If it's fall, it must be time for "An Evening With Champions", the long-running Jimmy Fund benefit show hosted by the students of Harvard University. This year I attended the Saturday evening show.
This year's show was once again hosted by Paul Wylie. There were quite a few changes in the cast since the original announcement -- Evan Lysacek (who I'd especially been looking forward to seeing) pulled out some time ago due to his injury and reshuffling of his JGP assignments, Tanith Belbin is reportedly ill, Beatrisa Liang is injured, and the Pennington brothers and Orscher & Lucash ended up doing only the Friday night show due to a conflict with the Simsbury show this weekend. But they pulled in some local skaters to fill the gaps, Oksana Baiul skated two programs instead of just one, and Paul himself skated a real program this year as well as doing the introductions.
I didn't write down the music for the opening number, which probably means it wasn't anything I recognized. It started with the four pair teams in the cast doing their bit, followed by the dancers, men, and ladies, and then everyone was introduced individually. Oksana Baiul landed a strong double axel -- a positive sign for things to come -- and Paul did some split jumps.
Rebbekah Houde was the first of the local skaters who started off the show. She is a cancer survivor and probably just a recreational skater. She skated to "Chicago" and did several single jumps, including a loop/loop and lutz/loop combination.
Next came Stephen Carriere, who is a very good novice competitor, but he was clearly having an off-night here. He skated to "Shaft", which I think is his competitive short program. Hard fall on the triple toe, then popped the axel and took another fall on another toe loop attempt he threw in immediately afterwards. Impressively high death drop at the end of the program, though.
Diandra Burke, a juvenile competitor, came next, skating what surely is her competitive program -- "Malaguena". Plenty of "attitude" to her skating and I got the impression she's a Sasha-wannabe. I noted that she did double loop and flip but only a single lutz. Good fast spins in the program. She had so many flowers and toys thrown out on the ice for her that Paul Wylie was pressed into duty as ice sweeper!
Matt Lind was next, skating a show program to unknown-to-me rock music. His jumps included two double axels and a triple salchow, so it is hard to say what kind of competitive shape he is in this year. I have to say that I never cared much for Matt's skating when he was a novice and junior competitor, but in the last year or two he's lost all his gawkiness and has really transformed himself into a fine performer with a good sense of dance movement. He was fast and smooth and used his long body line to advantage in this program.
Jennifer Don & Jonathan Hunt were the first of the pair teams, skating their long program for the season, which I'm pretty sure is the same one they had last year. The elements I wrote down were triple twist, sbs 3t/2t combinations, throw 3r with a splat, an upside-down lift, another set of sbs 3ts, flying sit spins with good unison, another lift, another fall on a throw (3s, I think), back press lift into an extended carry in another upside-down position, pair spin, lasso lift to a hip grip, straight-line steps, back outside death spiral ending in a split on the ice.
Rena Inoue & John Baldwin followed with a show program to "At Last", a slow, bluesy vocal piece. Elements I wrote down were swing moves, a dance lift, throw 3s, sbs 2xs, adagio-type spiral carry lift to a platter position. It was a good program and nicely presented, and it seemed to me that it got a better reception from the crowd than Don & Hunt's more ambitious program.
Louann Donovan, one of the last-minute replacements, came next, skating to a GFB. Single axel, I think, 3t/2t barely held on, 3s fall, ended with her usual spin combination. I'm not sure how much notice she had to prepare this program.
Next we had Nick LaRoche, skating to "God Bless the USA" in a t-shirt with red, white, and blue sequins. The skating was fine -- 3z, 3s, 3t, and his usual fast and powerful in-between skating -- and I could see that the program was thoughtfully constructed and skated with attention being paid to the beat and phrasing of the music. But I find these patriotic program themes so manipulative and off-putting that I was inwardly cringing through the whole program anyway. It's like being hit with a sledgehammer. I'd like to see Nick skating to something a little more subtle.
Loren Galler-Rabinowitz & David Mitchell skated their new original dance, a medley of a blues rock guitar piece and a faster rock-n-roll section. It looked a little rough around the edges, typical for an early-season performance. David appears to have decided that long hair is the key to success in ice dancing, but I found the effect rather distracting, to tell the truth.
The Protopopovs were next, skating to the adagio from the Mahler symphony #5, which is a program they've skated at this event in the past. It's still just wonderful to watch. They even did a couple of overhead lifts this time. Sometimes in the past the audience has seemed not to understand who they are and to sit on their hands, but not this time -- they got an extended standing ovation, after which they did an encore. Paul introduced it as a piece called "Russian Impromptu" which was composed especially for them by a local pianist whose name I did not catch. This was a faster and more up-beat number which featured some quick footwork.
Oksana Baiul came out in a very, very bright multi-colored halter-cut dress, so that I was expecting something Latin, but no, it's a classical violin piece that's familiar to me but that I can't quite place. Well, Oksana is back, no doubt about it, looking as trained and focused as I've ever seen her since she turned pro. The elements I wrote down were 3s, turns into 3t two-footed, 2x, another 2x, butterfly, circular steps. Fast in-between skating, although there was a bit too much end-to-end stroking in the program, I thought. Anyway, she was clearly very happy with the way she skated, and punched the air at the end of the program. I suppose this is what she is intending to use at whatever pro competitions she ends up doing this season.
