Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Land of the Free by Gaysian Attorney

Tonight, Blumberg/Seibert, Wynne/Druar, Roca/Sur, and Punsalan/Swallow were avenged. After decades of torture, the U.S. finally won and then some. Meryl and Charlie did it on Russian soil. They beat scheming Skate Canada. The neophyte Shibutanis medaled over Didier's skaters. Igor and Marina swept the podium. The list goes on and on. As someone who's been watching ice dance since the early 90s, whodathunk that this day would come.

Crone and Poirier

The Canadian National Champions took a hit in Moscow. When was the last time the Canadian National Champs placed below the second Canadian team at Worlds? The twizzle error in the SD hurt them, and then this FD somehow had fewer technical elements than the other free dances (and no, there wasn't a combo lift, I checked). They peaked too early in the season.

Ilinykh and Katsalapov

The baby Russians were beautiful to look at, but that was all. The program was easy, there were almost zero transitions, it was chock full of crossovers, and still, they weren't able to skate it cleanly. They struggled on the twizzles and on the combination lift. 10th in the FD, and 7th overall.

Weaver and Poje

The Canadian silver medalists surprised even themselves by leapfrogging into the top 5. What got them there were stunning lifts and an attack lacking in some of the other teams tonight.

Pechalat and Bourzat

The French were a virtual lock for the bronze medal. Even the fanboyest of Shibutani fans realized that the bronze was sewn up for Didier's latest national champions barring a fall. And what happened? A fall. And not just any fall. A two-skater fall at the start of the circular step sequence. As Fabian said in the kiss and cry, "8 points." Indeed, the loss of those points dropped them to 6th place in the FD and though they hung on in podium position for a little while, eventually ended up 4th overall, leaving France without a medal for the third straight year.

Bobrova and Soloviev

The Russian national champions are probably the least inspiring Russian champs in decades. After their odd Chess short dance, they gave us a free dance to music some have described as reeking of early 90s Russian gymnastics floor exercises. They stumbled on their circular footwork sequence and dropped to 6th overall. Mother Russia is lucky that their combined placement with the baby Russians just barely added up to 13 and got them 3 teams for next year's Worlds.


Then came the upstarts. What seemed impossible last season and even at the beginning of this season was now real. The door was open. And it's likely they knew it because they didn't skate their Smile/Let's Face the Music free dance as freely as they have previously this season. Nevertheless, the cleanliness and ease of this program well-deservedly moved them up from 4th after the SD to 3rd overall, and nabbed them a bronze medal at their first Senior Worlds. Who was the last team to do that? I would think you'd have to go back to the 1993 edition of Worlds when Krylova/Federov did it. And when was the last time a skater of Asian heritage stood on the dance podium? I'd have to say never!

Virtue and Moir

With the lead after the SD, the true top Canadians were in position to do something the French-Canadian team of Duchesnay/Duchesnay could not do in Albertville in 1992: debut a FD and win the one and only competition they entered that season. Alas, it was not meant to be. Just as Yu-na could not do it in the ladies' event, Virtue and Moir could not deliver the best FD of the night when the program had never been competed before. Their dance-ability and bravery for branching out are to be commended. The opening third of the program was beyond outstanding. The decision to use lyrics was effective, and the speed and partnering were there. But as the program moved into the slow section and the final third, Voir didn't have the speed and flow that World Champions need. Even with an extra month of training, the last 2/3 of the program just did not look battle-tested. Judy Blumberg called it choppy. But still, they collected nine 10.0s and all positive GOES, with only two of those being +1. Could the Americans possibly top that?

Davis and White

Marlie took the ice knowing they needed to skate full out to win. And that they did. They did what the Shibutanis didn't quite do. They skated aggressively to a tango that is the culmination of all of Igor's tangos. And at the same time, they held out every move and delivered clean technical elements. The passion and sure-footed-ness that was lacking in the beginning of the season were all there. The lifts, the footwork, the spin, and the dance were all there, as reflected in their all +2 and +3 GOES, including straight +3 GOEs on their level 4 twizzles. But they not only beat Voir on the technical mark, but outpaced Voir in component scores with 57.73 to Voir's 56.29, with seven 10.0s and an AVERAGE of 9.75 for choreography. There was no doubt in my or Judy Blumberg's mind that Marlie earned it, and the IJS finally rewarded that. The first dance gold for the US of A belonged to Meryl and Charlie in the year 2011.

And it must be noted that coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva swept the podium. When has this ever happened? To the haters out there, these coaches have taken the IJS and run with it while maintaining the artistry of the sport. They have almost single-handedly made this discipline the most fascinating of all the four skating disciplines, and the sport is better for it.


