Thursday, July 31, 2014

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

This post originally appeared on my blog Friday, October 29, 2010.

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 hope you love "Symphony No.5".

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov's "Vocalise" by Rachmaninoff

This post originally appeared on my blog on Christmas Eve 2010.

Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov's "Vocalise" by Rachmaninoff is poetry in motion.
The exquisite program, choreographed by their long-time choreographer, the talented Marina Zoueva, is based on Rodin's sculptures.

Auguste Rodin, a French marble sculptor created sculptors, such as, "The Kiss," (above) depicting a sensual relationship between man and woman. "The Kiss" was originally called "Francesca da Rimini," as it depicts 13th century Italian noblewoman, Francesca da Rimini, immortalized in Dante's Inferno (Circle 2, Canto 5) for falling in love with her husband's younger brother, Paolo. Having fallen in love while reading the story of Lancelot and Guienevere, Paolo and Fancesca gave in to their passions, and were caught by Francesca's husband, who killed them. In the sculpture, the book can be seen in Paolo's hands, and the lover's lips aren't actually touching, suggesting that they've been interrupted in the midst of their passions.

Gordeeva and Grinkov never had a forbidden-love situation, and rather, they had a fairy tale romance, until Sergei's untimely death in 1995 at the age of 28, but I believe what their program to "Vocalise" represents is just sheer beauty, romance, and passion. If Rodin's sculptures could skate and tell their story, surely, they would look as Gordeeva and Grinkov do in this seamless fusion of art and movement, where sensuality mingles with strength, gentility, and pure love.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Philadelphia Summer Championship: Recap Part 2; Senior Women's Short Program and Senior Men's Freeskate

(Photos taken on my I-phone).

On Friday, July 20, the senior ladies short program took place. It was a wonder that my sister and I made it there at all, as there was heavy traffic and circuitous detours off of 95, as several of the lanes were closed. We were an hour late, which is unfortunate because we missed Ashley Cain (at least according to the program we did. I'm not sure if she was there or not), but we felt relieved to sit inside the cool arena after a long afternoon of driving in the hot sun. My notes aren't as thorough for this portion of the event.

The first skater I saw was a skater from Canada named Roxanne. I thought I'd be able to look up her last name in the program later, but it turns out there were two Roxanne's from Canada (Cournoyer and Rheault), so I can't be sure which one it was. This Roxanne skated to an instrumental version of "Summertime," which was fitting for this competition. She wore a beautiful navy blue dress, and had a confident strong presence on the ice. I noticed that she had a smile on her face throughout. Her score was 49.92.

Next up was Brittney Skarulis, 17, representing the Skating Club of New York. A quick google search for Brittney brings up her Twitter account. Her description on the account said that she appeared in a BMW commercial for the 2014 Olympics. She skated to the song "Life" by Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi. My sister used the app, Sound Hound, to identify the music. We both liked this piece of music and commented that it was good for skating. Brittney fell on a spin. I missed her score.

Veronik Mallet, 20, representing Canada: skated to Waltz No. 7 in C-Sharp Minor by Chopin. The music was great skating music--it had highs and lows and built throughout the program. Mallet landed a nice triple toe-double toe combination, fell on a triple flip, but came back with a good double axel. Her skating quality was strong, and she had a pleasant facial expression as she skated. I liked her overall package and the way she presented herself. Her score was a 52.53.

(Photo Courtesy of

Emily McNally, 20 (program did not say what rink she represents): skated to Nero Two Steps from Hell from the album Archangel. The music had great tension, push, and drama. McNally skated in a tattered white costume, which made sense to us once we found out the title of the music. My sister commented that the concept was "reminiscent of Johnny Weir's Fallen Angel" program. I liked her skating, but felt she needed more commitment to the choreography and more tension in her skating to match the music. She also could have held her ending position longer. Her score was a 33.75. (Side note about McNally: I found this article from NBC Connecticut that says she is--or was--a volunteer subject in a study about the effect that spinning can have on figure skaters/if there should be restrictions. I recently read the book Frozen Teardrop, a memoir by the "Queen of Spin," Lucinda Ruh. The book chronicles Ruh's serious, chronic health problems over the years, believed to be caused by a series of small concussions sustained over the years from the force of spinning).

