The pairing of Tatiana Tarasova and Mao Asada has proved to be an interesting one in all senses of the word. Indeed, the partnership between the wily Russian coach and the Japanese ingénue--though not particularly tumultuous or drama-laden even after Miss Asada switched over to Nobuo Sato for coaching--has certainly produced some extremely divisive costumes, jumping choices, packaging and programs over the past few years. Of particular interest in this post are the programs spawned from the Tarasova-Asada collaboration. It has become accepted as obvious truth that Ms. Tarasova will produce mediocre competition programs but good exhibitions for Miss Asada, but I have recently realized there is slightly more nuance to the statement than that. Instead, the quality of a Tarasova-for-Asada competition program is inversely proportional to the quality of the Tarasova-for-Asada exhibition of the same season. Simply put: the better the exhibition program, the more awful its competitive counterpart (and vice versa, etc).
Let's test out this paradox (hereafter, the Tarasadox) throughout the years of Tarasova-Asada collaboration:
The 2007-2008 season was the first year the Tarasadox came into being, as it was the initial year when the forces of Tarasova and Asada joined as one. The relationship was in its nascent form, having spawned merely one short program: Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra.
How good the exhibition is:
If we (loosely) apply Aristotle's belief that nature abhors a vacuum to the realm of figure skating, then Ms. Tarasova's non-existent exhibition for Miss Asada this season is certainly abhorrent and thus, bad. Really bad.
How bad the competition program is:
If we take the premises behind the Tarasadox (that is, the better the exhibition program, the more awful its competitive counterpart) as true, then its opposite must be true as well: the worse the exhibition program, the better its competitive counterpart. Given that the Tarasova exhibition this particular season was an abomination unto nature itself, predictably, Fantasia is arguably Ms. Tarasova's finest competitive program for Miss Asada ever, the choreography and music striking that elusive balance between grace and power to show off Miss Asada's best qualities. The footwork is a mite too long for my taste and the jumps could be spread out more evenly throughout the program, but it's certainly miles better than much of the Tarasova-for-Asada competition programs to come...especially in terms of the music choice. In an amazing feat, even the (presumably Tarasova-selected) costumes for the program were pretty as well.
Several important Tarasadox-related things happened this particular season: Ms. Tarasova formally took over as Miss Asada's coach, and Ms. Tarasova choreographed two more programs for Miss Asada: the long program Masquerade Waltz and the exhibition Por Una Cabeza.
How good the exhibition is: Flirty and fun, but not frothy in the slightest. It's not the usual ethereal-balletic-delicate fare, but a rather more spirited and energetic piece that allows Miss Asada to really engage with the audience and have quite a bit of fun. Love how the jumps are integrated with the music (especially the transitions coming out of the opening axel), as well as the sweep and snap of the ending footwork and spin. Just delightful.
How bad the competition program is: Bad. Musically, it's just not a good fit. Khachaturian's Masquerade Waltz can verge on monotony if not done properly, and to do it properly in figure skating, one more or less has to be a diva Russian ice dancer (see: Krylova, Klimova, Domnina) or at least be capable of channelling the spirit of one. It's not a style that sits well with Miss Asada's type of skating, and it most unfortunately shows. As such, Miss Asada's Masquerade Waltz LP was sort of doomed from its inception, and the thin choreography doesn't help much improve the one-note impression left by the music.
Olympic season! Additionally, with three Tarasova programs for Miss Asada, it's also a perfect year to fully test out the Tarasadox.
How good the exhibition is: Excellent, and completely done with a fan to boot. The sheer amount of detail in this program is impressive, especially as the typical exhibition program is usually composed of the tried and true formula of pop song + posing. Caprice is also a good example of how to harness the effervescent joy evident in Miss Asada's early skating in a more mature but equally enjoyable form.
How bad the competition programs are: Bad, really bad. Just as Caprice was an exhibition program as equally as good as Por una cabeza, Masquerade Waltz 2.0 and Bells of Moscow are competition programs as bad as the first Masquerade Waltz. This is quite literally the case regarding the short program as Masquerade Waltz 2.0 was merely a truncated version of its predecessor, but there are also strong parallel weaknesses between the Masquerade Waltz and Bells of Moscow long programs. Namely: the disconnect between Miss Asada and the music chosen. The heavy and overblown orchestration of Rachmaninoff's Bells of Moscow is just too much for Miss Asada and it consequently weighs down her skating by minimizing her best qualities (flow, grace, etc). This is the type of music that requires the rare intensity and power of a Yagudin, and Miss Asada is certainly no Yagudin. And the choreography is similarly as mediocre as the first Masquerade Waltz: the face slapping! The clotheline-ish nature of the elements vis-a-vis the program! Disappointing.
Miss Asada keeps Ms. Tarasova as choroegrapher but flees to the tutelage of Nobuo Sato for general coaching matters. But the Tarasadox lives on!
How good the exhibition is: Awe-inspiringly beautiful.
How bad the competition program is: Awe-inspiringly dull. As I said last year:
...Agony Tango is more of the same old, same old: a flat, shapeless tango that is not only conspiciously front-loaded but also manages to be completely devoid of the insouciance that made her previous Por una cabeza such a delight to watch. In fact, there is little indication that this is supposed to be a tango aside from some token poses. Definitely more agony than tango here.
In accordance with the Tarasadox, Agony Tango, done the same year as the incredible and exquisite Ballade, possibly Miss Asada's best program ever, is arguably the worst Tarasova program for Miss Asada by virtue of its sheer dullness. Of course, Agony Tango received nowhere near the same amount of flack as something like Bells of Moscow, but one can argue that time has been kinder to the latter. Now, Bells of Moscow is by no means a great program, but there is certainly a measure of grandness to its ambition and its oversized, heavy nature. Even ugly things can be grand if done on a large enough scale (e.g. Brutalist architecture), but Agony Tango just...meanders around to nowhere. No highlights, no connection to music. It's just there. Boring. Insubstantial. Patently, stolidly dull. As Ethel Wilson astutely put it, dullness is a misdemeanor.
How good the exhibition is: Neither good nor bad. This rather frothy, "jazz" interpretation of Chopin's Waltz No. 2, Op. 64 is not a bad program, but it certainly pales in comparison to predecessors like Ballade, Por una cabeza and Caprice. Overall, the program is decent enough but has little sense of excitement or depth of emotion.
How bad the competition program is: Neither good nor bad, rather in accordance to the Tarasadox. Scheherazade is more dynamic and is easier on the eyes than say, Agony Tango, but the good parts of the program (e.g. the step sequence) are very much hobbled by the befuddling twinkly arrangement of Scheherazade chosen by Ms. Tarasova as well as the artificial style of the arm choreography.
All evidence points towards the validity of the Tarasadox. I rest my case.