On St Valentine’s Day (February 14th) 1984 a British TV audience of 24 million people held its collective breath, as Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean took to the ice in Sarajevo. They were about to perform their iconic Bolero ice-dance routine in their quest to win Olympic Gold. When the performance scores were returned, Jayne and Christopher had spectacularly succeeded in achieving their goal, and in doing so created a little bit of sporting history as well. So where did it all begin?
The golden partnership of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean began in 1975, a year before Ice-Dance skating was introduced as an Olympic sport. At the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid New York, Torvill & Dean placed 5th,an amazing result considering they only skated part-time. Possibly sensing the chance of future greatness, Jayne (an insurance clerk) and Chris (a policeman), gave up their day jobs to concentrate full-time on skating. From 1981-1984 they were World Champions, and only injury in 1983 prevented a clean sweep of European titles as well.
It was customary to perform ice-dance routines to a medley of music within a certain time frame. In 1982 Jayne & Chris (in gold outfits) danced to music from Mack & Mabel, and in 1983 (wearing white) they performed a circus based routine inspired by Barnum. Then the 84 season beckoned and Torvill & Dean went for something radically different. Instead of a medley they would perform to a solitary piece of music, which would gradually build to a crescendo finale. The music they chose was Ravel’s Bolero (originally a ballet score) with an unvarying rhythm and repetitive theme, and with an unaltered length of about 18 minutes!!! How on earth could Jayne & Chris translate this somewhat monotonous work, into a short spine tingling performance that would enchant the world?
Firstly the length of the music had to be significantly reduced to a manageable length, that didn’t diminish the overall power of the work. Some brilliant editing brought Bolero down to just over 4 minutes in length whilst still maintaining its integrity. Still just a little too long for use in competition; 4m 28s as opposed to 4m 10s; some clever choreography was required to make the music viable. By beginning the routine on their knees, Jayne & Chris could incorporate some intricate moves and count down the extra seconds of music. Only when the skating began would the routine officially be timed. Genius in my opinion, and Torvill & Dean’s precision dyed purple outfits ensured every move was accentuated, to the point where their two bodies became one. Portraying a story of lovers unable to be together (like Romeo & Juliet), the routine culminated with them climbing a volcano and throwing themselves into it, thus ensuring being together forever. The overall effect was mesmerising, enchanting and thrilling all at once. I admit though it took a while for me to become so enamoured by Bolero, I think because it was just so radically different. But by the time of the Olympics I knew every nuance of the routine. During the Sarajevo performance for a split second my heart was in my mouth. Had Jayne’s back/shoulder fleetingly touched the ice when it shouldn’t have? I remember at the time the TV commentator had the same thought as me, and then mentioned something about the camera angle being different for the judges. When the results were announced Torvill & Dean swept the board with nine perfect 6.0 scores for artistic impression. I need not have worried; my sporting heroes with a total of twelve 6.0 scores (from 18) had struck Gold.
After the Olympics Jayne and Chris turned professional and toured the world with their unique brand of entertainment. I remember a TV special called Fire & Ice which was just wonderful, and I was enthralled by their “live” shows which I delighted in attending. By 1994 however a change in rules meant that Torvill & Dean although professional, could return to “amateur” competitive skating. With the Lillehammer Games in Norway beckoning Jayne & Chris returned to the Olympic arena. Once again I took a little while to warm to their new routine Let’s Face the Music and Dance, which seemed very classic in style to me but somewhat devoid of the usual “flamboyant” air I expected from them. It seemed that the rules being used by the skating authorities at the time, showed a preference for technical clean lines as opposed to individual flair. So with this understanding Torvill & Dean went to the European championships in January of 1994. They won the event but only very narrowly, and perhaps a little shaken by this, undertook a revamp of their routine adding some trickery and pizzazz before the Olympics in February. The new version of Let’s Face the Music was Torvill & Dean at their very best. Again their performance was spell-binding, but when the results came up they had only done enough to win Bronze. It appeared some of the judges felt an illegal lift had been incorporated into the revamped routine, and so marked them down accordingly, although more harshly than was required. However, Torvill & Dean were far too diligent to their craft to have made such a fundamental error. At the time, and to this day even, I think Torvill & Dean were robbed of a second gold medal. The subjective nature of the sport makes it difficult to ensure that the interpretation of the rules remains constant for every competition. It would seem that had Jayne and Chris left their Let’s Face the Music routine as it was in the Europeans, they would have had a better chance of a higher placed medal in Lillehammer. But I can’t help but think that a bit of snobbery toward “professionals” returning to competition played a part as well.
Once again Torvill & Dean returned to the professional circuit until in 1998 without fanfare they quietly hung up their skates. That may well have been the end of the story, but celebrity/reality TV shows had gathered popularity during Jayne and Chris’s retirement. So in 2006 to my utter delight, Torvill & Dean returned to the world of performance through Dancing on Ice. Once again a TV audience could witness the sheer mastery, genius and beauty of Torvill & Dean, albeit mainly through the choreography & teaching used by them with celebrity non skaters. The couple have performed special routines throughout the series, and a recent performance to The Beatles In My Life was an emotional viewing. Seeing their effortless unified synchronicity, in a performance with little T n D signature moves throughout was, as always, just a joy to behold.
2014 brings the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and our ice-dance stars this time around are Penny Coomes & Nick Buckland. Just getting to these Games is such an achievement for this young couple, as Nick underwent heart surgery in October having been diagnosed with tachycardia (exceptionally high heartbeat). In January they won Bronze at the European Championships, but will face tough competition in Sochi from the USA, Canada and Japan.
But for Torvill & Dean 2014 brings the last series of Dancing on Ice and the 30th Anniversary of Bolero. Through them, I gained a deep love and a better appreciation and understanding for a truly wonderful sporting art form. So, Jayne & Chris, happy anniversary, thank you so much for all the memories. It’s been a blast!