Selin Kang, representing the Ice House of New Jersey Figure Skating Club: skated to the classic piece, "Pas de Deux" from the Nutcracker (dance of the Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy). Kang landed a triple flip and a nice double axel. I missed her score.

(Kang performing her final spin and in her final pose, taken with my I-phone).

Kyra Lowery, representing the Columbia Figure Skating Club: skated to the Thoroughly Modern Millie soundtrack. Lowery's music featured lyrics at the end--the first one in the women's event (that I heard) to use lyrics. Her score was a 25.61.

Polina Shelepen, 18, representing the Israel Skating Federation. Schelepen is a 2-time junior Grand Prix final silver medalist and a Russian national junior silver medalist. After competing for Russia through 2012, Shelepen began competing for Israel. I'm not sure what her music was, but I wrote "Techno tango" in my notes. Her costume was unique a long black dress with a silver rope draped around it. I noticed a bit of disconnect between her movement and facial expression--or lack thereof--and the music. The following dialogue ensued between my sister and I:
Me: "I don't think she likes the music."
Devon: "I don't see why she would."

She landed a nice triple lutz-double toe loop combination, and earned a score of 35.84.

(Photos of Shelepen performing her final combination spin; camel spin into catchfoot spin, into Bielman position. Taken with my I-phone).

I missed the last group of skaters because my sister and I needed to eat dinner before the men's event, but overall,I enjoyed what I saw. I missed seeing spirals--only one skater that I saw did one. I also noticed, as with the men's event, that there was a lot of slips on spins; edges were not hooking and didn't seem secure. I realize that skaters who come to this event are trying to gain experience, and it's early in the season. I'm just making observations. As a fan who typically watches elite skating on TV, when you watch a lower-level event live, you gain an appreciation for how difficult skating moves are, and how much practice it takes for edges to become secure.

Senior Men's Freeskate:

Later that evening, after dinner, Devon and I returned to watch the men's freeskate. On our way to our seats, we saw several "celebrity" sightings: Mary Scotvold, Mark Mitchell, Jeff DiGregorio, Pam Gregory, and Rocky Marval.

First up was Christophe Belley, from Canada. Belley skated to Tosca, a classic "warhorse" for skating. However, there's a reason that piece has been skated to time and time again: it's great music. Belley wore a white, silk shirt and black pants. I liked the simple costume, which accentuated his nice long, lines on the ice, but I thought maybe a bolder color for the top, could have added something. The program opened with a triple axel-single toe loop, right on the swell of the music, a good choreographic choice. The rest of the elements I jotted down looked like this: second triple axel--fall out, triple flip-two footed, triple lutz--fall, triple flip, single loop, nice spread eagle, split jump needs more stretch and extension, nice arm movements. Belley's score was a 93.79.

(Belley mid-jump, and during a spin variation in his combination spin. Photos taken with my I-phone, sorry so blurry!)

Ross Miner, 23, representing the Skating Club of Boston:

Miner skated out in a maroon shirt, that reminded me of costumes he's had in the past (in fact, maybe it was an old costume); nevertheless, great color. Miner's music was "Romanza" by Andrea Bocelli, simply a wonderful song with excellent vocals (you can't argue with the beauty of Bocelli's voice). This program made me a huge fan of the new vocals rule. Miner started out with a double axel, which was likely a triple axel that he doubled. On his next jump attempt, he went for the triple axel, but fell. The rest of his elements, that I wrote down, looked like this: triple lutz-triple toe, single axel (he was really going for that triple!), double loop, triple lutz-half loop-triple salchow, triple flip, double axel. While watching this gorgeous program, I recorded my sister's commentary: "Strong and easy--that's what skating should look like. It was a pleasure to watch, just pure skating. It was athletic and smooth. He's able to make a moment. Other skaters go through the motions and connect the elements, but it doesn't feel that way with him. It feels natural and easy."

