Tuesday, December 4, 2012

State of Skate: The Dancing Pair

Meryl Davis and Charlie White from the U.S. - They're working hard both on and off the ice. With interviews designed to help us notice their new connection and lots of on-ice hugging it is obvious they felt they could improve on their togetherness. Their long program misses the mark for me though, and the distance between the pack and these two gets smaller.

Admittedly, these are my words alone and the judges don't seem to agree. Dance is almost as much emotion as it is steps, speed and skill for me and I'm a fan of this team, but still think their long program is vulnerable. But, I won't be a judge in Sochi at the Grand Prix so tune in and see.-Kurt Browning

Earlier this week, Kurt Browning went on the offensive, attacking Marlie, as the latest henchman of Skate Canada. It is amazing how Skate Canada coordinates and sticks to a message with the precision of the GOP during the Bush-Cheney-Rove years.  While it may be annoying to those who see the improvement and talent in Davis and White, it is ultimately a compliment: the Canadians are feeling threatened.

Browning is basically criticizing the Americans for feeling a need to improve their connection. In a subjective sport, there is always room for improvement. No one is on top forever. As the Americans posted higher scores than the Canadians during the Grand Prix and appear physically fit and well trained, they are perceived to have a slight edge in Sochi this weekend.

Marlie’s biggest advantage is having a short dance that is regarded as a masterpiece by many. While I am a grumpy old bastard who struggles to see them pulling off the theme of Giselle, I cannot deny the brilliance of the steps and timing to the music.

All of Marina Zueva’s teams have struggled with their compulsory patterns this fall. Typically, they’ve struggled to get a level 4 for both patterns, but they have had issues getting a level 4 for either pattern this year. The Yankee Polka is tricky and dance judges are more obsessive compulsive than even the most finicky of the skating establishment.

Marlie’s free dance overcomes (perhaps) too much music edits with raw power and improved chemistry and nuances. Their dance comes alive. It could use slightly more amplitude at the end as they leap forward and dash to their closing pose. Meryl’s short legs do not help in this moment of Russian drama, but the overall program is secure.

There is a feeling among many that these teams are no longer faking close friendship and there is an even greater chance that either could leave if they are dissatisfied with a second place finish this season. Some conspiracy theorists even think the Canton coaching staff has politicked back and forth between the teams to keep both successful, yet placated enough to keep them from jumping ship. With the Olympics approaching and the rivalry growing in intensity, there may not be room for two top teams under Zueva’s care for long.

The split between Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband is likely not catastrophic to Marlie or Voir. Those teams are far enough ahead and likely just fifteen to sixteen months left in their amateur careers. The fracture does show up in the sloppy short dances, of which Voir’s was borderline disastrous for a top team at Skate Canada. While Voir’s Carmen is an avante garde masterpiece, their short dance is simply not on par with the short dance of the Americans.

The Canadians are also visibly slower than the Americans and are clearly vying to win the free dance on the basis of their components. While the ending lifts to their programs are stunning, it is unclear if they can erase a slow mid section of the program where the energy and theme die off during an all-important step sequence. Their dance spin is alarmingly slow for a top two team. With the top teams so close, everything matters. Politics and personal taste do matter.

Perhaps the most affected by the split are Maia and Alex Shibutani. There have been rumors that Mr. Shibutani is an investor in the rink who was displeased that his children dropped in the world rankings last year and was aghast when Igor wanted to take on teams in direct competition with them. While this is unconfirmed, it is plausible for a dance team whose mother has a ballet studio in her apartment. It also feeds into Marina’s desire and ammunition for ridding herself of her coaching partner.

The Shibutanis are wonderful technical skaters, but they are still developing. Igor’s technical mastery is greatly missed, as is his creativity. In skating, like in the political world, the pendulum swings. Too much success by one side always means retribution. When the North Americans (and all Canton teams) swept the podium at the 2011 World Championships, the European ice dance skating establishment responded by picking apart the Shibutanis limb for limb in interviews last season. It surprised almost no one that the judges pounced on every ample opportunity to push them down.

As the Shibs have tried to climb back up after disappointing results and material last season, they have gone to desperate measures. Many have invoked the innovative programs of the Duchesnays when discussing the direction the Shibutanis should go in, but they surely did not advise them to pick their signature Missing program music, which only draws unfavorable comparisons. Worse yet, the music is not quite in time with the Yankee Polka and the theme is surely off the mark. It is a struggle in the best of times.

