Irrelevant Information

Aug 16, 2017

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Since news of skaters' music choices for the upcoming Olympic season has started to hit the presses, the prevalent theme of such music choices has not quite been La La Land to the extent I'd expected, but rather recycling--that is, re-using previously-done programs and/or music. For example, off the top of my head:
  • Yuzuru Hanyu is re-using his Chopin's Ballade No. 1 SP and Seimei LP*
  • Duhamel/Radford are recycling their old Muse LP
  • Shoma Uno is returning to his Turandot LP
  • Mirai Nagasu is re-using her Chopin's Nocturne No. 20 in C Sharp Minor SP
  • Elena Radionova is repurposing her Porgy and Bess SP
  • Ashley Wagner is recycling her Hip Hip Chin Chin SP
  • Polina Tsurskaya is re-using her Light of the Seven SP
  • Alina Zagitova is returning to her Don Quixote LP
  • Javier Fernandez is reusing Chaplin music for one of his programs,
  • . . . and so on. 
In other words, typical Olympic season.

As noted previously, skaters generally eschew avant-garde artistic concepts or groundbreaking music choices during the Olympic season. The stakes are just too high, given that the chance for a coveted Olympic spot--much less an Olympic medal!--inconveniently only comes around once every four years. Moreover, the temptation to return to a previously-successful music choice is understandably quite strong in light of the rather conservative figure skating judging establishment, which seemingly never tires of yet another Carmen or Phantom of the Opera program.

Ideally, I--as someone who tends to watch more figure skating than the average, mouth-breathing Olympics-only viewer--would prefer to see two new figure skating programs every season, but on a practical level, I understand that the risk-reward calculus often tips skaters towards choosing to recycle an old program or revisiting old themes during the Olympic season. Moreover, when it's the Olympic season, it's understandable that skaters would want to skate to a past favorite program--particularly one they adore and are proud of--during the once-every-four-years event when the world suddenly remembers that figure skating exists.

Also, though I used to adopt a more stridently anti-recycling stance, I find myself more sanguine about this issue after an embarrassing moment in the past when I mocked a skater for re-using old programs, then found out how that skater had financial issues that prevented him from using new choreography as much as he'd like.

Anyway, in the spirit of the upcoming season's recycling fervor, let's take a trip down memory lane and reminiscence about some particularly notable instances of Olympic-season recycling:

Shizuka Arakawa
Shizuka Arakawa famously re-used the music of Turandot for her 2006 Olympics LP after winning her first and only world title with the same music in 2004. Admittedly, the 2004 and 2006 Turandots were quite different in terms of choreography--the former was choreographed in accordance with the 6.0 system, while the latter was choreographed in accordance with IJS demands and Morozovian principles--but I've always felt that Ms. Arakawa's re-use of Turandot was an excellent choice.  Ms. Arakawa tended to be a rather cool, distant skater but Puccini's lush music gave her skating warmth and a regal, queenly quality. Unfortunately, Ms. Arakawa's 2006 Turandot was choreographically inferior to the 2004 version--that step sequence to the climax of Nessun Dorma just dragged on forever where the spirals and spread eagles soared in 2004--but the judges and the audiences loved it anyway.

Oksana Baiul
Oksana Baiul's sole long program during her two seasons of competitive skating at the senior level was a medley of Broadway showtunes that catapulted her to Europeans, Worlds, and Olympics glory. Unfettered by the technical requirements that would give other skaters pause, Ms. Baiul's showtunes long program lacked complex choreography, proper footwork, and even jump combinations. But it was ok, the judges said, because Ms. Baiul's two-footed jumps, heartwarming backstory, and extended posing sections made up for all those pesky, inconsequential technical deficiencies.

Michelle Kwan
Four years after skating some superb performances to her much-loved (and much-lauded) short program to Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Piano Trio No. 2, Michelle Kwan re-used the program for her second Olympic Games. For some reason, though, the magic of 1998 was not quite the same in 2002--was it because Ms. Kwan's 1998 Nationals performance was so mindblowingly good as to be incomparable? Or was it that flip? Ms. Kwan nonetheless placed first overall in the short program at Salt Lake City--a result still debated to this day--but the long program was (*sob*) another story.

Jamie Sale/David Pelletier
I hate those goddamn snowballs.

