Saturday, May 10, 2014

Michelle Kwan's "Totentanz"

Skating fans only had one opportunity to see Michelle Kwan's 2006 Olympic short program ---and it wasn't at the Olympics. Kwan debuted her "Totentanz" program at the 2005 Marshalls Figure Skating Challenge in December of 2005, a mere two months before the Games. What fans didn't realize at the time was that the 5-time World Champion was seriously injured. Signs of the injury were evident in Kwan's uncharacteristic shaky performance that included a two-footed Triple Lutz and a popped Triple Flip, but fans had any idea that it would be the last time they would see Kwan skate that season, or again on competitive ice--made-for-TV-"fluff" competition or otherwise.

Weeks later, Kwan withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which served as the Olympic qualifying event, due to a hip injury. She was named to the team and planned to compete in Torino. Kwan did in fact go to Torino, and even marched in the opening ceremonies, but withdrew before the skating competition began. I remember being woken up by a phone call early in the morning by a friend who had heard the news and wanted to be the first to tell me. Me being a die-hard Michelle Kwan fan, was of course devastated by the news. I sat on the edge of my bed in disbelief, tears welling in my eyes. I liken it to a star football player being pulled off the team's roster days before the Superbowl.

Though not considered a gold-medal favorite in Torino, the ladies freeskate event ended up being significantly weaker than in many Olympics of the past (as an example: there were two falls and a major step-out on a landing in the top 3 ladies). Had Kwan skated in her vintage fashion of clean jumps and rousing artistic presentation, it's highly possible she could have placed on the podium. It is a shame that we never got to see her freeskate, not even a practice video.

In this "Totentanz" short program, Michelle went outside the box. Her musical choices were never this modern and upbeat--it was obvious she was trying to create impact with a faster, sharper, more updated look. She also worked with legendary Russian coach and choreographer Tatitiana Tarasova, I believe in an attempt to go in a new direction. While I much prefer classic Kwan short programs, such as "Dream of Desdemonda" (1996/1997), Rachmaninoff (1997/1998, 2002), this was something fresh and I love the joy on her face throughout this performance.

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