Figure Skating: From the Boards

Grand Prix Rewind: The Dancers December 4, 2012

Ice dance has fast become one of my very favorite events. It’s the discipline that I think has benefited most from the Code of Points system because things are actually quantifiable now.

Of course, it helps to have a generation of dancers actively working to live up to the likes of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White who continue to lead the way.

The Grand Prix series this year gave a good indication of the progress some dance teams have made … perhaps none more notably than Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.

Those two are always creative … sometimes distractingly so. But the technique often suffered in the past for the sake of creativity. Not so much this year. Theyr’e still not quite there yet, as far as Virtue/Moir or Davis/White standards, but if the top two don’t watch their backs and step up their own games, the Olympic year could be way more interesting than the last few have been.

It’s interesting, in that regard, how teams that have generally been very politically correct in answering questions about their competition goals who are suddenly voicing their determination to be THE best, both at Worlds this year and, more importantly, the Olympics. Pechalat and Bourzat are certainly a part of that new trend, early this season stating — quite emphatically — that they are right on track with their career goals that have them peaking in Sochi.

So far, they’ve skated accordingly.

Speaking of teams that have made marked improvements, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are another such team. Personally, they’re not my cup of tea. But that’s the thing about ice dance (and skating in general) — it’s okay to not fall in love with every team or every performance, even if other skating fans do. And even if their basic skating has improved, I’m not in love with their programs, though I can respect their attempts at creativity.

Want to know what team I am impressed with, on a multitude of levels? Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. They were adorable last year, with charming choreography and fresh exuberance. This year, they’ve conditioned themselves into legitimate competitors on the world scene. Maybe not World medal contenders, since the top three are on a whole other plane, but they’re nipping at their heals. That medal stand isn’t far off, for sure.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov also made the Final with a pair of silver medals. They did so relatively quietly, perhaps because they didn’t stand a chance against Virtue and Moir or Davis and White. But, I have to say, their programs — especially their free dance — don’t do them justice.

Side note: I’m super disappointed the reaction to Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s free dance wasn’t better from the judges. It’s beautiful and creative and original and magical and … yeah. Unfortunately, it didn’t lend itself to the complexity that the new system rewards. And as a result, they miss out on the Final. Sad day.

Now, for the top two teams.

It’s interesting, the ice dance world. I can’t say I realized how drastic the difference of opinions is between Canadians and Americans until this season with Tessa and Scott’s “Carmen,” and Meryl and Charlie’s “Notre Dame de Paris” free dances.

I’ve heard opinions blasting Davis and White for goign away from the kind of character and passion they’re good at — the “at a distance” kind — while praising Virtue and Moir for trying something new and challenging. I’ve seen fans gush over the magical moment Meryl and Charlie create while recoiling in a flash from Tessa and Scott’s dark, seductive choreography.

If you want my opinion, I prefer Davis and White’s dances. I appreciate the way they’re trying to stretch themselves, and while some feel they don’t actually tell story of the hunchback and Esmeralda directly enough. However, I find myself memorized  by the picture they do create and yes, I do see improved connection and passion.

Now, I’m going to try not to contradict myself, so hear me out.

I do appreciate the attempt at something new for Virtue and Moir. I get where they’re trying to go. However, this team’s strength is, without a doubt, the way they can stretch each move, and wring out every drop of emotion from it. The romance they can create is second to none. They elegance is something that sets them apart. And their ability to tell a heartfelt story that captivates an audience with artistry and grace while performing technically brilliant and complicated choreography is what made them Olympic champions.

This modern dance version of Carmen? Not any of those things. Again, I understand where they’re trying to go. It’s different. It’s edgy. But while I feel Davis and White’s “different” stems from their strengths, I feel this “different” is an attempt to recreate the wheel. The super-seductive “passion,” cheapens the quality of their movement, and obstructs the flow and connection they have with one another and that their blades have with the ice.

To me, it doesn’t bring out their best qualities while making them more versatile.

And, if you really don’t care what I have to say or what my opinion is, I’ll just give you the facts: the judges like the American’s free dance better.

