March 12, 2011, Chicago (Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL)
Words to Bumble has seen Jeremy Abbott perform live. Words to Bumble loves Jeremy Abbott, but sometimes last season it was just so hard to watch him skate—because chances were he was going to be doing lovely and then bite it. It was nerve-wracking.
And then a couple of days ago I watched his free skate from the 2010 ISU Grand Prix opener in Nagoya Japan (the NHK Trophy competition)… and it was lovely, and lovely, and I was holding my breath and grimacing in fatalistic expectation of frustrating face plant that never happened.
It was glorious. Lack of engaging photos notwithstanding.
Abbott skated to music from Life Is Beautiful, bringing back delightful Oscar memories of Roberto Benigni frolicking about the auditorium post-win.
But really, Abbott was just on for the free skate. His skating was smooth, exuberant and engaging throughout. He opened strong with a triple axel-triple toe loop, and continued in control to the finish. A great solid opener to the season, scoring high enough to win him a place on the podium with the silver medal (free skate 143.57, total 218.19).
Commentator Michael Weiss who performed with Abbott in Smucker’s Stars on Ice after the Olympics, attributed new consistency with the effort put out and the experience gained while on the tour: “I toured with Jeremy this year after the Olympics, and each night he went out there and did all of his difficult elements in exhibition programs. With spotlights and no warm up, and he would do triple axels each night—and I think that’s gonna gain him experience now, so that when he goes out there this year he’s going to have that confidence that ‘I can do those jumps whenever and wherever I need them.’”
In addition to the technical ability to execute his jumps, Weiss also called the viewer’s attention to the high-grade of difficulty that Abbott incorporates into his takes offs and landings: “Every one of these jumps that Jeremy does has a difficult entrance, into and out of [it]… So it’s adding to his transition mark, it’s adding to his grade of executing. He’s really a master at fitting the jumps into the program.”
The success of Abbott’s free skate as a work of choreography stems from the skillful mélange of his nature as a skater, required elements for competition and the creation of a story to tell on the ice—something at which Abbott excels in his performances. This “La Vita e Bella” program just works: “Jeremy is just such a comfortable skater to watch, and I think this program really accentuates his best qualityies—and that is ease and comfort and deep edges. They did a great job of putting this program together.”
Weiss also noted that although last year was a tough one for Abbott, in which he did not manage much international success despite winning the ISU Grand Prix final in 2008, that “When he’s on, he’s almost unbeatable… when he’s at his best, there’s very few who can beat him.” With such a great start to the season, maybe this will be Mr. Abbott’s year…?
Fun Fact: Abbott’s coach, Japanese figure skater Yuka Sato also toured with the 2010 Smucker’s Stars on Ice cast. Words about that situation from Abbott? Of course: “Yuka’s on the tour, and I do have a couple of numbers with her. And it’s really great having her here. But here, she’s not my coach, she’s a skater and a performer, and she has her job to do,” on the other hand, “She’s making sure I don’t get out of line, or that my technique is not getting off.”
I am just going to say that I would probably be overly awkward about that situation.
Figure skating is back for 2010-2011 (and I am a little behind due to unexpected cable provider issues…)!
The ISU Grand Prix series runs every autumn, consisting of six international competitions featuring pairs, ice dance, men’s and women’s figure skating on the senior level. There is also a junior level ISU Grand Prix, which we will touch on again later. Just note it.
This year the Grand Prix opened with the NHK Trophy in Nagoya, Japan over the weekend October 22-24. Inexplicably, NBC did not air its selections until the following weekend, which got me all mixed up with my dates and general comfusion—but onwards. Skate Canada went down over Halloween weekend, the Cup of China is coming up next (Nov. 5-6), then Skate America (Nov. 12-14), Cup of Russia (Nov. 19-20) and concluding with the Grand Prix of France Trophée Eric Bompard before the final to be held back in Beijing over December 9-12.
So that’s that informational introduction to the whole Grand Prix shebang.
The NHK Trophy competition saw a mixture of disappointment and triumph for established Japanese figure skating stars. Mao Asada, reigning ladies’ World Champion and Olympic silver medalist had an upsetting start to the 2010-11 season, finishing in only 8th place on home ice. Meanwhile, Daisuke Takahashi—reigning men’s World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist—turned in a typically strong performance, taking the NHK Trophy gold.
The real story for this post, however, is about two newly risen junior champions, skating for the first time at the senior level of competition. The reigning ISU Junior World Champions are both young Japanese skaters (15 years old) who made quite a splash in their first senior Grand Prix. Kanako Murakami beat out one of her heroes, Mao Asada, placing for bronze with a 150.16. Yuzuru Hanyu came just short of the men’s podium with a strong fourth place début performance, totalling 207.72.
