Sunday, 24 January 2016

Dancing on ice

Pic of empty ice rink in courtyard of Somerset House, London
Somerset House's ice rink in a purple/blue light

It is much easier it is to explain or bring an idea life by using images from another field. Innovation on ice leads to reflections on translation innovations.

I grew up watching British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. No Brit could forget their artistic performance or their perfect scores at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. The British gold medallists were highly innovative in their day.

Judged against my past experiences, the young Canadian ice skaters of Le Patin Libre caught me by surprise. There were no lifts. Few jumps. No fancy costumes. Few artistic flourishes.

The four skaters stayed largely upright as in their Vertical title. They looked like four pillars dancing separately in formation.

The music and light seemed stark. You could hear the sound of their blades cutting into the ice.It formed a deliberate and integral part of their performance.

Some of the movements were decidedly angular and unorthodox. They even dug their exposed blades into the ice at diagonals.

The ice dance rulebook had been thrown away. What would the traditional Olympic ice dance judges make of this?

And yet... my eyes focused on the movement of the skates. I traced their weaving and circular patterns on the ice. I marvelled at the technical mastery.

No star
There was no star. All four skated as a group. There was the occasional solo. It was not an opportunity to show off. Not a cameo. Each solo remained part of, and in keeping with, the group performance.

Even the female member of the group was not there to be pretty on the eye. She was dressed in the same casual, street dance style as the men. She had earned her place in the team as a technical and athletic equal.

Technical mastery
I watched the performance as transfixed as I had Torvill and Dean in the past. It was different. Innovative. It seemed raw at first. On closer inspection, it was masterful. Or, as one member of the the audience remarked: awesome.

Somerset House trailer for Le Patin Libre:

Translation innovation
When something new bursts onto the scene, we naturally tend to judge it by past experiences, rulebooks and standards. Technology is disrupting the translation industry in a similar way. Tomorrow's translators can expect to work together as a group on large projects. The edges may look raw at first sight. On closer inspection and with greater familiarity, we recognise a new form of professional mastery.

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