Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Recapping NHK FD - Tarasova's Mink

When it comes to the dance events, I often find them more intriguing for the political landscape they cultivate over the course of the season rather than the actual dances themselves.

As our Canadian commentators not-so-subtly remarked, with Virtue/Moir sidelined for most of the year (and certainly all of the GP series), NHK marked the first event in which Davis/White could conceivably stake their claim as the clear number ones. A dominating performance on the GP circuit could theoretically solidify this standing heading into Worlds. 

It reminds a bit of Lu Chen vs. Michelle Kwan during the 1995-1996 season. Chen’s inconsistent performances all GP season long were a stark contrast to Kwan’s string of GP wins. And on a night where both skated near flawlessly, the judges gave the World title to Kwan.

And before I get a litany of people pointing out the obvious, I will state it myself: YES, I realize it’s an imperfect analogy. That’s not the point; no pattern is unimpeachable. It’s merely a yardstick to measure what we think might happen in the future. Point being, the door is now open for Davis/White to assert themselves as the leaders. Is NHK the first step they took in stepping through it?

NHK Trophy marked the GP debuts of Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov and Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. 

For I/K, their senior debut comes on the heels of Domnina/Shabalin's retirement. Certainly there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not I/K will ascend to that all-important political position of Russia's #1 or if it will be a team like Bobrova/Soloviev or even the has-yet-to-compete Khokhlova/Andreev. Hey, stranger things have happened.

In the case of the Shibs, their lower-than-expected (fine, lower than some were expecting) placement at Junior Worlds last year (coupled with the increasing scrutiny on their height differential) had left a lot of questions as to how they would fare in the leap from junior to senior. And with Samuelson/Bates out for the season, one could argue this heightens the stakes for the remaining non-Marlie teams who will be fighting it out for the position of USA #2 and USA #3.

First place: Davis/White - First in FD (98.24), First Overall (165.21)

A deserved landslide victory in both phases of the competition. There was much to admire, and certainly the difficulty of those lifts bears mentioning. I'm of mixed mind about this program. It still feels like a work in progress to me (as well it should), and I don't think it yet tells a cohesive story. I preferred the refinement of their SD over the sultriness of their FD.

Marlie skating to a tango sounds all kinds of awesome in my head, but then I hear the cuts of "Il Postino" and "Forever Tango" that they used, and suddenly I'm less excited. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more aggressive, jolting cuts of music. The program felt a bit monochromatic to me, and to me it only really gained steam in the last 30 seconds or so. (That final split-leg lift! And yes, I noticed the leg line. The speed mitigated some of the line issues, to my mind.) I disagree with the CBC commentators who cited "lack of connection" as an area of concern. And to that end, I also disagree with Kurt Browning's statement that Charlie White needs to slick his hair back to create more of the tango feel. In terms of aesthetics, I think the wild blond mop *is* its own POV (as much as hair can be a statement on its own... Gwendal Peizerat might be another example) and rather emblematic of the ferocity of Marlie's skating. They are not measured; this is full-steam ahead, all-cylinders firing, and his look sells that type of performance in my mind.

To me, the main issue was the construction of the program. The program felt so busy I didn't really have as much time as I would have liked to appreciate the performance of the tango rather than marvel at the technical wizardry. Still, it's early in the season, and this was an impressive debut. I'm not going to deny its brilliance and that of their skating.

Second Place: Weaver/Poje - Third in FD (82.88), Second Overall (141.57)

Amber and Andrew skated to "Moulin Rouge" with Amber looking decidedly less Corwinish in the FD than the SD. Andrew loses hold of his skate during the twizzles, and that pretty much characterizes the entirety of the performance. They lack the technical skills of a Marlie to push through all these elements without it looking rushed and like they're teetering on the edge at most times. It was a fun, if wild, ride. A nice safety bar might prevent me feeling like I'm about to fall off the rollercoaster the next time Andrew spins Amber upside down.

Third Place: Shibutani/Shibutani - Second in FD (83.25), Third Overall (136.93)

I will admit it took a second or so to adjust to the Shibs' babyfaces, which inadvertently makes me feel like I'm watching one of those junior dance segments on "Dancing With The Stars." Dancing to a medley of Nat King Cole-sung standards, they flit across the ice with a gentle ease that would make Carrie Ann Inaba gush and Bruno Tonioli orgasm with hyperbole right out of his chair. And even Len Goodman might feel less compelled to play the role of contrarian in what was an otherwise charming performance. 7-7-6?

Fourth Place: Ilinykh/Katsalapov - Fourth in FD (78.16), Fourth Overall (135.05)

The ballerina and her ex-boyfriend skate to Minkus' "Don Quixote," and Elena certainly came dressed for the part. Interestingly, here's where I would apply Browning's slicked-back hair comment. Elena is so clearly the dramatic diva, Nikita would be well advised to follow suit. Can you have too much drama with a skater like Elena as your partner? Impossible. I found this program to be a step back from last season's captivating "Schindler's List" program. You're treading dangerous waters when the most balletic thing about the performance is Elena's tutu.

