An Evening With Champions 2005

This year I went to the Saturday evening performance of "An Evening With Champions", the annual Jimmy Fund benefit at Harvard. I didn't take photos this time, since I ended up seated behind the glass at the end of the rink with a pole in front of me, too. In past years I've never had any problems with just showing up and buying a ticket at the door, but this year the show was a near sell-out, so I had to take what I could get.

The opening and closing numbers for the show were choreographed by Kelly Smith. The opening number involved the skaters dividing up into lines of girls and guys at opposite ends or sides of the rink doing some fairly generic bopping around. It looked pretty ragged and underrehearsed. In past years they've more typically choreographed the group numbers for a series of small ensembles instead, so that the skaters each have less stuff they have to learn in a hurry. Or else just had them do a trick individually as they were introduced.

Paul Wylie was once again back as host, but he didn't skate at all this year, not even doing a token trick in the closing number as he's done sometimes in the past.

The first soloist was Amanda Marino, a 10-year-old cancer survivor who is a basic skills skater. I got the impression from watching her skate that she enjoys jumping more than skating, but she gave a good performance for her level.

Next up were Molly and Chris Schleicher, a local novice pair team; he is also a freshman at Harvard. They skated to "You Raise Me Up", and did typical novice-level skills like a star lift, double twist, throw double loop and salchow, forward inside death spiral, etc.

Then the members of the Harvard Figure Skating Club came out and did their usual group routine of bopping around to high-energy music.

Jordan Wilson was the first of the featured skaters. He skated to a Ray Charles piece -- I think it's called "What'd I Say", with a false ending. He looked like he was having fun and the crowd got into it, but my jump notes on him are that he fell on a triple salchow and stepped out of a double axel, so it wasn't a great performance.

Alissa Czisny came out in an orange and magenta dress and skated her short program to middle eastern music. Very fast flying sit spin, 3z/2t, 2x, spirals showcasing her flexibility, 3f, spin combination with bendy positions, straight-line steps, layback. She had a huge smile on her face throughout the performance, and no wonder! She was really terrific, and how nice for her to be able to skate like that after the disaster she had at the cheesefest last weekend.

Tiffany Stiegler & Sergei Magerovskiy were next. My only notes on them are a scribble I can't decipher, and I can't remember anything about the program they skated except that it reminded me of how much I hate the direction ice dance is going nowadays. The dancers are spending so much time twizzling and struggling through footwork that they're not *dancing* anymore.

Kelly Smith did a solo to "Crazy Thing Called Love". Jumps were 2x fall and 2t. It's obvious he's not much of a technician compared to the elite men in the cast, but he's had a lot of professional show experience and he knows how to act and has a good sense of musical timing.

Act I of Boston, the Skating Club of Boston's ice theatre troupe, was next doing the same "American in Paris" program I'd seen in the spring at Ice Chips. Unfortunately, they set up a large, tall piece of scenery right in front of the section where I was sitting, that pretty much blocked our view of at least half the ice surface. Duh! Since I'd seen the program before anyway, I used this as an excuse to take a bathroom break so I wouldn't have to fight the lines at intermission.

Julia Vlassov & Drew Meekins were next, skating a show program to "Hero". They did a nice one-arm star lift and a throw triple salchow from the same rotating takeoff that Kazakova & Dmitriev used to do. I thought they'd improved since the last time I'd seen them, but I kind of wished they'd done one of their competitive programs instead.

Daria Grinkova, introduced here as "Daria Gordeeva-Grinkov", was next. Frankly, I felt it was inappropriate for her to be featured as an elite skater just because of who her parents are. She is competing at the juvenile level now, but she's not a particularly remarkable juvenile. Her hardest jump is a double lutz and she splatted twice attempting them in her program (which was set to music from the Nutcracker ballet). She would have fit in better if she had skated with the local skaters at the beginning of the show, I think.

The first act ended with the Haydenettes, performing what might have been their short program. They had a fall towards the end of the program, but the most impressive thing about them is just the sheer speed they had. It's really something to see that many skaters charging around the ice that fast and managing not to crash into each other!

After the intermission, there were the usual speeches and gift presentations, followed by the Protopopovs. They skated two pieces, the first one a solo piano piece by Grieg, and the second one a vocal song "Volga River". I agree with others who thought they were showing signs of finally slowing down this year. Usually Oleg is the last one off the ice at the end of the show, but not this year.