If any team shows visible improvement, it is Pechalat and Bourzat, who are skating with more confidence than ever after finally earning a medal at Worlds. Their Rolling Stones free dance isn’t for everyone, but it is "pure dance" in a time when Zueva is pushing the pendulum back to the dramatic free dance themes.

A year ago, the French were competing with their Canadian training partners for a spot on the medal rostrum. This year, Weaver and Poje’s short dance appears worthy of a novice team (thematically), and their free dance’s technical elements kept them from earning a trip to the Grand Prix final. While the free dance is lovely, it lacks the punch of last year’s Je Suis Malade. We are not crazy delirious this year and neither are the judges.

On the Russian front, the judges continue to push Ilinykh and Katsalapov as the team to beat post Sochi. Their short dance is popular for those who lived in Soviet Russia, but merely ‘ethnic’ for those of us who did not. There are few words that can amply describe the level of mess that is their Ghost free dance. While they are improving as skaters, their storytelling is bizarre even for a team that earned our love by Nikita shooting Elena in the face on their way to a Junior World Championship. The decision to include dialogue from Ghost leaves many confused. The one brilliant spot is it leaves the British Eurosport commentators arguing at the end of every performance.

Bobrova and Soloviev have improved stylistically and the judges are giving them an added boost as a result, but their own cluster fuck of a free dance theme is very Russian and very bizarre.

Igor’s antipathy toward Marina Zueva has led him to attacking her teams on the ice. While Cappellini and Lanotte’s Carmen is not overshadowing the Canadians, their rapid improvement is pushing them forward in the rankings and clearly ahead of the American silver medalists. Chock and Bates are a clear third team for Worlds this year, but their ascent makes one wonder how much longer Maia and Alex can hold them off if they stay with Marina in hopes of being a Virtue and Moir knock-off. Without Igor’s technical expertise, they are vulnerable and he is pouncing.

As the attention shifts to Sochi, be mindful of the volleying for position occurring. While current results matter, a bigger eye should always be on what it means for the future.


  1. Love this. Agree that Kurt's Marlie comments indicate that Skate Canada is feeling threatened.

    Still, I can't see Voir losing in fake London at Worlds. Hopefully that means Marlie will leave and find new coaching (or back to Igor) for the Oly year.

  2. The shibs are clearly over. That being said I am impressed with what they have done thus far. I have never ever seen a more overrated pair do so well with essentially no talent and zero charisma.

    For Chuck and Merryl, it is all a weight thing. Meryl is a fat ass and is dragging the team down.

    Lets face it as far as the Canadian Federation is involved , they think they have two Olympic Gold Medalists. They could very well have just that. That being said I despise that kid they have skating with his Down's syndrome condition. Yes it is nice that he is skating with Down's Syndrome, and even more amazing he is winning, but he has some inflated scores to go along with his inflated ego. I just love it how the federation feels somehow that this is their medal. It is the athletes medal and the coaches medal, which is interesting because in many instances, they are coached by Americans, on American soil. What is even more vexing is the fact that someone like Kurt Browning {the biggest choker ever} seems to think that this is almost his medal if the Down's syndrome boy wins. Somehow he was the trail blazer. Nope. I understand that Kurt was injured during the olympics and that might have affected his performance, but here we have the Down's syndrome lad who is skating with an obvious chromosomal abnormality. He could compete in the special olympics, but here he goes mainstream and is beating everyone. This is wonderful to see. It makes me almost want to over score him myself!

    1. Really??? Referring to someone as having Down's syndrome is both politically incorrect and offensive. Referring to the condition with such a negative connotation, is offensive not only to Patrick Chan but also to all people with Down's syndrome.

  3. While it may be annoying to those who see the improvement and talent in Davis and White

    IS IT EVER. I think that the people who still say D/W have no connection need to embrace their delusions as delusions. D/W have no less connection (by which people mean acting ability) than P/B. Or almost any other team.

    Kurt's blog irritated me because it was plainly bias masquerading as some factoid. He says D/W's FD is vulnerable? Well, it hasn't exactly been panned or scored poorly. Their performance at NHK (which still has room for improvement!) was lauded. He says the gap between D/W and the rest of the field is closing? Well, D/W outscored V/M this season by several points.

