Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NHK 2012 and One More Round of This Year's vs. Last Year's Model

And suddenly, the road to Sochi looks a whole lot shorter.

No, not THAT Road to Sochi... I mean the little thoroughfare taking the top two dozen Grand Prix competitors (not to mention an equal portion of JGP entrants) to the Finals, A.K.A. the Sochi test event. But before we get there—in about 10 days—let’s do one more round of then-and-now free skate comparisons, inspired by the NHK performances from a few days ago:

Javier Fernandez (finished 4th): Verdi Medley (last year) vs. Charlie Chaplin Medley (this year)... We’ve seen Fernandez go from Pirates of the Caribbean (highlighted by a “drunken” in-character footwork sequence), to the slightly more straightforward Verdi, to the highly character-driven Chaplin. I like the ambitious nature of the new program, and the choreo’s terrific as always, but can Fernandez keep it going for 4 minutes without losing his jumps? Yes (at Skate Canada), but it was a NO here at NHK. True, he’s proven to run out of steam in a variety of free skate programs... but if “being Chaplin” exacerbates the problem, maybe he’s just not ready for it yet. Let’s see how he does at the GP Final...

Richard Dornbush (finished 5th): Western Medley by Morricone/Rossini (last year) vs. Wild Ones/Harlem Nocturne/Rooftops (this year). I want to say I like This Year’s Model better—Dornbush looks like he’s in better shape, and I’m hopeful that means he’ll take two steps forward this year rather than backward (as he seemed to last season). But... my problem is that Wild Ones feels like last year’s FS with a hipster vest where the cowboy shirt used to be. He’s got some campiness in his style to be sure, and maybe he simply doesn’t have many shades of camp to work with just yet. Perhaps a different choreographer would help?

Akiko Suzuki (was robbed won silver): Die Fledermaus (last year) vs. O (Cirque du Soleil) (this year). A dilemma of a different kind here... Fledermaus was superb, and propelled Suzuki to her first-ever world medal. And yet I adore her new FS sooooo much—the costume, the mannerisms/choreo, and of course her skating itself on a new level of exquisite—that I’m already a little bummed that it’s being used this season instead of next. I find myself wondering How will she top herself in an all-important Olympic year? But then again I’ve been known to worry too much...

Bazarova/Larionov (won gold in pairs): Dr. Zhiavago (last year) vs. Spartacus (this year)... ah, finally an easy one! The thing I can’t get over about this team are Bazarova’s itty bitty singles elements—when she DOES land her SBS’s, you can hear Dick Button in your head saying “There’s no JUMP in that jump!” And to me, if you’re going to trot out music as powerful as Spartacus, you’ll need to back it up with some fierce skating. “Fierce” isn’t what comes to mind when I think of Baz/Lar.

Davis/White (won gold in dance): Die Fledermaus (last year) vs. Notre Dame de Paris (this year)... Some time back, I compared Davis/White and their Great White North rivals by saying that D/W tend to skate with boldness and power while Virtue/Moir are more about subtle nuances—like comparing the color royal blue (the former) with periwinkle (the latter). This year in particular, I think the tables have turned. I’m not finding much that is subtle about V/M’s take on Carmen, whereas D/W’s Notre Dame is the kind of slow-building program that leaves you finding something new to love about it every time you see it repeated. I know many consider Fledermaus to be their masterpiece, and with good reason. But Notre Dame should find its own place on the Davis/White Wall of Fame in no time.

Monday, November 26, 2012

"Skating on Air" exclusive book offer for CyberMonday!

Since it IS, after all, CyberMonday... let's try something.

The first five readers to shoot me an email at KLawrence997-at-gmail-dot-com can get an autographed copy of Skating on Air for $30-- 25% off the Amazon list price-- and I'll cover the shipping charges!!

This promotion is open to North American readers only... but not to worry, I'll see what I can do at an international level as the holiday season progresses! 

My email address is listed in my profile page as well--  please send me a note rather than post your request in the comments. 

