Monday, June 29, 2009

Prima, Paganini, Beethoven: Here Comes the "New" Music for Next Season

Sometimes I think that every May, the top skaters in the world all sit together in a large auditorium while Dick Button reaches into a miniature Zamboni and draws name after name of different pieces of well-known skating music (the same 3 dozen pieces of music, mind you) and the skaters bid on them for use in the upcoming season. A veritable war-horse auction, as it were: And that’s two hundred from the Japanese gentleman for “West Side Story”, two hundred, do I hear two-twenty five? Two hundred going once, going tw—two-twenty five from the Canadian pair in the back! Two twenty-five? Do I hear two-fifty??

I’m not saying skaters don’t put a lot of time and energy and thought into their annual music decisions—but for all the time they DO put in, it’s surprising how much of it we’ve all heard before. Plenty of it is absolutely wonderful, but it’s like spending all your time listening to a Top 40 radio station when there’s a whole dial full of other wonderful choices out there.

That being said, it looks like our number-two singles skaters in the U.S. have both made their music choices for 2009-10:

For Rachael Flatt : Louis Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing” for the SP; Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” for the Free Skate

For Brandon Mroz : a Latin medley including Tito Puente's "Temptation," "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado and "Mambo Jambo" by Terry Snyder for the SP; Beethoven's "Symphony no. 5" and "Romance in F major” for the Free Skate

Articles on the progress of both can be found right now at My first thoughts on all the choices…

For Flatt—it’s a well-worn piece for sure, but I adore “Sing Sing Sing” (or Sing-cubed as I like to say) in the SP. And I think it’ll be a nice fit for Flatt; would be lovely if we can hear her pumping up the Vancouver crowd with it next Februrary, wouldn’t it? As for the Paganini, well… it’s frequently used with good reason, and it’s probably distinctive enough to work in her favor. Let’s see what happens.

And for Mroz—while I’m intrigued by his SP idea, I’d probably be more intrigued if I wasn’t afraid it was going to draw instant comparisons to Ryan Bradley. At least one of those selections (“Cherry Pink”) was used in Bradley’s medley… when it comes to Beethoven’s Fifth, though, I tend to recall two separate visions: Michael Weiss using it a few years ago, and Lexie Winston allegedly winning Sectionals with the disco version of it (in the original Ice Castles movie). Given that, maybe Mroz can work some new magic with it for me. I must admit I’m not familiar enough with the second Beethoven piece… (hey, maybe that’s a good thing!)

Would love to hear your thoughts!

I’m naming one of the more recent spins on “Sing” (Jeffrey Buttle’s SP from a few years back) as the
Clip of the Day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Never Will Say Goodbye...


For those reading in the States, this has been quite the week for the stars ascending on into heaven. For those reading in the rest of the world, the last one we lost has prompted enough shock and sadness for a whole fleet of singers, actors, and entertainers who have passed away.

While I can’t say Michael Jackson was ever an integral part of my life—all the MJ CD’s in the house belong to my husband; my only possession of his music is an old 45 of “Rockin’ Robin”—he was a part of it by default. I was learning to walk when the Jackson 5 first hit the airwaves… in grade school when Off the Wall was released… in high school when “Billie Jean” spent 7 weeks at the top of the U.S. charts… in college when the “Bad” video had its big MTV premiere… and working my first full-time job when Dangerous came out. With his astounding career starting around the time my life was starting, his music became a vital part of my soundtrack. It always will be. Still, it’s breathtakingly sad when such a voice is silenced. Especially when the whole world feels it.

And then there was the dancing. Like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and even Mikhail Baryshnikov, Michael Jackson was the gold standard for his generation and his genre. No surprise, then, why skaters and skating fans have repeatedly embraced his music for their own, unique spin on his moves. I have to wonder how many top skaters might be considering an MJ-inspired exhibition program now as they plan out the upcoming season…more than ever, it’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

There’s a few different clips I could choose as the
Clip of the Day, but I’m going with Katarina’s leather jacket-clad take on “Bad” from the 1988 Winter Olympic Gala. I wonder if MJ ever noticed that the only mere mortals who had a chance of successfully “moonwalking” were those that did it on skates…

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gyula Pandi: Can He Help Meissner Get Her Groove Back?