    Now, I think that (barring a major mistake) V/M have a fine chance of winning this weekend. It's a title they've never had. I don't think V/M will ever be overtaken by a third ranking team. I don't think they're in danger of losing silver unless they really, really fuck up the levels again. So I'm not saying that they're any more vulnerable than D/W.

    But that's just it--no matter what you think of their programs, these top two teams still stand alone.

  4. Elenas new free dance is unbeleedable. very new style. its nice. she is prety like navka. morosov like to sleep with her and it is a strange situachion. but it is ok because she get more points. if morosov sleep with me i would say no no because japanese skater had bad situachion for morosov. poor japanese. but now with elena and she is young girl. but free dance very nice. most say it bad but i say why bad? just diferent. and diferent not bad. i find russia needs to get back top for ice dancing. like navka. north america teams to long at top. or tessa is russian but tell nobody. i think maybe. tessa sometime look it and carmen is so much sex. it is nice.

    1. lol didn't Zhulin once say he wanted V/M to be Russians?

  5. As much as I love Kurt Browning, it is articles like these that drive home how political the sport is.

  6. I can't wait to see Voir at the GPF. They've made adjustments to their step sequences according to a recent article. I hope the ss stay in-character and don't become just another element to get out of the way.

  7. I like the British Euro-sport commentators (Simon,Chris and Nicky ). But, sometimes I feel like they are releasing the stress by commentating. Just my thought.

  8. Love this blog post! Thanks, AuntJoyce- you're amazing with the truth.

  9. My favorite are when the Canadian commentators in the past don't attack overtly but use negative words to damn with faint praise. For ex, Tracy Wilson, at one of the past 4cc's, said that by that competition Davis and White performed a good FD because it was comfortable like an old shoe. Also, at Skate America Browning couldn't fault D/W's SD so he called it a decent "vehicle" for them. If anything Skate Canada broadcasters are the ones who are working hard to "design" commentary meant to shed a negative light on V/M's competition.

  10. That is the best free dance I have ever seen from them? Are they still training with Tessa and Scott? I would have thought one would have left by now...especially since Tessa and Scott frequently had better programs.

    However, isn't it nice that these North American teams can be judged on what they can do...and Russians can't just dance to "Rock Around the Clock" and win the whole thing!!! Sorry Pasha...Oksana...Pasha...whatever.

  11. I'm horrified that the one commentator who didn't like the Ghost program and who questioned the use of movie dialogue ultimately "bowed" to the idiot who liked it because he doesn't know as much about the sport. You don't need to know ANYTHING about ice dancing or figure skating in general to know that was absolutely horrendous and totally devoid of all taste, class, and sophistication.

    In case you can't tell, that was my first time viewing the Ghost program and I am thoroughly disgusted. It's like a 12-year-old girl from 1990 came up with the "dramatic" concept and choreographed it.

    1. It's typical of Nicky Slater to like it. I utterly despise the man. He loves it when skaters take on a "theme" (read: he loves hokey, corny programs). He often talks about how important costuming is - which annoys the hell out of me, because unless it's violating a rule, your costume shouldn't affect your mark.

      He quite often talks over the other commentator and makes out he has superior knowledge just because he was an ice dancer in the 80's (although blatently doesn't even follow the sport to the level that he thought that V&M had left Igor Shpilband and moved to Marina Zoueva as a new coach this year - a fact he repeated several times over).

      And don't even get me started on his ridiculous question intonation when he speaks. UGH!

      Give me good old Chris and Simon anyday!

  12. How is the highest scoring short program in the GPS "borderline disastrous"?

    Pure dance isn't about theme; it's about steps. Carmen is pure dance. There's not a single move that's emoting. It's all dance vocabulary. Davis & White are doing the same theatrical contemporary dance style in their free that they've always done.

    If P&B is pure dance, what type of dance is it that they're doing in their free?

    1. I'm sure you loved Funny Face for its "dance vocabulary" too. And found to Die Fledermaus to be the same theatrical contemporary dance style, right?

  13. Rock and Roll/ contemporary.

  14. I believe the above commenter missed Voir's short dance (which they nearly lost and likely deserved to) at Skate Canada because they were too busy trying to sound superior by talking about dance vocabulary.

  15. Shame on Mr Browning. He of all people should know that too much hot air can be combustible...