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Theater on Ice : This weekend marks the 20th annual "Showcase for Skaters," a unique competition in which emphasis is on artistic ability.

July 16, 1993|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Libby Slate writes regularly for The Times.

In its 60-year history, the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, based at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank, has produced 55 national champions at various competitive levels and four world champions. This weekend will mark the 20th year that the club has presented a decidedly different kind of competition, one in which theatrical, not technical, skating skills are essential, and the judges have no background in skating.

Called "Showcase for Skaters," the event has featured such routines as a pair performing to Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman"--in which the man was dressed as the woman; a group number to music from the Broadway musical "Cats," complete with costumes and fireworks; a trio of girls impersonating operatic tenors Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras while skating to their music, and even extemporaneous numbers in which skaters present choreographed programs to music they have heard for the first time only 45 minutes previously.

"The club has always been concerned with the broader aspects of skating, not just the elite, and has a social focus, too," says Jack Curtis, a Granada Hills certified public accountant and former L. A. Figure Skating Club board member, who created the competition in 1974 with his wife, Eleanor. " 'Showcase' gave skaters with theatrical, not technical talent, those who couldn't do jumps, an opportunity to compete. They had had nothing that appealed to them or rewarded them."

The Curtises competed nationally in the 1950s and '60s and are active in the sport's governing body, the U. S. Figure Skating Assn. They also roller-skated and were familiar with an annual theatrical roller-skating competition in Bakersfield. They suggested it to the L. A. club as the model for a competition that would be less costly than the elaborate shows the club regularly staged, as well as allow those overlooked members a chance to shine.

The concept was an immediate hit. During its first five years, the event drew competitors from other states who had to join the L. A. club to compete. Since then, similar competitions have begun around the country, as well as in Canada and Italy.

The first competition drew 136 entries. Skaters may perform in dramatic, comedy, light entertainment, pairs, dance, character and extemporaneous categories, as well as in large and small groups for production numbers and in precision groups. This year, there are 170 entries, with the competition open to 5- and 6-year-olds for the first time.

Skaters are judged solely on theatrical and artistic abilities. "I hear Jack Curtis telling the judges every year, 'These people are auditioning for you. You're putting on an ice show--who would you select first to entertain the audience, with their choice of routines, music, costumes?' " says John Dlugolecki, a Burbank photographer, ice dancer and L. A. Figure Skating Club board member who is producing the show for the fifth time, this year with his wife, Vicki.

After competition in all the categories--37 this year--has been completed, the winners repeat their programs Sunday evening for another round of judging, with trophies going to the best extemporaneous interpretive performer and the skater or act deemed the most artistic. There are also group production numbers by the second- and third-place finishers.

Even skaters who compete in conventional meets welcome the "Showcase" forum.

Sixteen-year-old Taylor Neff of Studio City is a U. S. Figure Skating Assn. junior ladies competitor and a two-time category winner in last year's "Showcase." She will compete in the light entertainment, extemporaneous and dramatic classifications this year. "In regular competitions," says Neff, "you get a chance to express yourself with music, but here it's so much more artistic. You still want to do your best, but it's not as competitive."

Conversely, it was performing at "Showcase" that inspired conventional competition for Pam McDonald, 52, a Burbank hairdresser, grandmother and former Ice Follies skater. She had so much fun at her first "Showcase" event three years ago that she decided to start competing at U. S. Figure Skating Assn. adult meets. She has won several "Showcase" divisions, and this time will skate in the dramatic, light entertainment, pair and extemporaneous categories.

"I think everybody should broaden their horizons," she said. "There's a category in 'Showcase' for just about everyone. At my age, I figure, shoot, I'm not going to make the Olympics. So I might as well go out there and do what I can do."

Where and When What: "Showcase for Skaters." Location: Pickwick Ice Arena, 1001 S. Riverside Drive, Burbank. Hours: 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, with "reskate" 7 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Price: Saturday: $5 adults, $3 children 3 to 12 and senior citizens. Sunday: same for daytime event; for reskate, $8 adults, $3 children and senior citizens. All-event and day passes also available. Call: John Dlugolecki at (818) 848-0148 or Pickwick at (818) 846-0035.

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