Exhibit A: the score breakdown from both teams’ first Grand Prix event, wherein Virtue and Moir edge Davis and White in TES, but Davis and White win the PCS mark and the total score.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP1

And, exhibit B: the same comparison from both teams’ second events. This time around, the base value is identical, but Davis and White made marked improvement in the GOE category, as well as bumping up the PCS scores yet again.

Davis.White vs. Virtue.Moir GP2

Before you jump me for cross-event score comparisons, I know. It’s different. Judges are different. Pressures are different. All of the above, I know.But the point remains — the reaction to Davis and White has been better than the reaction to Virtue and Moir. Personal opinions on the choreography and interpretation aside, it ends up being a numbers game. So far, Davis and White are winning that game.

Will the trend continue? This weekend’s head-to-head will be quite telling!

 

Skate America: Happy Couples October 17, 2012

As always, there were a few rounds of musical partners on the ice dance/pairs stages this summer. But, the dust has settled. Couples are happily training (as far as I can tell, anyway!), and the competition ice awaits.

Dancers, Are You Ready?

Despite the coach shuffle in Canton over the off season, Meryl Davis and Charlie White still enter as the clear-cut favorites.

Don’t get me wrong — both Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are coming with top-notch stuff, no one has proven they have what it takes to beat the world’s top two (Davis/White, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir). Until someone does, Davis and White are the obvious choice.

Speaking of Bobrova and Soloviev, they do have a leg up on the Americans — they’ve already done the whole “debut” thing. With a 159+, they took home the Finlandia title a few weeks back.

Weaver and Poje, too, put their programs out early. They were even better — a 161.38 at the Nepela Ondrej Memorial.

Unless something dramatic happens, you’re looking at your top three. Now, the order is up for (some kind of) debate.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmidtt (who will now officially be referred to by me as simple, “Lynn and Logan!”) would love nothing more than to break up that top group’s party, though. The duo was third at the US International Classic, but have yet to achieve the kind of scores that could mess with the predicted podium.

Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi are fresh off a bronze medal at Nebelhorn, too. But, their Free Dance was only good enough for 5th in the field in Germany. That’s going to have to change if they have any shot at a podium finish here.

Gold: Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Silver: Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje
Bronze: Bobrova/Soloviev

Spoiler alert: Lynn and Logan

Perfect Pairs

It may not seem like it, but there’s a lot of history between these teams. Okay, maybe “history” isn’t quite the world. But, if you like those head-to-head matchups from the top dance groups, you’ll love this:

The top three pairs faced each other at Worlds, then four of the eight saw each other this season already at Nebelhorn.

Will that help or hurt them?

Who knows.

What I do know is, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are up to their old tricks again (and that’s a good thing!) — two stunning programs, complete with ridiculous technical difficulty. They only lost two events last season, and the two they took second in? By tenths of points.

After a full season and offseason together now, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin appear far more comfortable on the ice with one another. They’ve improved in some key areas, too — adding difficulty to their death spirals, spins, and steps.

It’s not enough yet to catch Volosozhar/Trankov, but it’s a great start.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong are still a bit of a wild card. (As a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I know all about being the wild card!) Not competing most of last season, to a disappointing 4th place at Worlds, they proved they still have some of the goods. The question is, can they pull out those “goods” when the skaters around them up the ante?

Both the other American teams come prepared with exquisite programs, just dying to be performed cleanly. That’ll be their goal this weekend.

Between Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir’s throws, and Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff’s lifts, these teams have guts. And they’re going for it. For someone, that’s going to pay off.

Could it be Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, instead? These two have two sets of judges scores already — one from the 3rd place finish at Nebelhorn, and the second from the French Masters. At the second event, their scores were more than 15 points higher than the previous weekend.

Maybe something’s in the air. We’ve got to have an underdog story somewhere, right?

So for those predictions …

Gold: Volosozhar/Trankov
Silver: Denney/Coughlin (out on a bit of a limb, here!)
Bronze: Pang/Tong

Spoiler alert: Castelli/Shnapir

And there we have it. THe first official previews for the first official international event.

Now, it’s go time.

Share your predictions, thoughts, questions and concerns in the comments, via twitter, or even Facebook … before, during, and after the event. I love hearing your feedback!

