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Getting It Down Cold

Choreographer to Ice-Skating Stars Makes Simi Valley Rink Home Base

October 22, 1997|DAVID GREENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the Cleveland Clinic, where Hamilton's cancer was treated. The hospital plans to build a $40-million cancer research facility.

In September, Kawahara became the first ice choreographer to win an Emmy. It was for another Hamilton television special-- a March performance titled "Up Side Down," also on CBS.

Hamilton is not Kawahara's only fan. Babilonia and Gardner, who won U.S. pairs titles five times and the 1979 world championship, have counted on her skills since 1985. Kawahara creates as many as three routines for the pair a year.

"I'm sure she has a vision," Gardner says. "It all comes from her head. It's like a kind of artist. A choreographer's canvas is the skater and the ice."

Before she even meets with her featured skaters on a show, she spends five weeks of seven-hour days creating the moves of the routines with an assistant.

Preparing the skaters for a show can take up to five additional months.

Kawahara and her family moved to Westlake Village from West Los Angeles in July, but she has been using the Easy Street rink for four years. Although the practices are not closed, the management in Simi Valley offers her and her high-profile clients more privacy than other rinks closer to Hollywood.

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"When we work, we work," Kawahara says. "It's not a performance."

Kawahara recently returned from a two-month stint in St. Petersburg, Fla., where she choreographed Disney's "Hercules on Ice," now on a national tour. She worked 15-hour days, six days a week, planning the moves of 43 skaters.

She is married to Jaime Alcroft, who is a stand-up comedian and one half of the Mack and Jaime comedy duo. Her husband and three children were able to spend three weeks with her during her Florida assignment.

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"It's a five-ball juggle," Kawahara says. "It gets very difficult on the family."

Kawahara choreographed the "Nancy Kerrigan Special" in 1995, the "Wizard of Oz" and "Champions on Ice" last year and the "Pocahontas National Tour" for 1996-97. She is in heavy demand, and with good reason.

"They are not just numbers you look at," says Hamilton of Kawahara's blueprints. "They are numbers you feel. She's not limited to doing the same thing over and over again.

"You can be the greatest skater in the world, but without a good program, you're not going anywhere."

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