It was a hectic and exhilarating few days for skater, coach, and choreographer Rohene Ward. He performed with Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY), and on Monday evening the ensemble skating company honored him with the Choreography Award, given to a choreographer who has contributed to skating as a performing art. It was especially meaningful as the evening’s honorees also included two-time Olympian Jason Brown, for whom Ward has choreographed for 18 years.
“I truly am grateful that he has trusted my vision and my process and allowed me to be an artist and grow with him as an adult,” said Ward. Among the programs Ward choreographed was Brown’s iconic 2014 “Riverdance,” which has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
After Brown didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team in 2018 and made the decision to change coaches, he and Ward had serious discussions about the future. Today, Brown is considered one of the artistic greats in competitive skating.
“I feel privileged that I was able to have a canvas like him to be a muse for me,” Ward said. “It’s very rewarding to watch him and see how much joy people get from watching him skate.”
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For the shows, Ward was looking forward to sharing his own skating with audiences. The performances, set to Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” mixed with Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” were dedicated to his sister, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, and his late father’s cancer battle. “I’ve been holding back this particular music since my dad passed about nine years ago,” Ward said. “I’m letting go of all of the things I’m feeling about it.”
Ward appreciates ITNY’s understanding of the arts, the blending of dance and skating. Every program Ward has choreographed for Brown has had a specific vision behind it. One that stands out for Ward is “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone, a short program choreographed in 2020 that Brown performed for two seasons, including at last year’s Olympic Winter Games.
“During the pandemic, when Jason and I created “Sinnerman” and “Melancholy” [Brown’s short program this season], it happened right after George Floyd’s passing,” said Ward. “He ended up being in Chicago for like six months [Brown normally trains in Toronto]. That was when we’d get on the ice every day and skate around and talk about life. … It gave him a platform to really find his voice.”
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