 

Nice — Dance, Dance, Dance March 30, 2012

 

Nice, Take Two: Ice Dance Preview March 25, 2012

“Sheer French magic, right here on the French Riviera.”

That was the announcer’s description of Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat’s World Championship-winning Free Dance in the year 2000. The duo — who had finished second the two years before — won their first World Title in front of their home crowd, capping off an undefeated season, to boot.

Marina and Gwendal were second headed into the Free Dance, after placing first in each of the two compulsory rounds, but second (to Italians Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio) in the Original Dance. To win the title, they needed to finish strong.

Their Free Dance to the ever-dramatic Carmina Burana was masterful. The speed and precision was matched by intensity and passion. Their elements were woven in and out of the uniquely crafted choreography. You could feel the tension in the building, the French crowd seemingly willing them to victory.

The noise level built steadily throughout, and when they hit their signature lift — yes, the one where she does the lifting and he does the posing! — there was no stopping the eruption, or Mama Anissina’s tears as the camera flashed to her in the stands.

It was the moment they’d been building towards, planning for, and dreaming of: winning gold on French ice. And they’d done it.

Now, there is another French team who has been dreaming of a title, taking a number of turns around Championship ice, but always falling just short. And yet again, they’ve hit a speed bump.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat have twice finished just off the podium at Worlds. This year, they looked primed to take one of the top three spots, until a training accident left Pechalat with a severely broken nose and a need for surgery to repair the damage done. However, surgery would have surely kept them from competing. So, instead they chose to risk it — she skated with a protective mask in practices, taking care not to further the injury. But their determination to skate in front of their home-country fans and create their own French magic has them in Nice, readying to compete once again.

Standing in their way, though, is a host of anxious challengers, hungry for their own spot on the podium. Certainly the most likely candidates for medals come from the current hot-bed of ice dance — North America.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are sure to impress in Nice, what with their French inspired Free Dance and all. Plus, they’ve made a steady rise this season and could be set to peak at just the right time. So, too, could be their closest rivals — Americans (and reigning World bronze medalists) Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani.

Now, a few short months ago (say, before U.S. Nationals), I would have undoubtedly given the nod to the Canadians. They have plenty of miles on their programs this season, they’re comfortable, confident, and committed, both to the character of the dance and to their medal hunt. The Shibutanis, then, were not capitalizing on the potential of their samba Short Dance, and it was costing them.

These two had great expectations placed on them this year, after their meteoric rise through the senior ranks last season. But let’s not forget — this is only their second year on the senior circuit!

That said, they’ve put in massive amounts of work, not just on their SD, but now on their FD as well, working with dance pro Corky Ballas. And my, oh my does it show, even in the short practice clips we’ve seen. This may just be the ticket to topping the Canadians.

The Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev would like to make a podium push, as well. The Russian dominance in Ice Dance for so many years has been seriously lacking. These two would like to change that. However, they themselves are seriously lacking in some areas. They have the skills, but often they lack the quality — which, in judge-speak equals Grade of Execution points.

Ice Dance has truly become a highlight of any event, especially at this level for two reasons — the level of depth and competitiveness, and the brilliance of Davis/White and Virtue/Moir.

This battle for gold could be one for the ages. Both teams are so equally capable. Their programs are suited to the system perfectly. While some (myself included) find Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s waltz a far better carriage for their skills, others prefer Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Funny Face dance.

The reality is, on paper, these two teams are separated by a razor thin edge. At least, they should be. This title will come down to two things … and probably really only one.

Levels and components.

Take careful note of both teams’ base value mark. If the Americans haven’t upped the levels of some of their biggest elements in the Free Dance, they’ll lose the gold to their Canadian rivals. If they have, however, made the changes, the base values will be nearly identical. In which case, it is all about execution and performance — the PCS marks.

The only thing we know for sure is that the fight is on. And because of that, we may just see two of the greatest Worlds dance performances of all time.

Yeah, it could be that good.

When the dust settles, here’s how I see it shaking out.

