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Torvill & Dean: so nice on ice.


The two gray-clad figures are atopposite ends of the glassy ovoid expanse, man and woman, separate entities, spinning in their own orbits. Then, inscribing ever widening arcs, they sweep past each other and make eye contact--momentary but definite. Coming together at the center of the ice, they flirt--quick, light movements. Then all pretense at lightness vanishes. Irresistible impulse takes over as he holds and lifts and twirls her and she attaches herself to his left foot while with his right he guides her back and forth--to the ends of the earth--and then again to the center--where they become one. But an interloper--call it "reality'--is soon felt if not seen, and the couple disengage, to return to their original positions, separate again.

"It's called "Encounter,''Christopher Dean says of the routine he and Jayne Torvill, his partner in winning the 1984 Olympic ice dancing gold medal, had been rehearsing at New York's Sky Rink. The British pair, having returned to their hotel suite, are trying to relax during what is supposed to be a month-long break in their world tour. They and their company of 16 other skaters have just ended a series of engagements in Canada; they are soon to play the American dates beginning with a benefit performance in suburban Washington, D.C., for Nancy Reagan's Drug Abuse Fund and continuing through February.

"It's like all our numbers in that ittells a story set to, or inspired by, music,' continues the blond, compact, 28-year-old Chris. ""Barnum,' which is also part of our current show and which is set to music from the Broadway show of the same name, is all about the circus, from the opening fanfare, to the ringmaster, to the clowns, to the trapeze artists and tightrope walkers. In "Paso Doble,' [set to music by Rimsky-Korsakov and performed at the Olympics] I'm a bullfighter and Jayne actually becomes an inanimate object--my cape. "Encounter' [set to music especially commissioned by a friend named Michael Reed] is, of course, about a couple who meet by chance, have a short, passionate involvement, and then go back to their own lives, which have nothing to do with what happened between them.

"Lots of people ask, "What isit you're doing? Is it sport or dance?' Though we think that skating has the ability to make that crossover from sport to the side of dance and entertainment, we don't feel we have to label it. We skate to please--that's what we do.'

Whatever "it' is, it's also probablymore pleasing to others than pure sport (which lacks its emotion-charged narrative element) or pure dance (which, lacking ice, lacks the speed and fluidity it allows). And whatever it was before and up to the time of the Olympics, it's something more now. "By the Olympics, we'd already begun to feel stifled by the rules and regulations of amateur competition,' 29-year-old Jayne Torvill says of the team's development. "Certain holds you're not allowed to do. You're not allowed to hold your partner's skate [as she does in "Encounter'] or to do more than three revolutions in a spin. You can't lift above the waist. It's all for reasons of definition, to give guidelines, so that the judges can evaluate everyone on an equal basis, and because you have only four minutes to present your piece. Practically everything we do now would not stay within those guidelines.'

Not that going outside guidelinesand doing more than what was expected --or even thought possible--is anything new to Torvill and Dean. Their success amounts to what Chris describes as "a fairy story.' Yet while both he and Jayne say fate, that great mover of people and events in fairy tales, played a part in it, they quickly add that so did determination, hard work, and a love of skating.

Their story began in Nottingham,England, where both skaters were born and reared, each as an only child. "Spoiled brats!' Chris jokes, and Jayne tempers that with: "Sometimes parents of only children try very consciously not to spoil them. I was always told, "Remember, now, there's always someone better than you are.''

Jayne began skating at age nine,first as a member of a school group. She not only "enjoyed it,' as she evenly admits; she, Chris tattletales, "used to go out to the center of the ice when the car arrived to take her home, so that they couldn't find her. In my case,' he adds, "I started at ten because we were then living in a small village on the outskirts of town and my parents thought that skating might be a way to get out of the village and meet other kids.'

Jayne wasn't necessarily the firstkid he met, though they were certainly aware of each other and even icedanced together a few times during their teens. But they had other partners, Jayne as a pair (figure) skater, Chris as an ice dancer, as they moved up through the rungs of British amateur competition.

In 1975, their secondary-schooleducations complete, they teamed up as ice dancers. Within a year they moved into the international arena and placed first at St. Gervais and second at Oberstdorf while winning, in England, the Sheffield Trophy and the Northern Championship and placing fourth in the British Championship. By 1980, after two more British Championships, fourth place in both the European and World Championships, and fifth place in the Olympics at Lake Placid, they were still holding down full-time jobs, Chris as a policeman, Jayne as a secretary.

"It was a very hard time,' Chrisremembers, "because we'd be going on the ice to train at two or three in the morning after I'd finished a shift, or five or six in the morning before Jayne went to work. It came to the point where we felt we couldn't go on doing this--especially since we knew that the couple who'd finished just ahead of us in the World Championships in 1980 were going to drop out.'

"We felt,' Jayne continues, "thatif we worked hard enough and were lucky enough, we might move into third place in 1981. So we decided to give it a go, leaving our steady, reliable jobs at a time when every time you picked up a paper there was news of rising unemployment and we had only enough money to last us nine months.'

But before they came to the end oftheir funds, they were blessed by fate, in the guise of the Nottingham City Council. They'd applied to the group, among many others, for a grant that would enable them to continue their training through the 1984 Olympics. "We'd met with two city-council officials who were very nice,' Chris relates. "But they had no power to say yes or no. The council had no tradition of supporting athletes, and we couldn't offer them something in return, any more than we could, as amateur athletes, advertise the products of the potential corporate sponsors we'd approached. So we thought it was just another case of filling out forms. When we got a call from our local radio station, saying, "Congratulations, the council has agreed to sponsor you for the next four years,' we just couldn't believe it.'

