Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday Inspiration: Robin Cousins' "Impossible Dream" by Luther Vandross

Robin Cousins is one of the greatest artistic performers and entertainers in the history of the sport. The 1980 Olympic Champion from Great Britain has some of the best deep edges, soft knee bend, and most beautiful double axel and delayed axel jumps that I've ever seen. (Just watch his 1980 Olympic freeskate for proof!) I remember watching the video "Magic Memories on Ice" when I was about 10-years-old, and being transfixed by the clip shown of Robin's skating. I've since read his official biography, written by Martha Lowder Kimball and enjoyed watching other performances by Robin on You Tube.

As commentator Scott Hamilton said, "You know he's not just skating to the music, it's a part of him." Robin's musical expression, fluidity and mastery on the ice is evident in this powerful rendition to Luther Vandross' "Impossible Dream."

Everything Robin does is marvelous, from his double axel to his back spiral-backflip-back-spiral combination (at 3:30 in the video clip), to his toe-Arabian, to his scratch spin at the end. As Tracy Wilson said, "It's not the degree of difficulty of his moves, it's the way in which he does them that's so great."

This number gives me chills. Bravo, Robin! What an inspiration!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Katarina Witt's "The Girl in the Red Coat" Program to the Music of "Schindler's List" by John Williams

In the 1994/1995 season, Katarina Witt skated to the music from the motion picture "Schindler's List." She chose to portray the character from the film, the girl in the red coat. The girl portrays an important character in the film: the sight walking through the massacre of the Polish Jews in the Krakow Ghetto is used in the film to show Oskar Schindler's recognition of what the Holocaust really is; in that moment, a shift in his character takes places as he begins to change from a greedy war profiteer into someone who uses his power for good. The girl in the red coat is one of only two images in color in the black-and-white Academy Award-winning film.

In this video, Katarina skates in the 1994 World Professional Championship, what used to be an annual event held in Landover, MD. As commentator Sandra Bezic points out, Katarina knew her technical level wasn't enough to compete for the title in this competition, but she knew that in a nationally-broadcast event, she could use the platform to express herself and communicates a message about an important issue. Katarina recognized the irony of a German skating to "Schinder's List". She said that the German people are different today, but it's still important to remember what happened in the Holocaust; to never forget.

In this piece, Katarina portrays the girl in the red coat, all grown up, if she had lived. At the start of the program, the tangled movements represent the girl's past. The movements are done in the center of the ice, which represents her home.

In my mind, two programs of Katarina's that are works of art that tell a story and deliver a message are her 1994 Olympic freeskate to "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" by Pete Seeger, in remembrance of the victims of the war in Sarajevo, and this one to "Schindler's List." Both pieces are profound and will forever cement Katarina in figure skating history as one of the great artists and important figures of the sport. Katarina need not leave the ice to create an impact with her skating---her emotion and passion are felt in the simplest of movements, the simplest stroke of the blade, the reach of a fingertip.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ode to Sergei Rachmaninoff: The Brilliance of Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig's 2010 Freeskate and Joshua Farris' 2013 Freeskate

I knew it was going to be a good day today when Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor played on the radio as I pulled out of the church parking lot. The sun was shining, my windows were down, and Rachmaninoff's music filled the air. What came to mind immediately was Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig's 2010 freeskate to the same music. I remember their unbridled joy at the end of their freeskate, and their reactions in the Kiss & Cry to making the Olympic team. Another great program to Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor was Joshua Farris' freeskate at the U.S. Nationals this year. Josh put himself on the U.S. figure skating map this year, and this impressive freeskate is one of the reasons why. The common denominator here is the magnificent music of Sergei Rachmaninoff. By far one of my favorite musicians, Rachmaninoff's music is perfect for figure skating, as it has power, passion, subtlety, intricacy, and presence.

I hope you enjoy the two selections to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor!

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig's 2010 Freeskate:

Joshua Farris' 2013 Freeskate:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Flashback to 1994: Tonya Harding's 1994 Olympic Programs

I would be remiss if I didn't include a post about Tonya Harding as an addendum to the 1994 Flashback from the other night.

I started writing an explanation of why Tonya Harding is important to the 1994 season, but then realized that no explanation is needed. All I can say is, love her or hate her, you cannot deny that she's one of the most interesting skaters in the history of the sport. Her athletic ability is also notable, as Tonya is the first American, and second female skater in the world, to be land a Triple Axel.

