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Feb 2, 2011

The Shiver Test

When faced with the choice of dispensing a large amount of money on something very expensive but not terribly practical, a simple test is all that is needed to decide whether to part with my ill-gotten cash: I ask myself Hemingway's question from For Whom the Bell Tolls: "But did thee feel the earth move?" Small but discernable tremors, enough to raise goosebumps? By all means, spend that ill-gotten cash. Everything still unruffled and in place? Walk away and indulge in superfluous consumerism elsewhere.

The same test applies to figure skating: does a program make you shiver the first time you watch it?

Such moments are few and far in between even in the highest echelons of the sport, and consequently a single such program is usually enough to ensure my fannish loyalty to said skater (well, at least for a few seasons or so). What programs have passed the shiver test? Of course, there was the reckless brilliance of Stephane Lambiel's Poeta at Worlds in 2007. Then there was also the limpid sensuality of Lu Chen in 1998 even with the decline of her technical skills.

Another skater who comes to mind here is Jonathan Cassar, one of the greatest among the ranks of those who have virtually zero chance of ever making it to the world team. In an era where programs transparently grind out points by relentlessly cramming in steps and turns and transitions in order to satisfy CoP's misguided favoring of complexity over quality, it is a rare pleasure to watch programs where all the elements are of high quality, beautifully put together without any pretense and simply intended to be melodiously, quietly, radiantly good. Case in point: Mr. Cassar's Schindler's List long program last year, a program that he's kept for this season:

Watching Mr. Cassar's program following a string of typical CoP programs is like eating a simple dish of ratatouille, prepared traditionally, after working your way through the whole kit and caboodle of El Bulli and its ilk with their foams and bizarrely complex textures. Indeed, watch how Mr. Cassar opens his program with a step sequence (so rare in skating today) that is perfectly matched to the music, how unhurried and well-paced everything is, the way he takes time to interpret and feel every note of the music, how his transitions actually meld with the program and don't break up his flow, the lack of flailing and other forms of extraneous upper-body movement. And of course, those magnificent spread eagles, the best in the world today. If Mr. Cassar had a triple axel and triple-triple combinations, both international and national judges would give him through-the-roof PCS. With all that said, perhaps the best way of describing Mr. Cassar's skating is to compare it with Maurice Ravel's Pavane pour une infante défunte: blending elements together the way Ravel blends all his pointillist notes into a seamless wall of sound, creating a loveliness that is more than the sum of its parts.  

As of now, Mr. Cassar's programs at US Nationals this year are unfortunately not on Youtube, which is a pity as, by all accounts, he performed a very fine long program. Reader, if you have Mr. Cassar's programs from US Nationals this year, please share them with the world and upload the videos on Youtube. To paraphrase Andre Leon Talley, there is a famine of beauty in figure skating today--do your part and help remedy it! 


  1. A part of me wishes that Jonathan had the triple-triples and triple axels, but just seeing his quality of movement, gorgeous interpretation, and rejection of CoP norms (not to mention the spread eagles. They're even more fabulous when they aren't done to the climax of the music--see PChan, everyone else) is certainly enough. Still, it's a sad world that has him skating in the first group at Nationals because of his jumps. Thank you so much for this post!

  2. This is a splendid program,be so profound and shakes my heart. Thank you!
    And it is the performance which a skater like Takahiko Kozuka should aim to.
    A sense of unity with the spectator is not caused only to lavish a kiss and a smile on them.
    The impressive,emortional performance is not only using showy music and intense dance composition.
    As for Kozuka, he needs a story to tell. With beautiful skating and technic, what dose he tell?

  3. Anon at 1:45AM: The fact that a skater like Cassar is relegated to the early groups at Nationals because of his jumps (or lack thereof), as well as the two-thirds of the men's Olympic podium in Vancouver and Kwan's lack of an Olympic gold, is ample proof enough that there is no justice in the world. Alas!

    Anon at 12:44 AM: that's a very interesting point about Cassar and Kozuka, and quite a good one, I think. Cassar is not showy or loud but he skates with a real depth of feeling and emotion that Kozuka does not have at this point. I cannot quite imagine Kozuka going down the glitterpunk route like Takahashi, but something like Cassar? Definitely closer to the mark for Kozuka.

  4. Apparently this performance made Joe Inman cry, like Michelle Kwan's Lyra Angelica.