Kerrs Continue to Push Dance Boundaries

The Scottish brother-and-sister team of Sinead and John Kerr perform their free dance to a space theme at the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships.

Scottish ice dancers Sinead and John Kerr have always been among the most unique dancers competing at the international level. This year will be no different. The team will be using a contemporary dance to the music Ruled by Secrecy by Muse.

“I think that this music will really reflect Sinead and John’s individuality,” said coach Evgeny Platov. “While this program is entertaining like their past dances, this will be entertaining from a different angle.”

In the dance, the brother-and-sister team will actually be portraying siblings. “They are a brother and sister who have survived tragic and unfortunate events, are reunited, and are helping each other through difficulties they encounter in their journey through life,” explained Platov. “There will be a piano piece used in this music that shows very high emotions. It will be interesting to see how they show their dramatic sides as individuals – not just brother and sister.”

“It’s a bit risky,” added Platov of the idea, “and we are hoping for the best. We really love this music and love working on this program. In today’s new rules, it is difficult to create a program that connects the skaters, music, and audience. It’s hard to meet the element requirements and reflect the characters of the theme at the same time.” But risk was always part of the Kerr’s repertoire.

In their early years, the Kerrs just wanted to make an impression and they did so. Their “Matrix” free dance at their 2004 Worlds debut was one of the most talked-about programs of the competition.

“The audience doesn’t want to always see the same thing,” John noted. “Everyone wants to have a different look and Delobel and Schoenfelder are really good at that. That inspired us to push it forward and find new ways of moving on the ice.” With that in mind, the couple outdid themselves last season.

First, they made history when John wore a kilt in their Original Dance (OD), a Scottish folk dance. “When the Dance Committee announced the rules, we knew we had to do something to portray our Scottish-ness,” John explained. “It would be hard for us to be Russian gypsies.”

“As soon as it came out that it was ‘OK’ to wear the national dress, John was keen on doing a Scottish folk dance with a kilt,” Sinead said. “Our fans would have been disappointed if we didn’t do a Scottish dance. The music (Erin Shore and Auld Lang Syne by Robbie Burns) was very recognizable.” “Once we got the committee to accept wearing a kilt, it was a no-brainer,” John noted.

Unfortunately, the Kerrs couldn’t use their family Tartan for the kilts. “We were limited by the material,” Sinead explained. “We wanted red to stand out on the ice and something light enough that it wouldn’t weigh down the costumes. A full kilt is eleven yards of material.”

“You don’t have to work so hard on the dances if Scottish is in your heart,” added Sinead. “The dances aren’t something you go to learn. It’s something that is always done at weddings and school parties. When you’re young, you go to the cèilidh and do the dances. It’s just part of the culture.”

The OD was hard to top, but their free dance was even better. Dancing to The Landing, Turn Around, and Gravity of Love by Enigma, the siblings portrayed space aliens.

“I had the music in my back pocket for a while, but because of the coaching change, we didn’t want to do anything too unusual the year before,” John explained. “When we were talking with Evgeny about the program for last season, the space theme came up. Evgeny surprised himself because he hadn’t done anything like that before.”

Indeed, Platov was a bit hesitant at first. “The music was great, but I was unsure of theme,” he said. “Once we had the theme and characters down, it all came together. Natella Abdulaeva did an excellent job on the costumes.”

“It was an innovative style of interpretation that no one had done before with the blank looks,” Sinead added. “That was Tatiana Druchinina’s idea. She made us look strange and alien. When we did our gala program, we also had hoods like speed skating outfits and used pulsating lights that made us look like we disappeared.”

“Unfortunately we have not been working with Tatiana Druchinina this year, but we have been having some input from Maia Usova,” John stated. Evgeny is our main coach and we are still really enjoying working with him. We think he’s a fantastic coach and a huge source of inspiration.”

“We’ve been working with Evgeny since June 2006,” Sinead added. “We trained with him in Russia while he was doing Dancing on Ice, then worked with him in Edinburgh for two months and a few weeks in the United States before Worlds in 2007.”

“We were training at Floyd Hall in New Jersey,” John continued, “but we moved to the Princeton Sports Center in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey in October 2007. We moved for a couple of reasons. It was closer to Evgeny and an Olympic-sized rink, plus we got a good deal on ice time and better control of our ice than we had before.”

“Evgeny is very open to ideas,” John stated. “When you’re older, you should be able to come up with your own ideas, not just do what a coach tells you. We need to have input into the process to skate our best and these days it’s very much a group effort, probably 50-50 between them and us.”

Platov agreed. “When you work with developed skaters like Sinead and John, you must allow for a good deal of input. A good coach must be very open to a skater’s creativity and ideas as it serves as their motivation.”

The couple trains for about four hours a day, five days a week on ice and two hours a day, six days a week off ice. “We do more in the summer when we’re making up the programs,” John explained. “Then we spend endless hours on ice, but with choreography, it’s not as intense. We spend a lot of off ice time in the summer building strength and power. We do weights two or three hours a day three times a week and ballet two or three times a week plus dance lessons.”