  1. There are Shpilband and Zueva haters? but WHY?!

  2. Z/S are ruining ice dance with their horrible programs that just do nothing. VM dance crap overdone camp D/W dance crap unfeeling coldness S/S just the worst with the creepiesst fake smiles ever-they are just grotesque. P/B were robbed all so Z/S can say they swept a podium. Where is bold inspiration? No where to be found. None of the medaling programs will be remembered a month from now because they are all code whoring crap. The King and Queen of ice dance are just ruining it. Blech and ew forever.

  3. Marlie moved me to tears in their FD and I never cried for ice dance before, they were beyond perfect. I'm so happy for them!

  4. I find D/W blah in the extreme and extremely overrated. It's just sad that this is the first US team to win Worlds. But really, as soon as Chan's SP marks went up, the ice dance result was crystal clear.

    Now, I'm not an S&Z hater - I like the Shibs and respect V/M - but I disagree that they're running with the IJS while maintaining artistry. Their programs are getting cookie cutter and it's bad for ice dance that so many teams are with the same coaches. Yes, the canton teams are fast and do difficult lifts, but their programs are not particularly interesting conceptually. I really admire teams that do their own thing, even if the style doesn't always work for me - C/P being a case in point (and the sadly retired Kerrs). I'm sad that P/B missed out and will have to leave Zhulin, but at least they're not joining the masses in Canton.

  5. You can do four short lifts in the FD or two short lifts and one long lift.

    The long lift is either a combo lift (see the Shibs), a serpentine lift (Crone/Poirier) or a Reverse rotational lift (no team at Worlds, but Ralph/Hill from Canada do that one).

  6. Thanks for the C/P explanation. I skimmed it and saw a Serpentine but must have assumed it was a Serpentine footwork sequence, which is silly since it's not 2005/2006, lol.

  7. Also, to those commenters who weren't happy with the winning programs this year, I'm not sure what you find to be so cookie-cutter. It was the ISU who asked for happy dances, not Igor and Marina. And in response, they gave us a winning tango, a fierce latin combination, and a foxtrot/quickstep, and each team performed different lifts appropriate to their rhythms. So if you think the programs are cookie-cutter, sounds to me that your problem isn't with Marina and Igor, it's with the IJS in general. And while I agree that the IJS has been a huge failure in the singles and pairs event, it was needed in dance.

    Look, if you ask me what my favorite dance event in history was, I'd pick the 1991 Worlds hands down. I'll sit down and reminisce with you about the Duchesnays' Missing (and Reflections from Europeans), Klimova/Ponamarenko's Lawrence of Arabia, and Usova/Zhulin's Summertime and Paganini any day, but unfortunately, it got to the point where it was unjudgeable and it didn't matter whether the skaters delivered on the day of the competition. The judges didn't let Kwan win in 97 even though Taj Mahal was an artistic and choreographic gem. She still had to deliver the technical goods, so why shouldn't the dancers be held to that same standard? I agree with the one commenter that C/P's program this year was a nice blend of IJS and unique choreography and supported them this season, but when it came time to compete, they didn't deliver the performance this time around, and so they weren't rewarded. And I bet you anything that skaters like Krylova/Ovsiannikov are still wondering what could have been if they were judged in this manner in the days of Grishuk/Platov domination.

  8. I have been watching ice dance for much longer than most posters here have been alive and I just don't get the Z and S haters. Every discipline evolves; S and Z are certainly part of the evolution of ice dance. But they are simply doing what they do - putting out the pieces that come from their brains/hearts and if this changes ice dance so be it. I don't notice other coaches or schools of coaching topping them consistently. They train their teams very effectively and it works. If other coaches want something else, then they can put that something else out on the ice with equal quality - 90% of the time, that's not happening. If people simply can't stand their level of success - well, that's not a problem for ice dance, that's a personal problem for the hater. I thought Marlie was wonderful yesterday and no one can argue with their attack, polish, precision and passion - it was super!

  9. "They're ruining ice dance with cookie cutter programs!" is the new "Evan does nothing but flail his arms!" I understand that there is a certain echo chamber that breeds these unoriginal insults, but it would be nice to hear a criticism based on actual, I don't know, facts. A lot of these same people think the Baby Russians are the second coming of Jesus. I don't think they'll respect Meryl/Charlie until they somehow go back in time and make sure to be born in Russia.