Commentators Terry Gannon, Tara Lipinski and Michael Weiss loved the fresh skates given by Murakami and Hanyu, reflecting time and time again that at this time last year they were still skating in the juniors.
At the start of Murakami’s free skate
to the Mask of Zorro soundtrack, commentator Terry Gannon said, “[She] may be the next Japanese star on the horizon… who won every event in which she entered last season—all on the junior level the wins were though—and she is the reigning world junior champion. Now in the senior , skating internationally and in a position to win!”
Michael Weiss followed up reflecting on the junior to senior transition: “It’s difficult, you’re coming off of winning everything as a junior, there’s a lot of expectations on you, especially with the history of the Japanese skaters. And to come out in your home town for your first event—a lot of experience will be gained in this performance.” And then later: “I remember when I first came up from juniors, making that transition, to be on the ice for the first time with your heroes… and you wonder, do I belong here? You won everything as a junior and making that transition is a difficult transition, but she obviously has the elements with that huge triple-triple at the beginning.”
She had a lot of energy and the hometown audience continued to feed her speed and attacking mentality throughout the free skate program, despite a of couple falls in the second half. Tara Lipinski was also commenting for NBC and praised Murakami’s tenacity: “Even with these mistakes, she is not slowing down, she just attacks these jumps. She has so much speed going into them.”
And despite a couple of glitches and spills, Murakami came out of it with a bronze medal—not too shabby for her first senior level international competition, in her hometown of Nagoya.
Fun fact: Miki Ando and Mao Asada, two current Japanese greats are (naturally) Murakami’s heroes. One of the reasons she selected her high school is because that is where Ando and Asada studied. Asada even gave Murakami the blazer that she wore at the school’s entrance ceremony.
As for Yuzuru Hanyu, “another star from Japan on the rise,” he decided to get started with a great quad (going to have to talk about quads at length in a future post), just to note that even though he just came out of the juniors, he can do it all technically.
In terms of criticism, Weiss talked about how when you come up from the juniors and “it doesn’t look like anything can slow [you] down technically,” the area in which young skaters have to grow the most is performance quality in terms of connecting with the audience by maximizing the pull of arm movements and facial expression. Creating and keeping that connection has a lot to do with keeping up stamina throughout a peice—poor Hanyu looked like he just wanted to fall over of exhaustion in the last third of his program.
But it was an impressive program all the same, just out of reach of the podium. Weiss and Gannon talked a lot about potential for Hanyu’s future as a skater and noted that this performance was “a glimpse into the future.”
I just love commentators. And I am so glad that figure skating is back.
Up next? Let’s talk about Jeremy Abbott from the perspective of Stars of Ice co-star Michael Weiss…
These days there is only one national tour allowing enthusiasts to see their favorite figure skaters. The Ice Capades folded in 1995 after over fifty years of kitschy entertainment, Champions on Ice went out of business in 2008, and Stars on Ice is the last tour geared towards audiences looking for competition style skating rather than novelty shows aimed at children (i.e. Disney on Ice).
Not that this prevents a certain level of highly entertaining kitsch. There are group numbers with loads of sequins and outrageous Star Search lighting during which tour members flit about to the likes of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and “I’ve Got the Music In Me” (Kiki Dee Band), among other selections that will make you giggle, including one number incorporating a giant disco ball for extra fun.
It is also vastly entertaining. Vastly.
At the risk of sounding a touch over-excited: There is nothing like seeing Olympic athletes perform in person. Truly. Especially when you have your own personal Scott Hamilton (read: Kathleen) to comment, gasp and clutch with you.
After the opening group number, the show began with Mirai Nagasu skating a version of her competitive short program to music including “He’s A Pirate” from Pirates of the Caribbean (I told you there would be multiple instances of pirates after the golden dollar debacle).
For reference, this is the program during which she spun so fast at the Olympics that she got a bloody nose on the way to a fourth place finish in Vancouver. Mere weeks later it was the program that garnered her a personal record at the 2010 ISU World Championships and first place going into the free skate with the break out performance of the competition.
Nagasu is purely delightful, the girl is going places; like she says, “I just want people to know that I’m the future.” Her signature grace on the ice came across even in the upper levels– sprightly footwork, fluid lines and unrivaled spins were a joy to witness in person. One might think that watching the same program for the fourth time [after televised coverage of Nationals, Olympics and Worlds] would have been old hat, but it was nothing of the sort– if anything, I just knew what I had to look forward to from the moment she stepped out onto the ice.
Suffice it to say that seeing what Nagasu can accomplish in the coming 2010/11 season will be terribly exciting, and I look forward to watching her show the world what she is capable of.
