Irrelevant Information

Jan 22, 2011

Angsty Business

Nobody understands the depth of my PAIN!!1!
Figure skating often appears to be first and foremost a sport of adolescents. This is actually quite literally the case, especially in ladies and half of pairs skating, when the bodies of many female skaters can still be kept in their jump-friendly prepubsecent stages before the scourge of puberty, but really, the adolescent phenomenon is prevalent throughout all the discplines of figure skating. That is, world-weary and overblown adolescent angst appears to be the norm in many a figure skating program, a well-trod trope as familiar as the generic female ballad. This is not terribly surprising--after all, figure skaters are supposed to Artists, baring their souls out on the ice in order to achieve that vaunted goal, the "personal and creative translation of the music to movement on ice." What better emotion is there than the pangs of angst, that universal adolescent experience in the sturm und drang of life?

In lieu of The Cure, figure skaters often turn to Puccini's Tosca to appropriately express the depth of their brooding. Tosca, with its melodramatic and angst-appropriate subject matters of torture, murder and suicide, has indeed been a very fruitful vehicle to portray the overwrought vagaries of adolescent angst. The prime example is Evgeni Plushenko's 2006 short program:

In his version of Tosca, Mr. Plushenko fulfills the first requirement of adolescent angst by garbing himself in the angst-friendly shade of black. For a man who usually skates as if it is a privilege to watch his back crossovers, Mr. Plushenko also rather convincingly gives some facial expressions that adequately scream of the turmoil of his inner pain (e.g. at 2:48 of the video). However, Mr. Plushenko's Tosca is most impressive for its arm movements, when Mr. Plushenko is clearly exorcising all the demons of his mind by swatting them like flies. Whether this remedies the emptiness of his existence like the traditional dose of Bright Eyes and existential poetry is of course up to the viewer.

Irina Slutskaya provides a ladies' example of of Tosca!angst:

Here, Ms. Slutskaya gives a good example of a particular facet of skating angst that Mr. Plushenko did not quite demonstrate in his Tosca: the head-grab (as angst is all in the mind, after all). Life and figure skating is so hard, you goddamn prep judges! Only extraneous upper-body choreography can sufficiently portray the depth of my pain!!

Overwrought portrayals of angst on ice are popular for the same reasons why Puccini's Tosca is one of the most well-known pieces of classical music--it's loud, impressive and above all, undemanding. But when mediocrity is this easy, quality becomes difficult. True bleakness lies not in over-the-top posturing or anguished facial expressions, but in something more like the quieter and infinitely more subtle 2005 short program by Jeffrey Buttle, set to the proper piano version of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C sharp minor. Mr. Buttle's Rachmaninoff is as similar to the aforementioned Tosca programs as a Ligeti cluster chord is to an Alice Cooper song, but in both instances, it is no question as to which is much more sombre and unsmiling (not to mention interesting).


  1. I actually gasped with joy when I saw that you posted.
    "Whether this remedies the emptiness of his existence like the traditional dose of Bright Eyes and existential poetry is of course up to the viewer." You are fabulous.
    And Jeffrey's program was beyond beautiful, made even better after being violated by Plushenko's windmilling combined with Sandra Bezic's blathering. It's a travesty that he only won Worlds once.

  2. Anonymus, I totally agree with you!!! Plushenko's windmilling is always SO annoying, but no one has the courage to say it! Everytime I hear someone describe Plushenko as an artist, I feel so outraged!!! It's so obvious that he doesn't feel the music at all! He moves like a dying lizard or something...LOL Anyway it's so far away from Art...:(
    Slutskaya's so unrefined, ungraceful, and the movements don't connect to the music at all...her FP in Torino was awful O__O In my opinion her best performance was at the 2002 Olympics Exhibition, where she skated to Cotton-Eyed Joe...
    And Jeffrey! he IS an Artist!!! Love him so much, his interpretation is so subtle, refined and so moving. I remember crying when he won Worlds:)
    Thank you, Morozombie, for this lovely post!

  3. Jeffrey Buttle is one of the most boring and unispiring skaters ever, how could someone appreciate his "art" if it´s almost impossible to stay awake while he´s skating! ? He´s definitely the king of fake artistry! Just like you said, mediocrity is easy!

  4. I think Buttle's artistry is one of the finest in figure skating history, but he's so purely elegant that not everybody can recognize it. I mean, if you like heavy effects and cow boy jokes you'll obviously find him boring. Too bad for you.