Saturday, November 6, 2010
It's Tough Being A Lady
It is tough being a ladies skater. One must be delicate yet athletic, expressive yet strong, artistic, yet technically proficient. Flexibility, line, stretch, finesse, etc become the bane of many ladies' existence. This is exemplified on the Grand Prix in abundance this season. For better or worse, it currently takes five cleanly executed triples to win a Grand Prix. Five triples, a little speed and passable spins and footwork will get you a gold medal every time. There are no debates going on over who was better. It doesn't matter and it's all too clear.
There are only so many ladies in the world who are ever capable of meeting the necessities of a World medalist. While there may be a dozen medal who can medal on any given day, just five or six could medal and about two or three could win at an ISU Championship event.
Miki Ando routinely racks up medals on the Grand Prix but has failed to win gold when it counts after the mistake that was her world title. Her defenders point out that she has speed, jumps and choreography. In a way, she does. But there are reasons why all the jumps in the world will not save Miki against the likes of Yu-Na, Mao, Joannie and Mirai in peak form.
A Canadian commentator once declared that speed should never be an objective unto itself. Speed should be achieved by deep, well-executed edges with beautifully bent knees. This is one of the differences between figure skating/artistic skating and it's cousin-sport, speed skating. One of the ways skaters become expressive beings is by defying the athletic position. The athletic position is characterized by being bent over at the waist, bent knees and having one's arms out. One can also see this position throughout the programs of Miki Ando and Irina Slutskaya. It is what people are bitching about when they harp on posture. Crossovers involve using the athletic position to generate speed. Many crossovers are visible throughout programs by lesser skaters.
Skaters like Kwan, Kim and Yamaguchi achieve speed by pushing into edges that are parts of choreography. Their knee bend and blades propel them from choctaw to mohawk and eliminate the necessity for excessive crossovers or the athletic position. Miki Ando's posture is a major contributing factor to why people feel she is one of the least expressive skaters since Trixie Schuba. Miki skates through life like a Japanese ski jumper. When one is bent over, they are not reaching the audience or television cameras at eye level. They are cut off from the audience and the expression of music.
Miki Ando's other glaring problem is that she simply lacks an innate sense of musicality. Nuances make all the difference in the world. An eyebrow lift, shrug of the shoulders, extension of the arms on a crescendo and hair toss draw in the audience and endear a skater to them. Miki Ando does have arm movements choreographed into her programs, but she does not perform them on any accents of music. When watching Miki Ando, one can see the thoughts in her head "crossover, choctaw, extend arms, bracket,." Her face does not connect with the music. Every nuance she has is taught, rather than coming from within.
Slavka Kohout enabled Janet Lynn to become an expressive skater by assigning her to pick a piece of music and choreograph a piece to how it made her feel. While doing so may feel like a waste of time during a competitive season, it is extremely purposive. By learning how music makes you feel, you are able to connect with your competitive pieces and break out of thinking and enter the world of feeling.
Tara Lipinski is not remembered for being an artistic skater, but she certainly presented ever ounce of her programs. Her Anastasia footwork sequence was attacked with gusto and exuberance. Tara extended her body with force as she revved up for her combination spin. The music excited her. Miki Ando is desperately in need of spending a fortnight or two or five with the magical Ms. Bezic.
One quality that endears Akiko Suzuki to audiences is her ability to use eye-contact and facial expressions. Choreographers used to debate choosing classical pieces or pedestrian movie themes where the interpretive work is already done for you. Under the IJS, this debate no longer matters. It would behoove Miki Ando to pick a melodic piece with recognizable, dynamic themes. No one believes that Akiko is rumbling in the bronx or hoping to meet with her beloved Yenta, but it doesn't matter because she enjoys and projects to the audience. Unfortunately, Akiko's here-today-gone-tomorrow jumps kept her from blowing her countrywoman out of the water. Given her love of musicals, one should point her toward the Tisch School at NYU.
Mirai Nagasu is magical enough to be declared a heartbreaker. While some may point to this competition being another example of her collapsing in the long program, it is important to note that she has just started doing full runthroughs. Mirai is nowhere near where Frank wants her to be. Mr. Carroll has done wonders with her overall skating polish and her jumps are now higher and rotated (even that triple loop.) Unfortunately, Mirai needs discipline and time. It is unlikely that she will improve dramatically by the time she competes in Paris, but she should be in fighting form for late in the season. This won't give her experience handling being the favorite, because it is evident that Mirai knew she was unprepared when she took the ice for both programs. Weight she gained while off the ice has yet to evaporate off her bones. Frank had to remind her to "believe in herself." Mirai is about where one should expected to be. I joked to friends that she'd probably pull off a clean short and then the emperor would have no clothes in the free. It turned out to be prophetic. Mirai's overall musicality, excitement, speed and quality is so brilliant that the judges will reward her when she manages to arrive prepared, trained and confident. Hopefully getting her there will not age Frank Carroll a decade in the process.
Note: Mirai is picking petals in an "he loves me, he loves me not" in the short program. She does achieve a positively Slutskaya moment when throwing them in frustrating during the "he loves me not" music change.