I attended the Friday night performance of "An Evening With Champions", the annual Jimmy Fund benefit show at Harvard University. This year's show featured the return of Paul Wylie as host, along with Nancy Kerrigan, but they're still without a TV contract and, as last year, the show had a lower-budget feel to it than in previous years. Personally, I'm kind of glad they are returning more to the original focus on eligible skaters.
In past years, they've usually brought in JoJo Starbuck to choreograph opening and closing numbers for the cast, but this year they instead hired local coach Tom McGinnis, who also directs the Skating Club of Boston's annual "Ice Chips" show. So this year the show opened with a bunch of local skaters (uncredited in the program, as far as I can tell) skating around with flags to the Olympic music while the cast members were introduced.
One thing that hasn't changed is the tradition of opening each act of the show with performances by local competitors. For the first act we got Alyssa Danesh, who skated to a Disney-sounding GFB, and Christian Mott, who skated what was probably his competitive free skate to an instrumental arrangement of themes from "On The Town".
Matt Lind was the first of the featured skaters, skating a show program to a GMB I didn't recognize. Jump-wise, he landed a triple lutz and double axel, and fell on a triple salchow, but I was more impressed by the elaborate choreography and in-betweens in this program. Matt has totally transformed himself from the gawky novice of a few years ago into a very pleasant and stylish skater.
Loren Galler-Rabinowitz and David Mitchell were next, skating their new original dance for the season. The first piece of their music is a piece I always associate with Toller Cranston, although I can't put a name to it off the top of my head; I think it's supposed to be a galop, anyway, and the second half was the inevitable "Masquerade Waltz". It seemed a pleasant enough dance overall, but it was hard for me to get much of an impression of it while I was trying to take photos.
Louann Donovan skated the same "Orange-Colored Sky" program I saw her do in the spring at Ice Chips. She landed a double axel and then popped a couple intended triples before getting a triple toe near the end of the program. Her final spin combination really got the audience going. For whatever reason, they had Louann skating around in the dark without spotlights and only the dim background lighting on the ice, so I wasn't able to take any photos of her.
Evan Lysacek skated to "Con Te Partiro", landing a couple triple lutzes in his program. (It's obviously his favorite jump.) Evan seems to have passed out of the string-bean stage he was in a couple years ago and looks and skates like a grown-up now, and the audience really loved his program.
Melanie Lambert and Fred Palascak, who were last-minute replacements at last year's show, were back again this year, and once again were crowd favorites, skating to loud music with a heavy beat while they did their usual assortment of adagio pair tricks.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto skated their new Elvis Presley medley free dance. Ben has grown sideburns and was wearing a glitzy outfit with bell-bottoms and a heavily sequinned jacket, while Tanith wore a red dress trimmed with a stylized piano keyboard pattern. I was kind of aghast at the idea that they intend to compete with this since it seems much more of a show program to me, what with all the hammy acting and the cheers and shrieks mixed into their music. I lost track of how many music cuts there were in their program, but if I'm not mistaken there were at least 5 and it even included a section of John Lennon's version of "Jailhouse Rock", and not just Elvis himself singing.
Next we had a novelty act, listed in the program only as "Pete and Violetta". Pete skated around while twirling a large cube-shaped widget before tossing hula hoops to Violetta while she skated around, and they did a few adagio tricks in there, too.
Roman Serov skated next, with what was probably his competitive short program. It was piano music and sounded vaguely in the same style as what Maria Butyrskaya used to skate to. His jumps were triple flip, triple axel, and double lutz, I think. Nice change-foot camel and a butterfly spin with a lot of fly.
The Protopopovs closed out the first act, skating to the same "Kalinka" program as last year. Oleg is 70 this year and it seems that both he and Ludmilla are finally starting to show their age. They skated well enough, but without the energy and crispness I remember from them last year. Their program included two death spirals and a couple of non-overhead lifts as well as some quick footwork and toe steps.