Jeffrey Buttle
Another 6.0 conversion to IJS, Jeffrey Buttle abandoned his Tribute to Glen Gould long program in favor of a reworked version of his 2004 long program to Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Delilah just in time for the 2006 Olympics in Torino. Unfortunately, Mr. Buttle's 2006 version of Samson et Delilah, though still very watchable, suffers from the typical early IJS idiosyncrasies and sadly excises the gorgeous moves in the field section and spins from 2004 that made Dick Button swoon.

Carolina Kostner
The Bolero of 2012-2013 was an electrifying tribute to Maurice Béjart. The Bolero of 2014, re-configured to move up the last-minute yet thrilling triple salchow, was somewhat less good. But I suppose even the lesser Bolero was still better than that pedestrian Scheherezade long program Ms. Kostner was skating to at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season.  

Mao Asada
I confess: I was skeptical when I first heard that Mao Asada was re-using the music of Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2 for her 2013-2014 Olympic season short program.  The 2006-2007 version of Ms. Asada's Nocturne was such a fresh, youthful program--a perfect vehicle for a young skater making her senior debut, but perhaps not quite so perfect for an established skater seven years into her senior career. As usual, however, I was wrong: the 2013-2014 version of Nocturne was somehow even more beautiful than its earlier incarnation, this time suffused with a tremendously affecting, poignant feeling throughout.  Put it this way: the 2007 version of Nocturne will make you smile, but the 2014 version of Nocturne will have you smiling through your tears. The 2014 version of Nocturne is an instance of beautiful music, beautiful choreography, and beautiful skating working together to produce a masterpiece, and arguably one of the greatest ladies' figure skating short programs of all time.

Note that I'm putting the video of Ms. Asada's superb 2014 Worlds short program performance up there, because I haven't had the heart to re-watch Ms. Asada's short program performances in Sochi just yet . . .

Evan Lysacek
Let's be real, Evan Lysacek was skating to the exact same programs, albeit set to different music (which doesn't matter since musical interpretation was at best a vigenary priority for Mr. Lysacek anyway), from 2006 to 2010.  A rose by any other name . . . oh yeah, Mr. Lysacek may have also skated his Espana Cani SP for the FOURTH season in a row in 2006.  Well, at least he was transparent about it then.

*Does anyone else wish that Mr. Hanyu is recycling Let's Go Crazy instead?


  1. I've been waiting for you to write on this subject. This will be my first olympic season so you can guess my surprise when one skater after another started (re)announcing their programs. But from your post I see that this trend is nothing new. It seems to me that, san Mao Asada because she is Mao Asada, programs tend to not fare the reworking well. Do you think there's any particular reason behind that?

    As for Yuzuru, you might be the only person I've met to wish for lgc 2.0. Personally I wouldn't have mind, he really sold me the program at gpf and I like it far more than parisian walkway. It'd certainly fit the rar rar olympic hype. But he didn't fare so well with it during the second half of last season and WTT in particular left a bad taste. So that's a big bummer.

    Can I ask your thought about Yuzuru repeating Ballade? Iirc you were a big fan of it in 2014/15. Are you excited or dreaded to see its return? And have you been watching the clips from FaOI?

  2. What, no Elvis Stojko? I deeply desire to know your opinion on The Bruce Lee Story...

  3. @ Anonymous at 9:41AM
    I think a lot of recycled programs tend to be less impactful than the originals because a) some skaters bring back simpler programs they've outgrown (see, e.g., Sale/Pelletier's Love Story), or b) they water down the choreography so the skater has a higher chance of landing the jumps (see, e.g. Carolina Kostner's Bolero).

    I LOVE Let's Go Crazy and in my opinion, it's probably the best and most creative SP of Yuzuru Hanyu's career! I just want to see it 100% clean.

    I am somewhat ambivalent with Mr. Hanyu repeated Ballade--on one hand, it's a great SP, the judges clearly love it and Mr. Hanyu clearly likes skating to it. On the other hand, he'll be re-using it for a third season, and I'd like to see something new and more outside-the-box like Let's Go Crazy. I've seen the FaOI clips and Ballade looks good (though I expect the jumps to be more on point by the time the season officially starts)!

  4. @Alicia

    Let's just say . . . Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story was not exactly my cup of tea . . .