Nov 30, 2015
Stuff I Like: Grand Prix 2015 (Part I)
If one were to choose one word that would be the least descriptive adjective used to describe the 2014-2015 Grand Prix of Figure Skating, it would be 'predictable.' Indeed, from the unprecedented cancellation of Trophee Eric Bompard to the veritable horde of skaters on some sort of a comeback campaign, a good number of preconceptions about the Grand Prix prior to this season have undoubtedly turned out to be laughably wrong (including mine, of course). But unpredictable as it has been, the Grand Prix has definitely not been bereft of memorable performances. Here are my favorite performances from the ladies' and the men's disciplines from this Grand Prix season:
10) Maxim Kovtun, Trophée Éric Bompard SP (I Can't Dance)
No, that was not a typo. Yes, Maxim Kovtun is on a top-10 list that isn't "top 10 most hideous jump entries" or something of that bent. But his choice of Genesis' I Can't Dance for his SP this season suggests that he either has a superbly clever sense of humor, or absolutely none at all. Even if the correct answer is the latter, I must say that watching the Russian broadcast of Mr. Kovtun's SP at Trophée Éric Bompard with the venerable Tatiana Tarasova "commentating" in the background was A+++ comedy gold and that alone propels Mr. Kovtun onto a spot on this esteemed list.
9) Julia Lipnitskaya, Trophée Éric Bompard SP (Can't Help Falling in Love, (You're the) Devil in Disguise)
Confession time: I've been a closeted fan of Julia Lipnitskaya since watching her Schindler's List at Skate Canada in 2013 after criticizing her skating for years. Well, since the cat's out of the bag now, I'll state for the record that her Megapolis SP last season was ace as well. And now, this Elvis Presley SP. It's a very ~different~ program not just because Ms. Lipnitskaya is looking like she's aged a decade since Sochi, but it's also the fact that the SP is a vast departure from the mournful waif programs that have seemingly made Ms. Lipnitskaya skating's closest equivalent to a Margaret Keane painting. But in truth, I suspect the reason why I find this SP so fascinating is because its theme and concept is such an ironic contrast to the struggle and determination etched on every fibre of Ms. Lipnitskaya's being every time she sets up for a jump.
8) Jason Brown, Skate America LP (The Scent of Love)
As someone who hasn't truly liked a Jason Brown program since 2011's Nessun Dorma, watching Mr. Brown's The Scent of Love LP this year at Skate America was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the performance itself was quite flawed in terms of the jumps, but the potential was there: this will be a truly mesmerizing program if it is ever performed cleanly. The moment when the strings come into the music and when Mr. Brown hits those spirals is just gorgeous in that quiet, solemn way when you enter into a beautiful, empty church for the first time as the voices of an unseen choir sing the vespers all around you. The only thing I would change is the leveled step sequence, and I would also remove/modify the exits from a number of the jumps--of course, this is unlikely in the current age of more, more, and more transitions, but this music is best matched by long, seamless, flowing edges exiting out of the jumps.
7) Satoko Miyahara, NHK Trophy SP (Firedance)
I feel that this Firedance SP is Satoko Miyahara's subtle way of rebutting all those (untrue) criticisms that her skating is childish because of the size of her jumps and her body. Anyone who still insists Ms. Miyahara's skating is childish should watch the refinement and delicacy with how Ms. Miyahara uses her arms to accentuate the music throughout Firedance, as well as the ease and flow with which she moves across the ice into steps and turns--what child can skate like that? Indeed, Firedance is undeniably adult with the fierceness and command that Ms. Miyahara displays throughout, and it's even a little sensual with that hip action and all those come-hither glances at the judges. I love how the program maintains that undercurrent of tension as it builds and builds towards its climax, as well as the mind-blowing level of detail in the choreography. Firedance is yet another excellent Tom Dickson program, and Ms. Miyahara would do very well if she asks Mr. Dickson to choreograph BOTH of her programs next season (unfortunately, Lori Nichols' Un Sospiro LP for Ms. Miyahara this season is a bit of a snooze).
6) Adelina Sotnikova, Rostelecom Cup of Russia SP (Historia de un Amor)
As the less-than-optimal Technical Elements Score shows, the jumps are not quite there. But this program isn't about the jumps, it's about those dazzling step sequences in the second half, where Adelina Sotnikova sells that footwork as if she were channeling Anjelika Krylova bringing the dazzle all the way up to the 10,000th row of the arena. It's astonishing how much Ms. Sotnikova has improved on her components since Sochi--she seemed like an entirely different person on Dancing with the Stars and it's great to see that charisma, musicality and command on the ice at long last. A few years ago, I characterized Ms. Sotnikova's skating style as angular and antiseptic, but those are not the adjectives I would use to describe her skating now. Instead, Ms. Sotnikova manages to make every moment of this SP seem hot-blooded, electrifying and most of all, alive.
