Twizzle Talk


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Best Scheherazade Programs

Certain pieces of music pop up a lot in the skating world, for better or worse. I’ve made my feelings known about overuse of “Phantom of the Opera,” lots of people don’t want to hear “Carmen” in an ice rink ever again, and the fantastic Jackie Wong of Rocker Skating has a special hatred for any version of “Feelin’ Good.”

“Scheherazade” is another one that is used a lot, but it hasn’t reached fatiguing levels, at least for me. I love the layers of sound in the music, and the endless choreographic possibilities those layers create.

I heard “Scheherazade” a few times from the stands at Worlds, which got me thinking about my favorite programs set to this music:

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, 2014 Free Dance

Michelle Kwan, 2002 Long Program

While both programs are fabulous in their own right, they’ve got a few things in common that put them over the top and into my “best ever” category:

  • Choreography and arm movements that imply the weaving or spinning of a story (which is what the character of Scheherazade does to avoid a death sentence, so the legend goes)
  • Energy that builds throughout the program to an outstanding finish
  • Attire that fits the music and alludes to the Middle Eastern setting of the story, without being overly corny or kitschy

I could watch these programs over and over, but are there more excellent renditions of Scheherazade that I have to see? Do share!


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Favorite Program Music from Worlds 2016

Lots of skaters will tell you that when they hear a song, they instantly see skating, or start imagining a program. I without a doubt fall in to that category, and have also been known to listen to skating program music on my headphones at work, or while I’m cleaning up around the house.

Props to my friend who recommended the “Ice Skating Melodies” channel on Amazon Prime music, and my longtime skating pal who found this magical YouTube channel, Gattokiller’s Figure Skating Music. The wonderful Gattokiller re-cuts and records the exact versions of skating programs, then shares them on his channel. Perfect for when I want to listen to Yuna Kim’s fabulous cut of “Les Mis” while also being productive and not distracted by her mesmerizing skating.

After going to Worlds, I had the skaters’ program music stuck in my head for the entire week following the competition. It also happened to be a big deadline week at my job, and the refrain of, “The show must go on,” from Ashley Wagner’s “Moulin Rouge” program was running around in my head as we wrapped up our next issue of the magazine right on schedule.

My favorite musical selections from Worlds 2016:

Ashley Wagner’s selections from “Moulin Rouge”
This is how you use lyrics in a skating program. I’ve never seen the movie, but I totally get the storyline and what Ashley is trying to convey because this is such a great cut of music (and because her portrayal is so awesome).

Yuzuru Hanyu’s “Seimei” by Shigeru Umebayashi
The way he hits each beat and note of the music is fantastic. The only time I was a little frustrated with the otherwise awesome crowd at Worlds was when people were clapping during this program. This powerful music is meant to be heard, not drowned out by people clapping along like it is some kind of pop song.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, “La Dolce Vita”
This soundtrack is by Nino Rota, and his version of “Romeo and Juliet” also happens to be my favorite. I’m pretty much guaranteed to like a program set to Rota music, and this one is so much fun to watch.

Javier Fernandez’ “Guys and Dolls,” featuring “Luck Be a Lady” by Frank Sinatra
Who doesn’t love a little Sinatra? And Javi was holding the audience in the palm of his hand during this routine. Luck was on his side, for sure. I enjoyed how the lyrics came in towards the end of the program, like a culmination, rather than a distraction.

Evengia Medvedeva’s selections from “W.E.”
The movie “W.E.”—brainchild of Madonna—did not receive glowing reviews from the critics. It did, however, have an awesome soundtrack, which served as part of Medvedeva’s long program. This is on my “time to focus at work” playlist. I love how it is intense and dramatic without being too dark.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of these programs one more time at the Team Challenge Cup, but also can’t wait to see what these skaters choose as their follow-ups for next season!


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Best Ovations at Worlds 2016

Being in the audience for some of the events at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships was thrilling and unforgettable. I keep telling people who ask about the event that I felt privileged to be in the audience to watch such amazing performances. The audience itself was also pretty awesome.

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It was clear that it was a knowledgeable group of skating fans, and an appreciative one at that. The cheers for the American skaters were nearly deafening, but the international skaters received lots of love as well. And as Phil Hersh pointed out on Twitter, figure skating fanhood is alive and well in Boston. I also thought I read on Twitter that people were comparing this event to skating’s heydey in the 1990s, but couldn’t find the exact tweet. If anyone finds something to that effect, definitely share in the comments!

