This past Friday night, the city of St. Catharines played host to several retired Olympic figure skaters — including five Canadian medalists — as a part of the Rock the Rink tour. The group consisted of nine skaters from four different countries who came together to skate, dance and perform across Canada.
The headliners of the show were none other than Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. The pair acted as MC’s of sorts, introducing their fellow performers while addressing the anxious and excited crowd on several occasions.
2018 gold medalist and three-time world champion Patrick Chan, two-time silver medalist and three-time world champion Elvis Stojko and 2018 gold medallist and one-time world champion Kaetlyn Osmond rounded out the Canadian legends.
2014 bronze medalist and four-time U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott was the lone American to perform, while 2014 bronze medalist and five-time European champion Carolina Kostner represented her home country of Italy. Russian duo and two-time Olympic gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were among the nine skaters who took to the ice.
The skaters performances included a variety of dances; solos, duets, quartets and a final act with all nine skaters, set to a varying array of music. The on-and-off-ice couple of Volosozhar and Trankov performed a slow, mellow routine set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, followed by a loud, energetic Stojko routine set to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and “Thunderstruck”. Somehow the transition flowed smoothly.
While there were a couple slowed down performances, a majority of the show saw high-energy numbers with lots of fun being had by the performers. No matter the song, dance or style, every skater had a big smile on their face, as if being out there on the ice was almost therapeutic in a way. Patrick Chan made one older ladies’ weekend when he approached her seat and began dancing with her for a little while mid-song.
The unquestioned best act of the night was the penultimate performance put on by Tessa and Scott: an emotional routine set to Pink Floyd’s iconic song “Wish You Were Here”. The combination of the two greatest figure skaters in the world and one of the greatest bands of all time really captured what the Rock the Rink tour embodied: great music and even better skating.
Before the skaters began their performance, however, the crowd was entertained by the Birds of Bellwoods, a Canadian band that is travelling with the skaters as the show’s first act.
“Our job is essentially an opener,” said Kintaro Akiyama, the band’s double bassist. “We try to get the energy up and get the fans excited for what they’re about to see which is the world’s greatest figure skaters.”
Akiyama says that a lot of the bands’ mannerisms and qualities match the performance put on by the skaters.
“This was kind of the first time anything like this has been done before, with a rock band opening a show for a skating performance, so I think they were looking for a band that was a little different, not just in the sound but in the performance, and we checked off a lot of the boxes. Our music is for everyone — for kids, for adults, your grandma — and Tessa and Scott seemed to really like what we’re doing. We bring a certain energy to the stage that they thought would match well with [the skating].”
The band’s debut LP, Victoria, was released at the end of 2018, with heavy influences from two of Canada’s most famous bands, The Tragically Hip and Arkells, play a big role in both their music and live performances.
“[The Hip and Arkells] are two great bands to mention,” said Akiyama. “Arkells have kind of filled the void where, unfortunately, the Hip has left, but they’re kind of Canada’s next house band, and I feel that’s an accurate description of them; they know how to throw a good party. Both those bands are idols for us not just in terms of the music but also how to put on a good show.”
The inspiration was evident just by looking at guitarist Chris Blades’ outfit: jeans, a Jaws t-shirt and a tall hat with a rounded brim — a direct homage to the late Gord Downie.