  10. Agree with Anon. at 7:52. Xenophobia at it's best. Anytime an American or Americans wins a world or Olympic gold, the haters are immediately out to discredit it based on "cheating," "bias," "luck," "home court advantage" or in this case, "whoring the code." The only "legitimate" victories apparently come from foreign competitors, usually Russians, who apparently can do no wrong in the eyes of some people. What a load of bull---.

  11. I simply cannot understand all the Shpilband and Zueva hate. Their teams consistently deliver clean, fast, technically difficult programs that are almost all unique. This year they all happened to be based on ballroom, yes, but thank goodness! That's something we didn't see enough of in the 90's. Ice dance, though having room to branch out, was originally based on ballroom, after all. I think it's refreshing to see skaters take dance back to it's dancing roots while simultaneously delivering fresh, contemporary programs. And it's not like Shpilband and Zueva just took a ballroom cookie cutter and stamped them out. The three top free dances were all unique styles and feelings- Virtue and Moir's firey, flirty, fun samba (it's hard to do samba on a floor- I'm so impressed at their translation to the ice), Davis and White's passionate (finally!) tango, set to a slower rhythm than the Canadians, and Alex and Maia's Gene Kelly-esque quickstep/foxtrot. All totally different except for the ballroom element. In past seasons Shpilband and Zueva have produced non-ballroom frees. This year it just happened to be best for these three teams to go the ballroom route. Chock and Zuerlein certainly had a different look than other teams this year- Caberet is by no means cookie cutter.

    I think that may be what Marina does best. She chooses styles for frees that really fit and flatter her up-and-coming teams, but once they reach the top she takes non-Olympic years and gives them programs that will really stretch them, stylistically, emotionally, and thematically, to grow into more diverse skaters. I'd argue that Virtue and Moir would have had an easier time with Davis and Whites free skate than the Americans had due to their expertise with romantic themes and dance-y styles, and that Davis and White would have knocked the samba out of the park had their coaches decided to go that route. Instead each team was stretched, grew this season in their presentation, and are better for it. By the next Olympics they'll be even more amazing.

  12. Thanks, Gaysian attorney, for your comments. I think you're right that this is in part an IJS-driven issue, similar to Patrick Chan's success: yes, he's playing by the rules, but I still think his choreographer could give him more interesting material - it's possible even under the current system.

    I'm the one who referred to the S&Z programs as becoming cookie cutter and I stand by this. At the superficial level the programs may be different, but there are a lot of similarities nonetheless. Also, I don't find a tango, a samba and a foxtrot/quickstep are particularly interesting conceptually. Now, one could argue that choreographers should also be judged on how well they handle classic concepts, which I agree with, to some extent. I just wish Marina and Igor would think outside the box a bit more often.

    This has nothing to do with anyone's nationality - trust me, I'm from a non-skating country and do not have a horse in this race. I watch Eurosport UK, where they have something good to say about almost everybody, and I make up my own mind without the commentators telling me who I should prefer.

    As a postscript, Evan Lysacek won 2009 Worlds fair and square; the Olympics are debatable. But any Americans who trash European skaters' performances and accuse their federations of corruption really have no business accusing others of bias.

  13. I don't even think it's Xenophobia. It's more like there's this certain school of thought -- perpetuated by the "cool kids" -- that ice dance can't be serious unless it's bizarre. (This, by the way, is the same school of thought that found Jana Khokhlova to be the next legendary ice dancer, and we see how that has turned out -- she switched partners and is now being coached by S/Z.) The Russians and other Europeans are the ones who patented that particular form of ice dance with help from a system that required a skater to be about 40 years old before being taken seriously. Yes, the Americans didn't thrive under that system. They thrive under this one, and the system does encourage a different kind of program.

    The irony (probably not using that term right) is that many of us were totally uninterested in ice dance because the judging seemed so random, so unfair, and so based on things that had nothing to do with what was done on the ice. I credit B/A for bringing ice dancing to the masses. Sorry that upsets all the temperamental artistes out there, but it is what it is. Might as well get used to it.

  14. I'd say most of the S/Z hate is coming from Russian fans disgruntled that the only present Russian coaches with an innate sense of elegance and taste have abandoned their native country for (they assume) the big bucks in the west.

    Russian culture is one of great extremes, between elegant refinement and crass tacky flash. Some of the top Russian coaches are grounded in the crass, most ping-pong between the two, S/Z seem to have a flawless sense of taste.

    We North Americans are very, very lucky to have S/Z right now. I think the haters know that but their anger manifests itself as sniping.

