Joyce DiDonato, right, in 'Dead Man Walking'
John Curry's journey to figure-skating stardom is told in 'The Ice King'

John Curry was “the best ice skater in the world”, claims James Erskine’s well-crafted documentary The Ice King. No mean feat for a boy from Birmingham, England, whose father could have been the model for Billy Elliott’s dad. “No” he reportedly snapped to mum and sonny’s wish to put John through ballet classes. But “yes” to ice skating because it was a “sport”. John soon put paid to that simplification. He did Debussy’s L’après-midi d’un faune as if at Covent Garden, not on a competition rink. He founded his own “Theatre of Skating”. He summoned to it renowned choreographers (Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld).

In the 1990s Curry, then openly gay, fell victim to Aids, struck down by fatality’s scythe after working his blades of doom on the philistines of the skating establishment. “I was actually told not to be so graceful,” he is filmed remembering. “You will skate like a man!” ordered one early trainer. He triumphantly ignored both instructions.

By the end, after panto in Liverpool and other stoically borne comedowns, he died back at mum’s home. The film oddly omits the much-reported story that he died in lover-actor Alan Bates’s arms, a perfect irony if ever there were one. Didn’t Bates play Diaghilev in Nijinsky? Here, in his and death’s embrace, wasn’t this as close as the world will come — at least beyond the terra firma stages of Terpsichore — to a Nijinsky-faun reborn?

★★★★☆

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