Dec 4, 2014
Be Still My Heart
Man, this is getting embarrassing.
My feelings towards Yuzuru Hanyu's skating is increasingly starting to resemble a love life far more exciting than my own. In 2011, I waxed lyrical about Mr. Hanyu through various infatuated paeans dedicated to his utter perfection. Of course, all that came crashing down by the fall of 2012 through to the summer of 2014, when I disavowed any preferences for Mr. Hanyu's skating and even likened the whole shebang to a divorce. As the various hyperlinks posted above demonstrate, the trajectory of this roller-coaster state of affairs is all messily documented online on this very blog. Ah, Internet, my outlet for catharsis.
But enter fall 2014. It is announced that Mr. Hanyu is going to skate to Chopin's Ballade No. 1 for his short program. Of course, I turn up my nose in disdain, brace myself for the butchery of my second-favorite piece of music ever and watch Mao Asada's Ballade exhibition instead for comfort. Then I hear the choreographer will be Jeffrey Buttle, whom I adore and obviously "gets" Mr. Hanyu's style far more than David Wilson. My nose lowers by approximately 15 degrees but remains not quite level.
Then I actually watch the program, and am stunned to silence.
What I love about Mr. Hanyu's Ballade is that at appropriate points, the choreography takes time to breathe and use empty space in a way that reflects the calmer passages of the music, which really creates a real moment for the audience. Thankfully, the choreography saves most of the IJS-mandated clutter for the finger-breaking octaves, arpeggios and the rather more bravura sections of the Ballade. And perhaps best of all, the original iteration of the short program had a spread eagle-triple axel-spread eagle as the first jumping pass. Astute readers may be aware that my favorite element is a triple axel out of a spread eagle, so of course I was floored after seeing it for the first time. If I am not mistaken, this is the first triple axel version of Peggy Fleming's signature move, and Mr. Hanyu's version is just as beautiful and jaw-dropping as its predecessor over forty years ago.*
Some may scoff and point out that this is all a well-trod narrative that has devolved into cliché. After all, how many times have we seen this before--boy skater chooses properly classical piece of music (often piano) and skates to a program of solemn probity, thereby demonstrating that he has evolved into a higher life form: a Polished, Mature, and Artistic Man. And indeed, this Ballade short program does signify a departure from the heady recklessness and ecstasy of adolescent emotions that had enthralled in Mr. Hanyu's Romeo and Juliet 1.0. But watch Ballade again, and you realize that there's a certain quality and clarity of vision that is apparent through the music cuts, choreography, and performance, all of which come together in a superlative whole that justifies the existence of the cliché.
Readers, I am officially on the rebound.
*Unfortunately, the NHK version of the program shuffles a few things around and the spread eagle-triple axel-spread eagle has been removed, but the program is nonetheless still a pleasure to watch.