The first half of the show closed out with the Haydenettes doing their new short program. I didn't take detailed notes on this, but I remember they had a fall on their circle move.
The second half opened with Lauren O'Neill, another local skater, skating to a version of "The Prayer" choreographed for her by Paul Wylie, according to the program. My notes on program content say two double lutzes, layback, and a broken-leg sit spin.
Kylie Gleason & Taylor Toth skated what appeared to be their competitive long program, a medley of some familiar Russian muzak and a muzak arrangement of "Stairway to Heaven". Elements were pair spin, double twist, star lift, throw 2s step out, 2x that both missed, throw 2t(?) with a hand down, sbs 2z into 2t sequence, sbs spins, circular steps, forward inside death spiral.
Katie Thordarson skated what appeared to be her short program, another piece of music I recognize but can't remember the name of. 3t/2t nice, 2x fall out, layback, 2f, sit spin, circular steps, spirals, spin combination.
Scott Smith skated to some rock music with a vocal. 3z, 3s, flying camel, spread eagle, 3t, split jumps, death drop to fast scratch spin.
Melissa Gregory & Denis Pethukov skated to "God Bless America", which, coming on top of Nick LaRoche's program in the first half, was enough to trigger my gag-o-meter. :-P They were fast and smooth and did a lot of nice lifts, but I just couldn't get into it. For some added entertainment in their program, though, someone had thrown a stuffed duck toy on the ice for Scott Smith that nobody had spotted and picked up in time, and they had to spend the whole program trying to avoid it.
Caryn Kadavy skated her usual GFB -- I have no clue what this one is called. Jumps were only 1x, 2f, 2r (I understand she is coming back from a serious knee injury) but the program had nice spins and field moves.
Tiffany Scott & Phil Dulebohn skated a show program to some new-age music with a heavy beat, wearing spiffy black bodysuits. (Why won't the ISU let women dress like that in competition?) It was a moody program with a lot of crouching poses throughout. For elements, I wrote down triple twist, throw 3s, lasso lift, a swing move, sbs 2xs that she popped to a waltz jump, back press lift to an upside-down position, back outside death spiral, and ending with a detroiter in a split platter position (instead of the more typical sideways position).
Steven Cousins came out in a funky-looking outfit with sunglasses and leather pants and proceeded to emphatically shake his butt at the audience. His music was some horrible loud, droning, repetitive stuff with a pounding beat that gave me a splitting headache within the first 30 seconds. (Eeek! Make it stop!) His elements included a 2x and 3t and some spins, but I noticed that instead of doing connecting moves he was standing around posing and dancing and wiggling his rear some more.
Oksana Baiul came back for her second number, and yes, it really is "Swan Lake" again, as if there aren't enough other skaters using that music this season. At least her costume was very restrained -- no stiff tutu or dead crow on her head this time, just a simple sparkly white dress with the only swan suggestion about it being the poofy bits at the wrists. The elements I wrote down are 3s, back split, spiral, flying camel, 2t from turns, 2x step out, another flying camel to donut spin, interspersed with a lot of standing around on her toe picks. So it wasn't as technically strong as the first program she skated, but where Oksana blows away all the other wannabes in the Battle of the Birds is in her power -- she can accelerate very quickly and really move over the ice when she wants to, and she attacks her jumps with tremendous speed.
Finally, Paul Wylie came out for his moment in the spotlight. His program was introduced by Caryn Kadavy as being "Hero", a tribute to cancer victims and survivors, appropriate to the benefit nature of the show. The only jumps I wrote down for him were a single axel and double flip, but the program was filled with all his trademark moves -- the spread eagle, the knee slide, the fast footwork, the Lussi scratch spin, etc -- plus many smaller touches that made me think I was watching Paul Wylie's greatest hits all over again. I appreciate how difficult it must be to make a comeback after 5 years of not skating seriously, but I hope Paul gets himself to a choreographer for some new material if he's serious about making a career as a performer again. (Or maybe he could revive "Touch Me"? Wishful thinking, perhaps....)
The closing number this year was a blues/gospel medley. They started with the two dance teams skating to "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", joined briefly by the Protopopovs. Then the other three pairs came out, and the two who are not a CW team joined up to do a fours death spiral that got a lot of cheers from the audience. The three ladies skated to "Fever", with Oksana making another attempt at a two-footed triple toe, and then the men skated to "Loves Me Like a Rock", ending with the entire cast on the ice for the final bows.
Photos are Copyright (c) 2003, Sandra J. Loosemore, and are provided for personal viewing only except as noted in Skateweb's photo use policy.
I apologize for the poor quality and limited number of photos. The spotlights made things difficult and I was entirely guessing on exposure settings. Plus, they were running fog machines as part of the lighting rig -- I guess it is supposed to diffuse the glare from the spotlights somewhat, but it also made all my photos come out foggy, too! :-P
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