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May 14, 2012

Choreograph This!

One of those things that annoy me to no end right now is when someone says something along the lines of, "Skater X deserves higher Choreography marks in PCS because his/her choreography is more difficult," or variations on such a statement. Well, crack open the proverbial rulebook and you will find that according to the official ISU gospel, 'difficulty' is actually not mentioned even once in the Choreography/Composition section of the official Program Components explanations. Choreography is defined by the ISU as "an intentional, developed, and/or original arrangement of all movements according to the principles of proportion, unity, space, pattern, structure, and phrasing"...ergo, according to the rules, how well the skater's choreographed movements communicate and express the idea and concept of a program, how creative/original the choreography is, etc., is actually what is supposed to be evaluated when we speak of the choreography mark in figure skating.

Perhaps due to the furore over transitions of late, I've noticed that there's often a conflation of the two separate concepts of difficulty/quantity of transitional movements and good choreography. Of course, having lots of complex and difficult linking movements and in-between skating should be and is rewarded--but according to the rulebook, in the Transitions and Skating Skills (e.g. mastery of one foot skating, etc) components. But having more or more difficult choreography and transitions doesn't necessarily mean it's better choreography, or even that such movements necessarily convey a purpose or are structured to match the music's phrasing and form. What people (including myself at times, to be honest) often forget especially in this era of CoP is that space, glide, and flow in a program are not always bad things--when used judiciously (i.e. in service to the music, etc), they can even be instances of good choreography. See, for example, the following programs:

Yes, both these programs are rather minimalistic especially by today's standards, but they are nonetheless examples of good choreography. There is attention to detail when warranted (e.g. arm, head, etc., movements at opportune times), the unity and purpose of the choreography is apparent, and the elements are beautifully placed within the programs in order to fully communicate the music's mood and intent to the audience. For a CoP example of good but relatively sparse choreography, look no further than:

Conversely, the following programs are good examples of how having more choreography and transitions does not necessarily equate to having good choreography and by extension, good programs:

In both these programs, we see meaningless movement for the sake of having some choreography and transitions in order to gain some points, choreographic clutter that are merely ends to themselves. In the case of Julia Lipnitskaya, for instance, there are quite a few instances in her Romeo and Juliet long program in which she pulls her leg up into hyperflexible spiral positions as transitional elements into her jumps. Yes, this is very difficult to do! But how are such movements related to the music playing at the time? How does pulling one's leg up from time to time convey the mood, the concept, the vision of Romeo and Juliet? Similarly, in Evan Lysacek's Scheherazade, we see quite a few connecting movements throughout (e.g. turn into the 3S, a brief spiral before the 3F-3T, that catchfoot thing before the 3Lz, brief shallow spread eagle after the 3Lz-3T, etc) but do many of these movements bring out the nuances in the music's phrasing and emotions? Do they fulfil a higher purpose in achieving the aesthetic pursuit of the composition as a whole? Are they really necessary in any way except to gain higher points in the Transitions score?

(The answer to all the questions posed above is no)

Sometimes, I wonder if the basic nature of CoP--i.e. the tendency to break down and evaluate programs according to their constituent parts--is fundamentally at odds with evaluating something like choreography, which I feel is best evaluated in terms of the whole (especially in terms of purpose, unity, proportion, etc). After all, as the old maxim goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.....

Of course, I just realized that this entire post is somewhat moot as the judges rarely seem to distinguish between the different components of PCS anyway. Alas!


  1. Can't see the forest for the trees. More is more is MORE! I have a hard time blaming the skaters for having all the transitions and such; naturally they do what they're told, so they can win. But I also don't know how much of a say the skaters have in things vs. how much it's the choreographer(s) and coach(es). And the judges...

  2. Holy cow, Lipnitskaya is incredibly talented. You're so right about the choreo, though. It's like she's skating and doing all these crazy spirals, but it doesn't connect with the music. I hope she'll get someone who can work with her artistically and cut out some of the unnecessary transitions. She definitely has tons of potential.