Sunday, April 5, 2020

Flash Dance: Flashback to 1998's Top Dance Teams

In 1998, skating was great.

Not the most epic ice dance competition we've ever seen, but when you look back on the names, it was pretty darn good.

Four years earlier, Oksana ("Pasha") Grishuk and Evgeni Platov got flack for winning gold over Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin and Jayne Torville and Christopher Dean in Lillehammer in 1994 (and I was one of the ones giving them flack. I couldn't stand that rock-n-roll schtik: ), their incredible 4-year winning streak cannot be denied. There was simply not another team that truly challenged them at the top. They skated with confidence and command over the years and embodied their winning ways.

In 1997, Oksana cut her hair and dyed it blonde. She started getting confused with Oksana Baiul, who at the time was in hot water for a drunk driving arrest, so Grishuk legally changed her name to "Pasha." She also got purple skates. Hey, maybe Pasha wanted to create more buzz around her team going into the Olympics, though she really didn't have to go to all that trouble--their 1997 material was excellent. Even though G&P were never my favorites, I always liked Evgeni's skating, and their 1997 "Feeling Begins," free dance was brilliant.

Their "Requiem" program in 1998 was an over-the-top Russian monstrosity, but it's so hypnotic, you can't look away. You also can't look away from the giant bedazzled crosses on their chests, Pasha's likeness to Marilyn Monroe, and her purple skates...but at least there's good, 'ole, normal Evgeni to balance the whole thing out. (Evgeni is a wonderful skater).

What I like about the program is the repetition of moves three times-- Pasha swizzles in between his legs in leapfrog position-- the pulsing, blaring, almost Bolero-esque rhythm of the music, and of course: the passion. I love the ending knee slide and Tatiana Tarasova's scream. (And really, what skating program is complete without a large Russian woman in fur screaming at the end?)


On one of the broadcasts I've watched, when put on the spot about if this team is the best team in the world, commentator and Olympic dance medalist Tracy Wilson is silent for a long moment, before saying: "Technically they're excellent. I can't questions their speed, the use of the running edge. I don't think they have shown up here polished. I've seen their unison better. I believe they are beatable."

In the Kiss and Cry, Tracey comments that the most important thing to Tarasova is the emotion that her teams portray, but she feels that it was at the expense of the technique here, as the program was a little ragged.

Still, when I watch this again, I love the passion of the music, and I long for the days of name-changing divas, repeating leap-frog swizzles, and purple skates:



Nagano's runner-up team was Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov. I was a big fan of their 1997 "Masquerade Waltz," free dance, but this "Carmen" free skate was a miss for me. As one of the commenters on YouTube wrote, this should have been an amazing program because Krylova was "made to be Carmen," but the choreography made them look like they were puppets. It was as though their arms and legs were being pulled up and down at bent angles, and their facial expressions too histrionic.

I like the first half of the program, most notably the part when Oleg runs across the ice after Anjelika, but the second half feels like it should have sailed, but instead, was stuck in the harbor. I appreciate that they were trying to portray a warhorse in a new way, but this vehicle didn't display their talents as effectively as it could have. Anjelika obviously gets all the attention with her striking face and expressions that can be seen from the top of the rafters, but Oleg is so underappreciated---I had forgotten what a good skater he was and how he moved with such abandon (not unlike teammate Artur Dimitriev).



Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat were third. Maybe not their best performance ever here (I remember Tracy Wilson saying they skated a little tight), but still a very powerful and innovative performance. I love this team: the combination of the Russian drama with the French avant garde. And let's be honest--Gwendal's hair is amazing, and she lifts him twice. What more do you need to know??




Fourth place was Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz of Canada. I know there was a lot of talk around this team getting robbed, but I have to be honest that this free dance isn't my favorite, either. It is certainly more accessible than some of the top teams, and showcases their musicality, staccato steps, and their trademark hydroblading, but it feels slightly cheesy to me. Maybe I'm just a little tired of River Dance--even though back then it was a fresh concept-- but they still skated very well here, and had the crowd on their side. In a skating world when the judges were still block-judging and Russians reigned supreme, there was no way a non-Russian team skating to light-hearted Irish music was going to win.



My favorite free skate of ALL of 1998 is Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow of the U.S. This program is also on my list of top skating programs ever. Every time I watch it I'm blown away by the musicality of the choreography and the fact that it has everything: passion, intricacy, creativity, and smooth gliding edges. Their skating was smoldering and fluid. As Dick Button said, "They are superb skaters and dancers..."marvelous lines. It's what ice dancing is all about."

