An Evening With Champions 1999

I attended the Friday night performance of "An Evening With Champions", the annual Jimmy Fund benefit show at Harvard.

The show opened with a couple of local skaters, Danyiel Cohen and Katie Hadford. Katie had a problem with the wrong music being played for her at first but when she did skate she did very well and got a big round of applause from the crowd. She seems to have a complete set of doubles except for an axel, which she fell on. Danyiel is not quite that advanced but skated a nice program with single axels, double toe, and double salchow.

The opening number for the elite skaters wasn't really choreographed; they just skated around and did a trick at center ice as they were introduced. Paul Wylie, as host, was introduced last and did a slightly uncontrolled split jump and a knee slide down the ice between the rest of the cast who were lined up in a double row. He told us he was very rusty.

Ryan Bradley skated first, wearing a purple sequinned blouse in a design that screamed "Russian!". I didn't recognize his music, but it sounded appropriately Russian, too. I assume this is his competitive long program. He started out nice and strong with a triple toe and triple lutz, but then doubled or popped most of the remaining jumps in his program. I am not sure this program really suits him, or maybe it was just an off day for him or maybe even just where I was sitting (on the end). Last season I was really charmed by the lightness of his style and how well he played to the audience -- he has a really engaging smile -- but I didn't get a good sense of that from this performance. He's quite tall and leggy and looks very grown-up now, although he's only 15.

Lucinda Ruh skated what I infer must be her short program for the year, to some violin and piano music I didn't recognize. Jumps were triple flip (with a fall), triple toe, and double axel; and she did a flying camel with a layover position, a spin combination with camel, sideways-leaning sitspin, pancake, and upright positions, and a layback. As an encore Paul had her do a loooong back scratch spin and a biellmann spin.

Petr Barna skated to "Night of a Thousand Stars" from "Evita", and this was just not a good program or good performance. He seemed very sluggish and did mostly double jumps (and even popped the axel into a single).

Irina Slutskaya skated what I think is her new short program, too. Again, I didn't recognize the music but it was some fairly romantic/dramatic thing with a solo cello. She wore a blue sleeveless dress with a long skirt. Backing up a bit, I'd arrived at the rink early enough to see the end of the pre-show practice and Irina was trying a triple lutz/triple loop combination, but when it came time to do the show she scaled back the jumps in this program to be two triple toes and a double axel. The program also had a really excellent flying camel, her usual spin combination, a spiral sequence, etc. When Paul brought her back out for an encore he explained that she was really jet-lagged and tired, but she did 4 double axels in a row anyway. I think Irina is going to be a major contender this season; she really seems to be skating well technically and her programs and choreography and presentation are so much more thoughtful than in the past.

Usova & Platov were next, continuing the short program trend by doing what I believe must be intended to be a latin combination original dance to meet the requirements for competing in the ISU opens this year. The longer section of music was the same "Historia del Amor" rhumba that Torvill & Dean used in 1994. I don't know how well this program is going to go over in front of ISU judges; I thought they were slow, they did too much posing in place, and in their full-length footwork sequence they skated really far apart and their unison was off. Their new trick this year seems to be doing that same thing where Platov carries Usova on his lap with her feet extended parallel to the ice that they were doing last year, except that now Platov also extends into a shoot-the-duck. Usova's costume, BTW, was pretty over-the-top; she had a black ruffle thing spiralling down her right leg, like a cross between Anissina's and Krylova's free dance costumes from last year.

This was the end of the first act. During the Zamboni break I changed seats and moved to the back of the sponsor's section at center ice. The rink was maybe only half full so there were a lot of empty seats.

The second half of the show ended up running twice as long as the first half. It started out with more local skaters, the dance team of Galler-Rabinowitz & Mitchell, who did a happy peasant dance, and Joe DiPasquale, who did a competition program with some nice footwork but with a bunch of falls on other elements.

The Stieglers skated a show program to "Somewhere Out There". I recognized some of the choreography for this as having been directly lifted from their "Giselle" program. It was hard to get much of a sense of how their skating is shaping up this season from this. The lifts were OK, but Tiffany fell on the throw, and they didn't try a twist lift or any side-by-side jumps or spins. I think they've grown a bit more since last year; judging by seeing her standing next to Paul Wylie, Tiffany is 5'2" or 5'3" now. Johnny still needs a haircut.