    And can I just add - anyone who comes up with an ice dancing program based around a classical ballet GROUNDED in leaping, is an idiot. Putting an ice dancer in a TUTU, which makes close holds awkward, is just the icing on the cake.

  15. ^^^

    Russian culture can be very paradoxical, especially when it comes to performing arts and figure skating. Many Russians are both ballet and figure skating fans, so it's not surprising to see their recent preferences for tacky ballerinas like Alina Somova cross over to figure skating as well. Elena had no business wearing a ballet costume on ice, just as they had no business skating to Don Q in the first place. Like Sandra said, if you're going to do FD to ballet, it'd better be perfect as far as position/ fluidity etc...go.

    Funny how ice dancing is now the most accurately scored event in FS after all those years of WTF placements and scores.

    Very impressed with Shibutanis, it'll be a battle in Sochi between the Shibs and Elena/ Nikita. But the overscoring of Russian ladies and men, specifically Alena and Gachinski, makes me wonder if home ice advantage i.e. extra points will eventually tip the scale in the Russians' favor.

  16. "Also, to those commenters who weren't happy with the winning programs this year, I'm not sure what you find to be so cookie-cutter. It was the ISU who asked for happy dances, not Igor and Marina. And in response, they gave us a winning tango, a fierce latin combination, and a foxtrot/quickstep, and each team performed different lifts appropriate to their rhythms"

    Also add in Chock and Zuerline's character driven Broadway program. I don't agree with the cookie cutter complaint.

    It was definitely a drama filled, entertaining competition. Even after the long season, I can't wait to see what they all do next year.

  17. Until this year, ice-dancing was basically a total joke, what with the absolutely ridiculous clothes and makeup (clowns, anyone?) There is groundbreaking, and then there are circus acts. I am glad we now seem to be returning to a time of beautiful costumes and programs, rather than the freak show that it was turning into. Maybe the sport can gain some new fans and respectability this way.

  18. Shpilband and Zueva's teams have consistently been favourites of mine - Silverstein & Pekarek, Tanith & Ben in their early days before they stagnated, V&M, D&W, etc. However, I have never thought that they were amazing coaches and there are several reasons why.

    The programs that come out of Canton ARE cookie cutter, 8 times out of every 10. There are a few rare instances in which they strike actual creative gold, but most of these accidents come from Marina, not Igor - the last really creative, visionary piece of choreography that could really be credited to Shpilband himself was Silverstein & Pekarek's Tori Amos program back in 99/2000. Marina has had some happy accidents (V&M's Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Mahler, D&W's Samson & Delilah), but she has also been lucky to have skaters who are exceptional in their ability to sell those programs that would have been unremarkable otherwise. (Also, even though Samson & Delilah turned out to be an amazing program for D&W, it was a recycled ideas on Marina's part, because she used music and ideas she had created for Bourne & Kraatz back in the day that ended up not being used.)

    I really love both D&W and V&M, and like the Shibs a lot, but I've been watching skating for 23 years and never have I watched a dance competition in which I hated none of the teams and most teams skated well, but I was still deadly bored through most of the programs. I hope Crone & Poirier don't conclude that their dumping at Worlds was a result of having coaches with no politiks and go to someone boring like Igor or Morozov as a result - they are one of the few truly creative teams left.

  19. Above, I meant that I had never watched a comp that bored me despite good skating/good teams UNTIL NOW (meaning Worlds 2011 FD).

  20. They should have won the Olympics. A world title is trash compared so who cares.

  21. D&W should have won the Olympics?? With PoTO vs. Mahler, skated as they were???? HA, what have you been drinking?!

  22. I was so ready to write a "cookie-cutter" defense of S/Z, but after Gaysian Attorney's second post, I went to yahoo and watched all the dances from the '91 worlds, and I have to say, I had forgotten how creative and different they all were. It does make today's dances look very "cookie-cutter". I don't blame S/Z for this, I blame the always stifling ISU for this. I highly recommend all skating fans watch the movie "Strictly Ballroom". It never ceases to amuse me and remind me of the judging we have always endured in figure skating.

  23. D/W should have won the Olympics? Are you blind?! V/M were perfect during the Olympics.

  24. AJ, what happened to your Ladies LP recap? LOL.

  25. He was probably too traumatized by the state of ladies' skating, from Rachel Fat and her stress fracture to Miki and her lack of artistry, to Yu-Na not being completely prepared, etc... Ladies' has just been a mess this year.

