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Much-delayed ice show tries again in Haiti

Wednesday - 8/21/2013, 11:35am  ET

Haitians get a chance to skate on ice at a basketball gym that has been transformed to host the upcoming event, "Haiti On Ice" in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013. Nearly a year of postponement after postponement, it looks as if the ice show will actually happen. This weekend. Maybe. If the ice doesn't melt. Organizers originally tried to hold the show outdoors, but they finally surrendered to the heat and moved indoors. But it's still August, and it costs $1,600 an hour to run the generator that keeps the ice cold. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

TRENTON DANIEL
Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Doubters said it was crazy to try to put on an ice show in the blazing Caribbean heat that bakes one of the world's poorest countries.

Yet, after nearly a year of postponement after postponement, it looks as if "Haiti on Ice" will actually happen. This weekend. Maybe. If the ice doesn't melt.

On Tuesday night, some young Haitians got a chance to play on a startling stage for sweltering Port-au-Prince: an expanse of shiny, frozen water in a downtown basketball gym.

It might not have been as miraculous to the participants as the ice-making machine in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was to residents of the fictional Macondo, but before this week almost none of the Haitians had ever seen anything like it.

They gleefully pulled on skates and took spins on the ice.

"In other cities, it's cold," said Laila Bien-Aime, a 21-year-old student. "In Haiti, it's very, very hot. These are two different worlds coming together."

Bien-Aime was joined by a band of roller skaters who normally are seen weaving through the capital's snarled traffic and whizzing down its hilly streets. They got their first brief go at the ice on Sunday, and two days later they looked right at home while zipping about on the rink.

"It's a glory for me to see myself skating," said Reginald Jean, 27, leader of the inline skate group that calls itself the No Limit Roller Club.

"We would like this activity to be long-term, to stay here," he added.

The unlikely idea to put on an ice show in Haiti arose last year after Francois Yrius of Super Canal Prod, the Guadeloupe-based exhibition company organizing the show, met Haiti's tourism minister, Stephanie Villedrouin, at a music festival.

She urged Yrius to hold an ice show in Haiti and convinced him to lay aside his concerns, such as how much it would cost and the other complications of putting on such a spectacle in a country where much of the poor infrastructure has been battered by the 2010 earthquake, other disasters and neglect.

Since then, the show was cancelled more than a dozen times for various reasons, the main one being an inability to keep the ice frozen.

At first, Yrius tried to hold it outdoors, but organizers finally surrendered to the heat and moved into the gym. Still, it's August and it costs $1,600 an hour to run the generator that keeps the ice solid.

Hurricane Sandy, which caused floods in November, and a subsequent state of emergency also caused delays, Yrius said. So did the April visit of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who needed to use the Silvio Cator stadium where the ice show originally was going to be held.

"Many problems happened," Yrius said. The heat was the chief one, besting his ice-making machinery. "It's not strong enough to keep the ice."

The delays have become something of a running joke for Haitian media.

After yet another cancellation, journalist Claude Bernard Serant quipped about Haiti being a country "where the possible is impossible."

But Yrius says this time the show will really go on. He hopes.

This weekend's performers include Russian-born figure skater Elena Glebova, the French pair skater Yannick Bonheur, German figure skater Annette Dytrt and British Olympian Penny Coomes.

Tickets run $4.50 for children to $50 for the best seats in the house, a steep price for people in Haiti, where many don't have steady work and the average annual income is about $400.

Jean Dorval, a 28-year-old waiter, said he welcomed the show, saying, "Normally Haitians see these things only on television." But the appeal also left him a bit puzzled.

"This isn't the sort of thing that people will jump to go see," Dorval said as he walked to work in downtown Port-au-Prince. "But if there's a soccer match, and Brazil plays, there won't be enough space to watch."

Yrius thinks he'll draw a good crowd for the weekend's three shows, and feels all the problems and delays have been worth the effort to bring something so unusual to Haiti.

"People get to see something," he said. "They want to see something new."


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