I look forward to shipping some books out!

Friday, November 23, 2012

NHK Trophy 2012: Call it an In-Progress Preview

NOTE: Since this edition of “Wonderings” is clearly posting well after Day 1 of NHK events are in the books, you’ll see that I’ve alluded to some of those Day 1 results... and in some cases, provided answers to my own (silly) questions.

Can Hanyu top the SP score he set records with at Skate America? (Yup.)

Will Rippon’s switch to the more traditional, less classic-rock driven version of Nessum Dorma allow him to reunite with his SP triple axel? (Um, nope.)

How will Takahashi’s work hold up side by side against heel-nipper Hanyu? (Round 1 went to Hanyu.)

Will Miner get his quad salchow this time? (Yes, I asked this same thing earlier in the GP season... the answer then was “no”... so it bears re-asking.)

Can either Nagasu or Makarova back up their SP scores with a dominant FS this time? Or will they both be outdone by China’s 15 year-old phenom Li Zijun (in 3rd after the SP)?

And speaking of Makarova—how soon before I’m able to see her brunette image on the screen without thinking I’ve called up the wrong video?

Can Castelli/Shnapir find the medal podium in a relatively lightweight pairs event?

Since we already know Davis/White are sure to win the event... will they be able to set a new SB in the free dance?

Will we be able to watch the Shib Sibs’ Memoirs of a Geisha FD without holding our breath every time Alex (and his previously troubled back) goes to lift Maia into the air?

And now that we know what is to come when Ilinykh/Katsalapov start their Ghost FD, what will our new reaction be at the “spoken word” portion of the program? (Assuming your initial reaction was something like mine: um, WHAT???)

I'll be back after the event, when the GP finalists are in place!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

This Year's Model vs. Last: Skaters at TEB 2012

This year’s Trophee Eric Bompard brought a healthy dose of surprise (Takahito Mura winning gold), disappointment (Jorik Hendrickx having to WD with an ankle fracture after a 4th place finish in the SP), and head-scratching (Tomas Verner’s continued inability to string two powerful clean jumps together, let alone six or seven). But when it came time to compare last year’s free programs with this year’s, I went straight to pairs and dance. (Mostly because I didn’t cover those at all last week.) Here are a few notables:

Kavaguti/Smirnov (won gold in pairs): Clair de Lune (last year) vs. February by Levashkevich (this year)... I’m very fond of Clair, but as with most programs, I’m not very fond of using the same music for two years straight. What’s more, it’s a very delicate work that, for me, fed into the idea that Kavaguti is a fragile athlete—not a very useful characterization for anyone! But in the two times I’ve seen the February program I can already see choreography (not to mention skating skills) that demonstrate a stronger, while still beautiful, pair of skaters.

Berton/Hotarek (won bronze): Adagio in G Minor by Giazotto/Albioni (last year) vs. Flamenco by Amigo (this year). This one is tough! Last year’s Adagio was lovely and worked very nicely for them, but using any Adagio for the entire duration of a free skate is challenging. On the other hand—I’m enjoying Flamenco (which seems to be a variety of cuts by modern-day guitar virtuoso Amigo), but I’d probably enjoy it more if it didn’t bear such a resemblance to other classical guitar choices for skating... or in the case of Peng/Zhang, the same choice. Nonetheless, I’ll choose Flamenco by a nose. Or is that by a ROSE (in the hair)?

James/Cipres (finished 6th): “Nostalgia” by Yanni vs. Pearl Harbor OST... Different story here in that it’s an easy choice. For one thing, I am not a Yanni fan. At all. For another, James/Cipres are really coming together as a pairs team this year, if the early returns are any indication. Yeah, they got 6th at TEB, but it was a lop-sided 6th (meaning a weak SP but a pretty solid FS)... so... if Hans Zimmer’s Pearl Harbor soundtrack is helping them get it done, how can I choose anything but this year’s model?

Riazanova/Tkachenko (won bronze in ice dance):  Blizzard OST vs. The Godfather... consider me four for four this week on choosing current programs over old ones! I took a look at R/T’s Blizzard FD a couple days ago to refresh my memory, and about 30 seconds in was all I needed. One simple melodic theme... repeated about 375 times. Yeah, it built as the program progressed, as most music does, but it was kind of like drawing a pattern with a pen, then the same pattern with a sharpie, then the same pattern AGAIN with a paintbrush, and a bigger paintbrush...

So, Godfather? Which has one very identifiable passage that R/T only use twice in their entire program, as I recall? Yep, works for me.

P.S. NHK Trophy gets underway in a matter of minutes, as I finally get this posted! The SP/SDs will run throughout the wee hours, so for me, that means... I’ll try and get a briefing posted before watching the highlights. Heaven knows I’ll be lucky to stay awake long enough to catch even one program on the live side!

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Trophee Eric Bompard Preview

As you may have heard, there have been cancellations a-plenty at this event: Johnny Weir is out with (I presume) the same injury that kept him from completing Rostelecom Cup last week... Savchenko/Szolkowy have scratched due to illness on Savchenko’s part (and unfortunately have also taken themselves out of the ISU Grand Prix Finals because of it)... and now word is that Gumbyskaia may withdraw due to an ankle injury. So, wonder #1: what will all these WD’s mean for the podium?

For the MEN:
Has Song Nan fully recovered from his Cup of China concussion?

Has Brian Joubert fully recovered from whatever illness prompted HIS CoC withdrawal?

Has Jeremy Abbott figured out whatever it was that kept him from firing on all cylinders at Skate America?

Is it “wide open” enough for someone like Takahito Mura or Florent Amodio to medal? Or any of the other less-than-usual suspects, for that matter?

If Julia Lipnitskaia does in fact scratch this event, is there anyone else in the field that can get in Ashley Wagner’s way as she tries for a back-to-back GP win?

Such as Liza Tuktamysheva (injury issues notwithstanding)?  Or maybe even Christina Gao?

Will Mae Berenice Meite skate with the kind of power that reminds us of another French skater from years gone by (Surya Bonaly)?

Can Jenna McCorkell make a splash by channelling her very recent successes on the “B” circuit (gold medals at both the Ondrej Nepala Trophy and Ice Challenge)?


Could Duhamel/Radford put up a worth challenge for gold against Kavaguti/Smirnov?

Will James/Cipres be able to keep up the good work on home ice?

Can Berton/Hotarek do as well with their throw jumps as they do their SBS jumps?

Is everyone a lot less interested now that Savchenko/Szolkowy are missing this event?


Will Cappellini/Lanotte’s Carmen FD shine brighter away from Virtue/Moir’s shadow?

Can Gilles/Poirier surprise with a bronze medal? (I really liked them when they competed in Salt Lake City earlier this season.)

Will there be a lot of “tongue” in the crowd during Pechalat/Bourzat’s FD? (Rolling Stones tongues, that is)

Can any of the Russian teams erase the memory of Ilinykh/Katsalapov’s haunting-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Ghost FD?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Year's vs. This Year's Model: Rostelecom Cup 2012

Yes, I've once again focused on the men in my old/new model wrapup for Rostelecom Cup 2012... Will definitely need to give some equal time to pairs and dance in the last two GP events!

Patrick Chan (won gold): Concierto de Aranjuez (last year) vs. La Boheme (this year)... I’m voting for Boheme. Not to Chan-flate his status in the skating world any higher, but let’s face it—when he’s on (as he was at Rostelecom Cup), his work is quite a sight to see. Therefore, I’m fond of seeing such “sights” framed in music to match. Remember how Michelle Kwan used to choose music no one else was using/had used before (at least in the first half of her career)? I think that’s what Chan should be doing. Aranjuez, as much as I like it, has hit warhorse territory of late—which makes it a little pedestrian for Chan. Boheme is glorious stuff for glorious skating!

