Twizzle Talk


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Anatomy of a Titanic Program

This post has been in my drafts for a year—yikes! That’s a little embarrassing. But since 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the movie “Titanic,” and this post was initially intended to sing the praises of current U.S. World Team member Mariah Bell, it’s actually still relevant. High-five to past me.

The music from “Titanic” was a popular choice for skating programs when the movie first came out, and it still pops up in rinks from the local level to the World Championships, because it is such a movie favorite.

Last year, Russian Elena Radionova skated to selections from “Titanic” for her long program, and I just couldn’t get on the bandwagon for this program.

 

The voiceovers were a distraction, rather than an enhancement, and the music selection overall was too repetitive, too reliant on the “My Heart Will Go On” portion of the soundtrack, both with vocals and without. We all know it’s a long movie (anybody else remember the two-VHS boxed set?), and there is a wealth of music to choose from. I’m a fan of the Irish music from the steerage party scene, performed by the wonderful band Gaelic Storm. By the time Celine Dion’s voice comes into the program in the final minute or so, we’ve heard this crescendo of the music several times already, which diminishes the emotional impact and power of the moment.

In terms of the choreography, I didn’t love the constant open and uplifting arm movements…lots of people are dying here, including Radionova’s character’s boyfriend. It looked too triumphant. The jump entrances are held too long and are awkward, which is indicative of the trouble she was having with jumps last season, after a growth spurt.

I did enjoy that Radionova’s dress was a nod to the pretty dress that Kate Winslet wore as the ship was sinking:

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Image Source: awesomeinventions.com

Mariah Bell’s 2015 “Titanic” program, on the other hand, was much more my taste:

 

The opening of this program captures the tension of the film, both in terms of music and choreography. From there, it moves into a natural story: the piece with some pop and Mariah’s beautiful split jumps alludes to the triumphant send-off for the ship, there is a sweet portion in the middle for her footwork that fits with the movie love story, and the use of “My Heart Will Go On” is very subtle.

Skating programs usually build to a grand finale of sorts, with the most exciting, uplifting pieces of music at the end. This program ends quietly, and I liked the nod to the more somber end for the Titanic itself and the movie.

Also, her dress is gorgeous and looks like the ocean.

This Nationals, 2015, was when I first noticed the joy and “it factor” in Mariah’s skating. That’s still present today, in 2017, but she has made huge technical strides. There wasn’t a triple-triple in this program (she doubled a planned triple toe-triple toe), and now she routinely hits the triple lutz-triple toe. She said in her recent interview on the “Ice Talk” podcast that she moved to new coach Rafael Arutyunyan for technical help, so it is exciting to think about the strides she can make after a full season with Raf.

Are there any other well-known “Titanic” programs that you loved or hated? Let me know!

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Time to Grow

Sometimes I judge programs too harshly upon first viewing. I remember watching Ashley Wagner’s “Moulin Rouge” long program early in the 2014-2015 season and thinking it was kind of terrible. I thought the lyrics were overkill, used in too many of the cuts throughout the program. Fast forward to her stellar performance at 2015 U.S. Nationals, and she made me love it. I was thrilled she kept it around for another season, and was on my feet, screaming and cheering at 2016 Worlds in Boston when she brought the house down with an even better, more technically difficult and emotionally poignant rendition of this program.

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Image Source: USA Today

Today, I’d say that this program would be a great blueprint for how to use lyrics well in a skating program—Wagner and her choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne chose songs from the movie that captured the essence of that story, as well as the story of resilience that they wanted to portray.

This season, there have been a few programs that I didn’t enjoy upon first viewing, but have really grown on me as the skaters settled in to them, and made improvements as the season has progressed.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA), free dance “Under Pressure”

This song choice seemed more like noise than music to me, at first. They created quite a buzz by beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the free dance at Skate Canada with this program, but I still wasn’t convinced. But after seeing two excellent outings of this program, at 2016 U.S. Nationals and Four Continents this week, I’m enjoying it much more. I love how the arm movements and lifts subtly reference the lyrics without being too cheesy or showy. The sharpness of their movements and commitment to the choreography are also fantastic. The entries and exits to all of their lifts are so difficult, yet they pull them off without any disruption to their speed or smoothness.