The second half of the show opened with a group number by members of the Harvard Figure Skating Club. The skaters were of varying levels of skill but they all looked like they were having fun. I believe the one skater who stood out as being a lot better than the others was former national competitor Morgan Rowe.
Next, we had two more performances by local kids. Juliana Cannarozzo skated a show program to a medley of tunes by the Supremes that suited her energetic style. She landed a double lutz and double axel. Jessica Houston skated to some music I noted only as having a heavy beat, and she got in a double axel and double flip in her program.
Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem skated what has to be their competitive short program, to Spanish-style music with a beat. Stephanie played it safe and doubled her salchow, and then had a really horrifying freak fall on the side-by-side spins where I was afraid Aaron was going to collide with her before she could get out of the way. Aside from that error, though, they presented the program convincingly and really make a striking couple on the ice together.
I'd heard from people who saw him at the Arizona JGP and at his regionals last weekend that Parker Pennington's skating was looking vastly improved this year, but I'm afraid the program he skated here did nothing to show him off. The music was some unknown-to-me pop song with the sounds of screaming girls in the background. His jumps were two double axels, double salchow, and triple flip. I remembered that last year he really got the crowd going with some very fast and well-centered combination spins, so I kept waiting for him to do that again, but it never happened.
Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn skated a new program to an instrumental version of "Les Miserables". The only element I wrote down in my notes was that she fell on the throw triple toe loop, but I also remember side-by-side spins, a spiral sequence, etc so this was probably their new short program. Tiffany has her hair cut short now in a style that gives her a softer look, BTW.
Jenny Kirk is looking very grown-up (as well as very blond!) now. She skated a show program to a GFB, which sounds kind of blah, but she really put a lot of passion and intensity into it. Jumps were three triple salchows (OK, we know it's her favorite jump!) and a double axel.
Lucinda Ruh skated her "Mercy" program, dressed in skin-tight gold lycra from head to toe. It takes a lot of guts to wear something like that, but it sure gave her a striking appearance on the ice. Her program had no jumps at all, just field moves like spirals and spread eagles, and a whole bunch of her trademark spins. Lucinda got huge applause from the audience and the only partial standing ovation of the night.
Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh skated what Paul promised us was a "brand-new program", but it turned out to be nothing more than a rehash of their old "Business of Love" and "Tutti Frutti" programs, cobbled together with some of their newer tricks. There was a lot of lying around on the ice, but the parts that were actual skating were high-energy and crowd-pleasing. I wish I could have seen one of their competition programs or something less gimmicky, though.
Finally, Nancy Kerrigan skated a solo program. "She still skates", Paul said, making it clear by implication that he doesn't anymore. I didn't recognize the music, but it was a pop song with a tango style. It looked to me like Nancy had probably choreographed this for a smaller ice surface and then tried to stretch it out. There were a lot of toe steps and busy arm movements to interpret the staccato-ness of the music. Nancy landed a nice triple toe but then fell on a double axel and then again on a death drop, I think, so it wasn't her best skate.
Unlike the opening, we had a real choreographed closing number for the cast, to a disco medley. I doubt if any of the skaters other than the Protopopovs are old enough to remember the disco craze, but they all looked like they were having fun. Speaking of the Protopopovs, I was disappointed that they didn't even appear in this number, since in past years they've always been featured and always seem to get into whatever the theme is as much as the younger kids. Anyway, in past years it seems that they've constructed the closing number with a high-energy finale with the entire cast out on the ice, so when this year's edition ended with an extended solo for Lobacheva & Averbukh skating to the fairly low-key "Last Dance", it seemed kind of abruptly cut off.
When they reintroduced the skaters for their final bows, Paul Wylie favored us with a scratch spin, his only bit of skating for the night. He and Nancy were good hosts. It's really quite interesting to see how comfortable Nancy has become with speaking in front of an audience these days, BTW.
Overall, it was a fun show. It didn't have the glitz and professionalism of the big tours, but I personally much prefer to go to shows like this that are held in smaller arenas. At only $25, tickets are a bargain, too, especially considering that it goes to benefit a good cause.
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