We need to talk about Yuko Kavaguti and Sasha Smirnov.
Specifically, their long program set to Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony this season. Where do I begin in describing this long program? If if were a painting, it would be Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa. If it were an opera, it would be the equivalent of the final act of a Wagner opera with the libretto written by Nietzsche. If it were an item of clothing, it would be a Badass Cape. You get the picture. In short, Kavaguti/Smirnov's Manfred Symphony is brooding, scary-beautiful, bombastic, terrifying, and absolutely incredible.
Firstly, Manfred Symphony is incredible because it is simply a quality program. Here, I must credit Peter Tchernyshev for the vivid, memorable choreography and Tamara Moskvina for the packaging.
But credit too must be given to Ms. Kavaguti and Mr. Smirnov themselves--the intensity and emotion they bring to the program matches the sturm und drang of the music and choreography well but it never veers into unnecessary histrionics. There's only one thing I would change about Manfred Symphony, and it is the final lift at the end when Mr. Smirnov lifts his free leg off of the ice and enters into a one-foot position. Obviously, this done as a levels feature, but the problem is that Mr. Smirnov loses all speed and momentum when he's in a one-foot position (understandably--it's really difficult to glide on one foot on a slippery surface while supporting a full-grown adult woman above your head). As a result, there's a jarring disconnect between the slow, slightly-wobbly lift and the bombastic music during that section of the program, which incongruously roars around like a symphony of incipient disaster. Nevertheless, Manfred Symphony is still a masterpiece, by far the best pairs long program this season.
However, Manfred Symphony is also incredible because it's a program from, well, Kavaguti/Smirnov. Some teams (Berezhanya/Sikharulidze; Volosozhar/Trankov) show obvious signs of greatness right at the moment of inception, while other pairs have to work long and hard to even aspire to a modicum of greatness. For quite a few years, I bemoaned the fall of Russian pairs skating in the dark period from 2006-2010 and Kavaguti/Smirnov, the leading Russian pairs team at the time, were the prime target for all my anxieties. If this blog existed during those troubled times, it would be filled with relentless criticisms of Kavaguti/Smirnov's inflated scores, Ms. Kavaguti's odd, disjointed positions and unpointed toes, their ugly, crashy triple twist, questionable program choices and choreography (remember that WTF moment when Ms. Kavaguti tore open her costume in a pale imitation of Artur Dmitriev during their 2009-2010 long program to reveal a sparkly red heart on her chest?), and rant-filled posts questioning why the great Tamara Moskvina was wasting her time and talent with the unworthy Kavaguti/Smirnov. But the earth turns, and after the 2010 Olympics came injuries, improved elements, much lower scores, Volosozhar/Trankov, and, most surprisingly of all, Clair de Lune and February, both perfectly lovely and underrated programs. One great program can be written off as a happy accident, while two could still be construed as luck. But three . . . three great programs is starting to look like genius.
And though I'd never thought I'd ever think (much less type!) these words, I sincerely hope that Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov will be World Champions this season with Manfred Symphony. A program like that deserves nothing less.