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Jayne Torvill: Britain’s Very Own (Ice) Dancing Queen

Who is Jayne Torvill?

Jayne Torvill, OBE (Order of the British Empire) is a legendary English figure skater and ice dancer. Jayne Torvill won a figure skating Olympic Gold Medal along with Christopher Dean during the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. She was barred from competing in the Olympics after turning professional soon after that. However, she returned to the Olympics after a rule change by the International Skating Federation in 1993. She won a bronze medal during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. In the process, she became one of the oldest figure skating medalists in Olympic history.

When was Jayne Torvill Born?

Jayne Torvill was born on October 7th 1957 in Clifton, Nottingham, England. She grew up in Nottingham, where she attended the Clifton Hall Girls’ Grammar School. She also worked in Nottingham as an insurance clerk at Norwich Union.

How did Jayne Torvill start Ice Skating?

Jayne Torvill was hooked on to ice skating at the tender age of 8 after a life changing after-school trip to the local ice rink. In the year 1971, when Jayne Torvill was only 14 years old, she became the British National Pairs Champion along with her partner Michael Hutchenson. After parting ways with Hutchenson, Torvill continued to skate on her own for a while before teaming up with Dean in 1975. After they finished 5th during the Lake Placid’s Winter Olympics in 1980, Dean quit his policeman’s job and Jayne Torvill gave up her job of an insurance clerk. They both decided to skate together full time.

When did Jayne Torvill win her Olympic Gold Medal?

During the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Jayne Torvill and Dean’s performance to the music of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, became famous world wide. For their performance, Jayne Torvill and Dean received twelve perfect 6.0 marks. This was the first of five occasions when the pair of Jayne Torvill and Dean was awarded all perfect scores for artistic impression. Watched by an audience of 24 million Britons, it ended up being one of the most watched achievements in the history of British sports. Since the time limit was four minutes and ten seconds and their music was four minutes 28 seconds, they moved their bodies to the music for 18 seconds before starting to skate.

Torvill and Dean turned professional after their 1984 Olympic win and under then existing Olympic Committee rules their professional status made them ineligible to compete in the Olympics again. However, in the year 1993, much like every other sports governing body around that time, the International Skating Union relaxed the rules for professional skaters, allowing professional skaters to participate in the Olympics. As a result, Jayne Torvill and Dean participated in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, winning a bronze medal.

Between 1998 and 2005, Jayne Torvill went on a seven year hiatus from skating. In January 2006, Jayne Torvill and Dean began starring in the ITV show Dancing on Ice. Each year, the show runs from January to March and then goes on tour to arenas across the United Kingdom. In November 2011, Torvill said, “the standard each year has gotten higher and higher, which is exciting for us – to think what we can achieve with people who have never skated or are relatively unknown to skating.

Jayne Torvill and Dean were appointed as the honorary ambassadors for the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships which was held in Sheffield, England. In February 2014, Torvill and Dean visited Sarajevo for the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Olympics, and recreated their Bolero routine in the same arena where they won the gold.

Which are some of Jayne Torvill’s most legendary performances?

Encounter 1984

Encounter runs at over six minutes and was for Torvill and Dean their most enduring professional performance, winning them the World Professional Championships in 1984 and known to be used as performance piece until 1987. They resurrected the piece in 1994 to win at the World Team Championships. It is last known to have been performed at Wembley for the Face the Music World Tour filmed in June 1995.

The piece’s theme revolves around two people who walk past each other on the street, then they notice each other, do a double take, and instantly fall in love. What follows is a brief encounter of two people very much in love but destined to be apart. The costumes for this performance were very minimalist and unobtrusive, meant to keep up with the understated-ness of the piece. Jayne Torvill’s costume consisted of a sleek light grey-blue dress which was cut like a mini-skirt. Dean wore a silver-grey outfit. During Encounter’s repeat performances in the 90s, Torvill wore a dress designed to look identical to the original. Dean’s shirt and trousers were designed to match the colours of Torvill’s outfit.

Shepherd’s Song 1986

This dance was designed specifically for the 1986 Sports Aid Gala, the proceeds of which went to causes in need in Africa. There is no clarity about any repeat performances of this dance. However, a photo caption on page 76 of the book Fire on Ice suggested that Shepherd’s Song was indeed incorporated into the World Tour, especially for for its next visit to the Wembley Arena.

The lyrics are in fact those of a very simple old folk song depicting a Shepherd and Shepherdess calling to each other across mountain pastures. 