The skaters returned value formoney, placing not third but first in the 1981 World Championships, winning M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire) citations from Queen Elizabeth, and becoming Nottingham's prodigal son and daughter. They even silenced the (out-of-power in Nottingham) Conservative Party's grumbling about the use of taxpayers' money to support two amateur athletes.

All that didn't last long, though."The idea,' Jayne explains, "had been to peak out at--or certainly closer to--the Olympics, and they were three years away. But even though staying at the top for three years is hard, we didn't feel we'd reached our goal at that point. We just kept at it, and even after the Olympics, when we felt we'd done all we could in the amateur area, we went after this other goal--forming the company we're touring with now.'

"We felt,' Chris says, "that aspeople, as dancers, as skaters, we wanted to move on. We wanted to do things, skating-wise and choreographically, that hadn't been done before, to have thought behind what we're doing, so that it wasn't just coordinated movements to a piece of music. As well, it had to have rhyme and reason, a concept, a story.'

The way Torvill and Dean conceivethe numbers for their touring show is not markedly different from their methods with their amateur-competition material, except that, with no rules or regulations to follow, their imaginations are now allowed freer reign. "Whether a number is set to an existing piece of music or one we commission,' Chris explains, "we begin by listening and listening to it and trying to come up with images and feelings that seem right for it. We almost always agree on what these images and feelings should be. We've known each other so long that we respond to things the same way. We might be in a room with a person we've never met before and, discussing him or her afterwards, we find that we'd formed the same impression. But,' Chris adds with a sidelong glance at Jayne, "once we're actually on the ice, trying to translate these images and feelings into specific physical movements, we might disagree. Jayne argues with me --and I argue with myself.'

"The disagreements don'tlast long, though,' Jayne says, "because we find out soon enough if something's going to work or not.' By "work,' she means: Does the movement convey the mood or story point it's supposed to? And, if so, is it achievable in practical, physical terms? Jayne continues, "The bullfighter-and-cape routine had many movements we weren't sure we could actually do. When that happens, you just try and try again.'

"Eventually,' Chris says,"you either bring it off or it's a dead-end alley. Or it seems to be a dead end, but it leads you off in another direction that is not only possible to do, but is a better idea for the piece.'

Jayne and Chris' professional disagreementsmay or may not derive from their basic differences as personalities, which continue to exist despite their long association. "Jayne's sort of stable and sensible,' Chris summarizes, "and I'm more aggressive--sometimes, but not all the time. I don't think we'd have been together as long as we have if we'd both had the same temperaments--if we'd both been fiery and aggressive, for example. Or, if we'd both been placid and easygoing, I don't think we'd have had the determination to go very far. So I suppose we're opposites who complement each other.'

Is the intense romanticism of theirrelationship on ice duplicated in private life? Chris says, "It's a very unusual relationship. It's not a man and a wife; it's not a brother and a sister. But it's more than a working relationship. We do have to spend most of the day together, most of the time--and within that span of time everything comes into your life. . . . We're the best of friends.'

"Oh, then you don't know aboutthe wedding?' Jayne joshes him, pretending their parents, who live within a few minutes of each other in Nottingham, have arranged everything.

One of the satisfactions of theirtouring company is that it has brought them together with other skaters, both socially and on the ice. Although he and Jayne had previously met all the skaters they asked to join their company, "they rehearse and perform either as pairs or individuals,' Chris says. But unlike competition skating, the show isn't just one pair of skaters followed by another and then another.

"There's more of a thread thatruns through it,' Chris says. "Skaters work together in various numbers and combinations'--as in the "Heaven and Hell' number. "In this sense, we're like a dance company, which is a corps, and even if there are principals, they come out of that corps,' he says.

"We may be better skaters onpaper,' Jayne says of herself and the other undisputed principal in their corps, "but when we started this company, we had no experience of putting together a company, either. We were really all in the same boat when we approached them last year and said, "We're forming a company, though we don't know what it will involve choreographically, or if it's going to be successful, or . . . anything.'

"One reason the company is so wellintegrated now is that not only did we start out together as skaters years ago, we all went through the formation of the company together, too.'

Do Jayne and Chris feel they missedout on anything during the long years they dedicated themselves to their art? And, indeed, do they feel they're missing out on anything now, as they continue with a regimen of daily classical-ballet classes and Spartan diets?

"We don't feel we've missedmuch,' Jayne answers, "because the things that normal people would do--like going out at night, getting married, raising a family--those things we can do when we're older, anyway. But what we've done and are doing could only be done when we were young. So we don't think of missing out on those things as a sacrifice.'

"If everything was sacrificeand hard work, I don't think we would have gotten through it,' Chris adds. "It's really what we wanted to do, what we love doing. Now that we've got this company together, our challenge is to keep it going; establish an audience who will return each year to see it. And even as we get older and eventually retire from performing, we'd still like to be involved in it.'

Photo: From the moment Jayne and Christopher teamed upin 1975, they seemed to skate and think as one, bringing to their art a whole new kind of enchantment.

Photo: Torvill & Dean's tour of America will continue through February; the highlight, they say, was their benefit performance for the Nancy Reagan Drug Abuse Fund.

Photo: No mistakes about it, Torvill & Dean's triumphant performance of "Bolero' and the "Paso Doble' at the 1984 Olympics marked them as the world's finest ice dancers.

Photo: In traditional pairs figure skating, the woman is "presented' as the star (left), but Torvill & Dean's unique partnership gives Christopher equal prominence in such routines as the moving "Encounter' (above).
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Title Annotation:Jayne Torvill, Christopher Dean
Author:Chase, Donald
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1987
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