For everyone still rooting for Kimmie Meissner to make a return to form in the coming year—here’s another sign that she’s not just going through the motions.

The Baltimore Sun ran
this article over the weekend discussing the newest member of Team Meissner, a charming former dancer with the Hungarian Ballet by the name of Gyula Pandi. The description in the first paragraph is enticing enough, if you ask me:

The newest member of Kimmie Meissner's coaching team is a free spirit who cheerfully concedes that he knows nothing of figure skating, travels the country in a clunker Jeep with a bungee-corded tarp for a roof and 260,000 on the odometer, and keeps his clothes in a waterproof plastic box.

Apparently he comes in at the suggestion of none other than Peggy Fleming, so really… what more do we need to know?

The Baltimore Sun is apparently one of those newspapers that now accompanies some (or all?) of its online stories with a video piece, so if you click the above link you’ll get a chance to see Pandi and Meissner in action. Kinda cute. Hope he’s got one of the keys to unlock her from whatever’s holding her back—be it her body, her spirit, her mind… whatever.

I decided to make her 2006 Olympic SP the
Clip of the Day. Maybe you can watch this, then compare it to the new video at the article website…

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fab Four Figure Skating (JeremEEE's New Music and More)

Sometimes I wonder if those that read “State of the Skate” already hit or the USFS website as frequently as I do… and when I point out something that has shown up at either site recently, you roll your eyes at the computer screen as if to say C’mon, tell me something I don’t know.

Or maybe you spend all your time on Facebook or Twitter, and actually count on bloggers like me to give you the heads up when there’s something about skating you really need to hear (or read, as it were).

Just in case it’s the former, I try to put my own spin on things whenever I can.

Case in point: a brief interview with JeremEEEEE Abbott discussing his new digs at the Detroit Skating Club and (even more interesting, if you ask me) his new programs/music for the Olympic season can be found
here , as an “ exclusive”. When you’re reading about the work he and Tom Dickson are doing with his FS -- Jupiter (from Gustav Holst's "The Planets Suite") and Pines of Rome (by Ottorino Respighi)—you’ll read also that he’s working with Shae-Lynn Bourne on his SP, which is to Jeff Beck’s version of A Day in the Life.

Which got me to thinking… (cue “my own spin on things”)
What other Beatles music would YOU assign to our top skaters today?

Here are my own starter suggestions. Admittedly, and purposely, I’m not giving this a lot of time or thought—just seeing what comes to mind quickest. Hopefully I won’t inadvertently pick something that said skater has already used as exhibition music. Let’s see…

Yu-Na Kim— Across The Universe

Joannie Rochette— Something

Mao Asada— Yesterday

Evan Lysacek— Revolution

Patrick Chan— For No One

Brian Joubert— Come Together

I just did the singles’ world medalists for now, but if you like this idea I’ll try some more pair-ups soon—or, of course you might want to suggest your own…

For the
Clip of the Day I discovered something I hadn’t seen before—a Debi Thomas number from the 1992 cast of “Canadian Stars On Ice” that found her in torn jeans, skating to Oh! Darling.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Shuffling, Part Deux: Zhang Goes with Wong (Who Used to Go with You-Know-Who)

Will the shuffling be in waves this summer? Given the season, “waves” might be as apropos as anything else.

Wave 1 was the pre-GP assignment flurry of activity, where the news about Nagasu, Abbott, McLaughlin/Brubaker, and Inoue/Baldwin was only slightly overshadowed by the retired-who-said-we-retired? announcements of Sasha, Plushy, and Shen/Zhao.

