A major problem of using so-called warhorse music in figure skating is that we simply know it too well. Unsurprisingly, the relentless recycling of classics such as Carmen, Swan Lake, and Romeo and Juliet season after season brings on a litany of complaints, endless (often unfavorable) comparisons to past performances and the feeling of a certain dearth of creativity in the sport. Common sense appears to dictate that it is much wiser to dazzle with the bells and whistles of innovation, but novelty has its risks, with great potential to wear off quickly and--not least of all--is quite difficult to produce on command under the constraints of CoP. What results is that many figure skaters and their choreographers appear to aim for a combination of the two: reinterpreting a classic piece and making it better combines both the joy of something new together with the evocative emotions of the old.
At least, there goes that line of thinking in theory. In reality, however, what happens most of the time is that the endless recycling of warhorses produces programs so deriative and so utterly devoid of imagination in both choreography and execution such that a bleak, terrible sort of perfection is most unfortunately achieved. Bloodless choreography is excruciating, but all the more so when set to music repeated ad nauseum season after season. Exhibit A: Evan Lysacek. The man's musical repertoire reads like a CD of figure skating's most clichéd music: Tosca, Scheherazade, Carmen, Rhapsody in Blue, Romeo and Juliet, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2...yet none of his programs have any discernable character, personality or shape. They could all have been performed by any skater, and the choreography is virtually interchangeable. Let us first examine his world title-winning long program from 2009, Rhapsody in Blue:
Then, watch his long program from the 2010 GPF, set to Scheherazade:
Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is a fun, jazzy piece, while Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade is an entirely different creature altogether, a sweeping work of Romantic orientalist music. Yet from the choreography and the way Mr. Lysacek performs the programs, who can tell the difference? Try the time-honored test of watching the programs with the sound muted. I will concede that Mr. Lysacek strokes himself a lot more in Scheherazade--which may or may not fit the music more, take your pick--but if most of Mr. Lysacek's other movements had any relationship to the music at all, they are like fourth cousins twice removed on the mother's side. Case in point: 3:37 of the Scheherazade video. There could have been A Moment if Mr. Lysacek had done something during the grand, arching crescendo--a spread eagle, an ina bauer, or even something as simple as raising his arms high over his head to the music--but he just skates right through it. Typical.
On the other hand, however, recycling a warhorse can work, creating a program that is somehow instantly known but still strangely fresh. Sasha Cohen is perhaps the best example in this regard. Her figure skating repertoire rivals Mr. Lysacek’s in terms of sheer unoriginality when it comes to music selection, but Ms. Cohen firmly stamps her mark on many of the warhorses she uses and breathes some new life into tired old forms. Look at it this way: when one thinks of Dark Eyes, Rota's Romeo and Juliet and Malaguena in figure skating, which figure skater often comes up as the reference point? Ms. Cohen, and for good reason. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how Ms. Cohen makes such music her own--is it the flexibility? The way she sometimes attacks her programs as if she was ready to murder someone? The way her choreography and performances appears to be actually cognizant of the music playing? I don't know--but if every skater skated to their warhorses à la Ms. Cohen, I suspect that we would have much fewer complaints whenever yet another skater announces that they are skating to Carmen.
(I have a strange sentimental attachment to this long program. Much like when George Bush stared into Vladimir Putin's eyes, this was the moment when I--watching Ms. Cohen's scared-doe expression, the way her legs crumpled beneath her along with her Olympic hopes in the first two jumping passes, the vulnerability of the way she skated--somehow realized that Ms. Cohen had a soul. End non sequitur.)