Safe to say the audience was fabulous throughout the competition, but there were a few unforgettable crowd moments that stood out:

    • Any time the words, “Representing the United States of America…” were said before an athlete’s name.
    • The crowd’s deafening roar in response to Adam Rippon’s call for more (pictured above) after his fabulous and fun free skate.
  • The Shib Sibs’ twizzle sequence: You can somewhat hear the crowd over the music in this video, but just turn your volume all the way up and then imagine multiplying that by ten. And yes, I was crying by this point, as predicted.
  • The roar of the crowd leading up to Ashley Wagner’s final triple lutz, and after she nailed it
  • The cheers for Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Olympic Silver Medalist Mao Asada, despite subpar free skate performances. Though they didn’t bring the house down, both skaters received ovations that conveyed the respect the crowd had for their prior achievements, and their appreciation to see two of the sport’s greats live and in person.
  • The crowd was pretty much going insane for the entirety of the six-minute warm-up for the men’s final group. Screams every time somebody landed a quad, and there were plenty to go around in that group!

What a weekend! Next up, my favorite musical selections from the competition.


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The World is Coming…

…to Boston! The 2016 World Figure Skating Championships are less than two weeks away, and I will be in the building at the TD Garden for the free dance, men’s free skate, and ladies free skate. This is pretty much where I’m at:

My excitement levels are at an all-time high. I have been fortunate enough to attend two U.S. National Championships held in Boston, in 2001 and 2014, but there is something special about the World Championships being on American soil and getting to see it all in person. The last time Worlds was in the United States was 2009, in LA; the last time Worlds was on the East Coast was 2003, in DC. And not only is is a privilege to get to see ANY World Figure Skating Championships at all, but the skating this year has been fantastic. I know lots of people will be making predictions and taking their best guess as to who will stand on the podium. The level of skating is so high this year that I bet there will be many and varied conjectures. But there are a few things I can predict without any doubt. And here they are, in gif form:

I will cry my eyes out at the Shibutanis’ free dance. I cry watching it on TV; getting to see it in person will be another level. I’ll be the lady bawling in my seat…but I bet I won’t be the only one:

I’ll be wondering why most of the top half of Gabriella Papadakis’ dress is sheer (Here it is, for your reference. Rule book experts: no costume deduction for how revealing it is?!), and feeling uncomfortable about it:

When I was at 2014 U.S. Nationals, I was completely blown away by the height and distance of Gracie Gold’s triple lutz. I was the big dork in the stands who said, “Whoa.” out loud during the warm-ups, it was that impressive. I bet it still is, and I can’t wait to see it again:

I will barely be able to handle the cheesy voiceovers in Elena Radionova’s “Titanic” long program:

The men’s event is full of guys who are doing multiple quads in one program. Yuzuru Hanyu is already a legend in the sport, and there’s also Fernandez, Chan, Jin, Aaron and others tossing off the quads like a “simple” triple toe. I’ve seen quads in person before, but not of this quality or quantity. I have no doubt that I will be in awe:

Amazing-gif

But for now, I’ll just be blissfully looking forward to what promises to be an unforgettable World Championships:


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Favorite Exhibitions of 2015-16

One of the (many) unique aspects of figure skating is the post-event exhibition. It’s a celebratory show that takes place at the end of a competition, after the medals have been handed out and when the pressure is off. It would be like Cam Newton and Peyton Manning taking the field to toss the football around, the day after the Super Bowl, for a packed stadium. Improbable, and probably unnecessary, in most sports. But not figure skating.

The post-event exhibition reflects the importance of the performance side of skating, and the blending of athletics and art. Skaters always put on a show, but most especially in the exhibition. This is where the funny/creative/weird numbers come out, along with tricks and costumes that are illegal in competition. This season, I’ve got four favorite exhibition programs and three of them just happen to be by U.S. skaters.

Mirai Nagasu — “I Put a Spell On You”

Who is this skater? With such confidence and ease of movement. She looks completely different in this program than when she competes; can we get some of this Mirai in competition? I’m starting a petition now that this becomes her short program for next year! (I’m pretty sure that this year’s “Demons” short program started off as an exhibition piece, and this one has way more life and enthusiasm to it.) This song is one that can be overused in skating, and yet I still really enjoy her take on it.

Team Paradise of Russia — “Meditation of Thais” by Jules Massenet

That first intersection, with the spirals…all I can say is, “WOW.” Except it came out more like “Woooooowwwww” as I was staring at it on my computer screen, sitting at my kitchen table. Such beauty and strength. I couldn’t determine if this is an exhibition program or also their short program. Anybody out there know? I may have given my computer some kind of virus trying to get to what I thought was the team’s website to look for program details, but a ton of Russian pop ups ensued instead. Whoops.

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim — “Rise Up” by Andra Day

They’ve been using this program all year, but the first time I saw it was in the exhibition at U.S. Nationals. As you can probably gather from the title of the song, this one felt particularly poignant given that the team had just lost their national title. Would I have loved it as much if I that wasn’t when I saw it for the first time? I’m not sure. But this program demonstrates what I love about this team so much, their emotion and fabulous pair elements.

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter — “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys

The Backstreet Boys are apparently very rigid about copyright infringement, because this is the only video I could find of this program, and the audio is blocked. If you have an IceNetwork subscription, you’ve got to go watch this program, either in the video from the Grand Prix Final exhibition or the U.S. Nationals exhibition. The two-time U.S. Junior Ice Dance Champions exude personality in this light-hearted program about a boy bander and his superfan. Cute without being overly gimmicky, and who doesn’t love a good BSB song?