Takahito Kozuka (won silver): Fantasia for Nausicaa by Hisaishi (last year) vs. Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso by Saint-Saens (this year) ... again, I’m choosing this year’s model. Kozuka hardly ever makes obvious music choices these days, which I deeply appreciate... but last year’s FS never really clicked with me on any level. Couple that with the fact that he’s now using Saint-Saens—the composer behind The Swan, among many others—and the choice is easy.

Nobunari Oda (finished 5th): Umbrellas of Cherbourg (last year) vs. Sorcerer’s Apprentice (this year)... I’m going three for three on preferring the new programs for these guys. To his credit, Oda can’t really get a fair shake for last year (he was injured and out for the season by late fall), so it’s hard to say if Umbrellas was a good fit or not. But ever since Bebe Liang used Sorcerer for her short program a few years ago, I wondered why it wasn’t used more often. For Oda to work with it is particularly amusing to me; as well-known as he’s become for NOT thinking on his feet, I feel some sort of odd connection between he and the title character (as portrayed by Mickey Mouse in Fantasia).

Kiira Korpi (won gold): “I Got Rhythm” (last year) vs. Once Upon a Time in America (this year). Here’s a case where I DO choose the piece used more often these days. Why? It might be as simple as the fact that Korpi’s off to a better start this season than she’s ever had... but I just flat-out like the combination of music she’s chosen for both programs. Girl with the Flaxen Hair and OUAT in America really complement each other beautifully, don’t you think?

Adelina Sotnikova (finished 5th): Liebestraum (last year) vs. “Tough Lover” (from Burlesque) (this year). Liebestraum. No contest. It’s like asking whether you want to drink Ghirardelli cocoa, or would you rather lick the floor... which happens to somehow be caterwauling. I mean, have you heard this Aguilera-fortified selection of “music” she’s currently using?

Caroline Zhang (finished 10th): Cello Concerto in B Minor/Dvorak vs. Nessum Dorma (this year). Again I’m going with last year’s model for Zhang, and in this case it’s all about speed. Yes, Nessum Dorma is a warhorse... but it’s a powerful warhorse. Pair that with a relatively slow-moving skater—which Zhang, unfortunately, still is—and her lack of speed is magnified. With last year’s Dvorak piece, the music was less widely known so the expectations weren’t as great. This year, not only does the music bring a certain sort of expectations... we know in advance that she’s unlikely to reach them (even when she does hit the jumps). 

T.E.B "wonderings" coming shortly!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rostelecom Cup 2012 Preview

Rostelecom Cup 2012 is here, so I’ve been doing some more wondering... hmm...

Will anyone new be able to upset Patrick Chan? (Um, Takahito Kozuka? I’m looking at you)

Can Artur Gachinski relocate some of the form that put him on the World podium in 2011?

Will Richard Dornbush make the most of his GP shot? (a somewhat controversial one, considering he finished well out of the Top 10 at last season’s Nationals)

Just how long will the ovations last when adopted native son/comeback kid Johnny Weir begins and ends his programs?

Will a veteran like Kiira Korpi be able to outskate a young’un like Adelina Sotnikova?

Which Alena Leonova will show up on home ice—the one who claimed silver at Worlds, or the one who sank to 7th at Skate America last month?

Will Gracie Gold, Caroline Zhang, or Agnes Zawadzki be able to light up the rink in November the way they’ve been prone to save until January?

Will Volosozhar/Trankov push themselves to be “great” when they can probably win this event by only being “pretty good?”

Is there any chance that Denney/Coughlin might win silver over Bazarova/Larionov?

Will the Russian team of Martieusheva/Rogonov make a bigger mark here than they did three years ago (when they finished 7th in their only other GP appearance to date)?

Will Virtue/Moir be able to sell me any further on their retelling of Carmen?

Can the Shib Sibs make the transition from ballroom to... well, whatever “room” Memoirs of a Geisha finds itself in?

Will Ilinykh/Katsalapov turn more heads than usual with a free dance to music from The Ghost.

