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Apr 27, 2012

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My answer to the question 'what is your favorite Michelle Kwan short program' is somewhat like my answer to the question 'what is your favorite book': I don't really have one. In truth, both answers are heavily dependent on the attendant peculiarities of emotion, mood and circumstance. In the beginning, like almost everyone else, I worshipped at the altar of Ms. Kwan's 1997-8 Rachmaninoff short program. Then the answer became East of Eden....then shifted to Spartacus...and so on. For most of the past year, I was convinced the correct answer was indeed Dream of Desdemona, but most recently, the pendulum has swung back to Romanza, Ms. Kwan's short program from her 1995-6 season.

Why Romanza, and why now? I don't know, but I suppose such is the fate of all performance art: different viewings of the exact same performance can somehow tug at one's heart in completely different ways. Right now, it's the simple beauty of Romanza's opening minute that brings tears to my eyes: the long, held-out ina bauer and spiral sequence that perfectly mirrors the sweeping, sustained notes of the program's beginning, the way the positions of the spirals change right with the shifts in the music. Note that an entire minute goes by before Ms. Kwan actually jumps her first jumping pass, and how often do we see that in this bleak world where the first two or three jumping passes are often mindlessly front-loaded at the beginning of a short program with little care paid to the music or the program's arc? After the 3Lz-2T, a layback that is perfectly choreographed to begin and end with the plucking of a guitar (or whatever that stringed instrument is), then a neat, clean 2A with a long, beautifully stretched and held-out landing edge that goes directly into the death drop and sit spin (also superbly choreographed to the moment when the guitar's plucking takes over the music). Then the music's tempo picks up, the castanets join in, right as Ms. Kwan does her footwork into the 3T, then the crisp, quick step sequence proper after, perfectly on beat and done with such speed and clean lines so unlike the lumbering step sequences currently in vogue today. Combination spin to close. All in all, incredible choreography.

But it's not just the choreography that makes Romanza sing: Ms. Kwan's performance ability goes a long way towards making this short program a masterpiece. Ms. Kwan's Salome long program from the same season receives the lion's share of attention when people cite Ms. Kwan's transformation from juniorish jumping bean to Artistic Woman, but Romanza also showcases her newfound transformation splendidly. Look, for instance, at how Ms. Kwan uses her arms and hands especially during the ina bauer and spiral sequence, the stretch and awareness of every part of her body from fingertip to toe, or how Ms. Kwan's body language shifts as the music builds from its smooth beginning to the sharper, staccato-filled end. It's mind-blowing to remember that Ms. Kwan was only fifteen at the time. In short, everything in Romanza--from the Michelle Kwan performance to the Lori Nichol choreography to the Frank Carroll technique--perfectly meshes together to produce not only one of the greatest short programs of all time, but also an excellent reminder of why figure skating is worth watching.

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