Feb 8, 2014
The Red and the Pink
This post was supposed to be a recap of the team men's and pairs' short programs, but technological and temporal circumstances intervened and as a result, my first taste of Olympics figure skating basically involved me watching a blurry Russian feed that buffered every 20 seconds or so with no sound while I sat in class pretending to listen to my professor lecture. In other words, I have no idea how anyone skated aside from reading some second-hand reports. Not even Youtube could step in and save the day this time--in a typical display of Olympic spirit, a swift crackdown has purged Youtube of any relevant Olympic figure skating videos.
In lieu of a recap post and in anticipation of the upcoming ladies team short program, here are my favorite ladies' programs this season:
Mao Asada, Nocturne in E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 SP
When I first heard that Mao Asada was skating to a re-worked version of her short program from the 2006-2007 season, I inwardly groaned and braced myself for the worst. After all, Ms. Asada's old short program to this particular Chopin nocturne had been one of her finest efforts, an exquisite program that showed off Ms. Asada's finest qualities as a young ingénue in her first fully senior season on the ice. Why gild the lily--how could she possibly improve on something that was already so good? However, to paraphrase older and wiser people than I, one must not counteth thine chickens before they hatcheth. Upon actually watching Ms. Asada's reworked Nocturne at Skate America a few months ago, all my concerns melted away. Which version of Nocturne is better? It's difficult to say. Nocturne in 2006 was the perfect program for a young ingénue, full of lightness and joy--but this newer version, while still delicate and airy, has a certain wistfulness and poignancy in the choreography and performance: the Moment when Ms. Asada lifts one leg and holds her arms out at the high b-flat note, the pause in the straightline steps, the placement of the spins with the music...just beautiful. There's also a greater refinement and smoothness to Ms. Asada's skating now that adds that special something to her performance that wasn't quite there 4 years ago.
I've said it before and I'll say it again--Mao Asada was born to skate to Chopin. Chopin is perhaps the greatest ever piano composer and he particularly understood that the piano is so much more than a percussive instrument. Playing a Chopin nocturne properly on the piano requires a certain delicacy and clarity of touch that transforms the piano into something as fluid and legato as the human voice...and fortunately for us viewers, Ms. Asada's skating, above all, evinces those particular qualities.
Samantha Cesario, Carmen LP
Ladies' figure skating programs set to the music of Bizet's beloved opera Carmen are numerous in number but tend to be boringly one-dimensional. The vast majority of ladies' Carmen programs tend to only portray Carmen as the flirtatious, provocative seductress who sings so alluringly to her throngs of admirers ("L'amour est un oiseau rebelle"), or (even worse) eschew the entire character of Carmen altogether aside from some vaguely Spanish arm and hip movements...but lo and behold, a skater this season has finally *got* the other, arguably more interesting side of Carmen--the angry, dangerous, almost bestial Carmen who is described by Prosper Mérimée himself as the "veritable handmaid of Satan." The choreography of Samantha Cesario's Carmen long program is striking--those angular arm movements! That choreographic step sequence!--but what truly makes Ms. Cesario's Carmen soar is her passion and utter commitment to the choreography. As a result, Ms. Cesario's Carmen is distinctive, unforgettable, and demands the audience's attention from start to finish: arguably the best ladies' figure skating program set to Carmen in many, many years.
TL;DR: my two favorite ladies' programs this season are two that I expected very little from: a re-tread of an old program and figure skating's most-used musical warhorse. Life surprises in many ways ;)