Can Coomes/Buckland upset for a medal?

And here’s some info to get you going...

Friday Competition Schedule (All times Eastern)

Ladies – 6 a.m.
Gracie Gold – 6:07 a.m.
Caroline Zhang – 6:14 a.m.
Agnes Zawadzki – 6:27 a.m.

Pairs – 7:40 a.m.
Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin – 8:00 a.m.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin – 8:14 a.m.

Men’s – 10 a.m.
Johnny Weir – 10:07 a.m.
Richard Dornbush – 10:20 a.m.

Ice Dancing – 11:40 a.m.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani – 12:33 p.m.

And... NBC will broadcast Rostelecom Cup coverage of the ladies and men's free skates from 4-6 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This Year's vs.Last Year's Model: Programs at Cup of China 2012

Three weeks into the GP and I'm still finding plenty of Free Skate/Free Dance debuts to compare & contrast to those used last season. I'll likely have to move to SPs/SDs soon, but till then, here's a then'n'now comparison for Cup of China's Men and Ice Dance: 

Tatsuki Machida (won gold; now qualified for GP Final): Quick, what did Machida use for his FS last season?  It was Don Quixote, and I had zero memory of it—probably because he was only in two major international events, and came in 7th both times (Cup of China 2011 and 4CC 2012). Therein lies the difference a year can make, and why I’ve no choice but to prefer this year’s Firebird.

Daisuke Takahashi (won silver): Wow...such a difference between Pagliacci (this year) vs. Blues For Klook (last year). Do I choose the apple or the orange? In this case, I’m picking last year’s model FOR NOW... because Dice-K owned that sucker. I know he wasn’t the first to use it—distinctive, outside-the-box choice that it is—but his interpretation is will stick with me for seasons to come. However, as great a skater as he is, I’ll allow for the possibility that Pagliacci will earn a spot among Dice-K’s greatest hits by the time the season is over.

Adam Rippon (finished 4th): Speaking of apples and oranges! Here we have the Don Draper-inspired Incredibles (this year) vs. Bach’s “Air & Toccata & Fugue” (last year). So, what’d you think? I think I missed his hair... sigh... oh crap, I forgot what we were talking about. (This year’s model vs. last year’s... focus, Kelli, focus)

I will go ahead and pick The Incredible Don Draper, even though I don’t watch Mad Men and have no clue if he’s getting the characterization right. All I know is the new FS is not floaty, or dreamy, or portraying Rippon as angelic in any way, shape or form... so... SOLD! Even though, ironically, the program seems to drag/meander a bit between 2:36 and 3:27 (mostly a footwork sequence).

Incidentally, my husband IS a Mad Men fan, and when I asked if he’d be able to discern any Don Draper-esque moves in a skating program, he winced a little and said “I don’t know... is there anything in there to indicate womanizing?” (I’m getting back to him on that one.)

Pechalat/Bourzat (won gold): Hmmm—last year’s Skate Like an Egyptian (a.k.a. Mummy & Pharoah) vs. this year’s Stones Medley. No contest—Stones by a landslide, and I’m not even a Stones fan. But I seem to be even less of a fan of heavy-handed theme programs, particularly in ice dance, and the Pech/Bour FD catalog of the past 5 seasons is a case in point: circus theme in 2008-09, TIME theme in 2009-10... Chaplin in 2010-11, MUMMY in 2011-12. Stones for this season... which means something heavier is probably in store for Sochi. SIGH. Well, I’ll enjoy them twizzling their rock-n-roll hearts out while I can...

Bobrova/Soloviev (won silver): Faust (last season) vs. Once Upon a Time in the West/Tosca (this season). The piece they use from Once Upon a Time is called “Man with a Harmonica,” by Morricone, and it’s wistful and dramatic and haunting in a manner similar to the song “Calling You” (from Baghdad CafĂ©). So despite the dash of Tosca they add to the mix near the dance’s end that nearly ruins the whole thing, I’m choosing this season over the overwrought Faust.

