Nov 5, 2014
Rants and Raves: Skate Canada 2014
Various rants and raves on Skate Canada 2014, in a quasi-garbled, stream-of-consciousness context. No time to edit my ramblings this week.
1) Satoko Miyahara's Miss Saigon LP: THE performance of the competition. I have been obsessed with Miss Saigon ever since I first watched Ms. Miyahara perform the program at the Japan Open, and it thrills me that she was able to perform it so well at Skate Canada. Tom Dickson yet again demonstrates how he is the best choreographer in the world by crafting yet another masterpiece program that brings out the best qualities in the skater. But credit here must be given Ms. Miyahara herself as well. In many ways, she is the complete opposite of the other pint-sized ladies skater who has been tearing up the ranks lately: Elena Radionova. At first glance, they share some similarities--small stature, youth, questionable smallish jumps--but to me, they are diametric opposites. Where Ms. Radionova is sloppy, extroverted, and all but cartwheels onto the ice, Ms. Miyahara is precise, introverted, and has a sort of subtlety in her movement that is completely beyond her years. The dividing line between the two, I feel, is the very same dividing line between performer and artist (how I hate using that word--"artist"/"artistic"--in figure skating, as it is virtually meaningless, but I can't find a handy vernacular term for what I'm trying to get at). Ms. Radionova is a performer--though she has this incredible, euphoric, reckless charisma, she's not particularly musical or nuanced in her skating. I get the impression that she can skate to literally anything--even, say, her rather questionable programs this season--and turn it into a barn-burner for the audience because she is a star. Whereas Ms. Miyahara leans more towards the "artist" mode to me: her skating has a clarity of movement and deliberate fluency that speaks to a deeper understanding of the music and the idea she's trying to convey to the audience. And of course, also in contrast to Ms. Radionova, Ms. Miyahara's long program is a wonderfully cogent piece of choreography.
I want to make it clear that I don't mean to denigrate a particular style or skater--the dividing line between performer and "artist" can be blurred (e.g. Stephane Lambiel) and if it isn't obvious, I love watching both skaters and appreciate the different qualities they bring to the proverbial table. However, I do feel that Ms. Miyahara's skating more closely matches the listed criteria for Program Components Scores than Ms. Radionova's skating, even if this is not necessarily reflected in the marks they receive. I was very disappointed with the PCS Ms. Miyahara received relative to both Anna Pogorilaya and Ashley Wagner at Skate Canada, and wonder if Ms. Miyahara will forever be hobbled by her small jumps and frame in the eyes of the judges . . .
2) Hurtado/Diaz's SD: Loved their Picasso free dance last year (honestly, my #1 free dance of the entire 2010-2014 cycle), and I'm glad to see they've followed up their stellar Picasso with an excellent Paso Doble this year. Hurtado/Diaz are also a great example of why the different components of PCS should be more varied--their skating skills are definitely a significant notch below that of the top teams, but their IN, CH and PE are just superb. Yet the PCS they receive is nonetheless all clumped together in the same range. Mysteries never cease.
3) Sui/Han's Stray Cat Strut SP: Times flies indeed. It seems like only yesterday when this pairs team was infuriating purists with their choppy, off-kilter skating and I had to sheepishly justify my soft spot for this team--oh wait, actually, that's happening right now. My feelings for this team are basically the same as they were two years ago: my inner pairs purist sniffs in disdain at things like the abysmal unison of Sui/Han's side-by-side spins, while at the same time, I love watching the playful little flourishes throughout their program and the energy they exude throughout. I mean, who could resist cracking a smile at Cong Han rocking it out during the death spiral? Also, isn't it amazing how they've kept their throws so big even though their height difference has all but vaporized? It is truly a battle of heart vs. head with these two. Objectively, however, I have to admit that this was hardly anywhere near their best performance, especially since their timing was quite obviously off at the end of the SP. But very fun to watch nonetheless.
4) Takahito Mura's LP performance: Great jumps! Loved seeing his reaction in the kiss & cry, and it's always a pleasure seeing someone skate so well and seize the title against all expectations to the contrary.
