Aug 17, 2014
In an article from the New Yorker, Richard Brody discusses music that has personally been ruined for him association with questionable films--specifically, Lars von Trier's ham-fisted use of various beloved classical pieces in Nymphomanic. I certainly can empathise: to me, Prokofiev's otherwise delightful Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet is forever bound up with the luridly torturous experience of watching Tinto Brass' Caligula. Listening to music, as Mr. Brody rightfully points out, is a highly personal experience and there comes a point when it is impossible to dissociate a piece of music from a personal experience--whether that be a film, a specific person, a figure skating performance.
So, what pieces of music have been ruined for me via association with thoroughly unpleasant figure skating programs?
Feb 16, 2014
In many ways, the men's event at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in Canada turned out to be an extremely prescient harbinger of what would eventually transpire at the men's event in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. A down-and-out skater from Kazakhstan overcomes his dismal season to unexpectedly win a medal. The vast majority of the top men skate stumble all over the ice and deliver extremely underwhelming performances.
In other words, typical stuff.
Ok, perhaps not the skater-from-Kazakhstan part, but the fact that most of the men turned in rather dismal performances was fairly predictable as part of a major seismic shift taking place in the men's discipline since 2010. At the 2008 World Championships, Jeffrey Buttle showed how it was possible to win by skating cleanly without a single quadruple jump, starting a trend that eventually cumulated in Evan Lysacek's quad-less victory at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Mr. Lysacek's win in Vancouver was a watershed moment for the men, not only because it was the first time in which a man won the Olympics without a quadruple jump in over a decade, but because of the ridiculous (and extremely partisan) "quad controversy" which ruffled quite a few feathers soon after. Whatever the merits of the quad controversy, its effects were nonetheless very real: the ISU, ever keen to avoid controversy under the harsh glare of the Olympic spotlight, raised the base value of quadruple jumps to over 10 points in a bid to encourage the men to take the risk and attempt more quad jumps.
The first man to take advantage of the newly increased value of quad jumps was Patrick Chan, who later became the poster boy of all the problems and controversies caused by the increased emphasis on quad jumps. Mr. Chan went from attempting zero quads in the 2009-2010 season to attempting three (one in the short program, two in the long program) in the 2010-2011 season. Mr. Chan's high base value afforded to him by his quad jumps, coupled together with his complex programs (helped by some of the residual emphasis on transitions from the previous Olympic cycle) allowed him to completely reverse the trend started by Jeffrey Buttle--that is to say, Mr. Chan showed how it was possible to win by skating messily with lots of quadruple jumps. Mr. Chan was able to capitalize on the fact that many of his competitors initially still seemed to be stuck in the skate-clean-without-a-quad zeitgeist, but by 2012, most of the top men had caught up to Mr. Chan and were attempting as many quads (if not more) as Mr. Chan while skating complex programs stuffed with transitions, level 4 spins and level 4 steps.
Feb 14, 2014
Feb 10, 2014
Joining the long line of skaters (Patrick Chan, Mao Asada, Savchenko/Szolkowy, among others) dusting off old classics for the Olympic season, Yuzuru Hanyu has selected the music of Romeo and Juliet for his long program this season--albeit the Nino Rota version from the beloved 1986 Zeffirelli film instead of the Craig Armstrong score from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet he used for the 2011-2012 season. The music is different, but the character Mr. Hanyu is attempting to portray is the same: Romeo, or something approximating him--you know, young lover, star-crossed romance, that whole enchilada.
In many ways, Mr. Hanyu's choice to revisit the character of Romeo for the Olympic season is a strategically valid one. The Olympic season is, after all, when skaters carefully aim for the lowest common denominator in the once-every-four-years-occasion when the rest of the world pretends to care about figure skating. In this climate, it is common for skaters to go for the familiar either in the form of a beaten-to-death musical warhorse or an accessible, audience-friendly concept (Rota's Romeo and Juliet helpfully fits both criteria). And why not? Nino Rota's music conveniently conjures up certain emotional cues even before any skating is involved, and doubtlessly many impressionable youths (and judges) will swoon over associating the character of Romeo and all the attendant peculiarities of romance with Mr. Hanyu, whose cherubic visage and sylphlike physique makes him a suitable target for such sentiments: sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat.
But there is a reason why nobody has ever made a Romeo and Juliet: Part Two in the countless adaptations of Shakespeare's play that seem to crop up with a dependable regularity every few years: the unaffected, uncomplicated hormonal conviction of first love only feels that way for, well, the first time. Romance is often dependent on timing, and Mr. Hanyu's choice of Romeo and Juliet for a long program in the 2011-2012 season exemplifies that fact splendidly. A major factor that made Romeo and Juliet so successful in 2011 was that Mr. Hanyu at seventeen was just about the right age to play Romeo: he not only looked the part, but embodied the character of Romeo in the freshness of his skating. There, Mr. Hanyu's slightly wild style with just the right amount of introspection meshed with what any respectable Romeo should be: bold, impetuous, passionate, prone to intense bouts of emotion to the point of recklessness but also capable of tender and profound love.