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Dec 13, 2012

Sad Clown

Alas, what many of us had most feared upon first hearing of Daisuke Takahashi's return to the clutches (in more ways than one!) of Nikolai Morozov has most unfortunately come to pass.

Let's not delude ourselves here: Mr. Takahashi's Pagliacci is a relatively mundane program that is clearly calibrated to score points, points, and more points above all. Two quads, two triple axels, busywork transitions in and out out of a bunch of his jumping passes, etc., etc. Of course, all competitive programs in figure skating on some level or another are choreographed to be point-maximisation machines by design, but what I've felt distinguished Mr. Takahashi from most skaters was that many of his programs since the 2009-2010 season seemed to treat scoring points as somehow merely incidental to their true purpose of being coherent, dazzling artistic statements. Whether this is indeed true or not, it is undeniable that La StradaIn the Garden of SoulsEye, and Blues for Klook were special programs. Even in the hands of a lesser performer, their quality still would have shone through. In Mr. Takahashi's capable hands, however, watching them was an Experience.

But Pagliacci is different. My ambivalence towards the program at the Japan Open had already soured into active dislike by the time the NHK Trophy had ended. The main problem with Pagliacci, I feel, is the very same one that many argue lies at the heart of CoP as a whole: that the sum of the parts is less than the whole. In Pagliacci, there are some good choreographic highlights in there--the lunge transition before the 3S works well with that bit of musical phrasing, for instance, and both step sequences are agreeable enough--but they don't seem to add up to anything too coherent as a whole. Throw in some rather strange music cuts, meaningless transitions and all that face stroking and angsty hand I can see how Pagliacci racks up the points and ticks the PCS boxes, but Mr. Takahashi is too good for this sort of program.

And yet, and yet...upon watching Mr. Takahashi's urgent, passionate performance at Sochi, inexorably pouring his heart out on the ice, something unexpected happened. As Mr. Takahashi smiled at the close of his performance, I found my own facial muscles somehow involuntarily rearranging themselves in a like fashion for the very first time.

Keeping standards high is a daily struggle.


  1. I have pretty much nothing to add because I agree with everything in this post. This part especially: "The main problem with Pagliacci, I feel, is the very same one that many argue lies at the heart of CoP as a whole: that the sum of the parts is less than the whole." There is no way in the current system to quantify what is greater than the sum of its parts, so there is no incentive for skaters to shoot for that sort of program and performance. That's also my problem with Patrick Chan - he's a good skater, but his skating is exactly the sum of its parts.

    Dai's programs this year are beneath him; I wish he'd go back to one of last year's, and would love to see him with a Miyamoto program - a competitive one - in the Olympic season.

    1. I too would love to see Mr. Takahashi skate to a Miyamoto competitive program. Eye was just super!

  2. But still, we should not forget that Morozov did not yet belong to his team when these two programs were made. Nanami Abe and Shae-Lynn Bourne were already working on them and the very Morozov movements we saw in China have disappeared again. Fortunately.

    1. Nikolai Morozov has probably tinkered with the choreography somewhat....

      I think the SP is fine. About the LP--I admittedly have not watched the LPs from CoC and NHK as obsessively as I usually do, but I haven't noticed any discernible changes at the GPF aside from the costume.

  3. I adore his artistic attitude, but at the same time I can imagine he must have been fed up with being constantly the second -- because he IS the world's best skater!--. He is not a professional, he is an amateur competitor who has to win a competition and earning points, points and points is part of the game whether you like it or not.

    1. I know. I want him to win too.

      But I still think he is capable of so much more.

      Let's blame the judges for not appreciating masterpieces like In the Garden of Souls properly.

    2. I totally agree with you. It's so sad that he didn't receive deserved scores for his beautiful programs and performances...

  4. I agree with you partially :p We share the same analysis of Pagliacci, except I did like his Japan Open performance: I felt it was soulful enough to carry the program, which was not the case at COC and at NHK (clearly the nerves and the boots issue at CoC played their part, plus it's a program still in its infancy)

    Where I kind of disagree with you is when you argue that Blues for Klook was such a superior program in terms of choreography whereas Pagliacci is "beneath him". Purely in terms of structure, they aren't radically different and I'd argue that whatever superiority it has is only marginal. To give you an example: watching Blues for Klook again, the first three jumps passes are made with almost no choreography to speak of, which is very similar to what happens in the beginning of Pagliacci (except the jumps are not the same - I'll come back to that issue below). The construction of the rest of the program is also very similar and there isn't that much more choreography "per se".