Wave 2 is perhaps underway now, with Caroline Zhang’s do-si-do over to Charlene Wong after 4 years with Li Mingzhu. As
this article will tell you, it’s pretty much the same old clichéd “need a change” thing… at least on paper. The fact that Wong was, until recently, the coach of Mirai Nagasu can’t be overlooked though. Here’s how the two skaters have compared side by side over the past few years:

Junior Nationals 2007: Nagasu 1st, Zhang 2nd

World Juniors 2007: Zhang 1st, Nagasu 2nd

Senior Nationals 2008: Nagasu 1st, Zhang 4th

World Juniors 2008: Zhang 2nd, Nagasu 3rd (Rachael Flatt was 1st )

Senior Nationals 2009: Zhang 3rd, Nagasu 5th

All in all a very close race between the two of them, but Zhang’s had the upper hand most recently. Which makes it all the more intriguing that she’s opted to go with Wong, if you ask me. Wonder if she’ll try to talk her away from doing her back-breaking “pearl” spin quite as much?

Zhang’s exhibition from this year’s 4CC is the
Clip of the Day… I picked it because of the music… Vienna Teng is a lovely (though relatively unknown) artist.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who's Who Among U.S. Pairs/Dance Teams in the GP

With two TBA slots still remaining for US pairs in the upcoming Grand Prix season (both slots being for Skate America), and only eight other slots for US pairs overall, there aren’t nearly as many teams to mull over. Meanwhile, the dance discipline has 13 US entries to crow about. Let’s see who made the cut outside of those that were on the podium:

--Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir (3rd, Junior Pairs)—while a bronze at Junior Nationals may not seem worthy of a bid in the Senior GP, a bronze at Junior Worlds (the highest placing this year by a US pair) is another story… and that is the most recent history of Castelli/Shnapir, who have been competing at the national level since 2006.

-- Amanda Evora/Mark Ladwig (4th, Senior Pairs)—Evora and Ladwig seem to be fairly consistent competitors who have been making appearances on the Senior GP circuit since 2005. They also won the pewter medal in 2007.

-- Caitlin Yankowskas/John Coughlin (7th, Senior Pairs)—Though they’ve only been skating together since 2007, Yankowskas and Coughlin made a strong enough impression (perhaps their 4th place in the short program at Nats) to earn a nod over Katz/Lynch (6th place) and Castile/Okolski (5th)—at least so far. Speaking of which, I’ll be kind of surprised if former National champs Castile/Okolski are not given one of the TBA slots…though the USFS is probably waiting to see how some of the pairs do early in the GP season before making any more SKAM assignments.

--Madison Hubbell/Keiffer Hubbell (4th, Senior Dance)—add to that placement a very solid JGP season (two wins and a silver medal at the Final), and the fact that the Hubbells got two Senior GP assignments isn’t all that surprising.

-- Madison Chock/Greg Zuerlein (1st, Junior Dance)—Chock & Zuerlein were the team that defeated the Hubbells for the Junior Worlds championhship, so no big surprise to see them with 2 assignments, either.

-- Jane Summersett/Todd Gilles (6th, Senior Dance)—These two most likely got this nod because the 5th place finishers (Matthews/Gislason) are no longer partners. It’ll be interesting to see what they make of this opportunity.

I remember being pretty impressed with The Hubbells at Nationals, but couldn’t remember exactly why, so I gave them the
Clip of the Day . I think the music and choreography gave this a feel vaguely reminiscent of another brother/sister dance team… The Kerrs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Up & Coming & All American Men & Ladies of the Grand Prix

Now let’s take a look beyond the headline-makers of the upcoming skating season. In fact, let’s look beyond the other U.S. names you might expect to see on the list—Rippon and Mroz, Wagner and Nagasu, Carriere and Czisny and the like. Let’s even look beyond what might be considered the “surprise” double appointments of Meissner and Bradley (seems worth mentioning, anyway). Who else made the cut in this all-important Olympic season?

The pairs and dance teams I’ll discuss next time. But as far as the singles skaters go, here’s who’s up to bat:

+ Alexe Gilles (9th, Senior Ladies)—I wrote a little bit about Ms. Gilles sometime last Fall, and was pleased to see her FS included in this year’s Nationals broadcast on NBC. Though I suspect she has Katrina Hacker and Britney Rizo to thank for her assignment – both placed higher than her at Nats, but both have backburnered skating to focus on their studies—it will be nice to see an actual “big girl” (she’s 5’7”) with the Big Girls this year. And in Paris to boot!

