Jun 5, 2016
Through a Glass Clearly
Describing what a skater does in a program--the elements, the transitions, the turns, and so on--is one thing. On this front, there is so much to say about Papadakis/Cizeron's free dance this year. Take the lifts, for example. In a blatant repudiation of the current trend towards acrobatic dance lifts that are all but accompanied by a TA-DA!!!!! sound effect no matter what mood the music is trying to convey, Papadakis/Cizeron's lifts in this program for the most part stay low, subtle, and are seamlessly incorporated into the program in a way that suggests that the elements are in service to the overall choreography instead of the other way around. But the lifts are in no way easy despite the obvious lack of Ms. Papadakis being thrown around like a rag doll--look at Mr. Cizeron's low positions throughout the first two lifts, for example, or the way Ms. Papadakis smoothly moves through her positions to the beat of the music. Or I could go on and on about how To Build a Home perfectly displays Papadakis/Cizeron's skating skills, their speed, their ease on difficult turns and steps, their astounding ice coverage throughout. Like no other competitive program I've seen before, Papadakis/Cizeron's To Build a Home is the skating equivalent of a Brancusi: an ideally-proportioned, deceptively simple wonder comprised of smooth effortless elements flowing together to create a beautiful whole.
Describing what skaters do in a program is easy. Delving into how a program works, however, is a completely different story. Delving into how a program works often requires requires treading into the maddeningly vague and irrational territory of emotional experience. But one must tread into such territory, for criticism that focuses on merely the descriptive instead of also the interpretative is incomplete in a medium that so often depends on evoking some degree of emotion in the audience. But given that what moves one to experience emotion is just about the most personal and subjective thing ever, what can I say that adequately captures what To Build a Home makes me feel?
I could describe what it was like to watch To Build a Home live in Boston. There is such a gorgeous diaphanous texture to Papadakis/Cizeron's skating, a beautiful expressive lightness that makes it difficult to countenance the fact that Papadakis/Cizeron are skating in the same competition as everyone else.* That expressive lightness combines with the music and gorgeous choreography to create an experience for the audience that seems so genuinely attuned to the intangibles hovering above the doldrums of quotidian existence. I remember exhaling for a long moment at the conclusion of Papadakis/Cizeron's performance in Boston, not realizing that I'd been holding my breath for a significant part of the performance. I remember being dazedly surprised that four minutes had passed. I remember certain members of the rather partisan pro-USA audience members around me talking in hushed tones about how beautifully Papadakis/Cizeron skated. I also remember going back to the hotel after the medal ceremony and re-watching Papadakis/Cizeron's performance approximately 60 more times.
But perhaps all I need to say is this: if you asked me before this season what my favorite free dance of all time was, Klimova/Ponomarenko's Bach free dance from the 1992 Olympics would have been the answer. But for now, my answer to that question is Papadakis/Cizeron's To Build a Home.
*Here, I have a confession to make. While I liked and appreciated Papadakis/Cizeron's skating prior to watching them live in Boston, I did not always understand the point difference between Papadakis/Cizeron and other teams, particularly when Papadakis/Cizeron made mistakes (e.g. at 2015 Worlds). But now I understand all after watching Papadakis/Cizeron live: their skating skills--flow, movement, and glide--and on-ice presence is just simply a cut above everyone else's, a fact that may not be quite so apparent on screen.