Commenters from YouTube wrote:

"I just love it when dancers give space for the flow, the music and choreography to breathe!"

"As opposed to the top teams, this had the look and feel of more "modern" (post 6.0 system) ice dance. Very similar to Davis and White with explosive lifts, speed and athleticism."

And my favorite comment of all: "This was PHENOMENAL!! Stupid block judging!"

Despite this marvelous showcase of everything this sport should be, P&S were only 7th at the Olympics and 6th at the Worlds. Perfect example of how medals are not everything and some of the best skating is not necessarily on the podium:

(This particular video is from the 1998 Worlds in Minneapolis, the event following Nagano. The video quality on the Nagano video wasn't as clear.)





What was your favorite dance program of 1998??

A Reawakening: Skating Inspiration in a Time of Trouble


Last night I watched Julie and Julia. It's been a few years since I indulged and boy was it just the boost I needed. In this strange, uncertain, time of world-wide pandemic, when anxieties are running high and meltdowns are imminent, it's good to partake in whatever makes us feel distracted, happy, and rejuvenated.

Julie and Julia is the movie that inspired me to start this blog more than a decade ago. In the film, when struggling writer Julie Powell's husband Eric points out to Julie that "Julia Child wasn't always Julia Child." In other words, she was once a struggling-something, also. She had also started from scratch and worked her way up in the world. These words not only encouraged Julie Powell, they also inspired me.

Last night's viewing reminded me that we all have to start somewhere and it's important to find your joy and share it with others.

I've been away from blogging for awhile, due to career transitions and side hustling up to whazoo, but also because the world of skating hasn't sparked as much inspiration in me as it has in years' past. I still love it, I just haven't felt the urge to write about it.

Lately; however, visions of ice skaters have been dancing in my head. Maybe it's the extra time we've had lately, or maybe it's the removal of distractions that have kept me from my passions, but in any case, I'm back!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Blades of Glory: America’s Favorite Olympic Skaters Come to PA


Photo Courtesy of Getty Images via Brandstand PR

*Article was originally written for Philly Happening Magazine, April 2018*



Two of the biggest names from February’s Winter Olympics were American figure skaters Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon. You will have a chance to see both skaters live when they come to a Pennsylvania city near you this week in the Stars on Ice tour. The tour will make stops in Allentown on Thursday, April 19, and Hershey on Friday, April 20. Tickets are on sale at http://www.starsonice.com/.

The tour also features Olympians Mirai Nagasu and “The Shib Sibs,” ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani. (It was just announced that Rippon and Nagasu will appear on season 25 of Dancing with the Stars, which begins Monday, April 30 on ABC).

In the show, skaters will finally break free from this season’s Olympic pressure and perform to fun and entertaining music under show lights. Each skater performs two individual numbers and there are also group numbers. The show is family-friendly and suitable for children of all ages.

Chen,18, appeared on the Kellogg’s Cornflakes box this winter and has appeared in endorsements for American Airlines, Nike, and Coca-Cola. Rippon,28, from Clarks Summit, a borough northwest of Scranton, became an overnight sensation at the Games, with his charming personality and sassy wit. Rippon spent many years training outside the Philadelphia area early in his career. Both skaters won a bronze medal in the Olympic team event and finished in the 10 top of the individual event.

At the Olympics, Chen catapulted from 17th place after the short program to first in the freeskate, and fifth overall, after landing six quadruple jumps. He won the World Figure Skating Championships in Milan, Italy last month.

Former Philly Happening Editor Susan Field recently caught up with Chen on the phone in between SOI rehearsals to find out what fans can look forward to at the show and what his post-Olympic plans are.


S.F.: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me! Congratulations on your incredible season and on your World Championship win! What will you be skating on the Stars on Ice tour?
N.C.: I will be skating to my short program from the season (“Nemesis” by Benajmin Clementine). I really loved that program! It will be great to skate it in a show setting. The other program I’m skating is a show program that I put together for the Japan Stars on Ice Tour that I did right after the World Championships in Milan.

S.F.: Tell me more about this year’s SOI Olympic tour. What can people expect?
N.C.: The show is so much fun! It’s an amazing cast with Olympic gold medalists, national and world champions, and a lot of skaters from the U.S. Olympic team. All the skaters have multiple numbers, so you’ll get to see each skater multiple times. You’ll get to see lots of different styles of music and choreography. In the Olympic season, we have a lot more cities on the tour and we get fans that we normally don’t get in the off-Olympic years, so that’s cool.

S.F.: I’m calling you from Philadelphia. The tour stops in two places in PA—Hershey and Allentown. Do you have any PA connections?


N.C.:
My training-mate, Adam Rippon, is from Pennsylvania, but other than that, no. I was in Hershey last year for the Stars on Ice Tour and it was a lot of fun performing there. I’m looking forward to going back there again!

S.F.: A big story in the news recently is that you got accepted to Yale. Congratulations! If you go there, how will you continue to work with your coach in California?
N.C.: I think I’m going to utilize the [college] breaks. He (Raphael Arutyuyan) is willing to come out and see me on the East Coast. As of now, all the concrete details I have is that I got accepted and that I want to keep training with my coach. I’ll have to talk with him more and we’ll figure it out.

S.F.: What do you want to study?
N.C.: The great thing about college is that you can kind of go in as a Liberal Arts major and explore; you can see what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’m interested in studying Pre-Med or Econ., or something along those lines.

S.F.: What an amazing, whirlwind season you had! I think all your fans were so proud of you for the way you fought at the Olympics after a disappointing short program. What’s your biggest takeaway from this season?
N.C.: Honestly, just the experiences of the year. I had no idea what to expect going in. I had the opportunity to perform great the Olympics and to perform awful in the short program, so now I know how it feels going in and out of the Olympics, both good and bad. I gained a lot from a skating standpoint. It gives me a chance to take this experience and go forward in my career.

S.F.: What can we expect from you over the next four years?

N.C.: I want to keep expanding my “artistic horizons” and try different styles and music. I think that will be fun. In terms of technically, I’m not sure what the rules will be for next year—they might make some changes with the jump values—so I’ll have to look more into that when I find out. I know regardless that I’ll try to make it exciting. I’m excited to work on new jumps and to clean up the ones that I already have.

S.F.: I saw you on one of those NBC Olympic preview clips jamming on the guitar. What do you like to play? Does the guitar come on tour with you?
N.C.: It’s a low-key hobby…It’s just something fun that I’ve been trying to work on. I never took lessons— I watched some videos and just learned on my own. I didn’t take it with me on this leg of the SOI tour because I went right from Worlds in Milan to Stars on Ice in Japan to SOI rehearsal in the U.S., but for some other parts of the tour, hopefully I will take it with me!

S.F.: If you could skate with one of your figure skating idols, who would it be?
N.C.: Evgeni Plushenko (the 2006 Olympic gold medalist from Russia). When I skated in Stars on Ice Japan the other week, he was there, too. It’s cool to get to meet skaters who are my idols and to see that they’re just regular people off the ice.

S.F.: What’s something about yourself that most people don’t know?
N.C.: For the most part, I’m pretty introverted. I’ve been so consumed with skating and school over the years, I haven’t had much time for other things, but hopefully going to college will help me to open up and find things that I’m passionate about outside of skating!


To buy tickets for Stars on Ice Allentown or Hershey, visit: http://www.starsonice.com/







Comeback Kid: Daisuke Takahashi Takes Another Turn at Amateur Skating


Daisuke Takahashi is coming back to competitive skating! He's 32 and he's been away for 4 years, so this seems an interesting choice,but I'll take it! Daisuke is one of the greatest skaters in the last decade and I can't wait to see him again. I just re-watched his 2010 Olympic short program and his 2007 World Championship freeskate and LOVED every second. His movement is unmatched, his knees soft, his lines smooth, the emotion raw....Daisuke, bring it on!


2010 Olympic Short Program:






2007 World Championship Free Skate:


The Artist: Remembering Denis Ten


Last month, Denis Ten was taken from us far too soon. While visiting his home country of Kazakhstan, Ten was tragically murdered. Ten was a beautiful athlete and artist who will never be forgotten. His stunning performances at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, in which he finished a close second to Patrick Chan, and his come-from-behind freeskate at the Sochi Games, where he finished third, will cement his place in the sport's history. Your fans will always miss you, Denis.


Ten's free skate to "The Artist" from the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships:


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pyeongchang Posts: Reflections on the Men's Freeskate





These are the faces of the thrill of skating your best on the World’s biggest stage!