Dan Hollander was up next. He came out wearing an oversized red jacket and a blue turban. Someone else said that he was portraying a character from "South Park", but I was clueless about that. Anyway, he eventually took off the jacket to reveal that he was dressed like an old woman in a print skirt, white blouse, sweater, and wig, and he proceeded to boogie like crazy to "Dude Looks Like a Lady". He was terrific, to put it mildly -- the audience was going nuts, and he was doing real skating, with good speed and difficult footwork and not just posing and dancing in place. I gave him a standing ovation and so did the rest of the audience.

The Protopopovs were up next and I wasn't sure what kind of reaction they'd get after Dan set the place on fire. Fortunately, it seemed that this year the audience knew who they were and what a privilege it is to see them still skating. They skated to Mahler's 5th symphony, a program that Paul said was called "The Three Breaths of Love". It included a forward inside death spiral, one overhead lift, and a few dance lifts. They did another forward inside death spiral as an encore and I was appreciative of how smooth and controlled Ludmila is on the entry and exit.

Yulia Soldatova was up next, wearing a fluorescent orange dress that was so bright it literally glowed in the dark. As seems to be inevitable for the Russian women, she has found the peroxide bottle and is as bleached-blond as Pasha now. This was really a weak performance technically as she did only a double lutz, double flip, took a major splat on a double axel, and only did a single for her second axel.

Petr Barna returned for another performance that wasn't listed in the program. Remembering how bad he'd been in the first act I was sort of groaning inwardly as he was introduced, but he was so much better in his second number it was like seeing a completely different skater. The program was to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini", he landed a triple lutz, triple toe, and double axel, and the overall level of skating and choreography in the program was infinitely superior to that of his first program.

Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev came out in blue costumes and skated what I'm guessing is their new free dance, as I recognized various required elements like the twizzles and pair spins and it didn't seem to be an obvious show program with elements that would be illegal in competition. The music is a kind of new-age arrangement of the Albinoni "Adagio" with a vocal and a heavy beat, which also fits the free dance requirements this year. They certainly covered the ice better than Usova & Platov did earlier, but the performance seemed a little rough around the edges to me and who knows how the program will stack up in competition.

Trifun Zivanovic came out dressed in bright red pants and shirt and skated a rock'n'roll exhibition program. Only easy jumps, but he was fast and fluid and got a pretty good reception from the audience.

The Hartsells skated what must be their new short program, and like L&T's program, the music was some new-age thing with a wailing vocal introduction and a lot of percussion. I am not sure I really care for this trend, but I think it will work for this program, at least; the overall effect was intense and dramatic. It had all the usual short program elements, except that Danielle only did a double toe loop and the throw was also only a double.

Usova & Platov were brought back for a second program wearing white outfits with capes and fluttery pieces over heinous beaded flesh-colored lycra tops. The music started out with what I wrote down in my notes as "weird outer space noises" and then transitioned into yet another new-age-type piece with a female vocal. They seemed more comfortable performing this program than the first one, faster and with more flow. It had a lot of lifts in it, including one of the tasteless crotch-in-the-face variety.

Naomi Nari Nam skated to "Rockin' Robin" in a sparkly red dress with a bare midriff. The program was kind of cutesy and juvenile, but she's only 14 so I suppose we have to put up with it. She did a nice double axel but then seemed to jam her pick on the flip, only did a double, and fell on her butt. She did her spiral into a forward charlotte position, some nice spins and a triple toe. Pleasant skating, but kind of a fluff piece.

The closing number was a 70's medley in honor of the 30th anniversary of the show, with most of the cast dressed in tie-dye and headbands. Forget the disclaimers on the EWC web page that Paul would not skate. He had an extended solo to "Sweet Baby James" in which he did a bunch of his usual moves -- a spin, a bunch of spread eagles, etc. I don't think he can be as rusty as he claimed to be earlier; his spins are still what Dick Button would call "first rate", anyway. It was wonderful to see him on the ice again and there was something like a surge of excitement in the arena when he came out and started to skate. What a terrific way to end the show.

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