    The reason why Blues for Klook has become so memorable and why Pagliacci is nowhere near at the moment IMO are threefold:

    - The music choice: to me this is the main issue. It doesn't suit Takahashi's characteristics best: his fluidity, his musicality are best served by musics that leave him some breathing space, which can let him have choreographies where he gives the impression he conjures movements on the spot. He was always going to have fight his own nature with this one, because the music requires a much more rigourous, almost rigid approach. Also, Pagliacci is angst-heavy and thus tends to overpower. There are some lighter moments (used for the circular steps sequence to good effect), but overall, it requires him to be "on" from the start and if he falters somewhat in his interpretation at any point, the music drowns him and he loses the audience (which was exactly what happened at CoC and at NHK)

    - his interpretation: that's what made Blues for Klook so successful. You were saying that this program's qualities would have shone even in the hands of a lesser performer, but I am not so sure. And to be honest, I wasn't sold on this program until GPF last season. But he ended up "owning" this program to the extent that it became impossible to say whether the music dictated his movements or if his movements dictated the music. This season, he hasn't found himself in the program yet, although we saw the beginning of that at GPF. He isn't at ease in it the way he was in his programs last year (or his SP this year since NHK). In fact, I had the feeling he was fighting with himself and the music at both CoC and NHK. Again, that's not a music that naturally suits him, and it's a music that doesn't allow you to lose in intensity at any moment without losing the audience. And he's started it very late. Which is why I am not surprised it's only starting to gel together now and probably why this is the first time you actually enjoyed it, to some extent

    - the jump issue: he knows he "has" to go for two quads in his FS. But he is in the process of stabilizing this jump. So while he isn't completely comfortable with the quad, he has to both take the time necessary to set up those jumps (which is fairly long) while keeping elements around those two initial jump passes to a minimum, which leads to an initial minute of program that's just, er, empty, for lack of a better word. I do find that first minute of program regretable from an artistic point of view, but I am not sure he could have done it any other way (or he would need to change music to something that's more playing to his strengths and which allows him to set the mood much more easily, the way it worked in Blues for Klook)

    I am not completely sold on Pagliacci either. But for the reasons above and not because the choreography is wholly beneath him ;)

    And yes, I've been giving this way too much though: can you tell I have no life? *g*

    1. Well, I partially agree with you too, with most of your points actually.

      About Blues vs. Pagliacci: you are correct, the choreography in the latter half of Blues is much more dense than in the beginning when Mr. Takahashi is clearly getting his jumping passes out of the way. But (on an aesthetic level) having MORE choreography/movement is not necessarily better; I feel simplicity has its place too if the music demands.

      In Blues, the simplicity of movement in the beginning fit the languid mood of the program's beginning so well: note that in the first minute or so of the program, the music is merely comprised of a sparse, single, measured melodic line of the guitar (er, at least I think it's a guitar). But the drums come in, and steadily the music becomes more dense and complex with a clear increase in tempo--which is echoed by the increased density of choreography (necessary to hit the increased nuances!), as well as the sharper, more frequent, less lazy movements on Mr. Takahashi's part. For me, this is what elevates Blues above Pagliacci--the music dictated movement for the vast majority of the program, whether there was a lot of movement or only a little of it.

      Unfortunately I don't see this level of sensitivity and awareness of the music in Pagliacci's choreography. I understand why it's perhaps necessary it is the way it is, but given the way Mr. Takahashi has spoiled us for the past few years I can't help but feel a bit disappointed when he produces something "good" as opposed to "mind-blowing."

      But...maybe Pagliacci will win me over yet. I find it much more tolerable already, and I even like his SP by now. It's difficult to keep a stiff upper lip when Mr. Takahashi sells his programs like he does, haha.

      BTW thank you for your long and very well-thought-out comment!

      PS. I have no life either. Why else would I be writing a figure skating blog, of all things ;)