In my commentary of the short program, I said that I didn't find Miner's short to be very compelling. The opposite was true with the freeskate. Even though it wasn't anything revolutionary, it was beautiful skating that was a pleasure to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it and greatly look forward to seeing how this program develops throughout the season. Miner's skating isn't flashy, it's pure. His skating is about the skating itself, not the gimmick. As my sister and I joked, he's the "anti-Evgeni"! Miner's score was a 137.65.

Alex Aiken, 23, representing the First Coast Figure Skating Club:

Aiken wore all black, which is always a great costume choice (less is more!). His music was "Finlandia, Opus No.6" by the London Symphony Orchestra. It was a great piece of music, great for skating because of the power, the highs, and the lows. The elements that I recorded were: triple toe loop, triple axel, single lutz-double toe, triple axel (short of rotation), triple lutz-half loop, double salchow, triple flip, double loop, double axel. My sister and I really enjoyed this program and both commented that it was the strongest one we've seen from Aiken. I remember feeling a disconnect with programs he's had in previous years, both in music and choreography; this program just felt different. It was a more complete, mature package. I'm not sure if Mary Scotvold is choreographing for him, or just working with him, but perhaps her presence has made a difference in his skating this year? His score was 105.62.
(Photo courtesy of

Manol Atanassov,22, representing Bulgaria:

Program started out set to the traditional movie score to "The Godfather." The beginning of the program contained the following elements: triple flip (fall)-double toe loop, triple axel (short of rotation/fall), 'Tano lutz (double).

At this point in the program my sister said, "It looks like he's thinking through the program." Which is probably true for a lot of skaters, considering this is the summer, these programs are still new, and this is likely the first time the skaters have competed their new programs.

Atanassov's music then changed to a "Godfather" electric guitar cut, which sounded like "muzak." His elements were: double axel-triple toe (fall), triple lutz (fall), triple loop (turn out), single salchow.

The program really lost steam after it changed from traditional "Godfather" to "Muzak Godfather." Or as my sister called the music shift, "Godfather meets Transiberian Orchestra!" The beginning of the program was more enjoyable because the traditional "Godfather" music was more effective, and it matched his costume of white shirt, red necktie, and black pants with black suspenders. When the music changed to electric guitar, we didn't feel the traditional costume matched it. The whole tone of the program shifted, and not for the better. The traditional costume with the non-traditional music didn't mesh. It also appeared that Atanassov couldn't keep up with the frenetic music. Later when we saw Atanassov in the stands, Devon quipped, "There's the guy who had the Godfather identify crisis!"

Maybe Philippe Candeloro ruined "Godfather" programs for everyone, as his masterpiece is hard to live up to, but I'd have to think that Atanassov is capable of having a more cohesive program if he stuck to the traditional music cut. His score was a 78.66.

(Photo courtesy of

Nicolas Tondreau-Alin, representing Canada:

Tondreau-Alin skated to "The Artist" soundtrack. His elements were: quadruple toe loop (fall), triple lutz (fall), double axel, triple toe loop, triple lutz-double toe-double loop, triple loop. He was "off" on his jumps; however, I enjoyed his skating quality. He had good music, good costume, and had a pleasant performance quality. His score was a 104.93.

(Tondrea-Alin performing a cannonball sit-spin variation; photo taken with my I-phone).

Jimmy Ma
, representing the Skating Club of New York:

Skated to "Adios Nonino." Ma landed some clean jumps, including a triple toe loop, a triple lutz (with good height!)-double toe loop, and a triple loop. Ma needs to develop more of a musical connection; his skating seems kind of generic. If he can find a way to make himself stand out, that will help him improve and grow as a skater. His score was a 94.69.