While these were my favorite exhibition programs, there were definitely a few that made me raise my eyebrows…those, in a future post!


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Mental Toughness Key at 2016 Nationals

Whenever skaters are asked about U.S. Nationals, they often talk about how it is the most pressure-packed event of the year. The expectations are high, and placements determine whether their seasons are over or they get to move on to the big international competitions, Four Continents, Worlds, etc. Not to mention coveted spots at the next season’s international events are on the line, since most are given out to the top finishers at Nationals. The skaters who triumph are the ones who can put all that aside and do their job. The 2016 Nationals was an impressive display of this kind of mental toughness across all four disciplines at the senior level.

Pairs

Pairs champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea were clutch and flawless throughout the event. After their unexpected lead in the short program, they easily could have faltered in the long. How many times have we seen short program standouts crumble in the long at Nationals? Unfortunately, it happened to the fabulous Ross Miner in this year’s men’s event. But Kayne and O’Shea stayed tough and gave a brilliant performance. They told IceNetwork: “The day between the short and long program, a little bit of doubt creeps into your mind,” Kayne said. “You think, ‘I just had this awesome short program—am I going to be able to follow it up?’ With this program, I can definitely follow it up. I believe in this program so much that any doubt I had right when the music came on was gone.”

On the flip side, defending champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim seemed to let their wobbly showing at the Grand Prix Final get into their heads and they weren’t skating with quite the same confidence we’ve seen from them this season. But this team gets mad and buckles down and I have a feeling they will come back with a vengeance at Worlds. And I hope so, because I really enjoy watching them.

Ladies

Speaking of holding it together for TWO spectacular programs, how about Polina Edmunds? She was cool, collected, and confident for the whole event, delivering two really solid programs that showed artistic growth and reduced emphasis on overdone arm movements. All the post-short program talk was about Polina possibly coming in and stealing the title, and she took it in stride.

The rest of the short program chatter was about how Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold once again faltered under pressure. I was actually pretty grumpy after watching the ladies’ short; I was thinking, “Not again…seriously?” I bet they might have been as well. But they both really delivered in the long.

Ashley was in a familiar spot, trying to make up points after the short program, and this type of situation is her forte. She always brings it with the mental toughness in this scenario. Her long program was amazing, but for the one blip of the popped lutz. Was anybody else thinking about last year’s triumphant fist pump after the final lutz as she went into it? Maybe she was, too. At any rate, that popped jump was an absolute necessity if she wanted to challenge for the silver or the title.

Gracie finally out-did everybody else’s mental game. Finally. And man, was it impressive. When I heard she was skating last, I thought it was a bad spot, since she would be hearing all the marks before her. In the TV interview after her performance, she said herself how she always seems to go after these fantastic, rafter-shaking performances (after eventual champion Adelina Sotnikova at the 2014 Olympics, right after Ashley did really well at this year’s Grand Prix Final, it’s a definite pattern). It was awesome to see her channel that into a fabulous performance of her own, which can’t have been easy. I felt like everyone watching had sort of mentally handed the title to Polina, even before Gracie’s name was called, based on her past history. The fact that these three ladies all delivered such strong performances and tuned out the noise around them bodes VERY well for Worlds.

Men

Speaking of a night of strong performances, how about those men? One right after another, they were all able to do their job despite the high scores and records (Nathan Chen with FOUR quads in the long program?!) popping up all around them.

“I knew exactly what was going on, but it didn’t change what I wanted to do and what I needed to do,” champion Adam Rippon said after the event. That’s really what they all did. Chen threw down a technical gauntlet, but Max Aaron went out and nailed his planned program. Knowing how well Aaron did, Rippon went out and skated like there was no pressure at all. And we can’t overlook the great skates by upstart Vincent Zhou and pewter medalist Grant Hochstein. It was just a really fun event to watch.

Dance

Maia and Alex Shibutani. I cried. They tuned out all the hype and doubters alike, forgetting disappointment about past placements, and they created a moment out there. I have re-watched the program so many times since Nationals and kind of can’t believe I’ll get to see them do it live at Worlds here in Boston.

Although Chock and Bates didn’t defend their title, they still kept their heads in the game and delivered a strong performance, especially with all the program changes they’ve dealt with this season. They didn’t make any egregious errors or choke, by any means. An event where the skating quality is so high that any given team can win is way more exciting to watch than one with a predetermined favorite/incumbent. I hope this rivalry continues up to the next Olympics.

Outside of the longstanding success in international ice dance, I think it is the mental game that has been missing for the U.S. in international competition. Hopefully this streak continues at Worlds and the medal droughts in the other disciplines will come to an end. Pairs might be a long shot, but I think we’ve got a good chance in the men’s and ladies’ side of things!