5) Guy dressed in fluorescent yellow dancing around in the stands: He made me laugh.
1) The vocals in Max Aaron's Gladiator LP: If I wanted to see a narrative in a figure skating program, I want it expressed through the skater's movement on the ice, not as a voice-over.
2) Ashley Wagner's Moulin Rouge LP: I don't understand this shapeless program at all: to me, it's just a lot of setting up for jumps, awful, ear-splitting vocals, and some rather cringe-y choreography (e.g. clasping hand over heart when the vocals go "my heart is breaking" and touching her face during "my makeup is flaking"--this is why I was against allowing lyrics). I know I'm going to sound like a giant hypocrite here, but I think Ms. Wagner would've been better off skating to the over-used parts of Moulin Rouge--you know, music like El Tango de Roxanne. As last year's ill-fated Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet program demonstrated, Ms. Wagner is not a particularly subtle skater; instead, she seems to do best with straight-forwardly dramatic pieces of music like Samson and Delilah and perhaps, El Tango de Roxanne.
Interestingly, it looks like Ms. Wagner is following Carolina Kostner's example by omitting her 3Lz and going for an easier jump layout in order to become more consistent (and for Ms. Wagner in particular, fix her flutz). Unlike Ms. Kostner, however, Ms. Wagner faces a tougher field now than what Ms. Kostner faced in 2010 - 2012, so I'm not entirely sure if Ms. Wagner's use of this strategy will turn out as well as it did for Ms. Kostner.
3) Takahito Mura's Phantom of the Opera LP: By now, I'm convinced I must have done something really terrible in a past life, like running over a bus full of particularly pious monks while on my way to sell heroin to innocent schoolchildren. Nothing but a form of extreme penance could explain the skategods' decision to inflict the rash of invariably terrible Phantom of the Opera programs this season. Mr. Mura's Phantom of the Opera LP unfortunately continues the trend by indulging in all of the qualities that makes Phantom of the Opera programs so tiresome to watch: terrible music cuts (I literally counted 5 music cuts in Mr. Mura's LP alone before I stopped counting out of exasperation), and an incongruous mismatch between the overwrought music and the lack of corresponding emotional intensity on the skater's part.
4) Anna Pogorilaya's Firebird costume: KILL IT WITH FIRE. Though I mercilessly poked fun at Evan Lysacek's relatively more abstract 'burnt bird' costume, I am even less of a fan of Firebird costumes like Ms. Pogorilaya's, which are clearly adherents to the Literal School of Figure Skating Costuming.* On the bright side, her costume is perhaps a clever ploy to deflect some attention away from her stiff knees and mediocre skating skills, which can only be a plus. Surprisingly, though, Ms. Pogorilaya's Firebird long program really isn't all that bad! I can definitely discern what her choreographer is trying to get at while watching the program--what hobbles the program is Ms. Pogorilaya's utter disregard for the music and audience. She really is in need of someone to "open up her soul" like Tatiana Tarasova did to Alexei Yagudin. Working on her skating skills would also help as well.
5) Florent Amodio: By now, I think we can safely say that Mr. Amodio has become a caricature of himself. Back then, I could blame Nikolai Morozov, but perhaps the culprit has been right in front of us all along.
6) Gilles/Poirier's SD: All this pale imitation does is remind us of how brilliant, original, and utterly unreplicable Torvill/Dean's legendary Paso Doble OD is. I really don't see the point of this SD at all, except to highlight how good Torvill/Dean were. Now, I do think that Christopher Dean (the choreographer of Gilles/Poirier's SD) was an amazingly creative choreographer back in the day, but many of his programs now seem to be overly . . . "inspired" . . . by old programs he skated with Jayne Torvill back in the 80s and early 90s. What was fresh and new then, however, has already passed into middle-aged territory by now.
7) Half-loop jump combinations: Half-loop combinations have become increasingly common ever since the ISU has deigned them worthy of being counted as full-value combinations instead of sequences. Off the top of my head, I can think of six or seven skaters who used a half-loop combination at Skate Canada last weekend. All of them looked sloppy.
*however, you do get a free pass if your name is Jana Khoklova or Sergei Novitski.