“This summer, we did bring in four-time World Swing Dance Champion, Robert Royston to work on our OD for this season,” John continued. “Since we decided to take a 40′s theme for our OD, it meant that we could take a swing/lindy hop style of dance which is definitely one of our favorites. Working with Robert has been great fun and he has been a great source of inspiration in putting the OD together. We’re using two pieces from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Boogie Bumper and Minnie the Moocher.”

Technically, their new OD will be more difficult as it’s much faster than their Scottish dance from last season. Platov, however, sees no problems. “They are so lively,” he said. “They both are familiar with swing and are able to pick up the tempo. With Robert’s influence, it will be amazing.” Platov calls Robert the ‘walking encyclopedia of swing’. “He knows everything about this style of dance.”

Although remaining true to their artistic roots, this summer the Kerrs have worked harder on improving their technical expertise. “We had a real breakthrough at last year’s Europeans when we had the highest technical score,” John noted. “It removed some doubts in people’s minds about our technical abilities.”

“Because we’ve always skated off the cuff and focused on presentation, our brains found it difficult to focus on the technical requirements and rein in our creativity,” Sinead explained. “We were more ‘go with the wind’.”

“When you get older (he’s 28, she’s 29), it gets harder to adapt,” John continued. “It’s not as natural to you. The one disadvantage of the judging system is that older couples have gotten caught as the system has adapted. Now you have to be Level 4 on every element and still perform well. The great new generation of young couples came in from juniors knowing the system, so it’s natural for them.”

“There’s always a little bit of difference between the callers at each event, so we’re trying to make our moves as obvious as possible and by the book,” John said. “We’ve got to make our step sequences more difficult and the twizzles have always been a bit of a bugbear for me, just not my thing.”

“With the recent rule changes it has meant that it is now even harder to get Level 4 on your elements,” Sinead noted. “This, of course, was what the Dance Technical committee wanted so it does mean we are having to spend a fair bit of time coming up with new ideas. One of the rule changes was that the lifts had to have difficult entries so coming up with things for that has been a lot of fun.”

“Lifts have never been a problem for us,” she continued. “We’ve always had at least one spectacular lift in each program. We’re always thinking of something new. We don’t want to do the same lifts a novice can do.”

“We try not to do too many pretzel lifts,” John added. “People just say ‘Oh, I just saw another pretzel girl’. We think we can come up with something else.”

“In the beginning, we also had some problems with spins because Sinead spins the opposite way as a lefty,” John added. “So it was difficult for her to change direction.”

The Kerrs have not had to worry about financial support lately. “Since we started getting such great support from first Sportscotland, and then UKsport, it has meant that we have been able to focus 100% on skating,” John said.

“We’ve also gotten a lot more shows in Italy, Germany and Switzerland with Art on Ice and the Daniel Weiss Winter Tour,” Sinead added. “The backing from UKsport pays for our training and the shows pay for our living expenses.”

“I did some modeling for dress designer Alexander McQueen a few years ago to make some money,” Sinead continued. John also did some advertising work, appearing in a coffee commercial and acting as a double for Ally McCoist in a movie. “I haven’t been doing too much acting for a little while now,” John noted. “That’s not to say that I wouldn’t like to do a little bit more of it in the future.”

The Kerrs will open their 2008-09 season at Skate America, then travel to Paris for Trophée Eric Bompard Cachemire in November. “The Grand Prix event in Paris will be especially exciting for us as it is the only Grand Prix event that we have not competed in before,” Sinead enthused. “Skate America should be great fun as well as we always enjoy performing in front of an American crowd. They are always so vociferous and supportive that you can’t help but enjoy performing in front of them.”

“I think if we could medal in both of our Grand Prix events,” Sinead continued, “then that would be great. Also, if we could get into the top four at Europeans and the top 6 at Worlds then that would be a pretty good season.”

They also hope to win a sixth straight British ice dance title and perhaps a seventh in 2010. “We’ll continue to compete through the Vancouver Olympics for sure,” Sinead said. “But we want to stop before people get bored with us. It’s always better to quit when you’re ahead.”

“I’d like to always stay involved in the sport,” she continued. “I’m not going to be a doctor or a lawyer. I’ve done a lot of media stuff before so I might get into journalism. I’ve put a lot of my life into this sport so why do something different.”

“We’ve done a lot of broadcasting on television because we’re talkative and people like our accents,” John added.

Off ice, Sinead said, “I like to do normal things with non-skaters.” John said,” I like to play golf with Evgeny and go-carting with our little brother. In June, we went back home to Scotland to spend some much needed vacation time with our family. It’s very important for us to get back home to spend time with our younger brother David, who is autistic, and our parents.”

“We also spent some of that time at Wimbledon which was a brilliant experience. Cheering on fellow Scot Andy Murray was a definite highlight,” he added.

This season, audiences can expect the Kerrs to have some highlights of their own.

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