Tonya's musical choices were curious. Her short program music was, ironically, from the "Much Ado About Nothing" soundtrack. Her freeskate was to the music of "Jurassic Park." The soundtrack is a great score by the wonderful John Williams, but in comparison to the soft and classical "Swan Lake" or Broadway show tunes of gold-medal winner Oksana Baiul and the Neil Diamond medley by the Boston Pops Orchestra that silver-medalist Nancy Kerrigan skated to, the sometimes jarring Jurassic soundtrack is a stark contrast.

So what are your thoughts on Tonya Harding and her Olympic programs?

Short program to "Much Ado About Nothing" soundtrack:

Long program to "Jurassic Park" by John Williams:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1994: A Year to Remember

1994 was a pivotal year in the skating world. Skating was front-page news after the Tonya Harding/ Nancy Kerrigan saga, making the 1994 Winter Olympics-- a quote un quote "showdown" between the two skaters-- one of highest rated sports events in history. Not only that, but the quality of skating that year was second to none. With professional skating legends, such as Katarina Witt and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean reinstated as amateurs, the caliber of the competition was elevated. Although, as those of you who witnessed the 1994 Olympics will remember, with the exception of Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov winning the pairs event in both phases, the other professionals were not as dominant. The new wave of skaters hungry for gold made big waves in the competition, taking medals that many had predicted would go to the legends.

The entire Olympics was memorable--I would be remiss if I didn't mention the judging controversies. To this day I am adamant that Nancy Kerrigan should have won the gold medal, Elvis Stojko should have trumped Alexei Urmonov, and Artur Dimitriev and Natalia Mishkutenok should have worn gold over the beloved Gordeeva and Grinkov. I used to feel that Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin should have taken gold in ice dance, since there was debate over whether or not Oksana Gritshuk and Evgeny Platov's choreography broke the rules, but now I am not as certain about who I think should have won gold. But in any case, all the performances are outstanding and I never tire of watching them.

Below are some of the most wonderful skating performances that the world has ever seen in Olympic competition. It is my pleasure to present you with this compilation of glorious skating performances that are to be treasured and enjoyed again and again.

Katarina Witt's "Robin Hood" and "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" :

Nancy Kerrigan's "Desperate Love" short program and the Neil Diamond medley played by the Boston Pops:

Elvis Stojko's short program to techno music and long program to "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" :

Philippe Candeloro's "Godfather":

Kurt Browning's "Casablanca":

Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean's "Rhumba":

Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin's "Nino Rota" by Fellini:

Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov's "Moonlight Sonata":

Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dimitriev's "Don Quixote" by Minkus and "Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2" by Sergei Rachmaninoff:

Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler's classical medley freeskate:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Timeless Beauty, Grace, and Class: Michelle Kwan's "Fields of Gold" by Eva Cassidy

Success isn't measured by a gold medal.

Scott Williams' "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana

Scott Williams, a 3-time U.S. medalist back in the 1980s, is perhaps most recognized, by a younger generation, as Michelle Kwan's coach for the 2003 season, standing at the boards with her as she won her 7th U.S. Championship and 5th and final World Championship that year. I do not remember Scott from the 80s, as I was too young, but when figure skating experienced an explosion of popularity in the mid-late 90s, as a result of the Tonya/Nancy scandal, Scott frequently appeared on TV in a variety of skating shows and competitions. I remember that he had a very distinct and creative style. He was definitely a skater that made you sit up and take notice. In a way, his creativity and quirkiness on the ice reminded me of Canadian Gary Beacom.

One program of Scott's that I clearly remember is "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. Not only do I love this song, as I think Nirvana is brilliant, I remember Scott's explosive and innovative rendition of this great grunge classic on ice. I have not seen this program in 16 years. I just watched it and am blown away by Scott's edge control, skating skills, and his blazing set of barrell rolls, starting at about 4:10 in the video. Very impressive. I've seen other skaters attempt that move, but it's nothing like what I see Scott doing here. As the commentator says, he's one of the "specialists" at that move, and you can see why.

Overall, Scott's skating is different and fun to watch. I can't wait to look up more of his videos! For now though, enjoy "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and see for yourself why I think Scott's skating is so, well, spirited.

Friday Inspiration: Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov's "I've Got Rhythym" by Gershwin

I have fond memories of watching this when I was 10 years old.

Friday Inspiration: Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt's Adele Freedance

Logan and Lynn dazzled the crowd in Omaha at this year's U.S. National Figure Skating Championships with this terrific contemporary freedance to the music of Adele. It just goes to show you how deep the U.S. ice dance team is ---this excellent freedance only earned 5th place. Logan and Lynn are last year's U.S. pewter medalists.