Geoffrey Tyler is a Toronto-based dancer, singer, actor, director, and a musician. He’s had a stage career and a screen career. He’s been on radio. He played the Artful Dodger when he was 10. But now this gregarious hoofer can also call himself a performance coach and a choreographer for figure skaters.
This season, Tyler has choreographed a competitive figure skating program for the first time in his varied career. Nothing was going to stop Tyler from attempting this new life experience when ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje approached him with their latest interesting quest: They needed a short dance routine to music from “42nd Street.” Weaver came up with the music; she had skated to it when she was six years old.
“That was in my wheelhouse,” Tyler said. After all, last year, he played a role in the Stratford production of the musical about a musical. Poje figured he knew the production inside out. The dance team was looking for authenticity.
“We wanted to bring something different to what we were doing this year,” Poje said. “We wanted to bring something a little fun. He was excited as soon as we asked him to come on board.”
It’s not as if Tyler was a stranger to Weaver and Poje. They turned to him as a performance coach for their poignant “Je Suis Malade” routine for the 2011-2012 season and listened to his performance philosophy: look at each other, commit to authentic, honest communication because the audience will recognize sincerity.
And that season they did listen and learn. Weaver and Poje competed a lot that season with “Je Suis Malade,” with the intent of winning a medal at every competition they entered, a tall order. They came close. They did three Grand Prix events, winning silver at each, and made it to the Grand Prix Final, where they were fourth. They used “Je Suis Malade” to finish fourth at the 2012 world championships in Nice, France. Most notably, Weaver and Poje received standing ovations at all of these performances, even Nice. Coach Anjelika Krylova was moved, too. She wiped away tears on the sidelines in France.
“On the ice, we still really relate to people trying to communicate with each other,” Tyler said. “I start by asking: ‘What is your piece about? Why are you doing it? What do you like about it? What does this say about unrequited love?’ They took to it like ducks to water. Kaitlyn said: ‘This is what we should be doing.”
The judges are one thing, the audience another. “People come to be moved,” Tyler said. “Technical is exceptionally important. But performance is what makes it magical. I try to take the technical and make it magical.”
If you do it right, Tyler mused, people will think you are not doing anything technical at all. He knows he’s done his job when coaches remark to him that they forgot to watch their skaters’ feet.
“We had good success [with Tyler] in the past,” Poje said. “We knew this would be a good endeavour.”
None of this is new to Tyler, really. He met Kurt Browning by chance at a time when Browning was venturing beyond figure skating, playing a Peter Pan that soared high above a Toronto stage. There was a meeting of the minds, two artists reaching into each other’s playground. Tyler taught the skater how to play a guitar, Browning taught the dancer to skate. Eventually, Tyler helped Browning make a program he had in mind come to life. Curious, Tyler translated ideas onto ice, with Browning’s fanciful glide. And one year, at the Toronto stop of Stars On Ice, Tyler appeared on ice with Browning – and sung his music for him while on skates.
Tap dancing is another story. There is no glide in tapping, unless you’re one of the Nicholas Brothers of the 1940s. They defied gravity and friction. In the Broadway musical “42nd Street,” the curtain rises on 40 pairs of feet tapping. Translating that onto the ice “is a huge problem,” Tyler said. “But I know how to smooth things out.” He makes it seamless, another Tyler habit.
While Weaver recovered from surgery last spring, Tyler taught the team to tap dance. “I was off ice for a month,” Weaver said. “I did physio all day. But before we were allowed back on the ice, we started tap dancing a little bit because we knew we were going to go down the “42nd Street” route.” She could not skate with an incision in her ankle. Lessons were hard.
“Tap dancers make it look way easier than it is,” Weaver said. “It’s quite challenging, really, but we thought this would be an interesting route to go down. I think this program suits us very well. The tap was very necessary for us to get the right feel of the program.”
Tyler taught them steps off the ice, then they developed them together on the ice, and took what translated best. A couple of months later, Tyler was hoofing it, himself, on a stage in Barrie, Ont. “I’m hoofing like a mad cat …while we all sing and dance,” he wrote on his website.
“It’s really hard to get the ankles to move that quick,” Poje said. “We try to push our limits every year.”
Tyler has travelled far to practice his craft: all over Canada, and the United States, Europe, including London’s West End. But skating has taken him even further. During last spring, Tyler spent a month in Asia with Browning for Artistry on Ice in China and Yuna Kim’s All That Skate in Korea.
An artist born in Georgetown, Tyler rarely sits still. Just check out his twitter handle: @mypantsronfire. It all fits somehow.