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The Next Ice Age carves out gratifying anniversary program


For the past five years, Baltimore's Northwest Ice Rink has been a studio for a group of performers who have been blurring the distinction between athletics and art.

The Next Ice Age is an ice-dancing company that follows the trail blazed by Jackson Haines and, more recently, John Curry. Saturday night, the Next Ice Age and guest performer JoJo Starbuck celebrated the company's fifth anniversary with a short but gratifying program of three dances by artistic director Nathan Birch.

Ice dancing is faster than stage dancing and has more space to cover. The horizontal lines of an arabesque can last forever as the skater moves across the rink. Nonetheless, the choreographer must still adhere to principles familiar to any dance fan, and Mr. Birch understands this well.

"Cosmic Messengers," a work in three sections set to music by Jean Luc Ponty, features company performers Gabriella Galambos, Cathy Foulkes, Lea Ann Miller, Cindy Stuart, Tim Murphy and Mr. Birch. Using circular patterns as a foundation and a metaphor in the first section, the six skaters formed a tight circle, each with one raised arm to form the spokes of a wheel.

The two following solos, by Ms. Galambos and Mr. Birch, gave further evidence of how well Mr. Birch works within a musical framework. Yet, "Cosmic Messengers" felt unfinished, as if it were missing its final coda of unison.

Next, a quartet for the four women, "The Akashic Records," mirrored the ethereal music of Claude Debussy.

And closing the evening was the humorous "The Nancy Sinatra Sweeet." Five of Ms. Sinatra's songs were the inspiration for this kitschy parody that highlighted the pyrotechnics of Ms. Starbuck. The dance was a lighthearted and well-received finale to Mr. Birch's introspective works.

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