Second up, another Olympian in the form of Jeremy Abbott– another Words to Bumble favorite– who did not make out quite as well in either Vancouver or Torino for the Worlds. Sadly he did not perform his Beatles short program from the competition season, but he did don another classy mildly bedazzled shirt for a skate to Michael Bublé’s “At This Moment.”
The unfortunate thing about Abbott is that as delightful as he is when he is on, he clearly tends to succumb to nerves after even a minor slip up. During his second solo on the ice Abbott had a few issues and touched down on the ice once or twice, never seeming to recover from an early issue.
Comment from Kathleen: “That boy really knows how to swivel his hips.” This is why she is my own personal Scott Hamilton.
Incidentally, Stars On Ice was founded by Scott Hamilton when his Ice Capades contract was not renewed in the mid-eighties.
Olympians Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated their Indian original dance from the 2009/2010 season. Theirs was one of the few at the Olympics that was not entirely scarring, and its energetic pace definitely translated well as a piece of entertainment to keep the show going. Their crazy lifts (like the one where Davis stands on the back of White’s calf) are responsible for my growing enjoyment of ice dancing, which I often find to be a bit trying, frankly.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto gave a narrative performance to Jason Mraz’s “If It Kills Me,” telling the story of a relationship over the years, from childhood into adulthood, complete with props and multiple costume changes. It was pretty adorable.
One of the most distressing aspects of the evening was the low energy of the audience. It was pretty obvious that the lack of enthusiasm was dragging on skaters throughout the evening, most notably Alissa Czisny’s second solo, “I Like the Way You Move,” which should have been a particularly high-energy number.
Michael Weiss on the other hand was particularly adept at connecting with the audience with a rocking crowd-pleaser performance of “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” complete with my favorite thing ever: back flips!
There was clutching, there was gasping, there were joyous exclamations with each jump– and it was not just Kathleen and myself–everyone was loving it! I always miss back flips, I think there should always be more back flipping– it just brings joy.
However, the ultimate crowd favorite was Olympic champion Evan Lysacek (and how relived am I to be writing about his figure skating skills again instead of Dancing with the Stars!?). I had wondered if he would perform the date that brought him to the dance. He did not, but what he did was amazingly fabulous.
Picture this: the crowd goes insane when “our” Olympic champion is introduced. He appears on the ice… Is that a singular sparkling glove that he is sporting?
Yes it is.
What are those dulcet tones that I hear? Oh, Michael Jackson? Oh, “Man in the Mirror?” Yes, please.
I die. So much joy. Just… watch it. Do yourself a favor. Try to be cranky after that.
As you may surmise, clutching ensued. That was one of the most entertaining things I have ever seen. And they say Lysacek is boring and mechanical. Did they not note the glove?
Sheer joy aside, the one thing I took home from watching Lysacek skate is that he is one tall man. It never really came across to me while watching televised events, but seeing him in person– I repeat– that is a tall man. He towers over other skaters, even alone on the ice his height dominates, which may be part of why he is so impressive. So says Kathleen.
Other members of the tour:
The ever delightful Todd Eldredge: Discuss the fact that Eldredge has been skating since I first started watching… and he is still awesomely at it.
Yuka Sato has been on the tour for several years and is also Jeremy Abbott’s coach, so this has been an interesting little exercise for them figuring out how to tour together as colleagues rather than coach and coachee.
Lastly, Sasha Cohen skated as the only survivor of Champions on Ice. Apparently in the figure skating world, the dissolution of previous ice tours and the dominance of Stars On Ice is chuck full of drama– drama for another time perhaps.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience. A little bizarre, a little campy, but also fantastic. There was a little something for everyone: classical pieces, pop programs, campy musical theateresque group numbers, Olympic caliber programs from the faces the world learned to love in Vancouver– overall good times. Plus, when you have gotten used to sitting through an entire night of compulsory dances, the variety brought the best of the best into one whole.
So if you have ever pondered trekking out to see a figure skating tour, I fully recommend the experience. If you cannot make it out: check out the gallery of additional photos from the night on Long Island.
That title is a cliché, but when you travel with Johanna and Kathleen these things just tend to be true. Mildly disastrous, terribly hilarious, but true.
Over the weekend, we journeyed to the Nassau Coliseum (true story, home of the NY Islanders) on Long Island. Why?
Far too many people asked us that question over the course of the evening, and far too many times did we inform judgmental strangers that Smucker’s Stars on Ice was our destination. Just to be safe, I thought I would really hit the fact home here and elsewhere on this great internet. Smucker’s. Stars. On. Ice. Excellence.
But first we had to get there.
We met romantically in the “New Non-fiction” area at the Madison Square Garden Borders and then descended into the depths of Penn Station. After a brief chat with surprisingly friendly employee we selected the Huntington Line and purchased our tickets to the fine hamlet of Mineola. Perhaps you are familiar with the automated ticket machines… wait for it. So I purchased our tickets with cash– a rookie mistake. I slid two twenties into the slot, which accepted them quite happily, and then came the sinking feeling…
And that is why I generally use a debit card.
