Sunday, October 31, 2010

Michelle Kwan's "Lyra Angelica" and Janet Lynn's "Afternoon of a Faun."

In today's post, you will be treated to a DSD: daily skating double! You'll have the opportunity to watch two sparkling performances by two of the United States greatest female skaters in history: Michelle Kwan and Janet Lynn.

In 1998 Michelle Kwan made history at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Philadelphia by earning 15 perfect marks for artistic impression in the short and long programs. What was even more impressive is that Michelle was injured with a stress fracture in one of her toes, making it painful to vault herself into jumps.

Michelle's performance to "Lyra Angelica" ("Angel's Song")by William Alwyn and "Gymnopedie No.2" by Erik Satie was skated with such control,elegance, freedom, and joy, traits which would become trademarks of Michelle's skating. Someone, perhaps it was Sandra Bezik, once said that Michelle's skating best translates the feeling of flight.

Purity,peace,freedom and joy were concepts that were integral in the creation of this program by choreographer, Lori Nichol. As the great Dick Button said as Michelle took the ice, "One thing you should note about this; how elegant this is, the fact that nothing is hard-edged, that honesty is central to her skating, the gentility of her positions." Her skating embraces you. It transports you.

The Kwan/Lynn connection: In the year leading up to this magical performance, Michelle Kwan had been inspired by watching tapes of 1972 Olympic Bronze medalist, and 5-time U.S. Champion, Janet Lynn. Lynn, whose skating Dick Button once described as a "smooth, flowing thread of silk," fell during her freeskate in the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, and got up smiling. Michelle was moved by Lynn's positive attitude and ability to put her mistakes and disappointments into perspective. Michelle said, "That's the way I want to be." During the ABC broadcast of Michelle's "Lyra Angelica" at nationals, Dick Button said that Michelle's skating was "reminiscent of Janet Lynn."

According to sportswriter Christine Brennan's book "Edge of Glory," Janet Lynn (now Salomon) was at home watching Michelle's performance on TV. The following is a short passage from Brennan's book ( bottom of pg. 349 to top of pg. 350):

"At this point in time, it was the most inspiring night of skating I've ever watched," she [Lynn] said. "She meant all three of the top skaters [Michelle, Tara Lipinski, and Nicole Bobek], but, in particular, Kwan. "I felt the joy in her skating," Janet Lynn said. "Even when she was waiting to go on, the joy was evident."
There was that word again, the one word that Lori Nichol used as a foundation for Kwan's long program.
A deeply religious person, Janet Lynn Salomon went upstairs in her home to read her devotional book, which included passages from the Bible's Letter of Jude.
A quote jumped off the page: "Faultless...with exceeding joy."
"That's it," she said. "Those are exactly the words I'd use to describe what I just saw."

I hope you enjoy watching Michelle's "Lyra Angelica" and Janet Lynn's silky rendition of "Afternoon of a Faun".



Friday, October 29, 2010

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's "Symphony No.5," by Gustav Mahler

This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!

Dear Readers, as I am pressed for time this morning, I will only write a few short paragraphs of preface to this exquisite video from Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the reigning Olympic and World champions from Canada. I posted them directly after Torvill and Dean (yesterday's post) because many people call them the new Torvill and Dean of ice dancing.

Tessa and Scott are also training mates, and main rivals, with Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were featured in Wednesday's post. Both teams share the coaching tandem of Igor Shilband and Marina Zoueva, choreographer extraordinaire.

Not only is this program one of the most beautiful skating programs that I've ever witnessed, it is one of the most beautiful things that I've ever seen in my life, period. It is breathtaking. It is elegant. It is ethereal. It is majestic. It is romantic. There are really no words to do it justice.

The fact that Tessa and Scott are just 21 and 23 gives me great hope that they'll continue skating for a long, long time, giving us more supreme performances.

I've also posted photos for your enjoyment.

I hope you love "Symphony No.5".

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean's "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel

This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!

Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean of Great Britain are without a doubt, one of the most famous and influential ice dancers of all time! They are known for their ground-breaking choreography and program concepts and themes, and stellar skating technique. They are 4-time World Champions and the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalists.

