Dec 18, 2015
Various Russian Ladies' LPs: A Review (Part I)
Among the ranks of ladies figure skating today, the Russian ladies are undeniably dominating the field. What other national competition this year will feature no less than seven competitors that have won at least one of the following titles: Olympic champion, World Champion, European Champion, Grand Prix Final Champion, and World Junior Champion? In retrospect, it's incredible that Russia has this embarrassment of riches when it comes to ladies skaters. It seems like only yesterday when the Russian ladies were floundering with disasters such as Ksenia Doronina and Nina Petushkova after Irina Slutskaya retired in 2006.
However, with the spots-per-country rule in force, Russia can only send a meager three ladies to both Worlds and Europeans despite its immensely deep ladies field. If only we could take the Russian men's spots and give them to the ladies instead . . .
So, in anticipation of the bloodbath that will be the ladies competition at the upcoming Russian National Champions, let us take a look at the long programs of some of the top ladies competitors in Yekaterinburg:
In the film The Usual Suspects, the audience is subjected to over an hour of confusing, vaguely-comprehensible tedium before they are hit with a blinder of an ending that is admittedly rather cool. But is a great five minutes at the end worth sitting through over an hour of tediously meandering pablum?
That is the question that comes to mind when watching Elizaveta Tuktamysheva's long program this season. The first three and a half minutes or so of the program are a bunch of jumps and some other miscellaneous elements strung together with little heed to the underlying music or mood of the program aside from some token posing. But the last thirty seconds feature a delightful, rollicking choreographic sequence set to Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King that is irresistibly watchable.
I did not enjoy The Usual Suspects--a clever five minutes at the end is too mean a payoff for over an hour of boredom. But hey, some people actually like and laud The Usual Suspects. And the judges clearly like and laud Ms. Tuktamysheva's LP, if her PCS are any indication. So there you have it.
Do I, personally speaking, like Adelina Sotnikova's LP this season set to Lara Fabian's rendition of Je Suis Malade. No: to me, it's a much too overwrought steaming pile of melodrama set to a truly ear-splitting piece of caterwauling masquerading as music. Ugh!
But from another perspective, Adelina Sotnikova's LP undeniably is true to the character of the song she is chosen. Yes, Ms. Sotnikova's LP is hammy, histrionic, and blaringly unsubtle as a stampede of charging elephants . . . but so is Lara Fabian's rendition of Je Suis Malade. Doing a subtle, tasteful program to Je Suis Malade completely misses the point: the music demands an anguished Kaitlyn Weaver with one strap askew shaking her fists in an overhead lift as Lara Fabian wails Je Suis MALAAAAAAADE, or roughly the equivalent of such. And this, despite all the faults in the program, is what Ms. Sotnikova provides with relish. Though I would say that Je Suis Malade would overwhelm most skaters who attempt to skate to it, Ms. Sotnikova surprisingly communicates the mood and feel of the music to the audience very well. The only things I would suggest for improvement is that Ms. Sotnikova change her dress into a slip-like dress with one strap askew (like Kaitlyn Weaver's from 2011-2012), smudge some eyeliner and mascara around her eyes, and bring back the original ending pose we saw at the beginning of the season. Then my attitude towards this program will turn from grudging acknowledgement to sincere appreciation of its balls-to-the-walls campiness. Do ittttttt!
There's good cheesy, and then there's bad cheesy. Bad cheesy: Fifty Shades of Grey, Thomas Kinkade, the vast majority of pick-up lines. Good cheesy: the James Bond theme, Nicolas Cage doing his thing, Elena Radionova's skating, Titanic and its music.
Discerning the line between good cheesy and bad cheesy is fraught with the vagaries of subjectivity, taste, and snobbery, but nevertheless possible with a properly discriminatory eye. Elena Radionova's skating is cheesy, albeit in a most satisfying way. Ms. Radionova's costumes are ludicrous, her choreography is hokey, and her music cuts are just downright terrible, but Ms. Radionova all but cartwheels onto the ice and sells every single performance with megawatt charisma and conviction that has people (well, at least me) cheering even when she's dressed like an escapee from Toddlers and Tiaras and/or skating to a defiantly cheesy J.Lo mashup (sometimes both at the same time). It's defies the laws of gravity or whatever, but it works.
The film Titanic is also cheesy (and I am aware the following paragraph will likely have people scoffing at my taste forever), but in a way that is thoroughly enjoyable. Titanic is cheesy, melodramatic, and rife with eye-rolling clichés, but it's also an excellently-paced disaster movie that can be absolutely riveting at times. And the music matches the (earnestly cheesy) tone of the film exactly. As Lorrie Moore writes in her excellent review of Titanic:
The intrepid can even admire the movie's pseudo-hymn My Heart Will Go On, sung by Celine Dion, accompanied by a baleful Irish fiddle. Part folk song, part cola anthem, the song struggles valiantly to do operatic work. Its harmonic progression ascends the scale not unlike Wagner - though not really like it either. A cheesy Liebestod may not be more beautiful than a great one, but it can, given its subject and context, be truer.
So there you go. In theory, Elena Radionova + Titanic could've been perfect: a big, bold, and wonderfully indulgent program that would have been an excellent guilty pleasure (and maybe not even that guilty either!).
Instead, we have . . . what Elena Radionova is skating to this season: a shapeless, ludicrously and illogically banal program that even Ms. Radionova's megawatt charisma cannot save. The "choreography" (to use the word loosely!) is entirely divorced from the music that happens to be coincidentally playing in the background whenever Ms. Radionova is skating her LP. But then again, if said music is some horrible screechy version of My Heart Will Go On before it randomly segues into Celine Dion at the very end, having no relation to the music may not necessarily be a bad thing. Anyway, the "choreography" is basically all face and flinging arms, as if Ms. Radionova is single-handedly trying to keep a sinking ocean liner afloat. And I haven't even mentioned the dialogue yet . . . ugh. Just awful. In short, Ms. Radionova's Titanic LP is a program that's not even bad cheesy. It's just bad.
How could something that could've been so right go so horribly wrong? What have we done to incur the wrath of the gods in such a way? Oh, the humanity.
Part II of this post (featuring Evgenia Medvedeva, Julia Lipnitskaya, and Anna Pogorilaya, etc.) coming out in the near future!