Feb 5, 2014
Girl in Red
Some skaters succeed despite their packaging, others because of it. Until this season, I was of the opinion that the Russian wunderkind Julia Lipnitskaya fell into the former category. Prior to the debut of her current programs in fall 2013, Miss Lipnitskaya skated to Nikolai Morozov creations mostly notable for how most of the choreography was basically Miss Lipnitskaya lifting up one of her legs in an uber-flexible spiral position as a transition into her elements. The music of Miss Lipnitskaya's programs tended to be stalwarts from figure skating's most used and abused warhorses, but not that it mattered anyways--the choreography had little to do with the music and Miss Lipnitskaya skated through the programs with the precision and passion of a small robot programmed to move with utmost efficiency from point A to point B in accordance with the algorithms coded into her.
This season, however, I am convinced that Miss Lipnitskaya has fallen into the latter camp--that is, those skaters who succeed because of their packaging. Miss Lipnitskaya's new choreographer, Ilia Averbukh, in my opinion, has stealthily achieved something remarkable. Enlisted with the daunting task of choreographing programs for a young, teenaged skater whose emotional range on the ice had heretofore ranged from 'robotic' to 'stony' in a sport where competitors are given points for criteria such as "the personal and creative translation of the music to movement on ice," Mr. Averbukh has cannily repackaged Miss Lipnitskaya in a way that has magically transformed her flaws into virtues.
Take Miss Lipnitskaya's Schindler's List long program, for instance. The (admittedly valid) flaws and criticisms that have been leveled against Miss Lipnitskaya still remain--she appears juniorish, immature and built like a ten-year-old, especially in comparison to her older, more sophisticated competitors; she is not particularly expressive and does not emote well; her body language is reserved and internalized; she 'skates small.' Yet when she skates as the little girl in the red coat in Schindler's List, Miss Lipnitskaya's flaws become virtues that just work. Yes, Miss Lipnitskaya is still immature, built like a ten-year-old and skates small, but the little girl in the red coat was, well, a little girl. Miss Lipnitskaya is still blank-faced and relatively stiff at times--sometimes in sharp contrast when compared to the emotional music of Schindler's List that plays while she skates--but watching the little girl in the film wandering around in the Krakow ghetto, aimless and seemingly oblivious to the unspeakable horror and violence raging around her--I cannot contest the pairing of Miss Lipnitskaya's sombre, detached style with the character of the little girl in red. At the very least, the striking, memorable character of the little girl in red from a film helpfully lends a sort of gravitas and a whole host of emotional associations to the blank slate of Miss Lipnitskaya's skating. Others have also criticized how Miss Lipnitskaya lacks the emotional capacity to adequately express the music, does not understand the horrors of the Holocaust associated with the music of Schindler's List, and I admit that I do agree to an extent--there are certainly moments in the program in which Miss Lipnitskaya could developed her movements more, held them out so capture and communicate the nuances of the music better--but then again, was the little girl in red supposed to truly understand the full extent of the chaotic madness of the Holocaust happening around her?
I still remain skeptical of competitive figure skating programs that use the music of Schindler's List; years of watching skaters treat Schindler's List programs as a convenient opportunity to use dress up in sombre colors, use various overwrought dramatic contrivances and make overly melodramatic and agonized faces have left me generally unimpressed and wary of attempts to portray the evils of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people on ice. Figure skating, with its various fripperies and accoutrements (both sartorial and otherwise) is far from the ideal, respectful arena to explore such issues. But I admit, I've found Miss Lipnitskaya's Schindler's List strangely tolerable, even compelling, much more so than many other programs using the same music...I want to say that it's the result of my appreciation of the program as a triumph of excellent, clever packaging, but it's not just that. There's something else there, something I'm loath to admit. But whatever it is, it's working.