Their Olympic victory in Serajevo,(then Yugoslavia, now Bosnia and Herzegovina), was done in convincing fashion with this spellbinding performance to the hypnotic one-movement orchestral piece, "Bolero," by Maurice Ravel. Their performance earned six marks of 5.9 for technical merit, and nine perfect scores of 6.0 for artistic impression. It was the first time in Olympic history that all perfect scores were received. The accomplishment will never be matched as the 6.0-judging system was phased out after the judging scandal in the pairs event at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

I first saw this Torvill and Dean performance in 1994, 10 years after they skated it. (I was just a baby when this was on TV the first time.) During a summer visit to see my aunt Kitty, who was a big skating fan, I told her that I had become hooked on skating, too. I remember sitting on her couch, telling her all the facts I knew about the skaters that I had recently seen on TV in the 1994 Olympics. Aunt Kitty was excited that I was interested in skating, and decided to share something in her video collection. She happened to have an extra copy of a skating highlight video called "Magic Memories on Ice," and gave it to me. I watched the film as soon as I got home and was entranced by this performance, among others. I watched that video countless times when I was a little girl. This was before the days of You Tube, so it was the only way that I could see some of the great skating performances of the past. I still have the video and cherish it!! The video clip I posted below is actually taken from that video. The voice introducing the program is Peggy Flemming's.

Side note: Jayne and Chris came out of retirement in 1994, reinstated as amateurs and competed in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. They won the Original Dance with a sultry Rhumba, but slipped to a controversial third in the freeskate. Regardless, no one remembers them for their result in Lillehammer, but for the enchanting, historic Bolero performance from 1984. To pay tribute to the then war-torn Sarajevo, (the Olympic skating venue had actually been destroyed by a bomb) and its people, Torvill and Dean once again performed Bolero in the skating exhibition following the 1994 competition. They even wore their original costumes. I didn't know about this Bolero tribute reprise until searching on You Tube for their 1984 Bolero. I am going to post the original Bolero, and also the 1994 exhibition Bolero. It will be an interesting contrast to see how the two versions, skated 10 years apart, compare.




Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meryl Davis and Charlie White's "Eleanor Rigby" by the Beatles

This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are my favorite U.S. ice dancers of all-time! They are AWESOME! (As you will soon see for yourself!)

Background/ competitive career:

Meryl and Charlie--who some refer to as "Marlie" or "Dwight" live and train in Canton, Michigan under Igor Shilband and Marina Zoueva. Meryl and Charlie are both 23-year-old students at the University of Michigan.

"Marlie" started skating together around the ages of 8 and 9. In 2007, they burst onto the senior level of competition in a big way, finishing an impressive 3rd in their first U.S. championships, and placing 7th at the World Figure Skating Championships, which tied them for the highest world debut ever by a U.S. ice dance team. Following the '07 Worlds, my mom, sister and I attended an exhibition of the U.S. senior and junior teams in Reading, Pa. It was then that I saw Meryl and Charlie skate live for the first time. I immediately fell in love with their fast, smooth, velvet quality. I knew they were ones to watch.

In 2008, with this difficult, exciting freeskate, they moved up to second at the U.S. championships, behind their then training partners, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. (Charlie and Tanith are now dating, and live together in Michigan).

In 2009, my sister and I were lucky enough to be in attendance in Cleveland, Ohio, as Meryl and Charlie won their first national title. Their performance was positively sublime. It was a highlight of our trip! I will be sure to post that winning-performance soon.

Last season, Meryl and Charlie had their most successful season yet. They won both their fall Grand Prix events, and narrowly captured the Grand Prix final over eventual Olympic champions, and training mates, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. They also became You Tube sensations with their fabulous Original Dance routine skated to Indian music, featuring authentic Indian choreography. It is sheer genius! I will have to post that video, too.

"Marlie" had a convincing victory at the U.S. Championships/Olympic trials in January, bringing the house down with their ambitious, if not frenetic, "Phantom of the Opera" routine. They were stunning in February's Olympics in Vancouver, finishing second to the majestic Virtue and Moir, who were skating on home ice. The American tandem followed up their Olympic silver with a silver at the Worlds in March in Torino, Italy. The next month, my mom, sister and I saw them skate their incredible Indian-music Original Dance on the Stars On Ice tour. They were, of course, amazing. We wished they had skated more than one number, but we did see them skate in a lot of fun group numbers.

Last weekend "Marlie" won their first Grand Prix title of the new season at NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Japan. They are currently ranked No.1 in the world in the International Skating Union's World Rankings.

"Marlie" skated this revamped version of their "Eleanor Rigby" freeskate at the 2008 nationals. I was blown away by their speed and technical precision. This performance also highlighted their maturity and their ability to interpret music and put on a dynamic, powerful performance. This was my favorite free skate of that night, and remains one of my favorite Meryl and Charlie routines!

I love how Charlie skates with such reckless abandon (he flies across the ice!), and Meryl is as dramatic as any stage-actress. Their twizzles (turns on one foot) are a blur! Together, they are "first rate" as Dick Button would say. I read somewhere that Brian Boitano, a master of beautiful, deep, controlled edges, said that he thinks Charlie White's edging and stroking is the best he's ever seen. And that's saying something!

Enjoy "Eleanor Rigby"!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jared Swallow's "Tango Medley" by Astor Piazzollo

This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jared Swallow are a husband and wife ice dance team who competed from 1990 until 1998. They are five-time-U.S. ice dance champions, and two-time Olympians.