The booklet with the CD “A La Francaise” gives the following translation of the song.

Shepherd, across the water, you are scarcely having a good time,

Sing bailero, lero, lero.
Scarcely, and you?
Sing bailero, lero.
Shepherd, how do I get over there, there’s a big stream, sing bailero, lero.
Wait, I’ll came and get you,

Bailero, lero, lero.”

Paganini 1987

Paganini was a full Company Ballet that choreographed by the legendary Tatiana Tarasova. Torvill and Dean, served as the leads for this performance along with Yuri Ovchinikov. This spectacular performance consisted of many complex and stunning balletic dance exchanges between Torvill and Dean. It also featured a few solo performances with the other company members who were present on the ice along with Jayne Torvill and Dean. The piece evoked a sensation of a traditional Russian ballet with both Jayne Torvill and Dean performing extremely well throughout the routine, punctuating it with many beautiful and unique moves. The costumes are simple – Chris in a flamboyant white shirt piece and Jayne all in white, very similar to, if not the same as, her costume in Shepherd’s Song. Originally filmed and performed for the one-off televised production with the Russian All Stars at the Luzhniki rink in Moscow in 1987, it is not clear whether it became a permanent part of the Russian All Stars Tour, but it seems likely that it was performed in at least the first five months of the Tour. La Ronde, another company performance that they were working on during that time was probably never finished or performed. It would appear that it was probably disbanded and replaced with Akhnaton.

Excerpt from Torvill and Dean’s biography:

Tatiana wanted to do a story of Paganini, portraying two sides to his character. Niccolo Paganini was many things: the greatest violin virtuoso of the last century, a composer, the megastar of his day, and romantic adventurer devoured by melancholy. He had seemed to Tatiana to be a perfect hero for Russian – a soul in conflict with himself. Yuri Ovchinikov would be dancing Paganini’s crazy persona, Chris dancing the creative one, with Jayne as the great man’s muse. Neither of us took to the number, but restrained ourselves for the sake of a peaceful life.

Missing 1987

This (intentionally) dimly lit performance was always accompanied with South American Music. The performance gave the impression of two people on the run, traveling at night and contending with the elements. Chris wore grey-brown trousers and shirt, with Jayne in a simple one-colour burnt red dress. This dance featured some incredible symmetry, most notably the spinning moves that were specifically created to demonstrate the state of despair running through the dancers/characters. This routine was performed throughout the Russian All Stars Tour. It was also performed at various exhibitions including the 1990 Sports Aid Gala. In the year 1994, Missing was recreated for the American Artistry on Ice documentary.

Excerpt from Torvill and Dean’s biography:

One thing that required our attention was Chris’s response to some Andean music, which reminded him of the terrible things – particularly the officially sanctioned kidnappings – that had been happening in Chile and Argentina in recent years. The subject was very much in the air after the Falklands War, and more recently the Costa Gavras movie, Missing. Chris saw in his mind those who had vanished, the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, friends and children, and devised a series of movements linking two people who could be seen as friends or brother and sister, confronting authority, cowering before it, searching for lost loved ones, and ending where they started, in limbo.

Akhnaten 1987

Akhnaten is another company performance devised for the Russian All Stars Tour that was never commercially released on film, and only a home video filmed by a former cast member is available on the internet. The costumes were of traditional Egyptian royalty design. The piece received good reviews including repeated praise in the New York Times, and they refer to the piece regularly in their autobiography.

Excerpt from Torvill and Dean’s autobiography:

Chris had been interested for a while in ancient Middle Eastern history, and on a trip to London immersed himself in the Egyptian room of the British Museum. He liked the feel of the mythology, Isis and Osiris, Pharaoh as god, the idea of dying as rebirth into the real world, the richness of the funerary ornamentation, all that gold lapis lazuli, the stylised poses in the paintings, the hieroglyphics, and in particular the love story of Akhnaten and his queen Nefertiti. Then by chance we came across the CD of a new opera by Philip Glass, called, of all things Akhnaten. This is not exactly top ten material – minimalist style, vastly long phrases of repeated notes, but in mood just what Chris was looking for. All we needed was to reduce a three-hour epic to 30 minutes. To do that demanded total immersion in the story and imagery. It was an odd thing to do, which involved some long negotiations on our behalf with Philip Glass himself.

