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Four Favorites: Skate Canada 2019

This week’s Four Favorites installment will cover four favorite elements from last weekend’s Skate Canada International competition. From insane lift transitions to incredible jump combinations, there were some highlight moments in programs across all four disciplines:

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Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier Interview: Duo Takes New Approach to Choreography for 2019-20 Season

Practice ice starts today at Skate Canada International in Kelowna, British Columbia, and the competition kicks off tomorrow. Last week, I joined the pre-competition media call with Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier to hear about their goals for this competition and the season ahead. Check out my article for Ice-Dance.com for all that, plus the different approach they took with choreography this year:

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Photo by Robin Ritoss; Courtesy ice-dance.com

Gilles and Poirier Kick Off Grand Prix Season at Skate Canada

Read the full article at Ice-Dance.com, and check out their awesome Reference section if you want to learn more about ice dance terminology and competition requirements!


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Four Favorites: Skate America 2019

The Grand Prix series is back in action, and so are my four favorites posts! Here’s my favorite program in each discipline from Skate America 2019:

Ladies

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan skated her long program to “The Matrix,” and I thought it was fantastic even before the music started. Her costume caught my eye on the warm up and I, admittedly, did not know what her music was, but knew it would be something different in a good way because of how fierce and streamlined the costume was.

When the music started, it was giving me major flashbacks to Brian Joubert’s Matrix long program, which the world medalist used several times throughout his career. He was one of my favorites in the early 2000s.

Sakamoto’s program was fresh and fun. You could tell that she really enjoyed the music and was inspired by it, rather than just skating with music behind the movements. No video to share, unfortunately, because it seems like most of the videos have been removed from YouTube because of NBC broadcasting rights.

Pairs

I’m always a little skeptical when skaters keep the same program for multiple seasons, because it can get stale or uninspired. In some cases, it makes total sense, like when a previous season is cut short due to injury or if something else interferes with the timeline of off season preparation (more show skating, etc.). But the part of me that has a list of “skateable” songs that is a mile long sometimes wonders how skaters can’t find a new piece that inspires them. All that to say that I was a little unsure when Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier of the U.S. decided to bring back their 2014-15 free skate to “The Lion King.” The live-action movie came out this summer, so there was some natural impetus. And after watching their performance here at Skate America (and crying by the end), I’m on board with this re-run. I also love the new costumes — much more sophisticated than the 2014-15 version.

Ice Dance

On Ice Perspectives gave us a great preview of the flamenco free dance for Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko of the U.S. on Instagram in August. The speed was apparent in this unique on-ice viewing, and their attack and commitment to the performance at Skate America made me love the program. Looking forward to seeing how this evolves and continues to grow throughout the season.

 

 Men

This one was a tie, I couldn’t help it. Alex Krasnozhon’s short program was going to be my choice here, until I saw “hip hop Nathan Chen” emerge during the choreographic sequence at the end of his free skate. I’ve interviewed Alex for Figure Skaters Online and have been impressed by his career journey. Krasnozhon’s short program was choreographed by former Team USA skater Alex Johnson, who was another favorite of mine. I appreciate his long lines and lyrical style (and his impeccable choice in skating wardrobe). Johnson’s influence is a great one on fellow American Krasnozhon here, who seemed to be taking his time and connecting with the audience in the performance. I’m not the biggest fan of the shirt he was wearing, which sported two giant flowers. Maybe Johnson can loan him one of his former competition numbers?

As for Chen, I loved the unexpected turn to hip hop at the end of his Rocketman medley program, and how he was able to let loose and enjoy trying out this new style.

For photos from Skate America and exclusive backstage coverage, check out my friends over at Figure Skaters Online! Our reporter Claire Cloutier of A Divine Sport was on hand at the event.


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Ice Theatre of New York Spring Show Preview

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Theron James in “Presence” – Choreography by Deneane Richburg – Photo by Josef Pinlac – Image Courtesy ITNY

The Ice Theatre of New York (ITNY) is the first nonprofit ice dance company in the United States, and their annual spring show takes place this Thursday, May 2. I previewed the performance for Figure Skaters Online, and talked with ITNY founder and artistic director Moira North, as well as guest performer and Olympian Misha Ge for the story.

Read the full story on the FSO site to hear more about the new pieces that will be performed in the show, and updates on Misha Ge’s growing choreography and coaching career in retirement:

Ice Theatre of New York Spring Show to Feature Misha Ge and Honor Gracie Gold


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Four Favorites: Internationaux de France 2018

Well, somehow the 2018 Grand Prix Series has concluded. Anybody else feel like the Olympics were about two minutes ago? I fell off of posting a bit last week due to the holiday, but did have plenty of time to soak up the Internationaux de France and determine my four favorites from the event:

        1. In the ladies event, I liked Alexia Paganini’s rocker-rocker entrance into the triple lutz-triple toe combination in the short program. It not only added difficulty, but also highlighted the strong outside edge on the takeoff, which not everyone in this field has mastered. It was the opening element of the Swiss skater’s program:

          Honorable mention goes to the closing moments of Rika Kihira’s long program, with it’s beautifully paced choreography. I’m trying to stick with only four favorites, for alliteration and organization, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
        2. In the ice dance event, I loved how Team USA’s Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker enter their stationary lift directly out of the curve lift in the free dance. A difficult setup that shows strength and control, and helps blend the elements seamlessly into the program, rather than telegraphing them.
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        3. On the pairs side, champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres stood out in more ways than one, but I particularly liked their unique entry into the side-by-side salchows:
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          Setting aside that she doubled the jump here, I love this entry, choreographed by Olympic Ice Dance Champion Charlie White. They are doing different movements leading into the jump, but still have perfectly synchronized timing. Plus, this is more visually interesting than simply entering the jump by skating next to each other, as many pairs do.
        4. My favorite part of the men’s event was seeing the International Judging System as its best self. The ISU implemented a lot of changes since last season, including some that controversially devalued quads, especially quads that are underrotated or where the skater falls. I had hoped it would be a positive change, without entirely discouraging skaters from still pushing the sport forward with quad jumps. As I watched Jason Brown’s short program last Friday, I was loving it as usual, and then noticed how high the score was ticking up in the box in the top left corner of my screen. “Is it possible…is he about to win this short program?” I asked myself (aloud, as I often do when watching skating, even alone). Given that he wasn’t trying a quad, I assumed he would end up behind programs with quad attempts, even with a clean program. Not in this newest iteration of the IJS! It was great to see. And in the end, Nathan Chen, the Quad King, won the event, showing that clean quad jumps will still rule the day. But it was so heartening to see a complete program—clean skate, presentation, spins, everything Jason Brown does so beautifully—properly rewarded. Here it is:

 


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Impressions: Skate America 2018

Before Skate Canada kicks off tomorrow, I want to share some wrap up thoughts on Skate America 2018. I already shared my Four Favorites—one element from each discipline—and I’m going to try to keep doing that throughout the season. It’s fun to look beyond the podium and acknowledge great skating! But there was also plenty to talk about among the top challengers at Skate America this weekend:

Coaching Changes
There was high drama with the announcement that Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim split from their coach, Olympic Champion Aljona Savchenko. To me, it was handled really oddly on the NBC Sports Gold broadcast, in a way that stirred the pot. They teased it during the warmup without coming out and saying that they had split, and then confirmed the news mid-program, distracting from the skating. After their performance, Andrea Joyce interviewed the Knierims and asked directly about the split, and Chris handled the answer graciously, crediting all they had learned from Savchenko while acknowledging that they are no longer working together. Lots of theories about the split have been flying around on Twitter, but I think it is important to remember that Savchenko hasn’t even officially announced her retirement, has shows and other performances on her calendar for the year, and has never been an elite-level coach prior to this. The split could be as simple as realizing that coaching them wasn’t possible with her schedule. But either way, I thought the way that NBC chose to reveal the knowledge distracted from the competition.

Rules Changes
There have been a lot of rule changes this season (+5/-5 GOE being the most noticeable), but I thought they were most evident in the ice dance event. I almost felt like I was watching an entirely different discipline, in a good way. The choreographic sliding movement, one foot step sequence, and choreographic step were all great changes in that they have opened the door for more creativity and innovation in these free dances. I loved how the skaters were able to utilize these elements to really emphasize the character of their programs and music.

Momentum Changes
Several of last year’s viral/Olympic favorites had tough outings here: Jimmy Ma (of U.S. Nationals “Turn Down for What” viral YouTube fame), Loena Hendrickx (who’s brother, fellow skater Jorik, got a lot of attention for his nervous viewing of her skating at the Olympics last year, a la gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents), and Alexei Bychenko (who brought the house down in the team event at the Olympics). It just goes to show how difficult it can be to carry momentum into another season. Ma had a rough free skate, while Hendrickx withdrew due to illness. Bychenko looked a little shaky, compared to his assured Olympic performances. I enjoyed watching all of them so much last year, so here’s hoping things look up for them at their next events. Hendrickx and Bychenko are both scheduled for Grand Prix Finland, while Ma does not have a second Grand Prix.

Age Changes
As a newly minted 30-year-old myself, I loved seeing two skaters in their third decade on the podium in the men’s event: Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic (a longtime fave of mine) and Sergei Voronov of Russia. The ladies on my new favorite podcast, Flutzes and Waxels, were calling them “Team Old,” which was cracking me up, but it is great to see skaters have some longevity in this sport. Just as I loved seeing 30-somethings Aljona Savchenko and Meagan Duhamel out there last season, I applaud these two. Respect for Team Old.

It feels like quite the quick turnaround, but is everybody ready for Skate Canada? We’ll see some of the same faces from Skate America this weekend (Hubbell and Donohue, Starr Andrews, to name a few), so I can’t imagine how they must be feeling about this turnaround. Check back here tomorrow for my Skate Canada Flashback Friday post!