Hamill hopes to lead her Ice Capades from extravaganza to art form


In the story of "Cinderella," the heroine dreams of a future of style and grace. So does Dorothy Hamill.

The one-time queen of American ice skating, who won an Olympic gold medal in 1976, purchased the venerable "Ice Capades" last winter as it operated under bankruptcy proceedings. She dreams of turning it into the world's premier ice show and hopes to lead skating entertainment into a new realm.

When "Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades" makes its first stop in Baltimore for six performances beginning tomorrow at the Baltimore Arena, audiences will find something different.

Gone is the familiar big variety-show format.

"It was really almost like a circus," says Ms. Hamill, who starred in the show last season.

This year, the new owner and Baltimore-based choreographers Nathan Birch and Tim Murphy, of the Next Ice Age, have taken up the beloved fairy tale of the abused stepsister who finds a prince.

"We're telling a story primarily through the movement of skating. And I want it to be presented in a beautiful, classy way," Ms. Hamill says in a telephone interview from the San Diego Sports Arena, where she was performing the title role with the Ice Capades' western company.

Ms. Hamill will not be skating in Baltimore, however. Instead, the eastern company stars Russian skaters Elena Kvitchenko, 26, and Rashid Kadrykaev, 29, as the dream princess and her prince.

"Basically, I skate in the west company through Christmas and then we switch," says Ms. Hamill, who adds that at 37, she is nearing the time to think about giving up performing.

Baltimore audiences will also see a locally grown skater: 18-year-old Jeff Merica of Annapolis, 1991 Junior Eastern Championship titleholder, who is in the corps of the 30-skater "Ice Capades" company east.

Telling a dramatic story through movement on ice represents a step toward her ultimate vision, Ms. Hamill says.

"My dream is to do an original ice ballet," she says, nothing less than a blend on ice of theater, dance and music, boasting original compositions, stories and choreography.

"Cinderella . . . Frozen in Time" has new choreography and music -- an original score by Michael Conway Baker, performed by the Sinfonia ofLondon Orchestra -- but rests upon one of the most accessible stories for young and old. "That's why we chose 'Cinderella' this year, because it's a familiar story. We started with the original music, which I'm very pleased with," Ms. Hamill says.

Like ballet dancers or members of a repertory dance company, "Ice Capades" skaters -- Ms. Hamill calls them "my kids" -- take daily classes to help adapt the athletic sport of skating to an art form.

"I think skating is still very much in its infancy stages in every aspect," says Ms. Hamill, who began skating at the age of 6 and won her gold medal at 19.

Skating was originally a mode of transportation, she explains. It gained the term "figure skating" through judging of precise skated patterns -- "it was more like artwork inscribed on the ice," she says -- and evolved into the sport of "athletic skating."

"It's how many times you can jump in the air and rotate and land on one foot," says Ms. Hamill.

There's nothing wrong with that, she quickly adds, saying "you'll see all the triples you'd ever see at the Olympics" in the "Ice Capades."

But she credits English skater John Curry, also a 1976 gold medalist, with pioneering more artistic skating with the company he established after his Olympics win. She skated with Mr. Curry's troupe before his retirement after revealing he suffered from AIDS.

"We've all had this dream to pursue the same kind of great skating company that John had," says Ms. Hamill, who first worked with choreographers Mr. Birch and Mr. Murphy in the John Curry Skaters. She has performed in Baltimore with the Next Ice Age.

"In my opinion there are only about two great skating choreographers in the world, and both of them are from Baltimore," she says.

"It's really a new field," she says, contending that most skating choreographers are former skaters accustomed to designing movements for soloists rather than choreographing for ensembles.

Ms. Hamill says she is negotiating for a television showing of the current "Ice Capades," that she hopes will air during the Olympic Winter Games from Lillehammer, Norway.

Ice Capades

What: "Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades: Cinderella . . . Frozen in Time"

When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.

Tickets: $25, $13.50 and $9.50

Information: (410) 347-2010

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