+ Bebe Liang (14th, Senior Ladies)—I feel for Liang. Though she hasn’t had quite the rise-and-fall of, say, Meissner, she’s another one who came out with a bang several years back, appeared to be on the fast track to champion status… but nowadays is lucky to get even the single GP assignment. Expectations are brutal sometimes. I hope we can watch her surprise us all at Cup of China.

+ Becky Bereswill (18th, Senior Ladies)—No offense to Bereswill, but I was pretty surprised to see her name on the NHK Trophy list. Apparently two of the ladies I thought would be picked ahead of her—Angela Maxwell (8th) and Kristine Musademba (11th)—have instead been assigned to the Junior circuit. Hmmm. There must be more factors in play than I’m aware of. In any case, it’ll surely be an exciting time for her.

+ Armin Mahbanoozadeh (6th, Junior Men)—he won the silver medal at last year’s Junior GP Final, and the bronze at the same event the year before that, so I wonder if he couldn’t continue at the Junior level for that reason. And wow does he enter the Senior level with a bang—two assignments! I know Curran Oi is also back-burnering skating this season in favor of academics, but I’ve got to ask “what about Parker Pennington (8th), Tommy Steenberg (10th), or Dennis Phan (11th)?”

Many of you reading are more in the know about this stuff than I am, to be sure, so if you understand the assignments better please don’t hesitate to talk it up!

I’ve got Mahbanoozadeh’s JGP Free Skate from ’08 as the
Clip of the Day.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

GP Showdowns to Watch, 2009 Style (Part 2)

Predicting the SHOWDOWNS for the second half of the ISU season seemed quite a bit more difficult than predicting the same for the first half. Blame it on the non-ranked “returnees”, each of whom is slated to have their own event as a sort of homecoming… creating an automatic showdown in many cases. But those collective ships will have sailed by weeks 4, 5, and 6, and one of them (Plushenko) isn’t even scheduled for a 2nd GP event. So let’s break out the magnifying glass and take a closer look…

For NHK Trophy: Joubert (ISU ranked #2) vs. Abbott (#4) vs. Takahashi (#6). Here’s a combination we haven’t yet been treated to: the consistently well-ranked Frenchman pitted against the newest US champion pitted against a much-missed Japanese champ. Did I mention this event is to be Abbott’s GP debut for the season—in other words, our first time seeing him in a major even since pairing up with new coach Yuka Sato? And did I also mention this is to be Takahashi’s first major event (in his home country, no less) since his knee surgery?

Oh, and by the way, Johnny Weir (#7) is scheduled for this event as well.
With so much interesting competition, will this be a showdown or a smackdown? Can’t wait to see.

For Skate America: While pointing out that this is scheduled to be Delobel & Schoenfelder (#2)’s first appearance of the season (and, of course, would be Delobel’s first appearance since giving birth only two months earlier)… methinks this will be yet another dance event eclipsed by the ladies. Sasha Cohen (NR)’s first event on home soil will be terribly hard for the media to resist, even if it’s her second matchup in a row with Yu-Na Kim (#1) rather than her first. Throw in Rachael Flatt (#8), in her first-ever matchup with Cohen, and we might see a showdown-within-a-showdown. And yes, I’ve noticed the “TBA” slot on the USA roster for this event too… it will undoubtedly be interesting to see if the Player To Be Named Later has anything else to contribute.

Finally, for Skate Canada: First, another Dance would-be showdown of note, as D & S are slated to follow up SKAM with this one—and while the former will show how they are stacking up against Belbin & Agosto (#3), the latter will pit them against Virtue/Moir (#6). But while I suppose Delobel will turn out to be one of those superwomen who bounce back from pregnancy like a quarter off an army-made bed… sigh… I’m still hedging my bets as to whether or not they will even show up, much less be in medal-winning form.

So instead, I turn to the mens event again. Patrick Chan (#1) vs. Abbott vs. Takahashi… cool. So despite the fact that we won’t be treated to another Chan/Joubert event until, perhaps, the GP Final… we’ll get to see how JeremEEE and Dice-K fare with the #1 and #2 scenario individually, which should be interesting in its own right. By the way, Denis Ten (of Kazakhstan) is scheduled to be at Skate Canada as well; as well as he did at Worlds this year, what might it mean to see him in the mix come free skate time?

