May 25, 2012
As clean as driven snow
Given the mind-wracking pressures of competition and the small margin of error when it comes to jumping, clean programs tend to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to figure skating. Indeed, a skater failing to go clean for the entire run of a program is not exactly an uncommon scenario, but it is an unfortunate one when the programs being skated to are as of superlative artistic quality as the ones listed below. Yes, a program can still be of high quality and even be utterly beguiling with mistakes on the technical elements, but the allure of a pristine performance is undeniable.
The following is a nowhere-near-exhaustive list of seven programs the neurotic, perfectionist side of me has always wanted to see clean. Perfectionism may be a good servant but a bad master, but I'd always wished that perfectionism cracked its whip just a bit harder for these programs:
7) Isabelle Duchesnay/Paul Duchesnay, Reflections
I believe the Duchesnays only performed this program competitively once, and it's a pity, because I thought the concept was very innovative and compelling despite the dance's lack of obvious emotional cues. As suggested by the program's name, the concept was that of a person looking into a mirror and pondering the reflection, the personality, the character reflected within....hence the androgyny, the identical costumes, the mirror choreography, etc. Unfortunately, Reflections was deemed too cerebral and audience-unfriendly (and not to mention, it was rather technically deficient), and so the Duchesnays dumped the program in favor of Missing II for Worlds that season, leaving us with this singular performance of Reflections at the 1991 European Championships with the bobbles and a fall at the program's close.
6) Yu-Na Kim, Homage to Korea
I confess: I find Yu-Na Kim a far more compelling skater when watching her short programs. For every single senior season Ms. Kim's competed in, I've consistently preferred her short programs over the long programs...with the exception of her unfortunately brief 2010-2011 season. Ironically, Ms. Kim's most truncated and arguably least committed season also produced what I believe is her greatest long program: Homage to Korea. Ms. Kim's sole competitive performance of Homage belied its glaring lack of mileage and polish, yet it was remarkable even with the mistakes: the hauntingly beautiful step sequence, the heart-soaring spiral sequence perfectly timed to the emotive strains of Arirang. But imagine how much more incredible Homage would be if it were skated to perfection, or at least something close to it....
5) Jamie Sale/David Pelletier, Orchid/Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2
Sale/Pelletier's Orchid seemingly possesses more than enough qualities to instantly incur my dislike: a program by the chief rivals of my favorite pair set to one of the most well-abused warhorses from the figure skating canon with a recycled romantic theme to boot. Eppur si muove...somehow, all my reservations instantly melt away after actually watching the thing. The best performance (relatively speaking) of Orchid was at the 2001 Grand Prix Final, and though the first half was a bit of a mess, it all comes together by the second half, as the choreography melds with the ebb and flow of the famous second movement of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and the famed chemistry Sale/Pelletier finally shines through with remarkable radiance and richness. But alas, Sale/Pelletier were never able to skate to Orchid cleanly, and so they reverted back to the prosaic Love Story by the time the Olympics rolled around. Unfortunate.
4) Jeremy Abbott, Exogenesis: Symphony Part Three
Yes, I do want Mr. Abbott to keep his Exogenesis long program for one more season! However, I would selfishly prefer the program as it was in the beginning of the season, with the original choreography/jump placement intact: the singular 3A as the second jumping pass, the 2A at the ending instead of the salchow, etc.
3) Lu Chen, Take Five
The flirtatious energy and sparkle in Lu Chen's Take Five was just infectious...and so were the mistakes on the jumping passes, it seems. It's sad that the sole performance of Take Five recorded for posterity resulted in such an inglorious 25th-place finish, but it's still a lovely program, unpretentious but filled with style and substance. Also, I'd give good money to see Ms. Chen's mysterious La Mer LP from the 1997 Worlds qualifying round....
2) Alexei Yagudin, Gladiator
Alexei Yagudin's Gladiator is probably my favorite of his programs, and in my opinion, one of the all-time greats. Sadly though, the Gladiator season was also one filled with injury, flawed performances, and a constant stream of defeats at the hands of Evgeni Plushenko. Yet....even with all the mistakes peppered throughout the performances of Gladiator, the program somehow just works. The excellent choreography superbly harnesses all of Mr. Yagudin's strengths--his passion, power, charisma, musicality, soul--and as a result, somehow, every gesture he makes seems transcendently laden with eternal truths: Vengeance for my family. Justice for Rome. Emperor Commodus must die. I am superior to Evgeni Plushenko.
Although there have been cleaner versions (e.g. 2000 Skate Canada, etc), my favorite performance of Gladiator remains the one at the 2000 Trophee Lalique. Not only was the performance earth-shaking in terms of emotion and passion, but it also featured some choreography that wasn't necessarily present during other cleaner performances--for instance, the striking moment when Mr. Yagudin partially lays down and slides on the ice at 4:26 of the above video. All in all, a total 6.0 moment even with the mistakes. But the same program, without the mistakes? 7.0.
1) Stephane Lambiel, Poeta
Above all, I will willingly offer up whatever bits of my soul that haven't already been bargained away in exchange for a chance to see a clean rendition of Stephane Lambiel's Poeta.