Featured Story

Soul on Ice
By Ellen Stern
Kennedy Center Stagebill
September 2001

In The Next Ice Age, they’re always skating on thin ice – thanks to Brian Klavano, who makes it. Klavano is in charge of converting the Eisenhower Theater into a skating rink for the ice-dancing ensemble, which visiths the Kennedy Center this month.

The Next Ice Age combines classical dance traditions with Olympic-caliber feats of flight. From September 20 to 22, Dorothy Hamill and the nine-skater troupe will glide into town in a program that features the premiere of a new work: The Steely Dances, an ice ballet set to the music of the Grammy-winning rock group Steely Dan.

As production manager of Willy Bietak Productions, Klavano concocts glassy surfaces from Washington to Japan (for the NHL), Lincoln Center to las Vegas, movie set to cruise ship. And he’s the first guy ever to ice the Ike.

“Fortunately, the Eisenhower stage is completely level,” he says. “We have an aluminum-plate system, which is a bunch of aluminum plates with tubing through them for circulating the refrigerant. Each plate weighs 250 pounds, is 20 feet long by 2-1/2 feet wide, and looks sort of like a hot plate or griddle. The plates are laid down side by side, like piano keys, to make a 60-by-40-foot surface – which fills the stage – and then hooded up with plumbing hoses connected to a refrigeration unit in a truck outside.

“We cool down the plates to about 15 degrees by circulating a brine solution. THen we spray light layers of cold water. They freeze right to the plates.” This process alone takes 36 to 48 hours. “You can’t rush it,” he says. “We’re talking about thousands of layers.” The result is two inches of perfect ice, which will hold at 26 degrees, the temperature preferred by Hamill. “Any thicker,” Klavano says, “and it would be hard to keep the surface dry and cool. With the body of heat of the audience out front and the theatrical lighting above” – or a power failure and the compressor motors going off for a couple of hours – “it would melt.”

To cure the gouges produced when skaters take a very deep edge or toe-in to propel themselves skyward for a jump, he uses a small resurfacing machine to scrape away the snow and release a fresh layer of hot water. The water dries quickly, and the ruts are erased. “It’s a real science,” he says.

And an art as well.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner.