Meet Liege born, SBF Member, Francis Demarteau, a 5 Times Belgium Skating Champion, Solo and Pair, and a polyhedral artist with a glittering career spanning several decades, firstly as an Ice Skater for Holiday on Ice, Scala Madrid and Barcelona and Lido Paris, to name but a few and subsequently as a Choreographer and a Producer of ice shows, as well as floor shows all over the world.
Read his interview and find out about how his career has evolved for him from ice skating to becoming a show maker...
...I learnt so much from Ted Shuffle and Stephanie Andros, they really helped me with every aspect of a show, costumes, lights, music...
How old were you when you started skating and what inspired you to take it up?
I started skating when I was 6 years old, my mother took my sister and me to skate and to see the Wiener Eisrevue, the show was playing every year in my home town Liege, Belgium. I wanted to see the show again and again, because it was magic... This is how it all started...
I started taking skating lessons and 2 years later I joined the skating school in Liege, a unique school where we skated the whole morning from 8am to 1pm and then had normal schooling in the afternoon at the same ice rink. There were about 12 skaters in the school, so it really was a private school.
I then started with competitions and became the Belgium champion 5 times, twice in pairs and 3 times in solo. I competed for the Europeans and the World Professional Championships. I was also the Belgium Figure Skating National gold medalist.
In the past, my Skating Teacher, Jacqueline Vives, who was French, had her own ice show called Paris sur Glace. She was the Choreographer of that show and a very good one. Ronnie McKenzie was one of her stars. Jacqueline told me lots of ice shows stories and I learnt a lot from her. She was a true showbiz person.
Your performing career spanned for many years and included touring with Holiday on Ice. Can you please tell us a little about those golden years?
Every year, Holiday on Ice came to the ice rink in Liege and in that time we were training on the same ice in the morning. I watched every single performance during the 3 to 4 weeks that the show played. It really was the golden years of Holiday on Ice and I already knew that it was what I wanted to do, I was sure of that. I knew that I had to wait until I was 18 years old, but actually, I joined the show at the age of 17, after an audition in Paris.
My dream came true! I ended up working for Holiday on Ice for 24 years, in the Chorus, Understudy, Semi-Principal, Line Captain, Soloist, Adagio Pair, rotating Show Director, Assistant Choreographer to Ted Shuffle and Stephanie Andros and finally, Choreographer for the 50th Anniversary show, the Broadway show and the Evolution show.
I learnt so much from Ted Shuffle and Stephanie Andros, they really helped me with every aspect of a show, costumes, lights, music...
I really have to thank Ted for all his help and trust. He is the one that got me the Assistant Choreographer job for the Magic & Illusions show.
After all, Holiday on Ice would not have been Holiday on Ice without Ted Shuffle and Stephanie Andros. Those were the golden years!
You also worked as part of an ice skating Adagio Pair act at the Lido, Paris and the Scala, Madrid and Barcelona. How did that come about?
...Skee Goodhart saw a video of one of the nine ice cabaret shows I had done for the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo and wanted me to work for Holiday on Ice again. ...
I started practicing adagio with Viviane Gillard and worked at Scala Madrid and Barcelona during our vacations with Holiday on Ice, it really was a new experience working in a cabaret. I remember one day sitting having a coffee somewhere in France with Viviane and I said:
"Let's write to the Lido de Paris to ask if they need a skating pair for a few weeks". Some days later we went to Paris to audition for Donn Arden and Miss Bluebell at the Lido. Afterward we went to their office and they offered us a 5-year contract for their new show Panache. We did not expect that because we had a contract with Holiday on Ice, but everything came into place and we went to the Lido. It was a great experience working in the most famous cabaret in the world. Of course it was very different from working in an ice show, but I really enjoy working there.
What's your most memorable show and the highest moment of your life as a performer?
I have three highest moments - my first contract for Holiday on Ice, working at the Lido and of course becoming the Choreographer for Holiday on Ice.
It really was a dream come true. I never thought that I could do all that, but when you really want something and work hard for it, your dreams can become reality.
What's the greatest thing about being in show business?
The greatest thing is to have friends all over the world. This is the most wonderful thing in the world. We are all part of a great family and we still have so much fun when we see each other.
How & when did you make the transition into choreographing, directing & producing shows?
After working at the Lido, Skee Goodhart from Holiday on Ice asked me to do a cabaret show in association with Holiday on Ice, called Fantasy on Ice, for the Sheraton Grande Walker Hill in Seoul, South Korea. I had done nine different ice cabaret shows for the Sporting Club in Monte Carlo and Skee saw a video of one of the shows and wanted me to work for Holiday on Ice again.