Under the tutelage of Russian coach Igor Shilband and his then-coaching partner Elizabeth Coates of Great Britian, Punsalan and Swalllow improved exponentially in terms of musicality, line, flow, and connection with each other and audiences, in the later years of their competitive career.

Note: Their coach Igor Shilband, along with new coaching partner, Marina Zoueva, has gone on to coach some of the most successful U.S. ice dance teams in history: 2006 Olympic silver medalists, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, 2010 Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They also coach 2010 Olympic and World Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Liz and Jared debuted this fantastic tango medley at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano Japan. The routine they had skated for the first part of the season, an Elvis Presley medley, was not as well-received as they would have liked, so they scrapped it after their fifth national title in January in time for the Olympics in February. If I remember correctly, the TV commentators said that Liz and Jared worked on this routine from late at night into the early-morning hours, when the rink was empty, for the month leading up to the games. I think the finished product is their best program ever. It was severely underrated at the Olympics, where they finished 7th, and at the World Championships, where they finished 6th. In general, I feel that Liz and Jared were undermarked in competitions for most of their careers.

Nevertheless, this team was one of the ice dance teams in the last two decades that helped put U.S. ice dancing on the map. They are excellent role models for other up-and-coming ice dancers, and are good all-around people and performers. They went on to tour with the new defunct Champions On Ice for several years.

I hope you love this performance. It's so full of intricate, inventive choreography, authentic tango character, speed, flow, and passion. Enjoy!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat's "Man in the Iron Mask" (movie soundtrack)

This week's theme: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Ice Dance!

The first video of the week is from a truly original and intriguing French team: Maria Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. (Though it should be noted that the fiery red-head, Marina Anissina is Russian, but obtained French citizenship to skate with Gwendal.)

Brief back story:

Marina was formerly partners with fellow Russian, Ilia Averbukh, with whom she won the 1990 and 1992 World Junior Championships. Ilia left Marina to because he had fallen in love with another Russian skater, Irina Lobacheva, who became his new ice dance partner, and eventually his wife. (See below)

Without a partner, Marina wrote letters (this was before the days of e-mail!) to several ice dancers around the world, even if they already had partners, and asked if they'd like to have a tryout with her. One of the letters was sent to Victor Kraatz, a talented Canadian skater, who went on to have a very successful career with Shae Lynn Bourne. (See below). He did not respond to Marina's letter, probably because of the partnership with Shae Lynn--even though the letter would have reached him before he and Shae Lynn had had any international success.

The person that did respond to one of Marina's letters was the dashing Frenchman, Gwendal Peizerat. Even if you don't find him attractive, which I'm not sure is possible, his flowing, blonde locks have got to win you over!

Together, Marina and Gwendal had instant charisma and impact. They bring so much passion and commitment to each performance. They quickly shot up the ranks in their amateur career, finishing 3rd at the 1998 Winter Olympics, 2nd at the 1998 World Championships, 2nd at the 1999 World Championships (the clip below), 1st at the 2000 World Championships. They won the ultimate prize of Olympic gold in 2002.

Two points of interest: first, to bring the story full circle, in winning that Olympic gold medal, Marina and Gwendal narrowly defeated Marina's former partner Ilia Averbukh and his wife Irina, and also Victor Kraatz and Shae-Lynn Bourne, who finished a disappointing 4th. Lastly,as it turns out, Marina and Gwendal were also (innocent?) pawns in the most controversial judging scandal in Olympic history. Remember the Russians controversially winning gold over the Canadians in the 2002 Olympic pairs competition? Remember the double gold medals awarded? What does the pairs results have to do with ice dancing, you ask??? Stay tuned for a later post when I will explain Marina and Gwendal's unfortunate association (and maybe involvement) in that huge scandal.

Back to the clip below: In 1999, at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Marina and Gwendal delivered a powerful performance to the Man in the Iron Mask soundtrack. It's one of their signature pieces.

I remember watching this back in high school and being outraged that a passionate and dynamic performance like this did not win the gold medal! (They finished second to some strange jungle music routine by the reigning world champions from Russia.) It still boggles my mind today that they did not win, but to continue the theme of my previous posts, medals don't matter in the big picture. For this performance, it is more about the journey, the emotion and the impact, not the result. No matter how you look at it, this is definitely a winning performance!

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!

Debriefing on Ice Dancing


(Pictured: 2006 Olympic silver medalists, USA's Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto)

My previous posts were kind of introductory posts for my blog under no category in particular, except that both skaters, and both routines, are brilliant!!! This week I'm going to have all the posts fall under a theme. I already have lots of ideas for themed content in the future, but sometimes I will take a break from that format and just post random videos that are worth watching.

