaking number, meticulously executed by Curry and JoJo Starbuck. A stark spotlight effectively highlights the steam rising from the ice.
Unfortunately, the first and longest number, "Peter and the Wolf," is the weakest. Set in a small segment of the rink against a cartoon-like backdrop, Curry's choreography often seems cramped and uncomfortable. In the extensive pantomime action -- such as climbing a tree -- the ice skates are a distracting presence.
But individual dancers shine in brief solos, particularly Jack Courtney as the wily wolf and Cathy Foulkes, who manages to waddle with dignity as the duck. Children are likely to enjoy the story-dance, and adults should find it worth watching, if only for Peter Ustinov's narration against Sergei Prokofiev's music.
Curry fares better in his grand finale, "The Competition," in which he adds subtle dance artistry to skating's guaranteed crowd-pleasers -- the whipping turns, spine arching backbends and thrilling jumps. In the manner of a classic ballet, he weaves together quick, bright solos, elegant pas de deux and synchronized ensemble work.
Occasional gimmicky moments are offset by frequent lovely passages and a few genuine goosebump-rousers. The program finishes with an abrupt but effective cut -- while the dancers are still spinning -- that seems calculated to make the audience want more