  26. D/W are a really likable duo and their tango was technically mind-boggling... but it was soul-less. i found it really alienating... note how an absolutely marvelous athletic feat on a scale that I'm not sure I've ever seen before drew basically tepid applause from the audience. this wasn't sundry russian nationalism... the russians went crazy for the pink panthers a few days's that from a certain aesthetic perspective (shared by, it seems, a good amount of fans) the program was just hollow... it's nifty in many spots, but a chore to sit through more than a couple times - unlike truly great programs, it has diminishing marginal returns

    it's not their fault; it's not shpilband and zueva's... the ijs has done more damage to ice dance than to any other discipline - if i had to sum it up, i'd say that this program is precisely equal to the sum of it's parts (many great parts, albeit), which is not the point of this sport

  27. "AJ, what happened to your Ladies LP recap?"

    He already stated in a previous post and on his formspring (before he disabled it) that he was taking a break for academic reasons, IIRC. Maybe due to something related to his teaching job? Further accreditation/continuing education, that sort of thing? I expect he'll be back in a few weeks (I hope).

  28. I've read comments here and elsewhere complaining about Meryl and Charlie's 'passionless' tango. Honestly, I liked their tango, despite some minor issues already stated by other people.

    I thought they were going for a more subtle variation of the dance. More 'low simmer' instead of 'high heat', if you like. I think many of the fans are too used to the showy, flashy, Hollywood-style, DWTS-type version and might be unaware (or unappreciative) of the understated beauty of the tango as it is danced by the milongueros and milongueras in Argentina.

    Al Pacino's tango in 'Scent of a Woman' is not what I would call out and out 'passionate', but I did find it fascinating, intriguing. Link:

    This dance from Carlos Saura's film 'Tango' is also not what I would think of as passionate, but it is subtly enchanting, nonetheless. Link:

    Perhaps I would amend 'passionless' to 'lacking in connection'..? I did feel that in earlier outings that Charlie's expression was not quite equal to Meryl's effort.

    However people may see it, I am glad that D/W did this dance. I feel that for them this was a very valuable learning experience.

  29. I don't necessarily question Charlie's commitment to the tango. The problem all season was twofold: his blond All American good looks are very much at odds with the traditional image of the male tango dancer; and he simply isn't as good an actor as Voir. Quite frankly, the best bit of "tango acting" by Charlie all season was when he skated out to the ice with Meryl at the GPF. Look at the way he puts his hands to her face and gives her an Uber Tango Smoldering Look. Oh if only he could have carried that through the rest of the season.

    I would still give Marley the win, even if their acting and expression is second to Voir. First off, Marley's program may be one of the most technically demanding I've ever seen--and the skating was flawless. Everything was finished, small head and hand movements, the way Meryl finally took her time on the opening lift (it always looked rushed prior to this), the smart way they rechoreographed the spot where they fell at SA. Second, the connection was there. The levels from hot to cool were there. They may not have been telegraphed as well as Voir might have done with the same program, but the improvement from previous competitions is considerable. But this isn't an acting class now, is it?

    Voir, on the other hand, have a brilliant opening and close; but the middle sags. There are small mistakes throughout the program (yes, there are) and it simply wasn't as polished and perfected as Marley's.

    But I thoroughly agree with the previous poster who said BOTH programs were a fantastic idea by S/Z: force each team out of their particular comfort zone in order to stretch and challenge their considerable talents.

    And isn't it admirable that three teams won who brought ice dance back to its dance roots? I love Eurotramadrama programs as much as the next rabid fan, but there is something to be said by going back to your roots--and seeing them afresh.

    Next year should be VERY interesting indeed.

  30. I am positive that if Voir had gotten at least one full skate of their FD in competition before worlds they would have won. The little stumbles here and there would have been strightened out and maybe they would have gotten feedback about the weaker sections of the program. Marlie were lucky in many ways. But time will tell. Hopefully next season they can go head to head all year.

  31. To people who say Charlie doesn't act, look back at photos of Marlie during the dance (not the lift/spin photos, where Charlie is obviously looking to supporting Meryl) and I defy you not to see his expressions. Tessa and Scott have similar looks and so look like both are pulling their weight. Meryl's acting comes so naturally that any partner would pale compared to her.

  32. Charlie's acting has improved, but Meryl is still carrying much of the weight. If she can do it, why is it that he can't? I point to this as one reason there was not much "heat" in the tango, since you need both parties completely committed to it. I get the feeling Charlie didn't want to bare himself like that with Meryl and in front of the audience. I don't know if Charlie has any interest in improving his acting, but he will have to as long as Virtue and Moir are around.

  33. I thought Silverstein/Pekarek were coached by Spihlband and Liz Coates (sp?) pre Zoueva.