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Oct 27, 2014

Skate America 2014: Men's LP

Keeping with the general theme of the men's discipline over the past few seasons, the men's competition at Skate America 2014 veered into splatfast territory, particularly during the long program. Luckily for the (mostly) hapless men of Skate America, they have the excuse of skating early in the season. Better luck next outing!

Tatsuki Machida of Japan skated a very strong competition and continued the time-honored tradition of a Japanese man winning Skate America when he placed first this weekend with a commanding lead of over thirty points. It was great seeing someone step up and skate two strong performances so early in the season, but I personally am extremely conflicted about Mr. Machida's Beethoven long program. Garbed in the requisite low-cut dark blue shirt* and an impressive bouffant as if in tribute to good ol'Ludwig himself, Mr. Machida skated his long program to various cuts from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I want to commend Mr. Machida for choosing a piece of music as daunting as Beethoven's Ninth to skate to--the music is glorious, majestic, sublime, nuanced, technically demanding, and just generally EPIC. However, it is not easy music to skate to, as evidenced by its status as a non-warhorse. Mr. Machida's program unfortunately highlights how difficult it is to skate to Beethoven's Ninth: watching his performance at Skate America, it certainly felt that the music was overwhelming him, particularly during the choral parts from the Ninth's last movement. If you're going to skate to the bombastic, overwhelming finale with all its cries for BROTHERHOOD, HUMANITY, JOY, DESTINY and VICTORY you have to, to roughly paraphrase Dick Button, skate with a power, command and emotion that reaches the 100th row of the arena. This doesn't mean flinging one's arms about or frenzied face-stroking--instead, think Michelle Kwan in Tosca at the 2004 US Nationals. As of now, Mr. Machida is not quite that sort of skater, though he is clearly trying to be . . . admittedly, I do have a feeling that the program may gel more later in the season.

That said, however, there were some moments I enjoyed in the program--I liked the entrance into the final 3Lz, for instance and the placement of the spiral, for instance. But I don't think the program, as of now, really works as a cohesive vehicle overall.

Jason Brown placed second, with a distant score of 234.17. I must say, I am extremely disappointed that Mr. Brown is skating to Maxime Rodriguez's Tristan & Iseult with its plodding Dies Irae sections and baleful fiddling when he could be skating to Wagner's far superior Tristan und Isolde. It's like choosing to drink Yellowtail when you could be drinking Château Latour--you could, but why on earth would you do that? Assorted grumblings about the music aside, I really don't think this program does Mr. Brown's considerable talents as a skater justice. Mr. Brown does these very interesting transitions throughout his program, but a lot of the time, they don't appear to be particularly integrated into the music and they just seem to be there to boost the Transitions mark and get that "difficult entry" bulletpoint for jump GOE scores. I also felt this way while watching Mr. Brown's immensely popular Riverdance program, so this isn't an issue confined to Tristan & Iseult. I want to make it clear that I'm not against transitions per se, but I would prefer that they serve a higher purpose in the program beyond just being there--highlight a particular moment in the music, for instance, or help create some sort of mood. For a good example of transitions used in these ways, see Mr. Brown's Turandot long program from 2011 or Alexander Johnson's Eleanor Rigby from 2013.

In sum, Mr. Brown is an immensely talented skater and I am a fan--but I'm afraid both his programs this year don't really do anything for me.

Nam Nguyen placed third overall courtesy of a second-place long program that made up for a seventh-place short. Rather amusingly, Mr. Nguyen reminds me of a hapless classmate I had in high school, but I'll try not to hold it against him. Anyway, for someone who seemed to have grown two or three feet since last year, the fact that Mr. Nguyen nailed his jumps here was very impressive, especially as he is still undoubtedly adjusting to his newfound height. Yes, Mr. Nguyen's jumps are rather small compared to the jumps of the top men, but he's still quite young and has time to get more height and power when he finishes adjusting to his body. Ditto for his skating skills (or lack thereof). Time will hopefully also help when it comes to interpreting the music and portraying a character on the ice, because I for one felt more than a smidgen of second-hand embarrassment when he did that posing/yawning/head-scratching bit after his step sequence.

Denis Ten placed fourth after skating two rather messy performances. Unfortunately, Mr. Ten's career increasingly reminds me of Shizuka Arakawa's: basically disastrous except for one Olympics and one World Championships--which, coincidentally, happen to be the two biggest events in figure skating. Hopefully this will not be Mr. Ten's fate, but the litany of injuries and illnesses that have befallen him seem to indicate otherwise. Anyway, Mr. Ten's long program performance was something of a mid-level disaster, with nearly every single jumping pass botched in some way, labored spins, and minimal engagement with the music and audience until the last minute of the program. Luckily for him, his components scores were fairly generous for his abysmal performance (must thank that Olympic bronze). It's a pity Mr. Ten was not able to skate better at this competition, because the last minute of the program--when Mr. Ten finally seemed to perk up--really showed the potential this program has.

Jeremy Abbott skated a rather disastrous long program to place fifth overall in typical Abbott fashion. Many fans expressed their dismay after Mr. Abbott finished skating, but to the hardened fan/observer unswayed by the invariable "this season is going to be different" pep talk by Mr. Abbott that seemingly precedes every new season, this was hardly a surprise. The less we talk about the jumps, the better, so let's discuss Adagio for Strings as a program. Along the spectrum of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings figure skating programs with, say, Alena Lenova's rendition on one end and Matt Savoie's rendition on the opposite end, I'd have to say that Mr. Abbott's falls somewhere in the middle, though much closer to Mr. Savoie's program than it is to Ms. Leonova's. Mr. Abbott's Adagio for Strings not a bad program in the least and is among the strongest programs we've seen at Skate America this year (and it's certainly better than some of the other men's programs that were inexplicably placed higher in PCS), but as of now, it hasn't completely convinced me yet. At least some of the blame, I feel, is the fault of IJS, which--like nature--abhors a vacuum. The problem here is that Adagio for Strings, to me, works best with relatively uncluttered skating and simple stroking while the IJS requirements tend to demand more movement. But if I am perfectly honest, I admit I would also like Mr. Abbott's Adagio for Strings a whole lot more if I had never encountered Matt Savoie's Adagio for Strings before. But I have indeed watched Mr. Savoie's program, and every other Adagio for Strings program pales in comparison before it.

*Is it just me, or do men's costumes in classical programs generally seem confined to low-cut shirts in sombre colors and floofy, looser-cut blousons in lighter colors?


  1. I have the same feeling about Machida's LP. Beethoven is not suitable for balletic skaters in my opinion. And his movements after the 3A3T combo have little to do with music. I think the fault also lies in the choreography. His SP is overdramatic already I did expect him to tone it down a bit for more balance but it seems he just simply loves drama. I can't enjoy his LP performance at all.

  2. Picking up on Hakkai's comment that Beethoven is not suitable for balletic skaters - maybe that's why I actually liked Joubert's take on this music better. Really, I did. It was an underrated program from him.