[Note: I have already spent some of the coins; there were originally a lot more.]
As I gathered my piles of gold from the change tray, I turned to Kathleen and declared, “I feel like a pirate.”
It was not to be the last pirate related incident of the evening. In fact, one might call it foreshadowing.
So we romantically shared a sandwich on the train in a weird little cubby hole seating compartment, read a few old Sports Illustrateds (I was really wondering who won that final USA/Canada game), and pondered what sort of folk would be in attendance at the Nassau Coliseum. We were figure skating performance virgins.
We disembarked in fair Mineola and pondered the options. We were almost an hour ahead of schedule. There was a taxi stand… but there was also the GPS on my phone and time to kill. The GPS informed me that there was a mall nearby, and being Manhattanites, Kathleen and I thought to ourselves, “When was the last time we encountered a mall?”
Along the way we discovered that David could live happily in the suburbs, based on the culinary offerings available on the single road that we encountered.
Upon arriving at the mall–where we had dreamed of finding a Target–we realized that we were never going to get to the venue on time. We also noted that the last time we had seen a taxi was at the train station.
You know what is difficult? Calling a cab to a suburban intersection. Locating an address on a suburban thoroughfare. Being those two girls who decided to walk to a suburban arena.
Kathleen spent far too long on the phone attempting to convince the dispatcher to send a car to our intersection.
She was treated to another conversation with the dispatcher when moments later she actually managed a feat of Olympic stature: hailing a cab on a suburban route. It was magical. The next magical thing that happened was the cab driver asking us what we were seeing at the Nassau Coliseum and then enduring his incredulous response when I explained that there was a figure skating show going down. He proceeded to laugh at us the whole way over our attempt to walk from the train station [in addition to probable judgment about the figure skating, which I repeat… judge away: You are missing out.].
Khan, for this was his name, obviously though that we were hilarious/tragic and upon dropping us off asked, “So, do you have any way to get back to the station?”
Good question. So now Kathleen has Khan’s cell number just in case we ever need a cab again in Mineola, Long Island.
At the arena Kathleen procured her first fast food nachos since she was an almost elite swimmer, and we ascended into the nose bleed section. The floor was sticky, the lights were magenta, the air was crisp and life was becoming more and more complete.
We settled in with a surprising number of middle-aged couples, one of whom was quite unpleasant and another who had luckily retained the enthusiasm of youth and squealed with us every time Michael Weiss did a back-flip.
Fast forward to our return trip, since clearly the event itself merits a post dedicated completely to the splendor that was.
The show ended fifteen minutes too late for us to make our train: 9:45. With the next train slated for 11:03pm, Kathleen and I set off into the night to find a snack and a way back to Mineola Station.
Conveniently, there is a Marriott directly across the parking lot from the Nassau Coliseum. Interestingly, there was an entire army of Asian flight attendants just checking in as we arrived in search of both a taxi and a snack.
We wandered around the hotel for a while, encountered a vending machine (where I wanted to use a golden dollar from my stash, but Kathleen preferred to go the paper dollar route), and finally picked up a cab from the line out front.
Our second cab driver of the night proceeded to joke with us about selling babies to China as cheap labor while cautioning us not to fall asleep in the car because we should be alert of our surroundings… it was creepy as all hell.
We arrived at the station with forty minutes to kill. Since Kathleen had neglected to wear outer wear of any sort, we resorted to the local pub where imported draught beers only cost $2.50.
After a Carlsburg, we finally got on the train. It was the wrong train with a terminus at Jamaica instead of Penn Station. Sinking feelings all around.
Three things happened: First, we encountered the most adorable dachshund puppy on the train. Secondly, we got yelled at by the conductor for not having listened to the inaudible announcement. And third in the list of joy was sighting a pair of girls–probably 17 to 19 years old– pouring cheap chardonnay into big plastic cups on the train. They were on the wrong train as well and we rain into them again on the platform at Jamaica waiting for the next Manhattan bound train. We had a lovely chat about figure skating and were even invited to partake in the wine. We declined because, after all, it was probably difficult for them to procure that alcohol and we were heading straight to a cocktail on the other side of the river.
Once on the train we had yet another conversation with people sitting across the aisle because we needed some insider advice on the Long Island Rail Road. It was confusing. They were from my Grandmother’s old town. They wondered why we were on the train. We told them that we were headed back in to the city rather that out into the city. When pressured, we told them where we had been. They stopped talking to us.
When we got back to midtown, we immediately had ourselves a pair of hard-earned and well-deserved Long Island ice teas.