 

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France), free skate “Sound of Silence”

I saw this program live at Skate America this fall and was underwhelmed. Partially because I associate this song with Nyle DiMarco’s performance on “Dancing with the Stars” and how incredible and impressive it was to watch someone who is deaf perform a fantastic routine to this song, and partially because James and Cipres had a rough skate that day and seemed visibly annoyed with each other. When they were on the “Ice Talk” podcast, they talked with Jackie Wong about putting this program together, and the intentional way that it starts slow and soft and builds throughout. Between learning that, and then seeing them perform with so much heart and confidence at Europeans, I’ve totally come around to this program. If you don’t watch the whole thing, you’ve at least got to check out the incredible, difficult death spiral entrance at about the 4:01 minute mark in the video:

 

Maybe I wrote off these two programs too early in the season (I’m pretty sure it was October, after all). I’m excited to see how much farther they’ll go in the month or so that both of these teams have before the World Championships in Helsinki.

Which programs have grown on you this season?


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Hamilton On Ice

Much to my delight (because figure skating and Hamilton are two of my top obsessions), this video was floating around the internet during Nationals last week:

 

Philip Baker, of the Skating Club of Boston, won bronze in the intermediate men’s division at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with this program. The video above is from the New England Regional Championships, because the Nationals one isn’t available on YouTube. But someone wonderful brought it to the attention of Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter, which brought it to my attention:

Personally, I was wondering if someone might jump on the Hamilton bandwagon in the dance event, with hip hop as one of the rhythms this year (Just me? Wishful thinking? Ok, fine.)

The music of Hamilton is so intricate that I don’t think it would translate well to an ice rink and a 2-4 minute program. That said, this is a pretty well-done cut. And not only does this kid have great taste in music, but he is a great skater, too. He has excellent knee bend and speed across the ice in his stroking, and his musical timing is on target. (Seriously. Sometimes even senior skaters don’t hit their movements on the proper accent of the music.)

Oh, and the straight line footwork sequence is to die for: that fist pump on the lunge!

Let’s keep an eye on Baker, shall we? This might be the next cute youngster promo they show at senior Nationals someday, a la Nathen Chen last weekend:


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A Season of Spirals?

Spirals are my favorite skating move, without a doubt. I had a poster of Michelle Kwan performing her signature change-of-edge spiral on the wall of my childhood bedroom. I learned the move myself and always included it in my own programs.

This love of spirals means I dearly miss the days when the ladies’ event had a required spiral sequence (the early years of the IJS). But these days, a long, beautifully held spiral is a rare sight.  Unfortunately, it just isn’t a big point getter.

I’ve seen a few programs from the early season competitions (thanks to everyone posting video on YouTube!), and my spiral-loving heart is all sorts of hopeful that the move is making a comeback this year. Both Mariah Bell, at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic, and Mirai Nagasu, at Skate Detroit, have them in their long programs.

Mariah uses spiral variations a-plenty, in footwork and jump entries, as well as a perfectly placed forward outside spiral on the crescendo of the music (around the 3:20 mark in the video below). Some music just begs for spirals, and this piece definitely fits the bill. Interestingly, it is the soundtrack from “East of Eden,” a piece in which Michelle Kwan also used a spiral to great emotional effect.

Nagasu utilizes her beautiful spiral similarly in her long program to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All,” adding a forward outside version after an elegant hop, as the music builds. (at 4:22 in the video).

While neither of these spirals are going to earn as many points as a triple-triple jump combination, they serve an important purpose in the choreography and interpretation, and that second mark is still important. Not to mention, their spirals are beautiful to behold. Both have excellent stretch and extension.

Has any one else spotted spirals in early season events? Is the trend back, or are my hopes in vain?