Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Six New Programs to Chat About As Skating's 2013 Pre-Season Wraps Up

Skate America (#SA2013 on Twitter) may be less than a week away, but I’m still thinking about the flurry of skating events that took place about 10 days ago.

With so much to watch, I felt I was doing well to whittle my viewing list down to 25 select performances from Finlandia Trophy, Ondrej Nepela Memorial Trophy, and the Japan Open. What I’ve done from there is distill it to a half-dozen (seen below) that I think are remarkable for a variety of reasons. So whether you’ve struggled to find the time to watch everything noteworthy... or were so overwhelmed by the options you crawled into a closet with just your IPhone to track time until #SA2013... I hope you’ll find this cheat sheet helpful:

(In alphabetical order)

Mao Asada’s FS to Piano Concerto #2 (Rachmaninoff): Asada won the (free skate-only, no SP) Japan Open with this new program to very familiar music for skating fans. Considering her FS choices over the past few years (Swan Lake, Liebestraume), it shouldn't be surprising that she’s chosen a war horse in what will likely be her final competitive season. And maybe both Asada and Akiko Suzuki (who’s using Phantom this season) have both wanted to skate to these particular pieces of music their entire career... a “save the best for last” sort of choice. So while I wasn’t blown away by Asada’s take on Rachmaninoff just yet, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and hope she can infuse this piece with her effervescence and incredible skill, the way she’s done so many other times. One thing’s for sure—it’s no Bells of Moscow (her FS music from 2009-10). And that’s a very, very good thing. 

Chock/Bates’ FD to LesMiserables: Despite a flat-out splat on Bates’ part in the SD twizzles, C/B still finished a distant second to Virtue/Moir at Finlandia Trophy. But while I found their “No Business Like Show Business” SD quite fun, I cannot yet say the same for their FD. Not that it’s intended to be “fun” with a name like Miserables, of course... but to me, last year’s Dr. Zhivago FD was special. This one isn’t—not yet, at least. Maybe it’s the music cuts; an early part of the program includes crowd cheers/applause on the recording, and I’m never a fan of that. And the later part of the dance had several intersecting vocals and sounded too “busy,” which was distracting. What did you think? I think the chemistry and talent this couples shares makes for powerful performances, but I’m sad to say they’re missing the mark so far on this. 

Ross Miner’s FS to Michael W. Smith’s “Glory”: Miner was not at his best at the Nepela Memorial Trophy, taking 4th behind Tomas Verner, Takahito Mura, and Peter Liebers. But his much talked-about free skate—sub-titled Boston Strong as it is a tribute to his hometown’s weathering of the Marathon Bombing—was a sight to behold nonetheless. Miner’s artistic side shows a little bit more with each season, but the emotion behind this program carries potential of making this a great season for Miner. Especially if he can start landing his quad salchow in competition... 

Daisuke Takahashi’s FS to a Beatles Medley: he took fourth at the Japan Open behind Javier Fernandez, Takahiko Kozuka, and Jeremy Abbott... but that surprise was nothing compared to the realization that Dice-K’s FS swan song is a fairly Muzak-ish muckup of Beatles music. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Dice-K’s work when he skates clean. And I most definitely love me some Beatles music. But in its current form, this doesn't work for me. Again, it has to do with the cuts of music and their arrangements/orchestration. There are great instrumental Beatles arrangements out there, perhaps moreso than for any other contemporary artist. But this montage? Which includes three ballads, only one upbeat tune (“Come Together”), and a George Martin track from 1998 that wasn’t even recorded by the Fab Four? Oh, Dice-K Darling... no. Just no. 

Virtue/Moir’s FD to classical pieces by Alexander Glazunovand Alexander Scriabin: They won Finlandia; of course they did, and they deserved it because they are excellent athletes that gave another great performance. Prior to watching them, though, I’d seen some on Twitter coin it “Vancouver Pt. 2” or words to that effect, indicating the new FD is a retread of old Mahler grounds. I’ve seen it now, and I see their point... if their OGM skate was to resemble a wedding night (as I remember hearing at the time), you could quite possibly see this FD, four years later, as their much-delayed honeymoon—the lovey-dovey walking-around-town parts, not the bedroom scenes. (They did that via Carmen last year, didn’t they?) 

I don’t know if that was the intention, but on paper, it’s not necessarily a bad one. A little safe, maybe, but not bad. The problem for me again—and hopefully this is not a recurring theme for the season!—was the music selections, which felt herky-jerky and kind of forced. It’s tough, because Symphony No. 5 is such a beautiful thing; even when Team V/M edited it down to 4 minutes it was pretty seamless. This time around—at least, for now—the 4 minute “selection” seems more like a silk purse that’s coming apart on one side. With spare change and lipsticks falling out of it. (OK, enough imagery.)

Ashley Wagner’s FS to Romeo& Juliet (Prokofiev) was very interesting to see... not just because she did her triple flip/triple toe (under-rotated, but she did it), and not just because the “Bedroom Juliet” choreo clearly has the makings of a signature program for the two-time U.S. champ. For me, it was about the music cuts (who knew??). They were strong, yet unfamiliar, and unexpected... and best of all, they let Wagner take on a classic character and reinvent it in her own fashion. Is it ironic to hope that others follow her lead? 

What do you think about these performances—or others you might’ve caught in the past couple of weeks? Leave a comment if you’re so inclined!

(And yes, I plan to get a quick post up with Skate America predictions before things get underway on Friday evening.)


sara.raju said...

I totally agree about V/M's music. There are too many changes of tempor and pace in it. And the piece itself feels like a retread of 2010. I swear they even recycled the outfits! I think it's definitely not their best piece, but there were things I liked, their dance spin was great and some of their lifts were crazy-they even looked a little dangerous. Excited to hear your predictions for SkAm(haha, can I call it that?)

Kelli Lawrence said...

Oh that's a good point... I do remember thinking V/M's dance spin was a beauty!

And I hold my breath more and more on ALL the straight-line lifts I see; worried if the balance will be off a hair, or the guy will catch a rut... I know the danger/risk is half the point of it all; but I fear for the height of "the bar" at this point!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about C/B's music. Some of the cuts seemed kind of choppy. When the music swelled with all the soloists, I became distracted wondering which character(s) they were portraying. Maybe if they used just an instrumental version of "One Day More" that part would work better. Also, their lack of speed, instead of matching the music's bigness, made the program end on a bit of a flat note for me. Hopefully that will improve as the season progresses.

Anonymous said...

Just saw Ashley Wagner's Romeo and Juliet at Skate America and was surprised that I loved it, because I groaned when I heard she'd chosen it. She made it her own. A little polish, and it should rack up the awards for her this season.