The generic female ballad is a disappointingly familiar phenomenon in ladies figure skating, ubiquitous enough to merit an acronym among fans ('GFB,' obviously). Like a particularly stubborn patch of weeds, the GFB crops up in senior, junior, amateur, and professional ranks alike--succinctly put, everywhere.
The components of a standard GFB are simple and easily identified, given the ad nauseam nature of its occurrence. The fundamental element of a GFB is the type of music chosen for the program. In this area, the GFB has two variations: classical and muzak. As its name suggests, the classical GFB draws its music from the classical repertoire--often ballet, due to its danceable rhythm--while the music of the muzak GFB is directly lifted from the speakers of elevators around the world. An example of the former would be the pas de deux from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, while anything ever composed by Raul di Blasio fulfills the requirements of the latter. Clearly, what unites the classical and the muzak versions of the GFB is the twinkly and unobtrusively pleasant nature of the music selected.
Other important elements of the GFB include the all-important costume (the GFB dictates that the lady must skate in a flowy, pastel-colored dress, with sequins being optional) and the particular character of the program (gentle, everything very pretty-pretty). GFBs tend to have a peculiar engineering that allows them to be virtually interchangeable in their many iterations, speaking with a calm, feminine voice that soothes and assuages any fears of seeing a moment of depth or daring in a figure skating program--in other words, a pretty face without a single feature of that face ever coming into focus.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the GFB per se, nothing in it that frightens anyone away. The question with this type of skating is whether it has the heft necessary for a second viewing.
It was with these thoughts (and a dose of trepidation) that accompanied my first viewing of Mao Asada's debut of her Liebestraum long program at Japan Open last year. Upon even the swiftest perusal, Miss Asada's program clearly has all the makings of a standard GFB: the soft, pretty music, the entire mood and character of the program, even the pastel-colored dress (plus, post-Kwan Lori Nichol choreography). Suffice to say, I was none too impressed.
But wait, something happens at the 2010 Japanese National Championships. It was perhaps at that moment when I was sharply reminded of how figure skating is above all a kind of performance art that is never exactly quite the same across competitions. Indeed, Miss Asada's Liebestraum at her Nationals--with all the attendant peculiarities of emotion, aspirations, atmosphere--finally unfurled, breathed and burned off all the shadows of doubt....
Miss Asada's Liebestraum does not break new aesthetic ground, doesn't try to, and doesn't need to. For this GFB, beauty alone is sufficient.