An Evening With Champions 2001

I attended the Saturday afternoon performance of "An Evening With Champions". (This was really "An Afternoon With Champions".) This year, the show was hosted by Peter Carruthers instead of the usual Paul Wylie, who couldn't make it because of another non-skating commitment.

This year's edition of the show had a kind of low-budget feel to it. As has been reported elsewhere, they've lost their PBS contract, and apparently corporate sponsorship has dried up, too. The program books were thinner than usual this year (the local skaters were just listed on a loose photocopied sheet instead of having their photos in the program, for instance), the cast featured more young up-and-comers and fewer "big names", and attendance was down. I believe that the afternoon show usually attracts smaller crowds, but this was the smallest I've ever seen; I'd guess about 700 people in a building that can seat about 2000, I think.

There were a number of changes from the cast that was originally announced. Lucinda Ruh dropped out some time ago. The Ganabas and Navka & Kostamarov were listed in the program, but did not skate. (I've heard Sima Ganaba is injured, but I don't know what is up with N&K.) To make up for this, they added Melanie Lambert & Fred Palascak, who are basically totally unknown but who more than pulled their weight in the show. More on that later.

I didn't recognize the music used in the opening number. In conformance with the low-budget feel of the show, it seemed less choreographed than usual, primarily just the skaters doing a trick at center ice as they were introduced. Peter Carruthers then came out and gave a spiel for the Jimmy Fund.

As usual, the show opens with performances by local kids. At this performance, we got Brittney Rizo and Stephen Carrierr, who I think are both juvenile competitors, and Ashlee Moskwa, a slightly older skater who seems to have been included in the show because she is a cancer survivor. (She was actually a perfectly competent skater as long as she wasn't trying to jump.)

The first of the invited skaters to perform was Evan Lysacek, who came out all in black (including black gloves) and skated to sound bites about the WTC disaster. Ugh. Bad choice of program, but the skating was fine. He did a double axel, triple lutz, sit spin with catch-foot exit, triple flip, edgy straight-line steps, "arm stuff", very low hydroblade move, MITF, another triple lutz, and wound up with a death drop.

Next up we had Jessica Joseph & Brandon Forsyth, who skated to some new-age music with a vocal and heavy beat. I was wondering if this might be their new free dance -- it didn't scream either "competitive program" or "show program" at me. Brandon was wearing a tight T-shirt with slashes in it, while Jessica was wearing sparkly pants and a halter top -- but I'll bet this is the last time we ever see her in *that* outfit, because it sure looked to me like she had a mighty embarassing costume problem at the end of the program.

Yuko Kawaguchi & Alexander Markuntsov were next, skating what is surely their new long program, to "Carmen" with a piece of some non-classical music spliced in the middle. They were both wearing burgundy, he in a military-type outfit and she in a 1-sleeved dress with pink accents. Yuko splatted on both opening SBS jump passes, then they did forward inside death spiral, underrotated triple twist, throw triple salchow, a lasso lift with a change of grip to a straddle split and a swoopy dismount a la Meno & Sand, throw triple loop with a step-out, a hip lift with an awkward dismount, spirals, back inside death spiral, flying camels that they had to bail on because they got too close together, straight-line steps, and a lift with a carry dismount. Their choreography looks like recycled Kazakova & Dmitriev stuff. BTW, I was thankful that they got rid of that ugly back-bend pretzel lift they were doing last season -- surely it's one of the things that prompted the ISU's ban on "undignified movements".

Parker Pennington skated a show program to funky-type music with electronic noises. Double axel, dancing in place, about half a circle of footwork into a spiral and some two-foot gliding, triple lutz with a wild landing, death drop, more dancing in place, straight-line steps, popped loop, and a very fast and well-centered spin combination. It's kind of hard to tell for sure when they are all skating show programs, but I thought Parker was clearly the most "juniorish" of the three young guys in the show this year, and at this point I'm not feeling too optimistic about his chances of qualifying for Nationals from the strong senior men's field at Midwesterns.

Continuing with the youth theme, Beatrisa Liang skated her short program to Maria Butyrskaya's "Scene d'Amour" music, wearing a one-sleeved red dress. She splatted on the double axel but landed the triple lutz/double toe and triple flip. I was a bit distracted by her losing her hair scrunchie about halfway through, and I don't think I noticed whether she made any particular improvements in her speed or whatever since last season. It's really a pity that she's not getting an opportunity to compete internationally on the JGP circuit this fall, because she'd surely be a strong contender for the final.

The first act wound up with Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, who continue to keep up an amazing level of skating given their ages. This year they skated to "Two Guitars" in black and red outfits. They opened with a back outside death spiral that had me oo-ing and ah-ing by its smoothness, followed by some footwork into a non-overhead lift, dancing in place, some intricate quick steps that didn't cover much ice into more dancing in place, a forward inside death spiral, and ending up with some fast straight-line footwork that covered more ice. Peter asked them to do another back outside death spiral as an encore. I was trying to identify what makes their entry so different than the way other skaters do it. It seems to me that instead of starting out with a strongly arched back, Ludmila uses an entrance almost like a loop jump set-up, with crossed feet, while Oleg sets his pivot more quickly, and the way they are tracking as he does this seems to allow her to swing into position instead of being pulled along. Anyway, the overall effect is very, very nice.

After the intermission, there was a performance by the Boston Ice Theatre; I think this was the same program they did at Nationals, in the sparkly shirts in various shades and black velour pants, that featured some rolling around and sliding on the ice. Then we got more local skaters, Tania Matsuoka, Loren Galler-Rabinowitz & David Mitchell, and Janessa Cammarata.

I don't know why Loren & David were classified as "local skaters" instead of with the featured cast, because they're clearly elite-level skaters by this time. They skated to music that I described as a "tuba waltz" in my notes, which is probably a competitive program. Technically they seemed to move very well, but I felt that there was little sense of actual waltzing about their dance, in spite of the music having a very strong waltz rhythm. I remember that last year I also thought their OD did not really reflect the rhythm they were supposed to be skating to.

Next we had Melanie Lambert and Fred Palascak, skating a high-energy program to "Sing Sing Sing". This was definitely adagio rather than pairs: a somersault lift, a rotational lift like Kazakova & Dmitriev's "air salchow" on steroids, a gainer lift, a "butt lift" that turned into Fred swinging Melanie around by her ankles locked around his neck, a head-banger, and an imitation of Brasseur & Eisler's "fly high and say goodbye" move. For adagio skaters, they skated surprisingly fast and had decent ice coverage. They really got the crowd going, the loudest applause for any skaters up to this point in the show. I used to like this team a lot when they were skating competitively, and it's good to see them again.

Next Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto skated their free dance that they've already competed with at the Goodwill Games. It was hard to tell for sure from the lighting, but it looks like Tanith is no longer a redhead. I spent more time watching Ben, and noticed that the choreography for the program includes a number of moves which highlight him, so he is not just the guy who is there to lift Tanith.

Dan Hollander skated next, coming out in a helmet with large prop representing a brick wall. Peter announced that he was going to do a back flip over the brick wall. I don't want to give away the gimmick, but Dan didn't make it this time. He went on to do a double axel, a camel with a jump change into a back sit spin, triple salchow, edgy steps, butterfly spin, double flip, and finally a successful back flip. Dan's come up with another winner this time -- the program is not only hilariously funny, but he packs plenty of skating in there and doesn't rely on the gimmick alone to sell the program.

Danielle & Steve Hartsell skated what looks like their new long program for the season. I assume it's some sort of movie music, but it seemed like a very odd choice -- a lot of disconnected phrases without structure or climax, and then it sort of trailed off at the end. In terms of elements, they did a double twist, throw triple loop with a step out, double toe/double toe sequence, pair spin, a non-rotational hip lift, back outside death spiral, attempted triple toes (hers was OK, but he popped), side-by-side spins, lasso lift to an inverted stag position, throw triple salchow, double axels, circular steps, "Hart attack" lift, spirals, back inside death spiral.

Johnny Weir was next, skating to familiar-sounding violin music while wearing a white shirt with a black cross on the chest. There was some delay while a helper came out and put three candles on the ice before he started to skate, but had trouble getting them lit. It seems that Johnny has not yet learned the first and most important rule about skating with a prop: if you're going to do it, you should actually *use* the prop in some way, instead of just leaving it on the ice and spending the whole program trying not to skate over it. That's what happened with the candles -- they were basically just a distraction. The actual skating was fine. His elements were double axel, double lutz, flying camel, triple salchow, death drop, triple toe, spirals, and a spin combination. What really impresses me, though, is his carriage and flow on the ice. His extension on jump landings reminds me of Michael Chack or Christopher Bowman, for instance.

Local favorite Jenny Kirk got to close the show. I was a little surprised that Peter Carruthers, who had been making little speeches all through the show about the Jimmy Fund and the importance of raising money for cancer research, did not make any reference to the recent death of Jenny's mom from cancer. Anyway, Jenny skated her new short program to a medley of "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "Moonlight Serenade", with some alterations in jump content: triple flip, triple toe, spirals, spin combination, double axel, layback, straight-line step, death drop. I thought Jenny's speed through the jumps and footwork looked improved since last year, but she couldn't sustain it through the spiral sequence.

The closing number was again fairly low-budget, shorter and not as elaborately choreographed as in past years, and looking decidedly underrehearsed as well. They skated to a version of "Over the Rainbow", doing tricks in groups and finally ending up in a circular formation with the Protopopovs doing another death spiral and a dance lift in the middle. As seems to be customary for them, the Protopopovs stayed on the ice a little longer than the other skaters after they all took their bows, and treated us to some fun dancing around. That Oleg sure knows how to boogie, for a guy who'll be 70 next year!

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