February 15th, 2009

A day late, but let me replay for you the great Boléro performance by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984.

Torvill and Dean were at the top of competition ice dancing for a decade, and still perform in a commercial ice show, but the mesmerising, intensely sexy, and technically flawless Sarajevo Boléro is their masterpiece. They broke the mould of their hidebound sport and turned the poor relation of pairs skating into an art, the competition people really want to watch. I reckon their four-and-a half minute Gesamtkunstwerk actually improved on Ravel: his orchestral piece lasts a full 17 minutes, and the single mechanical tune rather outstays its welcome.

They skated round the rules to do it. Ice dancers may only skate for four minutes, and Dean (the self-taught choreographer of the pair) couldn’t cut Ravel any more. The sensational half-minute start kneeling on the ice was a solution to a technical problem, as it didn’t count as skating – they hoped. The judges had the simple choice between disqualification and perfect marks.

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