GoldTessa Virtue and Scott Moir 
Silver Meryl Davis and Charlie White
BronzeMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
Fourth — Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

* I could be wrong, but I think Nathalie’s injury will keep them from surging as they’d need to to overtake the youngsters ahead of them.

Competition fuels greatness. We’ll have plenty of both this time around in Nice.

 

It’s a Numbers Game February 28, 2012

Sometimes, life happens at a rate that makes keeping up with everything nearly impossible.

There’s not much I love more than previewing, covering, breaking down, and just simply talking (or, in this case, writing!) about figure skating. Sadly, I haven’t yet turned it into a full-time gig, so sometimes things get in the way.

Why am I telling you all this? Because, if you’ve been keeping up with my 4CC vlog reviews, you’ll have noticed one glaring hole — that of the ladies recap! Unless there is an overwhelming demand for that video to actually be created, I think we’re well past the event and, thus, beyond a basic (read: normal) breakdown.

But, what I do have is something else.

I have the protocol breakdowns I promised!

Now, this is how keep track and compare. You’ll have to let me know if it makes sense on paper like it does in my eyes!

Here’s an idea of how it works.

The elements and scores are broken down one-by-one and side-by-side. They are not necessarily in order as you’d find in the program itself, because I’ve tried to match up the elements in both programs for the closest comparison possible. (All of that means, if both skaters do a triple lutz, those jumps will be side-by-side in the spreadsheet, for easy comparison.)

When an element isn’t identical, I’ve placed it with the closest substitute: three-jump combos, for example, don’t always have the same specific jumps, but the comparison of the element as a whole is made simple.

Here’s a little taste from Ashley Wagner’s FS compared to Mao Asada’s. (more…)

 

Vlog: 2012 4CC Breakdown — Ice Dance February 22, 2012

 

Search “From the Boards” on facebook to let me know what protocol breakdowns you’d like to see first!

 

You Can Take My Breath Away February 14, 2012

I may not have been in Colorado Springs this week, but with all the running in circles I did trying to keep up with “real life” and Four Continents, I might have had as much trouble breathing as anyone!

Okay, maybe not quite that much (my sympathies to Nan Song and the entire Chinese team who seemed completely overwhelmed by the altitude!). Still, after being available for nearly every minute of the US Nationals, it felt oh-so-wrong to miss so much of the Four Continents action.

Thankfully, Icenetwork had my back with on-demand coverage, so I caught up in no time!

I’ll have a set of vlog recaps up this week breaking down each event further. But for now, before we get too far removed and focused on Worlds, I’ll leave you with my greatest impressions — and boy, were there some big ones! I can quite honestly say, there were moments that left me “breathless.” (Betcha haven’t heard that one yet, right?!)

Okay. Where to begin …

The men’s event was relatively predictable. And yet, it filled in several empty blanks. How is that possible? Just go with it, I’m not sure myself.

What We Learned

  • Patrick Chan may make mistakes more often than we’d like, but when he’s good, he’s really good. That said, he’s no where near the 300+ scores he pulled in at Canadian Nationals. Not that that’s a ton of comfort, because he still beat Daisuke Takahashi by nearly 30 points.
  • Speaking of Daisuke … he is, perhaps, the most introspective, organic artist in all of the skating world. It’s hard to compare the styles between Chan and Takahashi because they’re so different. One is big and bold, the other is intricate and riveting. Both are beautiful. Both are worthy of praise. (And World medals …)
  • Ross Miner is the future of men’s skating in the US. Bold statement? Sure. But what I saw in Colorado Springs was rock-solid technique, backed by a clear understanding of his place and his path in the sport. And his triple axel is to die for.
  • Misha Ge is immune to altitude! What a joy he was to watch, no? The energy, passion and expression in his skating, while reminiscent of on Johnny Weir, sets him apart in a diverse field. I found him quite refreshing.

What I Felt

  • Heartbroken for Richard Dornbush. You’ll get ’em next season, kid.
  • Thrilled for Ross Miner. That’s how you end a season, regardless of the event!
  • Hopeful for Adam Rippon. He’s improving. Perhaps his peak will be perfectly in time for Worlds.
  • Impressed beyond words by the top two. Simply put, they are phenominal. (more…)