(Photo courtesy of

Emmanuel Savary, 16, representing the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club:

Savary wore brown pants, a tribal-print belt, and a red shirt with gold sequins. Devon and I weren't sure what look Savary was going for, until the music started: "The Lion King" soundtrack. The bold colors and tribal print made more sense to us then. I only noted a few of Savary's jumps: a triple loop (beautiful in the air)--fall, and a triple flip. Overall, my thoughts about Savary's freeskate are similar to my thoughts in the short program. He has a nice look on the ice; he's tall with long arms and legs, he has interesting positions on his spins and great flexibility, as he exhibits with his Bielman spin. Savary is returning to the ice from injury, and he's only 16, so he's a work in progress. He could try to emote more during performing, but I suspect he was thinking through his program, given it was his first time competing in awhile. I look forward to seeing what Savary is able to do this season. I didn't catch his score.

(Photos taken with my I-phone).

The last skater was Charles Dion, 22 from Canada:

Dion's costume with a picture of a heart made sense once his music began to the sound of a heart beat and the strains of "With or Without You" (originally by U2), played by 2 Cellos, filled the rink. This music is a personal favorite of mine. Dion landed a triple loop, a nice triple lutz with a soft landing,and had a nice sequence of spread eagles and leap-frog positions. The program was very soft and gentle, very pleasant. The ending could have been bigger, it didn't really build and kind of just stopped, but overall, I really enjoyed the program.

His score was a 111.08.

To read a really compelling article about Dion and his inspiration, click here.

(Photo courtesy of

My sister and I were sorry to see the competition end! Our favorite of the day was Ross Miner's seamless and beautiful Andrea Bocelli program. We would have loved to have seen more skaters. Once again, the event was a fun one to watch, and we look forward to attending again next summer! We wish the skaters who competed all the best of luck in the upcoming season!!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Philadelphia Summer Championships Debuts New Name, Programs, and Lyrics: Recap part 1

(Photos taken on my I-phone).

You don't often think of figure skating in July, but for elite figure skaters and coaches, the summer months are a crucial time to debut new programs and get pre-season feedback. Every July, for the last few years, my sister, Devon, and I have traveled to the Philadelphia Summer Championships to see skaters of all levels and disciplines debut their new programs.

(I'm on the left, Devon is on the right).
Ice Works Skating Club in Aston,Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, plays host to the annual event, which ran from July 15-19. This year the event debuted its new name (it was formerly called the Liberty Summer Competition), and skaters' music featured lyrics for the first time.

There's something quite wonderful about attending a skating event in the dead of summer; sweating-out temperatures bordering the 90s, and then stepping into a refreshing, ice-cold rink. It's equally as wonderful to be enveloped with the warmth of a summer afternoon or evening after hours of sitting on cold metal benches. The other great thing about the summer competition is the laid-back atmosphere. We'll often see well-known and legendary coaches and choreographers at the event, drawing little to no attention. (Probably because most of the people at these kinds of events are skaters, coaches, and skating parents). In contrast, if you attend a competition such as, say, Skate America or the Nationals, famous skaters and coaches are swarmed with fans seeking autographs. The first year Devon and I attended Philadelphia Summer Competition, we entered the building and practically bumped into Paul Wylie, who was walking out of the rink as we were walking in. We didn't ask him for an autograph, or even say hello, really. We just smiled, exchanged knowing glances with each other, and moved on, privately thrilled. Only at a summer competition :)

In years past, Devon and and I have seen skaters, who at the time, were up-and-coming, and now are stars in their own right: Ashley Wagner, Patrick Chan, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, Marisa Castelli and Simon Schnapir, and Ross Miner. We've also seen skaters who have since retired, or whose star is still rising, such as Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Wesley Campbell, Stephen Carriere, Agnes Zawadski, Yasmine Siraj, Samantha Cesario, Ashley Cain, and Keegan Messing.

This year's event didn't feature some of the same skaters that I've grown accustomed to seeing and look forward to every year: i.e., Cessario and Messing, but I was pleased to hear of Ross Miner's appearance, as I haven't seen him at this event in a few years.

