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May 7, 2011

Oh Lori

Too good to last
In the beginning...there was the golden triumvirate of Michelle Kwan, Frank Carroll and Lori Nichol. In this potent trio combined a skater with an insane amount of talent and work ethic with a coach and a choreographer that possessed the strength of vision and creativity to do something about it.

It was the stuff of dreams. It was skating's version of Fonteyn and Nureyev, of champagne and caviar. Season after season, the triumvirate consistently produced programs that quickly ascended to iconic status in figure skating:

What is so good about Ms. Nichol's programs for Michelle Kwan during this period is not only the depth of nuance and thought put into the choreography, but that the choices of music used were also absolutely superb. Music is of utmost importance when it comes to figure skating. Simply put, music is ideally the raison d'être of the figure skating program, the medium through which movement of the body on the ice should flow. Of course, given the dreck that is the typical figure skating program, this is quite often not the case in practice, but there are exceptions, and when music and motion are blended together into a perfect whole, what results is no longer simply the beautiful, but the sublime. Ms. Nichol's choreography during her Kwan era is so amazing not simply because it achieves the sublime, but that it consistently did so by using music that is relatively obscure (my inner music snob is particularly swooning at the use of Rachmaninoff's Trio élégiaque in D minor). There is a reason why so many of the figure skating 'warhorses' are such popular pieces of music even outside of figure skating: they are loud, impressive and undemanding. But at some point using such warhorses can become a crutch, an easy way out. By eschewing more popular pieces of music for selections that were not only more obscure but arguably more difficult to skate to, Ms. Nichol was able to create programs that were wonderful explorations of the unexpected.

In fact, Ms. Kwan's repertoire of programs became so good overall that the skategods became jealous, for soon came the Kwanocalypse. Life went on as it is wont to do, but nothing was ever quite the same after the triumvirate fell apart. Michelle Kwan won a couple more world titles, but she was skating to lesser programs like Bolero. Frank Carroll finally coached a student to Olympic gold, but it was Evan Lysacek. Lori Nichol became one of the sport's most sought-after choreographers, but the majority of her programs have been characterized by a distinct lack of imagination and effort, qualities that have particularly intensified under CoP. A few examples should suffice:

It's clear that Ms. Nichol is still suffering from the aftereffects of the Kwanocalypse, or she just doesn't care anymore. It's not only the frequent use of warhorses, but seemingly also the sheer lack of effort on her part. A good choreographer should work with and around the limitations of a skater's body to present them in the best light possible. This is possible under CoP, even with its asinine rules--David Wilson, for example, has done very well with Yu-Na Kim's lack of flexibility in her programs. This has not exactly been the case with Ms. Nichol in the recent years. The case of Evan Lysacek is instructive: Mr. Lysacek's Opilione-esque limbs have the potential to create some very interesting and unique lines. Yet all he does is flail his limbs, and flail them a lot. Those leg kicks and head-tosses don't help either. It's obvious that Mr. Lysacek will never have the musicality of Michelle Kwan, but surely it's not unreasonable to expect a choreographer to prevent Mr. Lysacek from looking like an insect that's been sprayed with copious amounts of Raid? (For that matter, why didn't Mr. Carroll do anything about this? He never would have allowed Michelle Kwan to flail.)  Such choreography may rack up the points, but it makes Mr. Lysacek's skating painful to watch.

Then there is also the blatant recycling. Exhibit A: Kimmie Meissner's 2007 long program to Galicia Flamenco.

Exhibit B: Carolina Kostner's 2011 short program, also set to Galicia Flamenco:

O I see wat u did thar.

Once in awhile Ms. Nichol awakes from her Kwan-less stupor and produces some quality choreography (e.g. Carolina Kostner's Canon in D SP, Mao Asada's Nocturne SP) but it takes a lot more than that to make up for all those hours of deathly dull choreography inflicted on the figure skating world all these years.


  1. Yuna Kim isn't inflexible...she has the I spin and Biellmann perfectly

  2. I'd still say Miss Kim is relatively less flexible compared to some of her peers. The positions on her I-spin and Biellmann are OK but they can be improved. But my point is, her programs are GOOD precisely because they are choreographed well enough to minimize attention on her weaknesses and highlight her strengths instead...the fact that many people don't even notice her relative lack of flexibility, I would think, is a perfect case in point.

  3. Yu-Na isn't inflexible, she just lacks extension and it hurts her lines. I mean, Michelle wasn't a gumby skater at all; however, her positions were well-extended with turned out feet/toes and that equaled gorgeous lines. Yu-Na has cement feet IMO. Her feet always look very heavy. Her upper body lines are glorious but her legs always look heavy and a bit clunky to me.

    The position of her I-spin leaves a lot to be desired. The bent free leg, the hunched's not that pretty. There are only a handful of skaters (not counting Sasha who, if nothing else, could nail an I-spin better than anyone) who do that I-spin decently and it's mostly determined by how the skater grips the free leg. Unfortnately, Miss Kim isn't one of them...

    One visible improvement in Yu-Na's skating is her Bielmann. It's better now but it's still not better than a lot of others...

    On topic here, good post about Lori. She has made some good and/or decent programs since Michelle, but nothing that reaches iconic masterpiece status. But one thing you noted that I hadn't realized until now was the music selections she goes for. Rather than branching out down far less traveled paths, she sticks to the main roads. I'd love to see another Red Violin-esque program from Lori. My goodness, that was ART!

  4. As I watched Michelle, Frank and Lori over the years weave their magic, I was astonished that they could come up with such art - and I do think that they all inspired each other, and as they realized what they were creating, it pushed them even higher. Whatever happened between Lori and Michelle, it was pretty sad.... Lori lost her Moxie completely, went dry, and did little more than hack recycling of old stuff. Michelle's injuries were soon to follow. I can't say enough about the Kwan - there will never be another, and I'm just glad to have lived in the days of video, and the great FS coverage of the 90s.

  5. Yu-Na Kim has very little flexibility, which is strongly related with extension. If you are not very flexible, you don't have extension.

    If you notice, her I-spin is done with the skating leg flexed or slighted flexed and the spin is slow, compared to other spins she does, I guess we can even count her revolutions without using slow-mo. But, her Biellmann is pretty good actually, she can improve in doing the spin with more speed.

    Yu-Na should take ballet lessons, because like Anon (May 9) said, her feet always look heavy, she needs to point her toes and yes she is elegant, but has to improve her posture a little bit more.

    But she is very talented and has awesome jumps, probably one of the best jumpers in Figure Skating history so far, but my question will always be, why Yu-Na fans doesn't recognize her weaknesses?

  6. Btw, we miss the old good days of Lori, now we have Evan Lysacek recycled choreographies.

    What she used to do for M. Kwan, was true an pure art.