Weaver/Poje (won bronze): Je Suis Malade (last season) vs. Humanity in Motion (this season). Let me begin by saying I’m very fond of W/P—great chemistry there, and I’ve enjoyed their relatively rapid rise through the ranks in the past few years. BUT (hiding behind my chair now for when you start to throw tomatoes my way)—I’m not loving this new FD so far. As I sit here thinking about it, maybe the problem I have with the so-called “heavy-handed themes” is that one or both of the skaters is often cast as something that starts out as distant, unapproachable, and less than human. Pharaohs and mummies? Check. The Hands of Time (Pech/Bour 2010)? Check. And now we have Weaver as something statuesque—Lady Liberty? Is that confirmed or just a guess?—and it just doesn’t seem to move me. I’m not sure what the solution is, since doing a relationship piece such as a gut-wrenching French ballad (in a slipdress slipping off your shoulder) wears out its welcome too. I’ve read that W/P are, understandably, disappointed with their pair of GP bronze medals and are rarin’ to improve on the program for future events. We'll see what happens...maybe some improved tech scores will make the difference. 

Anyone else out there feel like I do about this program? I'd love to know I wasn't alone on this. OR, if you're crazy about Humanity in Motion, please speak up... I'm all ears!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cup of China 2012 Preview

Time for some more wonderings about a GP event-- this time Cup of China 2012, which takes place this Friday/Saturday. But first, for those still "wondering" what time their fave event happens...

  • Friday, November 2
    4:00 a.m. ET
    Short dance
    5:30 a.m. ETLadies' short program
    7:30 a.m. ETMen's short program
    9:15 a.m. ETPairs' short program
  • Saturday, November 3
    3:00 a.m. ET
    Free dance
    4:40 a.m. ETLadies' free skate
    6:35 a.m. ETMen's free skate
    8:35 a.m. ETPairs' free skate 
As for where to watch these fave events live if you don't have Universal Sports... I'm not nearly as helpful on this one. If you have a link, please feel free to post it in the comments. As for me, I'll be trolling Twitter and You Tube in an effort to put the pieces together...

Wonderings about the men:

Will Nan Song do as well at this event this year as he did last year (when he blew the lid off the place with his astounding athleticism and won his first senior GP medal)?

Will Brian Joubert succeed in his bid to win all senior GP events at least once? (CoC is the only one left on the list.)

Will Adam Rippon’s new programs be the all-that-and-a-bag-of-Trader-Joe’s-Pita-Chips that I’ve been hoping for since he announced them? And is he truly BFFs with his triple axel, as was his reported mission at the start of the summer?

Oh, and will Daisuke Takahashi be stupendously awesome this weekend or just kinda awesome?

Wonderings about the ladies: 

Will Mao Asada run away with this one? Or will Gumbyskaia (aka Julia Lipnitskaia) prove as formidable an opponent in her senior GP debut as she’s been elsewhere?

Will Kiira Korpi’s stunning SP (as evidenced at Finlandia Trophy recently) help secure her a spot on the podium?

Will Mirai Nagasu make a dent anywhere higher than 5th place?

Wonderings about the pairs (of which there will only be six this time):

Will Kavaguti/Smirnov skate like true champions, or more like champions-until-one-or-two-other-Russian-teams-take-the-ice?

Will Pang/Tong find enough duct tape and safety pins to hold their “old” selves together on home ice? (See THIS ARTICLE for reference.)

Will Moore-Towers/Moscovitch have an early season peak here, as they’ve had (early) in the past two seasons?

And as for ice dance:

Will Pechalat/Bourzat prove to have the Moves Like Jagger in their free dance? (sorry, someone has to say it)

Will Weaver/Poje have a head-on competitive collision with Bobrova/Soloviev (the same team they competed against at SKAM) ...and maybe win the battle this time?

Will Chock/Bates find their way to their first GP medal?

Stay tuned for answers to these questions and more, more, more!