The dance opened with a strong image to seize and hold the audience. A huge pyramid of silk, 25-foot square at its base, was being admired by modern tourists. Suddenly, a line attached to the top whipped the pyramid up and away, revealing the world of ordinary Egyptians in the 14th Century BC, all in skirts and sandal-like skates. Chris as the Pharaoh made his entry carried on a throne, which led into a love sequence with Jayne as Nefertiti, then a rebellion by the people and a royal death, leaving Jayne/Nefertiti in mourning.

1989 Revolution/Imagine

Performed during the latter half of the All Stars Tour and also used to win the 1990 World Professional Championships, this piece is very different from any other they performed. This visual stunner was extremely technical and physically demanding. Iy involved quite a few high and drawn out lifts. True to the style of the music, Revolution is extremely fast-paced and performed with an aggression that neither had displayed before. The movements express violence, dissent, anguish, and entrapment. The costumes were very sophisticated in style: Chris wore back trousers, white open-necked shirt, and a smart black and purple waistcoat, while Jayne wore black trousers and a voluminous white silk blouse. In an unusual move, Jayne Torvill put on black skates which blended right in with her trousers. Something like this was normal for Chris who always wore skates which matched with the dominant colour of his costume. However, Jayne Torvill rarely matched her skates with her costumes, and she used white skates for most of her routines.

Excerpt from Torvill and Dean’s autobiography:

Revolution was most ambitious. Its inspiration was a Montréal dance group we had seen in Sydney with the odd name of La La La Human Steps, whose rapid, machine-gun, staccato movements were unlike anything we had seen before. Chris thought the technique might be adapted for the ice, if we replaced the dancers’ lifts and throws with quick-fire upper-body movements. It was long, fast and very testing, not only of our abilities as dancers, but also as actors, in particular Jayne, who had to go completely against character, with vicious movements and displays of anger. That was new, not only for her: nobody to our knowledge had done anything like this on ice before.

Excerpt from the Blade Runners documentary:

I didn’t like Revolution at first because I’m not an aggressive person, so it was good that he pushed it because it brought out another side of me – another character that I could portray”. Chris then goes on to explain the theme of the piece, and explains how it leads into imagine and why the perform the two pieces together: “the idea is of it’s a young couple that have been married for a few years and it’s not that fairytale life of happiness. Which happens to a lot of people – that something goes wrong and tension builds and anger grows within that. And I wanted to put that onto the ice – this raw aggression – and overstate it – so that, for people sitting right the way back, it becomes literal though body. But it follows on in a sort of resolve – not necessarily a happy ending – it then goes into Imagine. Maybe there is something else, maybe there is a compromise or at least an understanding of their situation. They may not get back together or it may not be resolved but they’ve analysed that they have a problem and maybe there is something to work towards and achieve a happier solution

1991 Iceworks/Tilt

In the year 1990, Jayne Torvill and Dean were approached by the BBC programme Omnibus to do a special programme on their choreography. The documentary focused on how their choreography had advanced during their professional years, away from the rigid rules of amateur competition, focusing on the comic performance of Hat Trick, the highly political expressiveness of Missing, the technical difficulties of Oscar Tango, and the stylistic flamboyance of Revolution / Imagine. The documentary makers also managed to convince Jayne Torvill and Chris to choreograph, perform and produce a specific dance for it. The piece was named Iceworks for the documentary but later named Tilt when performed at events. As an ice dancing piece produced for television, Iceworks was able to include dry ice effects, an artistic backdrop, and highly evocative lighting effects in its production. The up-and-coming Jazz composer Andy Sheppard was asked to compose an entirely new piece of music specifically for the routine, and Chris worked closely with him on the composition process. The music was derived initially by blending saxophone with the sound of Chris and Jayne’s blades gliding across the ice; thereafter a beat kicks in together with a slightly ethereal simple tune. The costumes used for this piece were essentially matching tight fitting all-in-one pieces. The colour scheme was a mixture of pastel colours: yellow, pink, mauve, and blue.

This dance routine was extremely difficult for Jayne Torvill and Chris:

“I couldn’t relate to the stark, modern music that had been commissioned by the Omnibus people. To be frank, I couldn’t understand Chris’s ideas for the music, couldn’t understand what he was trying to get me to do” (source: Facing the Music: 1995:227–228). They were working to a tight deadline for the programme but in the end the pressure became too much and the programme was delayed with the BBC’s agreement. Jayne took a two-week break with her just-married husband Phil Christensen before returning to start work with Chris on Oscar Tango. Iceworks was later completely for transmission as part of Omnibus in 1991, and achieved the highest viewing figures ever for the programme.”

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