I had helped working on costumes in Bern for a few months and when I was working at the Lido I had a chance to learn how to make hats and show costumes, which was another great opportunity to learn another side of the entertainment industry.
This is how it all started, after that Ted Shuffle asked me to be his assistant for the Magic & Illusions show for Holiday and Ice. Then I worked with Stephanie Andros for the Aladdin show and Skee Goodhart gave me the opportunity to do the choreography for the Holiday on Ice 50th Anniversary show.
I did the choreography for Ted with the Broadway show and Betty Goodhart gave me the opportunity to create, direct and choreograph the Evolution show.
I was so lucky to be able to do all that, and I really want to thanks all the people that trusted me.
What was it like working with the great Ted Shuffle and how has what you learnt from him, helped you in your career?
Ted Shuffle was the best, he really taught me everything about ice shows. I remember spending hours and hours talking about shows with him. He taught me about choosing the right music, lights, costumes etc. He shared some of his experience with me.
For me, Ted is the one that made Holiday on Ice and the golden years.
He also gave me lots of videos of Sonja Henie with whom he had worked with for many years. A truly wonderful gift.
What has been your most challenging production?
I really enjoyed my work as a performer, but there is a time where you have to move forward and prove that you can do more. After creating my own small ice shows for cabaret and casinos, I got a contract to do a show for the opening of the wonderful Safari Park Hotel & Casino in Nairobi, Kenya. This was the very first ice show in Kenya. After doing the ice show for a month, they asked me to create an African floor show. As there weren't any dancing schools in Kenya, we had to look for people who could learn to dance. We taught dancing to 40 people for almost 8 months and then produced the show. How funny that I'm from Belgium and ended up creating an African show. Nevertheless, it was very successful and 20 years later it is still running. Of course we have changed the show 4 times in the past 20 years.
What is involved in creating a new production?
...we (Viviane Gillard & I) went to Paris to audition for Donn Arden and Miss Bluebell at the Lido. Afterward we went to their office and they offered us a 5-year contract for their new show Panache...
I believe the Holiday on Ice Evolution show was the most rewarding production for me. For the first time I had to create a full show, choose the music, the skaters, create the choreography and choose the costumes. I knew that I wanted to have Roberto Rosello as a costumes designer. I saw his work in several shows and I loved his style.
One of my most wonderful moments was during the recording of the music, sitting in the middle of the Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague and listening for the first time to the arrangements of the music I had chosen. The second step was in London, putting all the vocals on the music.
It was really magical. It was so much work, but it was also such a pleasure. I enjoyed every moment.
How have ice skating productions evolved since you were a performer yourself?
I believe they have changed a lot. Before performers were proud to be part of a big show like Holiday on Ice. Many skaters stayed for years, because it was a secure job and a production ran for 5 or 6 years and you were given a month vacation per year. We were travelling the world. I guess this time is over!
What productions do you currently have running and what are your plans for the future?
I have had the African floor show in Kenya with 40 dancers since 1992 and as I said it's still running now.
This winter I will be in Paris doing the choreography and costumes for the Bouglione on Ice show. I'm also doing the choreography for the Parc Asterix in Paris and a tour in several zenith arenas in France with Lucie Stadelmann.
I have also signed a 2-year contract with Tihany Spectacular touring Brazil, as Artistic Director and Choreographer of the show.
I have lots of other plans for the future, but they are all a secret... I always want to do more and more. I just love the business.
How do you audition a cast for a new show?
Nowadays it is very easy to find dancers or skaters. Having been in the business for a long time, I have lots of contacts and many people know me and my work and approach me for my productions. There are also many agencies to find artists. The best thing in this business is that people talk to each other, it's a small world.
Do you think that the way showbiz is today puts more or less pressure on a skater's career than it used to do in the past and what would you say to encourage today's performers?
I think that it is very difficult now for the professional skaters, as unfortunately there are not so many shows on the road. It would be really great if everybody could enjoy this fabulous world of show business. This is a wonderful world, full of unexpected travels and a great chance to meet wonderful people that will be friends forever. I wish a great career in show business to all young performers.
If you had the chance, who would you thank for what you have achieved?
My family, who helped and trusted me, and on a professional side Ted Shuffle, Skee and Betty Goodhard.
From your experience, what are the "Dos & Don'ts" of this business?
I don't see any dos or don'ts in the business, but be yourself and enjoy every minute of your work.
What do you think of ShowBiz Friends?
I think that this is a great opportunity to keep in touch with all the wonderful friends around the world and to keep updated with the new generation in the business.
Thank you Francis for this great interview, congratulations on your remarkable career and may it continue for many, many years to come!