5) Rika Hongo, Cup of China LP (Riverdance)
Like any warm-hearted but unfashionably geeky girl in a teen movie, Rika Hongo has finally undergone her makeover moment during this Grand Prix season. Last year, Ms. Hongo polarized the figure skating cognoscenti with her ill-fitting programs, terrible posture, rounded shoulders, and a big flutz. But after a fairy godmother in the form of Akiko Suzuki worked her magic, Ms. Hongo has emerged this season with a set of strong programs well-suited for her skating style, improved posture, and even a lutz that is sorta, kinda, sometimes on an outside edge! Admittedly, Ms. Hongo's posture and shoulders are not quite of the prima ballerina quality, but they are significantly improved and the dress she wears in her LP does a clever job at detracting attention away from that part of the upper body. But most importantly, Ms. Hongo has evidently worked hard over the summer to improve nearly all of her components and her Riverdance LP is clearly a program she identifies with and sells much better than Carmen. All in all, Ms. Hongo's performance at the Cup of China was simply delightful--nothing better than an exuberant step sequence and a scratch spin to gin up the audience at the end of a program!
4) Shoma Uno, Skate America LP (Nessun Dorma)
Yes, it's been done before: the baleful fiddling of Vanessa Mae's Nessun Dorma used in a figure skating program. But when it works, it really does work. Of all the Nessun Dorma figure skating programs out there, Shoma Uno's reminds me of Shizuka Arakawa's version the most. Just as the music of Nessun Dorma lent a sense of warmth and gravitas to Ms. Arakawa (whose skating I've otherwise found to be rather cool and distant in her competitive days), Nessun Dorma makes the diminutive Mr. Uno skate like he's ten feet tall. The sweeping music of Nessun Dorma allows Mr. Uno to show off his long, flowing edges, his innate musicality, and it perhaps even distracts one's attention away from the oft-clunky free leg off the jumps. And if nothing else, that badass cantilever Mr. Uno does during that vincero is a moment of Total Win that undoubtedly has the judges reaching for the upper range of Program Components Scores. This performance would've won Mr. Uno the gold medal at Skate America if I were judging!
3) Gracie Gold, Trophée Éric Bompard SP (El Choclo)
Gracie Gold's skating is distinguished by its speed, power, and command . . . and finally, the jumps are also in place. But what is most surprising is that this SP also shows a newfound level of nuance and finesse in Ms. Gold's interpretation as well. Just blink when Ms. Gold goes for the (f)lip and there you have it: a program that will likely bring that long-awaited ladies world medal back to the US of A.
2) Yuzuru Hanyu, NHK Trophy SP (Ballade No. 1)
Writing a top 10 Grand Prix performances list without including Yuzuru Hanyu's performances at the NHK Trophy this season is like discussing Hamlet without actually mentioning Hamlet. So here we are. The 4S sandwiched by spread eagles was astonishing, as was the intricacy of the choreography, and not to mention, the sheer speed and flow throughout the program. Moreover, the stillness and precision Mr. Hanyu conveyed with his movements was such a stunning contrast to his wild, ragged wet noodle days. And to think, when I first found out that Mr. Hanyu's intended SP jump layout for NHK included a second quad, I had scoffed and thought, "HAHAHA, fool." As it turns out, however, the fool was not Yuzuru Hanyu.
1) Yuzuru Hanyu, NHK Trophy LP (Seimei)
What superlatives can I use to describe this performance that haven't already been used? Put simply, Mr. Hanyu gave an incredible, world record-obliterating performance at NHK. Even in my slightly delirious, sleep-deprived state in the middle of the night, it was exhilarating to watch. It was also, quite plausibly, one of the greatest men's long programs ever performed. What is your favorite moment of this performance? Mine is watching how silent the audience gets as Mr. Hanyu sets up for his final 3Lz, as if the crowd was collectively holding their breath--then the roar of the audience upon its realization that Mr. Hanyu did indeed nail the final lutz. Watching this performance, I now know how Victor Hugo Morales must have felt as he watched Diego Maradona score the immortal Goal of the Century against England on that fateful day on June 22, 1986--Hanyu, en una corrida memorable, en la jugada de todos los tiempos . . . Barrilete cósmico . . . ¿de qué planeta viniste?
Coming soon: Part II, favorite ice dance and pairs programs from this season!