Ryan Bradley was next, skating his "Saturday Night Fever" free skate in white pants and vest over a black shirt. He looked distinctly under-trained; jumps were 3x fall, another 3x fall, 3z, 2x, 3s, 3f step out, 3r, 2z, and an ugly back flip. The spins were also sloppy, the circular step sequence didn't cover the full width of the ice, the "choreography" was basically nothing but stroking around to set up jumps alternating with posing and strutting at center ice, and the music cuts seemed awfully choppy and incoherent to me. It's kind of a risk for skaters to attempt a program this technically ambitious in a show context, and here it backfired. I don't know how this program will go over in a competitive setting, either.

Kimmie Meissner skated a fairly forgettable program to some unrecognizeable female vocal. Her jumps were 3f, 1z, 3s, 2x. It wasn't a bad skate by any means, but she hasn't really learned to bring in the audience to her performance, either.

Next up, Ryan Jahnke skated his new-this-year show program to "Stop and Go", by Wynton Marsalis. It's a piece with a lot of mime and acting, and props including a guest appearance by Alissa Czisny, who got to vamp around a bit. The only jumps were a 3t and 'tano 3z which he stepped out of this time, but there was also a lot of footwork and field moves to interpret the phrasing of the music. I kind of got the impression that half the audience loved it, and the other half didn't know what to make of it because of the lack of jumps and other tricks!

Loren Galler-Rabinowitz & David Mitchell skated what had to be their original dance for the season. If I'm any good at identifying Latin rhythms, they did cha-cha, rhumba, and salsa. See my comments about dance above.

Jennifer Robinson skated to some unknown-to-me female rock vocal in a gray and silver dress. Jumps were 2s and a two-footed 3z, and there was a lot of slow skating and posing in the number. I suppose this is something she is going to skate on tour in Stars on Ice, and I can't say it's induced a lot of excitement in me over this year's show. :-P

Steven Cousins skated to Frank Sinatra's "Tender Trap". Maybe I wasn't taking very good notes during this performance because the only jumps I have written down are a 3t/2t combination. The program did have a lot of dancy footwork in it. I've never been a big fan of his, but I liked this program more than some of the other things he's done recently.

Morgan Matthews & Max Zavozin skated what has to be their new free dance, to "Tango de Roxanne". It was a very sloppy performance with twizzle problems, stumbles on footwork, a botched lift, etc. In spite of that, at least their dance kept my attention, and it seemed like they were actually dancing out there for at least some parts of the program. The choreography and interpretation was pretty intense although there didn't seem to be anything particularly tango-ish about it to me.

Tatiana Totmianina & Maxim Marinin skated a show program to a vocal piece that sounded like Andrea Bocelli to me, wearing the blue stripey outfits we've seen them in before. You could tell right away that they are the best skaters in the show just by the speed and smoothness of their stroking. They did a great throw 3r, side-by-side 3t with a step-out from him, an upside-down dance lift, double twist, 1 handed lift in an upside-down split position, a forward inside death spiral into a swing.

Katia Gordeeva skated to "The Prayer" in a white dress with a long skirt. 2r, 2x fall, 2z step out. Not a great performance, considering that she was supposed to be one of the "big stars" of the show, and the program seemed pretty generic to me as well.

Ilia Kulik skated to his "Rockit" program which he's had for what must be about 5 years now, which features a lot of robot-like movements. For jump notes I have 2z, 3t, 1x, 2f step out, so it wasn't a great performance from him, either. I was also struck by how imitative this whole program is of Gary Beacom's style, with the flopping around on the ice, dark glasses, and even an attempt at a headstand. So what we got was a program that was neither new nor original nor technically impressive, sigh.

So then it was time for the closing number, which seemed even more ragged and underrehearsed than the opening number.

Overall, my impression of the show this year was that it was a bit too long (and would have been even longer if Johnny Weir hadn't pulled out at the last minute), and that the big-name guest stars failed to deliver much of a climax to end the show on an up note, so that I left the show feeling tired instead of energized. I don't know what criteria they were using to invite skaters this year, but it seemed like they ended up with too many skaters, and I was puzzled by some of the decisions about who skated in both shows and who only skated in one. For example, I'm not sure why they spent the money to fly out Matt Savoie and Ryan Jahnke but had them do only one show apiece, when they are both better skaters and have better competitive credentials than Jordan Wilson, Ryan Bradley, or Kelly Smith, who skated in both shows. Besides being wasteful of money that could be going to benefit the Jimmy Fund, it seems a shame to bring such good skaters out and then not let everybody get to see them!

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