--Start Tangent-- Miner had a rough season last year, so it's good to see him healthy and off to an early start debuting his new programs. After placing on the National podium for three consecutive years, even finishing second the year before the Olympics, he slipped to 7th last year after sustaining an ankle injury. Even though Miner wasn't up to his championship form at Nationals in Boston, he still delivered one of the most emotionally-rousing and memorable freeskates to Michael W. Smith's "Glory," in tribute to the victims in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. I was in attendance at Nationals and will not soon forget Miner's "Boston Strong" performance. Below is a screenshot from the NBC telecast in January of Miner performing a spread eagle. I'm in the audience, bottom left, wearing black with a pink scarf.

--End tangent--

I arrived at the Philadelphia Summer Competition on the evening of Thursday, July 17, to watch the senior men's short program. As in years past, as soon as I entered the building, I immediately had skating "celebrity sightings." The first people I saw in the lobby were Mark Mitchell (4x U.S. medalist in the late '80s and early '90s) and Ross Miner, who is coached by Mitchell. On my way to my seat, I also saw Elaine Zayak, 1982 World Champion, Jeff DiGregorio, former coach of Tara Lipinski, and Mark Ladwig, top-10 finisher at the 2010 Olympics with Amanda Evora.

The participants in the men's short program were:

Savary, Emmanuel University of Delaware FSC
Miner, Ross The Skating Club of Boston
Belley, Christophe Foreign skater
Dion, Charles Champions Training Center (CTC)
Tondreau-Alin, Nicolas Foreign skater
Aiken, Alexander First Coast FSC
Atanassov, Manol Foreign skater
Ma, Jimmy The Skating Club of New York
Bychenko, Oleksii Israel Ice Skating Federation

I arrived a little late, so I missed a few skaters. The first skater I saw was Manol Atanassov, representing the Bulgarian Skating Federation. Atanassov, 22, is the 2012 Bulgarian National Champion. Skating to "Carmina Burana," Atanassov wore all black, a minimal costume that appropriately placed all the attention on the strong and powerful music. He landed a triple axel and a triple-toe, triple-toe Acombination. I wrote in my notes that he seemed to have a good flow across the ice. His score was 41.52.

(Photo Courtesy of

The next skater was Charles Dion, 22, representing Canada. I've seen Dion at this event in the past. He's easily recognizable as he skates with his glasses. Dion landed a triple flip but fell on the triple toe at the end of the combination. He doubled his triple lutz. Certain parts of his music seemed a little synthetic and he missed the music at the end. Overall though, he's a pleasant skater. As a viewer, you want him to do well, but he needs to make himself stand out a little more as a performer. Dion scored a 48.74.

(Photo Courtesy of

Alexander Aiken, 23, representing the U.S., was up next. Aiken used to be coached by Paul Wylie in North Carolina, but now trains in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary Scotvold, former choreographer to Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie, was at the boards. Aiken was the first skater that night (that I heard) to use lyrics. His music was "The Best is Yet to Come," by what sounded like, Michael Bublé. Selecting music with lyrics is new this season, and Alex's program was a good example of how lyrics can be used effectively, especially when the person singing the lyrics has such a terrific voice! The vibe of the program was jazzy, smooth, and cool. Aiken landed a nice triple axel, a good triple lutz, but under-rotated the triple toe on the end of the combination and landed on two feet. He later fell on a triple flip. (I jotted in my notes, "The best was not yet to come"!) While the jumps Aiken landed appeared to have more height and security than the previous skaters, his overall skating skills need improvement and polishing. (When he skated, I heard a distinctive crunching sound on the ice that sounded like walking through snow. I didn't notice that with other skaters. I'm no skating technician, but that tells me something about edge quality). His ending spin combination was also a bit rocky--his edges didn't seem secure. The program was reasonably enjoyable--I like the music, concept, and the tone; it has potential. I didn't quite catch the reading of his score, but I think it was 59 something...

(Photo Courtesy of

Next up, Christophe Belley of Canada. Belley appears very tall and lanky. His jumps were off: single axel, triple lutz, awkward landing and close to the boards, single flip-double toe loop (hand down). I wasn't sure of the music was, but I wrote "techno jungle" in my notes. He seemed to have a choreographic concept and the choreography was interesting. I liked the image he painted on the ice and liked the concept of his program the best so far. I can see potential in him, but he needs more confidence and power on his jumps. His score was 43.05.