Congratulations to Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, the first man to repeat as Olympic Champion since American Dick Button in ‘48 & ‘52! Yuzuru is not only an amazing athlete and artist, he is the model of good sportsmanship. His skate had a couple of minor flaws, but the pure command and magic that he created in Gangneung Arena will not be forgotten anytime soon. He's a wizard on ice.


Nathan Chen showed the world his strength of character— and an unprecedented SIX quads (five of them clean) in the free skate. Talk about redemption!! WOW!

Vincent Zhou threw down everything he had and came away with five quad attempts (four of them clean). He left everything on the ice and I was really inspired. I love the heart he shows. I predict quite a domestic rivalry between Chen and Zhou in the next quadrennial.

Adam Rippon continued his streak of dream programs at the Olympics with his third clean skate of the event. What Adam lacks in quad content, he makes up for with his beautiful artistry, the feeling of flight across the ice, and a killer layback spin! So proud of him for how far he's come!

Jin Boyang continued to deliver better than he has all season, finishing his Olympic debut with an impressive skate that featured only one major error (a fall on a quad toe). Jin has never been known as an artist on the ice, but I have to say that he skated with more command and presence than I've seen him have. What a competitor.

Javier Fernandez skated one of his beset performances to "Man of la Macha," and finally got redemption for missing the bronze in Sochi by the thinnest of margins. Fernandez is known for his charisma and showmanship on the ice, but this "Man of la Macha" program was less schticky and more mature and polished. It was just good, pure, classic skating.

Shoma Uno was last and created an Olympic moment that may have been just short of the gold medal, but it was no less fantastic. Aside from one fall on a quad loop, Shoma threw down everything else and finished the program with his signature cantilever and a flourish of passion. Love Shoma!

It was a men's freeskate to remember and I loved every single second!! I feel so lucky to have watched it live. Very thankful to have skating in my life to bring so much excitement and joy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Pyeongchang Posts: What Happened to Nathan Chen?


Now that the dust ( or the ice chips?) from last night’s men’s short program have settled, I have some key takeaways about Nathan Chen’s failure to live up to his hype. First of all, the guy is human. Second of all, he is 18. Though Chen’s been a force on the senior circuit in the last two seasons, he’s actually had very little experience on a big, international stage. This is only his second full season as a senior ( his first senior season 2 years ago ended early in an injury that required surgery). He’s only been to one senior World Championship last March, where he finished 6th. It’s not an excuse, but Chen simply doesn’t have the experience of skating under a tremendous amount of pressure in a high stakes situation with intense competition.

To put things in perspective, Yuzuru Hanyu, 23, the reigning Olympic Champion, has been competing on the senior level since the 2010-2011 season and has medaled at the World Championships 5x. Javier Fernandez, who is currently in 2nd, is 26, competing in his third Olympics, and has two World titles under his belt. The other skaters rounding out the top four all have competed in multiple World Championships and have three World medals between them. When you look at it this way, you begin to see just how inexperienced Chen is. (To be fair, even Hanyu, who is one of the greatest skaters in history, fell twice in his gold-medal wining program in Sochi 4 years ago. It happens. The ice is slippery!)

The other factor in last night’s bomb, I believe, is that Chen has been inconsistent all season. Furthermore, each time he competes, he changes which jumps he performs, which is a problematic strategy because he hasn’t been able to get ample mileage on any one program. When on the Olympic stage, when the eyes of the entire world are on you, you can’t go out there without a consistent program that you can do in your sleep. Skaters rely on the ability to go into autopilot and let their muscle memory take over when the pressure is high. Olympic Champion Scott Hamilton always referred to this as the ability to “skate stupid. Don’t think, just do.” With so much program fluctuation, I don’t think Nathan had access to any auto-piloting of the sort!

Lastly, when interviewed after his skate, Nathan said that he didn’t know what happened and he’d have to talk to “his team” to figure it out. NBC commentator Johnny Weir pointed out that Nathan has to be able to figure it out himself. The ability to do this only comes with knowing oneself, which can only happen through time and experience. As unfortunate as last night was, this is the kind of experience that will make him stronger and wiser. Competitive nightmares translate to competitive grit!

All of this said, Chen is 22-points out of third place, and he can make up that difference in just a couple of jumping passes. It’s not over yet! He’s an amazing talent who has single-handedly injected excitement into U.S. men’s skating in the last two seasons and put us back in the conversation for medals for the first time in 8 years. We have not heard the last of Nathan Chen! I’m rooting for him to get Olympic redemption tonight! 💪🏅⛸