Final Results

1. Meryl DAVIS / Charlie WHITE USA 165.21 1 1
2. Kaitlyn WEAVER / Andrew POJE CAN 141.57 2 3
3. Maia SHIBUTANI / Alex SHIBUTANI USA 136.93 5 2
4. Elena ILINYKH / Nikita KATSALAPOV RUS 135.05 3 4
5. Anna CAPPELLINI / Luca LANOTTE ITA 127.43 4 5
6. Lucie MYSLIVECKOVA / Matej NOVAK CZE 115.17 6 6
7. Cathy REED / Chris REED JPN 114.52 7 7
8. Penny COOMES / Nicholas BUCKLAND GBR 109.8 8 8
9. Xiaoyang YU / Chen WANG CHN 102.65 9 9
10. Dora TUROCZI / Balazs MAJOR HUN 87.4 10 10


  1. Lat year's "Schindler's List" program had beautiful movements, but it was really unacceptably stupid. The costumes, the acting, the whole concept was appalling. Averbukh and Lobacheva's "Time for Peace" free dance from 2002, which was the previous standard bearer for nonsense political/historical dance programs, made more sense as a dance. To represent Holocaust victims so literally is absurd. And to movie soundtrack music that is undanceable! Even if they were feeling romantic, no one in the concentration camp was dancing or even being romantic. They were starving! Is Schindler's List music for a couple to relate to each other? It was schmaltzy and camp and borderline offensive.

  2. I feel like Charlie and Meryl are not selling the tango. It's very awkward, like they are not really into it. Tango should have more passion, I guess. The Shibutanis, on the other hand, are very well connected to their music. They are skating with a lot of emotion. This style really suits them.

  3. I/K is a one-man-show and that man's name is Elena :) Nikita looks somewhat lost next to her.

  4. I found Elena and Nikita's Don Quixote very disappointing. If you're going to use the music and costumes it would be nice if you at least attempted something of the original choregraphy - And all I got was a Junior generic ice dance with nothing of the ballet.

    This is what Don Quixtoe should look like on ice - From each hand gesture to the final ending pose, all taken from the original ballet's choregraphy. 1992 Mishkutenok & Dmitriev:

  5. Elena is beautiful, but again this year, as anonymous 11:42 points out, they have questionable taste. This Don Quixote should be scrapped. I like them and hope they will at least skate this program with some speed.

  6. Elena and Nikita get by due to their gorgeous extension and good speed. Unfortunately, that speed is achieved by having structurally unacceptable choreography for a team at this level. While I adore Elena, I must note that every third step in their program is a crossover, which is the only way they generate any speed. That demonstrates choreography and skating skills that should not be scoring as well as the other top teams. Elena was known for lacking power when she trained in Canton. Their choreography includes a lot of hand-to-hand holds, which is no where as difficult as the steps done by the Shibutanis (even if Alex has a tendency to go to the wrong edge on his counters.)

  7. Didn't D/W overuse crossovers in their past dances?

  8. I/K use way more crossovers than any of the Shpilband teams ever have. Watch the programs and count the crossovers.

  9. Hmm, I actually thought that the latter part of D&W's dance really conveys the feel of an Argentine-style romantic tango on the floor. Maybe you guys are thinking about the OTT histrionics of International ballroom tango. There is a place for what Susie Wynne used to call the "soft sell". I loved the foot flicks and the fact that they were doing steps in close hold with lots of Argentine tango styling.

  10. I agree with nahsvilledancer - D&W's tango isn't meant to be flashy, as per Argentine tango. I think that as a tango, it was one of the most authentic we've seen on ice. Marlie really has a knack for taking genuine dance steps and transposing them convincingly on ice (see the Indian folk routine)

  11. nashvilledancer, I agree. I think that people have come to identify tango with "show" tango. But having come across videos of the Argentine tango, I do appreciate the more subtle, gently sensual quality. The following is a link to one of the tango vids I liked:

    Maybe this was what Marlie was aiming for in certain parts of their FD.

  12. I'm looking forward to Marlie refining their chemistry with this programme. They could make it very bravura like their previous programmes, but it doesn't seem like it's what they're aiming for.

    I also agree with whoever who said that the Schindler's List programme was unacceptably stupid. It was even stupider than the DomShabs aboriginal programme.

  13. I can't help but laugh at the end of the Schindler's List program. It really takes guts to do something that tasteless.

  14. I recall Charlie saying something in one of their post-Olympic interviews about them being ready to move in a new direction with their skating. They felt that they had gotten everything they could out of the types of programs they had done the last four years. I think they are going for more nuance and light and shade in their skating. They clearly want to expand their repertoire. This is the best way to do it in my opinion. To try something out of their comfort zone. I think Nashvilledancer is spot on about this. This is total soft-sell program. I think it will grow to be superb with time.