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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Flashback Friday: The Perils of YouTube Autoplay

You know what I’m talking about (with this post title). The YouTube autoplay feature that automatically plays a video similar or related to what you just watched. Second to the Netflix autoplay feature, of course, but still problematic.

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Image Source: googlesystem.blogpost.com

My skating friends and I send each other YouTube links constantly. One of my coworkers is a fellow skating fan, and we love trading links to our favorite performances (I’ve got two in my inbox right now, from the 2017 Europeans exhibition, awaiting my viewing).

But this is when things get dangerous. This is when I get into a YouTube skating hole, and find myself watching way too many programs in a row, for far too long. The original dance from the 2006 Olympics! Vintage Michelle Kwan! Virtue and Moir’s exhibition program to Justin Bieber.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been there.

And sometimes this skating binge-watching leads to the rediscovery of a forgotten gem, like this lovely exhibition program by U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, from nearly 10 years ago. This was one of my all-time favorite programs of theirs, to “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin, and you should check it out for your Flashback Friday:


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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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Flashback Friday: Evan Lysacek 2006 Exhibition

Happy 2016, everybody!

U.S. Figure Skating recently announced their 2016 Hall of Fame inductees, my personal favorite Evan Lysacek among them. That, combined with the fact that I randomly heard the song “Run It!” on the radio the other day, reminded me of his fabulous “How to Pick Music” exhibition program from 2006. The man has moves. Let’s revisit for this Flashback Friday: