• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Get his skates on? Achiever Cousins never takes them off

Is ice-skating truly a sport that can reach Olympian heights?

CRACKING THE ICE: Robin Cousins has choreographed his ICE show to provide a balance between performance and tricksiness.
CRACKING THE ICE: Robin Cousins has choreographed his ICE show to provide a balance between performance and tricksiness.

Or is it an artform-cum-popular entertainment that can thrill millions by way of a TV reality show? The man to ask has to be Robin Cousins, recently returned from Sochi and the 2014 Winter Olympics where he combined being Team GB ambassador with commentating on the ice skating competitions.

Back home, however, he's not had much time to relax. There was a considerable "to-do" list awaiting his attention. For a start there was the final of ITV's Dancing on Ice to shoot - Cousins had been head judge in every series since 2006. Then there was his ongoing involvement with the Holiday on Ice shows - he frequently looks in on those, just to check all's well on and off the rink.

Meanwhile his own skating spectacular, Robin Cousins' ICE, is on a UK tour that comes to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre next week. At 56, he may not be spinning at speed on the ice himself these days, but in terms of producing, directing and choreographing, Cousins seems to have his skates on morning, noon and night.

His warmth and chatty enthusiasm when he talks about his workload suggests, however, that he thrives on being busy. Though he also claims that he's learning to say 'no' to work, it may be that he hasn't got the art of refusal up to medal standard yet.

He responds cheerfully to that "is it sport or art?" question as if it hasn't surfaced in just about every interview he's given. "Actually, it was my father who came up with the best answer," he laughs. "He said 'the sport is in the training and the art is in the execution' - and that's just as true for the 14 skaters in ICE, as it is for the skaters competing in Sochi. You only get to show the art after you've spent hours, day in and day out, training to build technique, strength and stamina."

While the competition judges at Sochi were eagle-eyed when it came to spotting whether a jump had taken off or been landed on the correct edge of the blade, most of us are hard-pressed to tell a salchow from a lutz, let alone differentiate between an inside or an outside edge. Don't audiences for ice shows just want to see the big jumps, the daring lifts, the elements that combine risk with difficulty?

"As ever, it's all about balance," says Cousins. "The important thing, for me, is to give people exactly what they want - just maybe not the way they expect to get it. Of course you have the tricks, and the tricksiness, but they're in place when they're required, where they fit interestingly into a sequence, or something in the music says 'now!' They're not put in just to show off. It's not about scoring points, it's about giving a totally different kind of performance and if it's at all competitive, it's in terms of someone wanting to do their best every time they go on the ice in front of an audience."

He's clear, in his own mind, what the differences are between going for gold and skating professionally on a frozen-over theatre stage. "I often talk about there being two kinds of skaters," he says. "The ones who skate from the head and the ones who skate from the heart. Some people have to know in their head - be confident - that they can do the technique bit, land those difficult jumps, get it right and make it look easy.

Only then do they start thinking about the performance aspect of it, and how to put some choreography, some artistic expression, into that craft. Others can only skate from the heart.

"They go on to the ice wanting to give the kind of performance that really draws audiences to it, but not always the judges. Maybe if those skaters could engage the brain a bit more, they'd probably be a bit more consistent, get better points, get the medals and be on the podium. But..." There's what can only be described as a 'say no more' chuckle, because - as viewers who tuned into the Sochi coverage will know - Cousins has a sharply analytical brain when it comes to assessing how skaters have scored but he's not above allowing the heart on his sleeve to chip in as well.

When it comes to ICE, his heart has definitely played a part in bringing his team of skaters together.

"They are all people I enjoy being around," he says. "A lot of them have worked with me before - including Natalie Cunningham, and yes, she is from Glasgow!" At which point, Cousins's ready laughter just rolls out, full force as he adds: "She's just so feisty.

"Natalie was my Tinkerbell when I did a production of Peter Pan. I didn't want a sugar-coated Tinkerbell - she can be quite a nasty piece of work when she wants - and Natalie just got it. She's one of those performers who skates with every part of her being, and the same is true of all the skaters in ICE. They've all felt the kind of pressures that can weigh against you in competition, where it's about tactics and what you can show the judges in three minutes.

Once you take away those pressures, allow people to enjoy performing - and you choreograph the kind of sequences where they can deliver artistry and personality as well as expertise - then they absolutely blossom. And that's what I love to watch.

"In a way, it's like being with TeamGB at Sochi, being there to support all the athletes and seeing just how hard they had all trained - and, yes, it does involve a lot of sacrifices from them and their families.

"And of course, it does take me back to my own Olympics, in 1980.

"So I do know what all these young people are feeling and hoping. Maybe, when you watch the sliding events, it looks like a mad, dangerous sport, but in the luge, the skeleton - in all those winter sports, actually - there is an art in knowing what to do and when to do it. It's just that in ice-skating, you really don't need to know anything about edges or axels to appreciate the art and the aesthetics.

"For audiences who come to see ICE, that's exactly what it's all about - they get to see wonderful skating. All the hard graft? We keep that to ourselves!"

Robin Cousins' ICE is at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre from Wednesday to Sunday, March 30. www.edtheatres.com

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

220911