Aug 1, 2011
Miki Ando, Piano Concerto in A minor
At the crux of every critique is the question of what exactly is the subject of critique for. Even if such a question is not explicitly posed, the post facto act of dissection itself nonetheless always implies the possibility of a better (or at the very least, different) subject. This in turn springs forth the irksome issues of ideals, aesthetics, absolutes and the like. But if it is actually possible to delve into the tempest and find within it a definitive "for" in regards to figure skating programs, the answer arguably lies somewhere in a precarious balance between art and sport. Hence the distinction between the "Technical Merit" and "Artistic Impression" components under the 6.0 judging system, as well as the slightly more blurred "Technical Elements Score" and Program Components Score" categories under the CoP. We expect figure skating programs to engage the emotions and the intellect, but, at the same time, since figure skating is also a sport, a program should also be constructed to win competitions on the technical front as well.
With this is mind, Miki Ando's long program to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor presents something of a conundrum to the critic. On one hand, this long program is to be lauded for the shrewd way it has been perfectly calibrated to win competitions. As noted previously, this program is choreographed in such a way that squeezes every last point out of the CoP with minimal risk via this formula:
(1) Insert two jumping passes at the beginning
(2) Insert another two back-to-back spins right after to take up more time
(3) Do enough energy-conservative and trite posing to take up time until the halfway point of the program is reached
(4) Insert 5 back-to-back jumping passes after the halfway point to rack up those bonus points
(5) Insert trademark Morozov straightline step sequence to end
The nature of Nikolai Morozov's choreography in Piano Concerto in A minor is especially clever given the context of the ladies field during the 2010-2011 season: with Yu-Na Kim sitting out for most of the season and Mao Asada re-tooling her technique, Miss Ando's closest rivals left standing were mostly headcases (e.g. Alissa Czisny, Carolina Kostner) almost guaranteed to make a mistake or two when not suffering complete meltdowns. As such, a program that reaps the maximal amount of points with minimal risks makes, from a competitive viewpoint, perfect sense: skate clean, sit back and just watch all your competitors take themselves out of the running. Victory is the ultimate goal in sport, after all. And this strategy has indeed paid off: Miss Ando has won all but one competition she has entered in this season, and she nonetheless has managed to win the long program of the 2010 Grand Prix Final despite placing fifth overall.
Yet figure skating serves two masters, and it is in the artistic components where Piano Concerto in A Minor is conspicuously lacking. Simply put, there appears to be a complete disregard for the performance aspects of figure skating as if they were a pesky inconvenience. The music played during the program could be any music with a slower section in the middle that ends with a fast dramatic climax. Not only does the entire performance fail to do anything meaningful with the music, but the choreography on its own is also frankly subpar. Further compounding the situation is the fact that Miss Ando sleepwalks through her program like an automaton, her limbs moving into the various prearranged positions with the conviction of a well-trained recruit with a good stopwatch. Nonetheless, however, the main issue here is not that Miss Ando lacks finesse or expression, but that there is no cohesive attempt to convey a concept, very little connection between the choreography and the music and even less connection between the skater and the audience. Instead, the program is above all else a precision machine designed to grind out points. And grind out points it does.
That Miss Ando would skate a program whose sole raison d'etre is to win competitions is not unreasonable. Miss Ando is, after all, a competitive figure skater and Piano Concerto in A minor has allowed Miss Ando to win a considerable number of titles and propelled her to the top of the figure skating pecking order. It is an entirely logical choice for Miss Ando to skate such a program. But that does not make Piano Concerto in A minor an enjoyable program to watch, and it is certainly not a reason to love or remember it.