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Arts / Performing Arts

The Figure Skater Artist — Inside Jennifer Wester’s Electrifying World

Dallas World Premiere Will See Her Skating On Her Hands

BY // 05.11.18
photography Erica Felicella

Seeing the world through Dallas artist Jennifer Wester‘s eyes is an exhilarating experience — and not just when she’s flying across the ice.

The neurons in her brain fire at a dizzying pace, zipping like electrical currents around the mind of this multimedia artist, computer scientist, and champion figure skater.

“I thrive in that multidisciplinary mode,” the Yale graduate says. “I have to keep bouncing between things so I can keep gaining energy from them. But some things have started to permeate my life just enough that I find them everywhere — all the time. Skating is one of those things.”

Wester waxes poetic on her love from every aspect of skating, from the “shoooo” sounds of sharpened blades to the feeling of the wind as she glides down the ice. But it’s her analytical yet wildly creative mind that has drawn her to dissect every element of her beloved sport — and push it to physical and artistic limits.

Her performance piece Breaking Shadows makes its world premiere next Saturday, May 19, during the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Soluna International Music & Arts Festival.

The performance involves an otherworldly synthetic ice rink in a parking lot outside the under-construction Cedars Union and Cedars Union Annex, a nonprofit artist incubator scheduled to open its first phase this month.

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To develop the work, Wester had to “break her alphabet” to unravel every nuance she had come to rely on in skating, from the sounds and the shadows to the very perception of which way is up.

Wester collaborated with Netherlands-based sound artist Baz Laarakkers, who composed the music to accompany her performance entirely from the sounds of her skates hitting the ice.

Wester began contemplating the importance of sound in skating during a performance-art piece she created for Burning Man and ArtWalk West last year. She traded the blades on her skates for custom wheels outfitted with funnels, allowing her to pain while she glided across a canvas — one of her many creative attempts at capturing the etchings typically created by skates on ice.

To her surprise, she was disoriented by those familiar clinks and cracks.

“You grow up skating and you don’t realize that you’re relying on the sounds to know where your foot is in comparison to your head,” she says.

This project is what led Wester to develop custom hand-grip skates, which serve as a key element of Breaking Shadows. Instead of two, she skates with four blades — a pair on her feet; and another on her hands — creating an entirely new form of movement.

“I’m learning to see again, learning to hear again, learning to move again,” she says. “It’s been such a ride of experimentation and enlightenment.”

It’s also physically demanding. Jennifer Wester spent months training for the 40-minute solo performance.

“I’ve got some sick abs right now,” she laughs. “Five years on Team USA, I never had these abs!”

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