Speaking of which, here’s Ten’s FS at Worlds as the
Clip of the Day. Not such a far-fetched idea, him “mixing” with the big boys… is it?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

GP Showdowns to Watch, 2009 Style (Part 1)

So we open in France this year with the Grand Prix, and close in Canada. And everything in between is all re-shuffled as well. I’ve got to get used to that!

No matter when the events take place, no matter what the order… there are still some fierce SHOWDOWNS to be had. Especially in an Olympic season. And now that the quasi-retirees are back in the game, good Lord, what exactly is everyone in for come October/November/December??

Using the ISU rankings (in parentheses), past history, and a little bit of imagination, I’ve got a few guesses at “what everyone is in for”…

For Trophee Eric Bompard (TEB): Kim (1) vs. Asada (2) vs. Kostner (4) vs. Cohen (Not Ranked). “Hey, I know how to get this season started with a bang (said someone in the ISU)… put three of the top 5-ranked ladies in the world in TEB, then add Sasha Cohen to the mix. Everyone will be dying to know how Cohen fares among the best in the world… then compare it to the Olympics four months later…it’s perfect!!” Indeed it is. Well, if Rochette were there…

Funny thing is, in any other year a Kim vs. Asada rematch would be enough.

For Cup of Russia (I think it’s called something new this year, but I don’t feel like looking it up at the moment): Chan (1) vs. Kozuka (5) vs. Weir (7) vs. Plushenko (NR). Chan is reportedly working on learning the quad right now. Kozuka and Weir are, hopefully, working on gaining some consistency with each of their quads. Plushenko is, one would guess, working on getting his quad(s) back.

And then, after that little contest is over, perhaps the best overall skater will be awarded appropriately. I’d love to see the ultra low-key Kozuka on top in this race—I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the Japanese shuffle once Oda and Dice-K are back at full throttle—but I suspect Chan is a more likely bet for the top spot. Unless it goes to Plushy, of course… wonder how these two will look competing alongside each other?

As for Weir, I think staying ahead of smaller names such as Brandon Mroz will be a victory in itself. Though what reaction might be generated if Plushy and Weir happened to be 1-2 going into the free skate—just as they were in Torino?

For Cup of China: Zhang/Zhang (2) vs. Shen/Zhao (NR). Sorry, but all other pairs at this event can just stay home… that’s how inconsequential they’re likely to be in the giant shadows cast in Beijing by China’s past and present pairs’ greatness all at once. No wonder the 3rd Chinese team is listed as TBA (Pang/Tong already have two assignments)… no one wants to be the third wheel on that train!

Clip of the Day is Cohen’s FS from Trophee Lalique (what Trophee Eric Bompard used to be called), back in 2003. She won handily that year, with her closest competition being an up-and-coming Japanese skater by the name of Shizuka Arakawa…

Monday, June 1, 2009

GP Assignments Are Out... and Add Shen/Zhao To Its List of "Retired" Competitors

Just had to let y’all know about a couple of developments that occurred over the weekend:

The GP assignments for the 2009-10 season have been posted online;
this article at USFS summarizes the US involvement, but also includes the link to the ISU’s site (which gives a more thorough rundown). I want to study these a little closer myself, after which I’ll post about what I see as the best matchups—I did something similar last year for those who were following back then…

And then, just like last year, we’ll get a rash of “surprise” retirements over the summer that will obliterate half of said best matchups.

Just kidding. (I hope…)

Oh, and just when you thought they’d all been announced—one more “comeback” is in the works as the thrice World Champs and twice Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao appear to be returning to the hunt for that elusive Olympic pairs gold…

Read about it

This is a tough one to grumble at for me, as I feel the void left behind from their absence as much as any fan. But Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong surely are saying 哦,来吧!somewhere… and justifiably so.

(哦,来吧!Is Google’s simplified Chinese translation of “Oh, COME ON!”)

For the Clip of the Day I went with Shen/Zhao's 2002 Olympic SP, though with THREE Olympics under their belts already, any number of performances could have been chosen...