Rhapsody On Ice

Lance VipondRhapsody On Ice was formed during the summer of 1985 by Neil Young, local real estate developer and past president of the Brant Figure Skating Club, along with the involvement and experience of local figure and precision skating coach Wayne Francis, and precision skating enthusiast and volunteer Bert Winfield from St. Thomas.

Recognized at the time as Canada’s premier world touring precision skating team, Rhapsody On Ice was operated as a non-profit extra-curricular opportunity for young figure skaters at the peak of their amateur careers on ice who performed for the sheer love of skating.

The objectives of Rhapsody On Ice were to create a new world of skating; to make precision skating fun, exciting and rewarding in a very special way; to promote the sport, art and entertainment aspects of precision skating around the world; to raise the profile of precision / synchro skating to the status of being recognized as an Olympic event; and to have the skaters serve as proud ambassadors of their sport, their hometowns and Canada wherever they performed and traveled.

Unique in the world of figure skating and driven by its mission and motto, ‘hold on tight to your dream,’ under the direction of Neil Young as executive director and team / tour manager, and coaches Wayne Francis and Marjorie Black and choreographers Scott Kufske, Carol Forrest and Dave Campbell, the troupe blazed an unprecedented and not since duplicated trail around the world.

Rhapsody On Ice performed in shows free of charge and often in conjunction with the participation of world-class professional and nationally ranked amateur skaters, and at skating show carnivals and special events, including producing a show titled ‘Ice Enchantments’ performed across Ontario in support of various community organizations, as well as being featured performers in several ‘Cavalcade of Lights’ Christmas shows at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, and in ‘Fire & Ice’, a show in support of The  Alzheimer Society of Guelph and District. In addition, team members participated in numerous other charitable events to raise money for causes like Sport Aid for African Famine Relief, The Rotary Club Marathon Run for Crippled Children, and the Canadian Children’s Foundation.

While continuing to fulfill its objective to promote precision / synchro skating around the world, slowly and methodically, Rhapsody On Ice evolved into a stand-alone hour-long ice show spectacular.

While Rhapsody had accepted invitations to perform in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and to tour Yugoslavia, the team was disappointed to have to cancel both due to the Gulf War in 1990 and the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia in 1991.

In June 1991 though, when the call came from organizers of the Canadian Foresters Games for the Physically Disabled asking if Rhapsody On Ice would consider performing in the opening ceremonies for the Games in August, Neil didn’t hesitate for a moment responding in the affirmative. Despite being scheduled to have the summer off before resuming another busy season, the troupe – without hesitation – regrouped and premiered Rhapsody’s hour-long ice spectacular, ‘Stairway To The Stars’ at the opening ceremonies August 20th for a standing room only audience at the Brantford & District Civic Centre.

Donald Lovegrove, Hamilton Spectator sports writer, once described the troupe as, “fast becoming an international attraction,” and Johnny Esaw, Vice-President, Sports, CTV Television Network had complimented Rhapsody with the words, “You are indeed very unique, and among all the volunteers in figure skating, yours certainly heads the list.”

Following the performance of segments of Rhapsody’s ice spectacular, ‘Stairway To The Stars’ complete with elaborate costumes and props and featuring Rhapsody’s acclaimed precision/synchro and ice dancing numbers, World & U.S. Professional Pair Champions, Anita Hartshorn & Frank Sweiding, and French Champion & World Professional Silver Medalist, Fernand Fédronic at the Nordjyllands Cup & 2nd 650th Jubilee Anniversary Celebrations in Aalborg, Denmark, April 5, 1992, on the cusp of greater achievements stalled by unexpected circumstances affecting other planned legs of the world tour, reluctantly, in June 1992 Neil retired the troupe for an indefinite period.

Undeterred, in 1993 Neil and his daughter Andrea – one of the original team members of Rhapsody On Ice – took the opportunity to merge Skateworld Productions – the promotional arm of Rhapsody On Ice, with choreographer Carol Forrest’s dance company, Stop Tyme Productions, under the name of Forrest-Young Productions. The three worked on plans for the production of three new shows for Rhapsody – ‘Cotton Club Express’, ‘Boleros’ and ‘A Journey In Time – A Dream Odyssey,’ including traveling to Las Vegas to explore the opportunity to develop Rhapsody On Ice productions for shows in that and similar entertainment markets around the world.

Faced with the failure to secure the necessary financing to support an extended world tour of Rhapsody’s ice spectacular, ‘Stairway To The Stars’ production scheduled to begin in Christchurch, New Zealand in October 1994, Neil had little option but to seal the destiny and legacy of Rhapsody On Ice, including his investment in the dream.

As well as giving young figure skaters a chance-of-a-lifetime to realize their dreams while representing their sport and Canada in the eyes of the world performing and bringing precision / synchro skating to the forefront in New Zealand, Hong Kong, England, Spain, Denmark, twice to Australia, across the U.S. from Florida to Hawaii, across Southern Ontario, and as far west as Alberta, it is hoped that Rhapsody On Ice played an important role in what they took with them as they began their careers and the rest of their lives.

It is hoped too that Rhapsody’s successful seven-year mission, (1985 – 1992) served in some way to make the organizers of Olympic events more aware of the importance and worldwide appeal and interest in the sport of precision / synchro skating.

Rhapsody On Ice truly was a dream, but more than that, it was a vision – a vision for team members to go beyond and farther than they had ever imagined would be possible, not only reaching for the golden ring, but grasping a part of it, if only for one incredible  shining moment in time.

“There is a view of life that suggests that life is lived to its fullest only when one is totally absorbed in the task of the moment to the exclusion of all else.” Anonymous.

Rhapsody On Ice and the team members lived that moment to the fullest.

‘… Nothing like it before … Nothing like it since …’

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