Monday, October 31, 2011
Comparing Free Dances
There have been two dance competitions held on the Grand Prix and plenty of teams may have competed, but this season is all about the rivalry between Marlie and Voir, the reigning World Champions vs. the reigning Olympic Champions. USA vs. The Great White North. While there may have been a great feeling of a North American team over the last few seasons, things are getting more contentious as there is only room for one team at the top. As skating aficionados, we are lucky to be witnessing one of the sport's great rivalries. Both teams are brilliant and worthy of winning multiple world titles, but things are heating up like never before. In the past, there was always the feeling that Voir was the superior team and Marlie had caught up a bit during the 2008-09 season when Tessa was off the ice due to shin surgery. Last year was Marlie's to win and they did despite having to make tons of revisions to their tango free dance. Many people, myself included, were not sure about their chemistry suiting the tango, but sticking with it may have been the best thing they ever did for their growth as a team. With both teams having ample training time over the summer, we are finally able to see both teams at full strength and skating like champions. The judges are preparing to compare their free dances and are likely watching videos of both teams constantly, so it is about time that we do the same.
One interesting aspect of Marlie's candor is that they were very open about last season being their time to win the World Championships. Most skaters bullshit interviewers in an attempt to avoid jinxing themselves or winding up with egg on their faces, yet Meryl and Charlie made it known that they had every intention of claiming a title that many felt they deserved in Torino. Having pulled off the big win against Voir, they are skating with a confidence and regality that is taking their skating up to the next level. It is evident by their body language in Die Fledermaus that they fully believe they deserved gold at Worlds and have every intention of repeating that accomplishment. There is a new lightness and maturity to their skating that is refreshing, as last year's tango had a very dark quality about it that was reflected in Meryl's costume choices. Marlie's effervescence is contagious in Die Fledermaus. The team may not have had time to perfect every movement, but their improved extension is evident and the entire dance feels like a grand piece that is fresh and different. Marina and Igor are masters of adding minute details that make every difference in the world when creating winning programs. Marlie's relationship with the music is genuine and effective. They bring energy to the music and the music gives them life to build to a climactic finish. Marlie and the music work together to create a dynamic performance that is more effective than Voir's free dance as a whole. Their finishing touches are not at Voir's level and may never be. Though they have spent years working on their refinement, Marlie still have an 'all-out-balls-to-the-wall' competitive nature to their skating that makes them exciting and connects them to the audience. The added refinement, the refreshing nature of the program and the additional confidence may be all they need to win. It is ironic that Marlie's short dance is the program that needs more polishing as they move toward the Grand Prix Final.
I consider Voir's 2011 Worlds 'Hip Hip Chin Chin,' to be the most exciting program of all of last season. Had they had more competition experience under their belts, I strongly believe they may well have repeated as World Champions. The program was exactly the type of risk they needed to take in order to continue progressing as skaters. Entering this season, Tessa and Scott clearly want their their title back. Unfortunately, they look to have reverted back to a 'safe program,' in order to ensure a successful season. Funny Face is a great dance; it really is. Tessa and Scott are showing more of the seamless flow that Judy Blumberg was missing in 'Hip Hip, Chip Chin.' The choreography cranks some serious edges and has a wonderful, captive ending, yet there is something missing in the middle of the program. Tessa and Scott perform a wonderful 'back plank catch' and have a few other effective moments of choreography, yet the program somehow comes across as simplistic compared to Marlie's. I don't know if Voir are clearly ahead of Marlie anymore or vice versa. The vehicles both teams pick are going to be influential from now until Sochi. Funny Face is missing something. Marlie changed their music cut midway through the Grand Prix and that looks to be just what this team needs to do. Tessa Virtue is a much bigger girl than Meryl Davis. Due to their closeness in height, Voir have fewer lift options. Tessa is much better at getting into positions than someone like Tanith Belbin, but Scott can't simply throw her around as easily as Charlie does with Meryl. With lifts that seem somewhat redundant, it is important that they make every little detail work for creating an entire package. The program just needs more.
When comparing both teams, there are times watching both teams that you think, "they're the best, no, they're the best." Every detail will be accounted for and the USFSA and Skate Canada will be working in overdrive to promote their teams. There simply isn't money available to buy enough champagne and caviar to enter into a losing battle with Skate Canada for Evan Lysacek vs. Patrick Chan. This battle is winnable for both teams, but it is going to be an incredibly long year with a ton of back-and-forth results. One thing that is good about both free dances is that there is a cohesion that carries the programs and makes them appear over in a flash. Funny Face just needs to leave the audience jumping out of their seats the way 'Hip Hip, Chin Chin' and 'Mahler Symphony No. 5' did in previous seasons.
In terms of short dances, both Marlie and Voir's need serious work. 'Hip Hip, Chin Chip' is a bit of a clusterfuck as a short dance due to the team's decision to include all three pieces of music. Working on the choreography for eighteen months hasn't kept Scott Moir's hips from making him appear dreadful in the boudoir. Meryl's additional confidence and sass help sell their La Vida es un Carnival' SD. Off Topic: Serious judgment goes out to anyone who didn't grasp the obvious intended sarcasm about lithe Meryl being a 'fat ass.' If anything, Charlie looks like he isn't refusing food. Lord knows he doesn't know when his next meal is coming after spending so much time with Tanith and Meryl. It may just be the tux, but he looks like he has enjoyed the off season. Note: I avoid wearing tuxes for what we may now refer to as the 'Charlie White Effect.'
Another interesting comparison may be made between Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates. These teams need nicknames, as we are going to be doing plenty of comparing over the next few seasons. Both teams have competed twice this season and it appears that Hubbell and Donohue's performances are a tad more inspired. It is interesting that they chose to use Liz Punsalan's "I put a spell on you," when she is involved in their coaching team. Overall, Hubbell and Donohue each bring a sex appeal that puts their programs over the top. I don't give a rusty hoot about levels when I see that sex on ice. When seeing Zach Donohue work what his mama gave him, it is amazing that ice dance hasn't become more of a mainstream event.
Chock and Bates' new programs bring out the best in both skaters. Evan appears more excited on the ice. Granted, I'd be visibly excited to skate with a sexpot diva like Madison Chock. Everything the girl does exhibits the 'star quality' that the British Eurosport commentators noted at the 2009 Junior World Championships. For years, it didn't matter that Madison was a fuck-up on her twizzles (and still is,) the girls' refinement had them ignoring and criticizing Greg enough to make him hate skating and leave the sport. When commentators and fans note things like that, one can only imagine the skaters hear it every day in the rink. Madison and Evan tienen a weird height differential that they will need to work around, along with her effed-up variation of Igor twizzles and his Yuri-Yasa twizzles. They need to settle on a technique and nail them down. Their programs are impressive for such a short time together, but they are not as seamless or effective as Hubbell and Donohue's. Chock and Bates do have moments of pure brilliance that neither had with their previous going-nowhere partnerships. Madison's position during the dance spin is an absolute dream. If only we could all hit such camel positions. Her pointed toe is a revelation. While Madison and Evan are not a believable couple (neither were she and Greg...for a different reason), there is a confidence exhibited by both that makes it appear that they believe in the reasons Igor ("allegedly") told them to join forces.
Sympathy may be on the side of Hubbell and Donohue, as many fans view this team as the 'Denney and Coughlin' of ice dance. Chock and Bares need to be extra ferocious in order to get past any initial prejudices. Chock and Bates may be better in the long run, but Hubbell and Donohue appear 'readier' for the bronze at Nationals. Of course, one can never underestimate the strong political arm of Canton, Michigan.