Paul Wylie skates for a cause

Paul Wylie at the Ice Theatre of New York’s annual benefit gala, where he was honored, on Oct. 26.
Paul Wylie at the Ice Theatre of New York’s annual benefit gala, where he was honored, on Oct. 26.Giacinta Pace
/ Source: NBC News

Cause Celeb highlights a celebrity’s work on behalf of a specific cause. This week, we speak with U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductee Paul Wylie about his work with the Ice Theatre of New York. Founded in 1984 by Moira North, the nonprofit theater has had a major impact on the evolution of dance and figure skating by promoting skating as performance art. Ice Theatre will be conducting the New Works and Young Artists Series at the World Ice Arena in Queens on the second Thursday of each month from January until May. The series originally started at the Riverside State Park in Harlem and will continue there this year as well, in February and March. The program allows emerging choreographers and performers to showcase their work and provides a free skating clinic to schoolchildren from the New York City area.

Paul Wylie started skating at age 3, working his way up to the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, where he won the silver medal for Men’s Singles in figure skating. In previous years, he has hosted Ice Theatre’s annual fall gala and was honored at the 2009 gala held on Oct. 26.

Q: Tell me about the Ice Theatre of New York.

Wylie: The Ice Theatre of New York is this really interesting combination of choreography and skating and performance, and it’s really served a unique role in the sport and art of figure skating because it combines the serious world of dance with skating and provides some amazing creativity that the sport definitely needs (laughs). I’ll just put it that way: I enjoy watching the performances, I learn a lot every time I’m there and seeing the performers. I think it’s an important group.

Q: And what is your role with the organization?

Wylie: My role is, I am the invited guest at this point (laughs). I’ve done some hosting for them of their gala dinners, and this year they decided to honor me, and so I am the honoree, and for that reason I’m also going to skate. Now I don’t really perform any more, so I’m kind of mid-retirement doing this, but I’m going come and enjoy. Several of my friends are going be there, including Rosalynn Sumners and Nancy Kerrigan, and some folks from the Ice Theatre.

Q: What does it mean for you to be honored at their gala, and tell me a little bit about how it’s feeling that you’re going to be performing again.

Wylie: Honestly, I think it is a little scary to think about performing again, and exciting. I think when you’re 40 — I’ll be 45 next week—and I’ve stepped away from skating in terms of the official performing aspect of it. My skills aren’t what they were. Yet there’s something about what the feeling of ice is like and that has been really exciting to imagine. Now to realize that there’s always resonant in me something that wants to express what that feels like to be there. I’m excited to do it; I want to make sure that people’s expectations are in the right place. This is no Olympic performance. And yet it’s like “Hey, I’m going to come out and skate.” What it feels like to be honored? I think it’s a little embarrassing. (Laughs.)

It’s great; it’s flattering. I’m thrilled to be there. My parents will be there. The woman who sponsored my skating for many years will be there. My wife will be there, and some of my best friends in skating. That’s a really nice moment in life, so I don’t take it lightly. I’m humbled by it, I’m not sure that I really truly feel like I deserve it, but at the same time I’ll take it, and just enjoy the evening of it. I think that’s the point, is that people are taking in a moment to appreciate the body of work. And they’ve made a cool little DVD that I’ll have forever, so that’s neat.

Q: What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had working with this organization?

Wylie: Well I think, through time, just coming to the gala every year is always something interesting, because whether it’s a new choreographer, or a new piece that they’re putting up, it feels like they break ground. They’re allowed to break the rules a little bit, which is exciting. I think, for me personally, I did a piece with Lar Lubovitch, who is a choreographer who is being honored this year as well. I debuted the piece there, and that was an exciting night, to have that. That debut was, 10 years ago, probably, but that was neat.

Q: How long have you been involved with the Ice Theatre of New York?

Wylie: Probably 10 years, since I did that debut. But there have been other times, when I’ve been performing at Rockefeller Center, and they’ve had groups who are also performing, so I don’t know, it’s been very informal. They’re kind of everywhere. They bring their work and some skaters from the ensemble to many different events. Some of them perform in Sun Valley [Resort, in Idaho]. I don’t know, maybe since the inception in 1984.

The thing is that I grew up skating, when I was about 10 or 11 years old, like rough skating with John Curry, who is, I would say, probably the root of the family tree of Ice Theatre. I watched his company as they developed the performances that they eventually gave at the Met. Many of the people who started Ice Theatre were a part of that company. I’ve known the people and have been a fan of their work since before it even existed, how’s that?