This week's theme is the wonderful world of ice dancing. For those not familiar with ice dance, it is a discipline that some say, is a completely "different animal" than the other 3 disciplines of figure skating (men's and women's singles, and pairs skating). Ice dancing, as its name indicates, draws from the world of ballroom dance, however, it has come a long way from its traditional ballroom roots. Its styles can range from classical to contemporary to futuristic to avante garde and to just plain weird!

Ice dancing draws inspiration from anywhere and everywhere. Anyone who watched the most recent Olympic ice dance competition on TV in February may have an idea of what I mean. The musical selections ranged from Phantom of the Opera, to religious music, to Lincoln Park, to Aboriginal music.

The costumes are always...interesting. At the Olympics we saw costumes range from simple, flowing dresses, to feathered headpieces, to weeds covering the body and "growing out of the skates" (from the Aboriginal routine), to ropes/cords wrapped around the waistline to controversially assist with rotational lifts. Some illustrations are necessary:

Throughout the Olympics competition, 2009 World Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin from Russia, wore a variety of controversial costumes, except for their Compulsory Dance costumes (where Domnina wears the red dress), which were classy and sophisticated. Incidentally, the portion of the competition in which they dressed the best was also the portion they won. It really had less to do with their costumes than it did their stellar compulsory skating, but still, maybe if they had looked the part in the other portions of the competition...Anyway, in the last set of photos, note the cords/ropes around Oksana's waist that Max used to assist lifts.

I think that's enough preface about ice dancing for now. More on that later.

Most of the routines that I'm highlighting this week are going to be dramatic, passionate, and always entertaining and spectacular. There are so many routines to choose from, but I'm going to post the ones that have been favorites of mine over the years and have left lasting impressions. Let me know what you think of my selections!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Paul Wylie's "Schindler's List" program. Opening selection by by Itzhak Perlman

There is only one word to describe this program: Masterful.

Paul Wylie is another skater that shows that number of titles does not define you as a skater. Paul never won a U.S. title or any medals at the world championships, but he had the competition of his life at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, winning the silver medal behind Victor Petrenko of the USSR. Many felt that Paul deserved gold.

After his retirement, Paul, always known for his musicality and beautiful choreography, continued to dazzle audiences for years throughout this professional career with his spectacular interpretive programs. Someone posted on You Tube that "his art pours into souls."

Paul's programs always tell a story. They are always dramatic and lyrical,passionate, and dynamic. In the future, I will devote a week to showcasing incredible Paul Wylie performances.

Paul skated this "Schindler's List" program from roughly 1993-95, and it remains one of his signature pieces. The words "Never Again" are written in Hebrew on the back of his vest.

Paul is also a graduate of Harvard, and now coaches and commentates. He's a wonderfully articulate and insightful commentator. I actually ran into him, almost literally, at the Liberty Summer Competition in Aston, PA, in July. My sister and I had just arrived to watch the skating. We walked into the arena and to our surprise, Paul was the first person we saw. He quickly walked past us on his way to the lobby. I am not sure what he was doing there, perhaps one of his students was competing, but in any case, we were awestruck to be less than a foot away from who I consider, a living skating legend!

I had a little trouble finding a good, quality recording of this video, and even this one contains some foreign commentary toward the end, that I hope doesn't disrupt the reverie for you. I find that commentary can "break the spell" sometimes, but since this is the only copy I could find, I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Michelle Kwan's "Fields of Gold," by Eva Cassidy

My video post is a very special one-- an all-time favorite of mine that has great significance. (Not to mention that it inspired the name of my blog).

Michelle Kwan skated this exhibition routine to Eva Cassidy's hauntingly beautiful "Fields of Gold" during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The title is bittersweet, considering Michelle had just finished third at the second Olympics that she had been favored to win. Sixteen-year-old American Sarah Hughes had stolen the show and won gold in Salt Lake, just as Tara Lipinski, a 15-year-old American had done at the '98 Nagano games when Michelle finished second. As commentator Sandra Bezik said, "Success isn't always measured by a gold medal." This program is not about medals won or lost, but about Michelle's passion to skate.

Peggy Flemming has said many times that Michelle takes audiences on her journey of emotions; she transports everyone. She skates with heart, and that's why her Olympic results don't matter. She'll always be skating in fields of gold...

In a primetime interview with Jane Pauley following the Olympics, Michelle said that her tears in this program were not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. She said: "The crowd was so supportive, so loving, and it was amazing. And, in the middle of my performance, I started crying, because I can...there was so many emotions, you know? I love skating because it’s such a beautiful sport, so soothing, so comforting. That night I felt like, this is why I love it, this is why I’m here."

I had the great honor of seeing "Fields of Gold" live at a performance of Champions on Ice in Philadelphia in the Spring of 2002. I will never forget it!