(Photo Courtesy of

Nicolas Tondreau-Alin of Canada: Skated to a tango that was definitely "Plushenko-esque." Not sure what the
music was, but Plushenko has used it, for sure! He landed a quad off the top: swish! Beautifully done! The Canadian contingent (which was quite large at this event), let out a huge roar. As often happens when skaters land a gorgeous quad,there's an error on a much easier element that follows: he nearly slipped and fell on a flying spin. Tondreau-Alin landed a great triple toe-triple toe, and showed commitment to the choreography. He actually showed facial expression, and though he slightly missed his music at the end, he was my favorite so far, and drew a big reaction from the crowd. His score was a 60.99.

(Photo courtesy of

Ross Miner, 23, representing the Skating Club of Boston:
Skating to the same short program as last year, "The Way We Were" by Marvin Hamlisch. Wearing a costume reminiscent of Robert Redford's character in the movie of the same name. Miner landed a nice triple flip, albeit a little scratchy, off the top of the program. The next element was a triple axel, which resulted in a fall. Next was a triple lutz--landed well, but then he stumbled out the following triple toe loop. As he was skating, I couldn't help but thinking that this was a pleasant program (and Miner is a very likable and genuine skater), but the whole choreographic concept--from the music to the sweater vest--to quote the great Dick Button (whose birthday was yesterday!) doesn't "dare you to look away." You could, in theory, if watching this on TV, get up from the couch, get a glass of water, sit back down, and not have missed much. I like the program, I do, but it needs to be more compelling. I'd like to see Miner skate to something with a little more force, tension, and drama. I liked the ending sequence--the program seemed to effectively build with good choreographic elements of a spread eagle, a split, and a jump-over kick at the end. His score was a 70.15, which put him in first up to that point, which I didn't really understand given his technical errors. However, I'm sure it was on the strength of his components. You can't deny Miner's skating skills and his presence on the ice.

(Photo Courtesy of

Emmanuel Savory,16, representing the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club. Savary, who is credited as the 2009 U.S. Men's Intermediate Junior Champion on his Web site , skated to very jazzy, "busy" music that I didn't think he seemed connected to. In my notes I wrote, "Does he even like this music?" He landed a triple flip with 2 hands down, a double axel, and fell on a triple loop attempt. Despite problems on the jumps, I liked watching Savary. He's tall and lean and paints a nice picture on the ice. He didn't seem to have a lot of choreographic commitment, but maybe that will develop in time. He's very young, and I read he's coming back from injury. I was very surprised to see him perform a Bielman spin at the end! His score was a 41.18.

(Photo Courtesy of

The last skater of the night was Oleksii Bychenko, 26, representing the Israel Ice Skating Federation. I recognized Bychenko from the Olympics, where he finished 21st. He also finished 15th at this year's World Championships. Skating in all black with black gloves (a very effective costume choice, if you ask me), Bychenko opened with a triple axel, and then landed a nice quadruple toe loop! He also went on to land a good triple-triple combination, though I couldn't catch if it was a triple-flip-triple toe or a triple-toe-triple toe combination. I loved Bychenko's musical selection to the music of Verdi, one of the few purely classical, and effective, pieces I heard that night. I'm not sure of the name of the piece, but Victor Petrenko skated to it in the 1994 Olympics, and I could vividly picture Petrenko's flamboyant arm movements. It was a wonderful piece of music and really added a great deal to the overall effect of Bychenko's program. His overall speed and command was the greatest of the night. His overall skating could be improved with better posture and flow--and he had a couple of slip-ups on spins--but overall, he deserved his score of 70.74, and first place overall!

(Photo Courtesy of

My favorites of the night were Nicolas, Oleksii, Ross, and Christophe. It was a fun event and I wished there were more skaters to watch. I missed not seeing Keegan Messing compete this year.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of the Philadelphia Summer Championship post to read about the senior men's freeskate!