"Love 'n Life" - Kurt Browning on choreographing Stars on Ice
September 20, 2012
By Tina Tyan
Photos © Tina Tyan, IMG
In choreographing the show, Kurt drew upon his experiences of working with past great Stars on Ice choreographers.
"I certainly liked it when you got the impression from a choreographer that they really had a plan. And that they were motivated. And a little bit of looseness. If you're a little loose in your plan and you feel like you're being pulled into the equation, that's a good thing," he said. "Christopher Dean knew EXACTLY what he wanted, every step of the way. And he'd step on the ice and just start choreographing. 'I want you, and this is what's going to happen and...' He was very, very fixated on a goal."
Photo courtesy of IMG
"So I wanted to show the skaters that I had a passion for my ideas, 'cause I'm a very loose guy, very relaxed. And I think I kind of surprised a lot of people, not with how demanding I was, but just how focused I was. Never got mad at anybody in six or seven very high pressure days of choreography. Never needed to, really," he said. "We were supposed to be on the ice at 8, I was in the dressing room [going] 'come on guys, let's go!' You know, just keeping it strict, but laughing the whole time." His voice dropped into an ironic mumble, "because it was always me that was in the dressing room..."
"That's really what I learned, was that if they had a direction, then I trusted them. If they didn't, then you weren't motivated either, right? Yeah, so...I wanted to come in and motivate them."
Putting together the "Love 'n Life" show was not a solo effort, of course. Kurt drew on the experience and talents of many people, none more than the aforementioned three Jeff's.
Co-director and costume designer Jef Billings has been involved with the Stars on Ice tour from the beginning.
"Jef Billings has been director of Stars on Ice for a number of years. And that alone would have been enough to bring him into the equation because I have never done this before, and we only had three days. So I really couldn't see myself without that reassurance of knowing that somebody in the building knew how to do this. And also he's been a part of Stars on Ice in some capacity for 25 years. Longer than me!"
"Without Jef Billings a lot of things just would have been unfinished. I think I had great ideas, and he took them to the next step. And then there's the costumes. All I said to him with costumes was 'I want my skaters to be able to walk out of the building and get at least a couple of blocks away from it before anyone might guess that they have a costume on.' And he really did that. I think he really made our skaters look beautiful and handsome, and not like figure skaters. I think the show has a nice look to it this year."
2006 Olympic bronze medalist and 2008 World champion Jeffrey Buttle has been a member of the Canadian cast of Stars on Ice since 2005. In addition, he helped choreograph the 2010 Stars on Ice tour, and was Assistant Choreographer to Head Choreographer Renee Roca on the 2011 25th Anniversary tour. Kurt brought Jeffrey in to assist him.
Photo courtesy of IMG
"Jeffrey Buttle came in late, really late in the game. I needed him to save me, because I was by myself," Kurt said. "I just knew that he would be great, because he co-choreographed the show already with Renee and Cindy [Stuart]. So he already knew little things like 'we have to do a schedule, right?' 'Right! We have to do a schedule!' And when it came time to bring Jeffrey in, we taught him Adele and then he put it on paper for us. I knew other choreographers did it, but I didn't. So that was really cool that he brought such a sense of control and premeditation to the equation."
In addition to choreographing the "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin" group number with Linda Garneau, with time running low, Jeffrey allowed Kurt to split the choreographic duties on the finale. Kurt could concentrate on choreographing the group footwork steps, while Jeffrey worked concurrently on the dance part.
Geoffrey Tyler's ties to Stars on Ice are less immediately obvious. An actor, singer, musician, dancer, and director with extensive experience in the theater world, Geoffrey was drawn into the figure skating world through his friendship with Kurt. He and Kurt created last year's "Steppin' Out Of My Mind" number together, with Geoffrey providing the vocals live at a number of Stars on Ice stops. Geoffrey also worked with Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje on their free dance last season. His help proved invaluable to Kurt, who strongly believes in the importance of bringing outside perspectives to figure skating.
"Tyler was my right-hand man. Sandra Bezic had Michael Seibert. She threw all the ideas at him and he threw ideas back. And they looked at magazines, and got colors, and listened to music, and it was...you know, he was her Robin. So I knew that in Toronto I needed somebody, and what better than an unemployed actor?" Kurt laughed.
"Geoffrey and I are such good friends that there was no ego involved. He could bring me 25 songs as suggestions, and I would turn down all 25, and he would go get 25 more. I told him my idea for the group number for the boys and he was just listening to it. I remember he was shaking his head 'uh huh' and he was looking at his computer but he was going 'uh huh, sounds cool.' And then when I was sort of finished, he goes 'here's your song' and he pushed click, and it was 'Waiting for My Real Life to Begin.' I didn't even say anything. When it was over I just found myself standing in the room moving. And he goes, 'it looks good already!'"
Many of the concepts, particularly the comedic aspects of the "Four Stops" transitions, arose from Geoffrey and Kurt bouncing ideas off of each other.
"You need somebody...you need a foil, you need a sounding board, you need somebody to push ideas back at you. And he knows music and I *hate* music search. So we'd talk about the ideas and the next day there were always 18 songs to choose from. And then there's the music that he brought to the show. We were looking for the opening and I went 'you have to write it!' This is a guy that can write music! So he wrote some music and then I'd come back and say, 'lose the oboe, bring in a harmonica.' 'Ok!' The next day, the oboe's out, and he played the harmonica himself and recorded it in his bedroom. So the opening was recorded in his apartment. By him - no one else. He played all the instruments, everything, and helped with the writing."
"And he does the announcements - it's his voice. You know, it's kind of goofy how *much* he actually put into the show. So he was a real nugget," Kurt continued. "I think it's important to bring people into the skating world from outside. I've always done that, because it's a different viewpoint. We get fixated on what we know. And when you come in from that viewpoint, it's 'oh yeah, I've never seen it from that angle before'. So I think he's a really good addition to the show."
Overall, Kurt found many things rewarding about his new role with Stars on Ice.
"Watching how hard the skaters worked for me... Seeing the show come together was obviously really cool. Hearing people laugh..."
At the time of this interview, Kurt had not yet made the decision whether he'll choreograph Stars on Ice again. If he does, fans shouldn't expect to see Love 'n Life version 2.
"I just don't think that skating should be predictable. I don't like when people go 'Ladies and gentlemen, Kurt Browning' and you sit there and you already know what you're going to get. I've always hated that. So for me as an individual, I'm going to make you like...I'm going to skate to River and it's going to be quiet, and I'm going to be thoughtful, and there will be one little quick little comedic moment, but real short, and then back to it. Or red foam nose and we're full out, or whatever. I've always enjoyed those challenges, and I want my show to be a challenge."
Go to part 1 .
Want more? Read Tina's personal interview with Kurt Browning here or for reviews of the SOI shows, here  and here