International skating artist Florentine Houdinière created a moving farewell to those who left us in the Paris attacks.
If there was one good thing that came out of the horrendous events in Paris on November 13, it is the amazing creative wave it has unleashed to commemorate and honor the 130 victims. Tribute has been paid by French and international artists in countless way, but some stand out for their poignancy and originality. Florentine Houdinière’s skating choreography “Homage” is one of those that leave a lasting impression.
Homage tells the events as they unfolded. It’s the story of coming together and processing that terrible night… the story of the surprise assault, confusion, terror, fear, and tragedy…. But despite the shock, anger, and grief, there is a respectful message of hope and comfort in it. Those whose lives were claimed so suddenly, stay with us for, and beyond, a final goodbye.
“Like everyone else, the Paris events rocked me to the core. I knew I wanted to contribute something in my own way, on ice. When I heard Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack “Comptine d’un autre été” from the movie “Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain”, I knew that was it. I saw the images in my head,” Florentine tells us. In just a little under 3 minutes, the dance on ice moves through different emotions. “But I didn’t want to put a description on it, I prefer that people see and feel for themselves.”
Florentine is no stranger to ice theatre. A former French competitive skater, she is now working as a professional ice choreographer for shows and competitors, and as an artistic director. For her tribute, she tapped into her skills and experience of performing in high profile productions like Disney On Ice or Holiday On Ice. And yet, so much more goes into it than meets the eye. If dance choreography on terra firma is already complex, it is even harder on ice.
First and foremost it was important to Florentine to find skaters who were not only artistically up to the challenge but also easy to work with. The cast she assembled (performing alongside herself: Vianney Drouin, Peter Gérôme, Marjorie Kane, Althéa Pouchou, Jérémy Prévoteaux, Jimmy Rose, and Lucie Stadelmann) formed a cohesive group with no stars, and egos checked at the door. Next, there were logistics to contend with, from cast members’ availability to rehearsing during public skating sessions, and having but a mere hour actual time on ice for the video shoot. But using her experience to her advantage, Florentine expertly assembled every step of the way piecemeal fashion, working with skaters individually, and it was in fact only the day of the actual video shoot that the whole cast united for the first time. The perfection of the final choreography certainly doesn’t betray the challenges along the way.
That perfection is the result of a long and successful career on ice which goes back to Florentine’s early childhood and bears witness of exemplary determination and discipline. Born in Aix-en-Provence into an artistically-minded family, she stepped on ice for the first time at age 5, just like many other kids. Her trainer alerted her parents to her natural talent early on and found the necessary support that allowed the young girl to pursue her passion and quickly move up. From her mid-teens on she spent her summers in California, training at Ice Castle, the same place Michelle Kwan frequented.
After successfully competing for France in the 1990s – which in 1992 earned her the title of National Junior Champion – Florentine turned pro and appeared in lead roles in international ice show productions under the direction of ice skating legends such as Robin Cousins or Jane Torvill & Christopher Dean. All of that whetted her appetite for choreography, and for writing and directing various projects. She was soon in high demand: The world-famous Ice Theatre of New York retained her as a performer and soloist for several years in a row, international celebrities appearing in skating shows asked her to coach them, and she performed and choreographed in numerous TV ice competition shows. And among her career highlights: the title role in “Anastasia on Ice” adapted from the 20th Century Fox animated movie.
Gentle and considerate, pleasant and accommodating, Florentine’s grief about the terror attacks in her own Parisian backyard is palpable. But so are her strength and optimism, which she therefore chose to channel into creative and productive ways to deal with the horror. Hopping back and forth between the Old and New World, she is perfectly bilingual French and English, and intrinsically understands culture on both continents. It is that intangible quality of being a citizen of the world, of looking at people with a kind and loving eye that allows her work to transcend national borders and gives it that unique touch… cosmopolitan and firmly-rooted at the same time.
Homage is certainly one of the most moving, poignant creations in the wake of the November 13 events. But it doesn’t stop there – it commemorates victims of violence all over the world regardless of origin, race, or religion, and their loved ones they have to leave behind. A beautiful and aesthetically packaged message that cannot leave anyone untouched.
All photos courtesy Florentine Houdinière; lead image by Dariel Sneed; Florentine skating photo by Julie Biggs