Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Interview With Alaine Chartrand


In such a relatively short amount of time, Canada's Alaine Chartrand has already done so much. In 2013, in only her second time competing at the senior level at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, Alaine won the bronze medal and since has gone on to represent Canada at the World Junior Championships and the Four Continents Championships, with top ten results at both competitions. A strong, promising skater with explosive jumps, Alaine really is one of several Canadian ladies who is knocking at the door and ready to make a move internationally and I am confident she'll certainly do it. She already has, with a top five finish at Junior Worlds, for heaven sakes! At any rate, Alaine is crazy talented and it was my pleasure to talk to her about her skating career to date, her goals for the future, why she loves skating and much more in this interview I think you'll really enjoy:

Q: You've really made such a rise in skating in the last few years. From finishing tenth on the junior level at the 2011 Canadian Championships to winning the senior ladies bronze medal just two seasons later and finishing in the top five at this season's Canadian Championships and World Junior Championships and in the top ten at the 2014 Four Continents Championships in Taipei City, you have so much to be proud of, especially in such a short time! What are your proudest moments as a skater so far?

A: Definitely my happiest moment was finding out that I finished third at the 2013 Canadian Championships. This was sort of an unexpected result as I was sixth after the short program. I had a great long program which brought me up to third overall. This was my first medal ever at a Canadian Championships which made it that much more exciting. Standing on the podium and performing in the gala with my skating idols was an amazing experience and one of my best memories. This past season, I'm most proud of my long program comeback at Four Continents and fifth place finish at Junior Worlds. Four Continents was my first senior international competition and moving up from fifteenth,after a disappointing short program, to fifth in the long for a seventh place finish was incredible. I earned personal best short, long and overall scores at this event and loved competing as a senior. At Junior Worlds, I had my best long program of the season and moved up in the long to finish fifth in a very tough field.


Q: When and why did you start skating and was it something you knew you wanted to do right from the very beginning?

A: I started skating when I was three years old in our local CanSkate program. I don't really remember the beginning but my parents say I was a very serious little skater who progressed quickly. I probably really started to love skating once I learned my first jumps.

Q: You've worked with some really talented coaches and choreographers - Michelle Leigh, David Wilson, Jeffrey Buttle, Jennifer Robinson and many others. What do you think makes a good coach and choreographer in your opinion?

A: I think as a coach or choreographer you have to be patient, positive, and showcase your skaters' strengths, but also work on improving their weaknesses. I'm very fortunate to be able to work with so many skating greats and I think that they've all had something unique to offer to help me improve my skating.


Q: I thought your performance at this year's World Junior Championships was excellent. Competing against some of the Russian girls, especially Elena Radionova has got to be a little unnerving. Are nerves ever a real factor for you and how do you deal with that?

A: Thank you. I believe all athletes have to deal with nerves and I'm no different. Of course, it can be nerve wracking competing on big national and international stages. I think that it's good to have a bit of nerves and that it's a natural thing. You just can't let them get out of control so that they affect your performance. When I compete, my goal is always to skate my best. I have to be confident in my strengths as a skater and focus on myself. When it comes down to it, the judges, your coaches, parents and the audience want to see you have a great skate, so show them how great you are and have fun doing it! As far as the Russian girls go, they are really just normal kids, trying to skate their best, the same as me. Competing against Elena Radionova is not new as I competed against her last year at Junior Worlds. I actually got to know Evgenia Medvedeva a bit because her Mom trained with my coach Leonid Birinberg in Russia during their competitive careers.

Q: What do you see as your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a skater and how are you working hard to improve any weaknesses?

A: I think my biggest strength is my jumps and technical ability. In the last year, we have worked very hard to improve expression and performance. I would say an area to improve would be my consistency in competition.  I need to continue working to bring what I do in my daily practices to competition.

Q: Looking forward to next season and the next four years, what are your main goals in skating and life?

A: I've always wanted to go to an Olympic Games and still do, so Pyeongchang 2018 is probably my ultimate goal. In the near future, I'm hoping to get on the senior Grand Prix circuit and qualify for senior Worlds.

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: There are really so many skaters that I could have chosen who I look up to and admire for different reasons. I really love looking up old videos, results and just learning about the history of the sport. Right now I'm going to say Kevin Reynolds, Tara Lipinski and Midori Ito. As someone who loves to jump, I respect these skaters for their jumping prowess. Kevin holds multiple records for his jumping abilities and has always gone for the toughest technical programs throughout his career. Tara was an Olympic Champion at 15, had beautiful jumps and always looked like she was having a blast on the ice. Midori really impresses me because her jumps were so high and she really pushed the sport forward with her consistent triple axel.

Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?

A: I always jump on the bed at the hotel before going to the rink to compete.


Q: What is your favourite song, your favourite book and your favourite movie?

A: I can't say I have a favourite song as I generally just listen to whatever is on the radio, like top forty. I read a lot so I don't think I could pick a favourite. I like the classic movies such as The Wizard of Oz and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

Q  If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would DEFINITELY be in your suitcase?

A: I think one of the most rewarding things about being a high level figure skater is getting the opportunity to travel to different countries all around the world and it's something that I really enjoy. Somewhere I haven't been yet that I would really love to visit would be Japan. I've heard so much about how the Japanese are huge figure skating fans. I also have some Japanese fans of my own who are extremely kind and are always inviting me to come visit. I would definitely bring my favourite comfy slippers which I wear on the plane and through the airport.

Q: What makes figure skating the best sport out there?

A: It combines power and strength with grace and performance which is very unique.

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Monday, 28 April 2014

Interview With Christopher Nolan


Since turning professional in 1988, Christopher Nolan has enjoyed one of the most whirlwind and rich professional figure skating careers out there, alternating between performing and choreographing with the precision of a skater effortlessly switching from an outside to an inside edge. Creativity and hard work catapulted Nolan from an "amateur career" that was highlighted by two trips to the Canadian National Championships to starring roles in Disney On Ice and Willy Bietak productions, as well as a featured performance in Toller Cranston's farewell show (and a feature in Cranston's book "Zero Tollerance", where Cranston described Nolan as one of skating's "great unknowns"). Nolan has performed with the Ice Theatre Of New York, in Scott Hamilton's "Upside Down" TV special, at Knott's Berry Farm, choreographed industrial shows in Montreal and competitive programs for American Open Champion Doug Mattis. Nolan's love of performing and of the sport coupled with his endearing and intelligent outlook on the sport are surefire reasons why if you didn't know his name before, you'll remember it now. It's a name you'll be hearing a lot of in the coming years if you care about the sport:

Q: What can you share about your eligible skating career and your most memorable moments?

A: I really didn't flourish in the competitive world although I did have a few good times at seminars and hanging out with a few friends watching events at competitions. My time on the ice was usually a horrific time - I usually shut down. My nerves were debilitating - either my knees locked or my legs turned to Jello. In general, I never enjoyed the competitions. My best memories of those years were always the creative moments spent with my coach Thom Hayim, especially when I would work on putting together a new solo. When he would tell me it was time I needed new music the anticipation of what it would be would kill me. The night before I would be having my lesson where the music would be unveiled for the first time I would barely be able to sleep. It was like Christmas. Thom always used orchestral music and never the usual top 40 - "Prince Valiant", "La Nuit Est Une Sorciere", "Grand Canyon Suite" and "Scheherazade" to name a few. It was my early musical education and I never disliked a piece he presented. I remember following him around the ice as he would have a choreographic steam of consciousness moment. He was always so creative and uninhibited on the ice and still is to this day. He always approached things from a different angle. There was always something special in the number but  the main goal still got accomplished. I loved my short program - the music was "Miserlou". I kept it for about 5 years. It was so well received not to mention I loved the music and the program itself. The year I got that short my eldest cousin made my costume. He was a clothing designer and it was his first foray into figure skating. The costume was based on my back sit spin with one arm straight up in the air and the other straight toward the ice. That doesn't seem to mind blowing now but in 1983 it was ground breaking My cousin designed a simple navy blue outfit with a raglan sleeve cut and on the arms were two stripes in yellow - one thick one and the other just piping running parallel, made for a great barber pole effect. One of my other favourite moments was skating in club shows. One year I did a number to "Money" from"Cabaret and at one point I pulled a string of Monopoly money out of my sleeve and threw it across the ice and then pulled it back wagging my finger at the audience. Needless to say, I learned about production value early on in my career!


Q: Where did the decision to turn professional for you come about and what was the transition from one 'world' to another like for you?

A: I decided to turn pro the summer after my second and last Canadian Nationals. I trained in Vancouver with Ted Barton that year and was skating really well. I had new programs, a new look, a new feel. I got to Nationals and blew it! I was notorious for just doubling my jumps, not even popping. I could tell how disappointed Ted was because he really believed in me and I let him and myself down. My nerves and my head got the best of me. It's amazing how expectation and obligation can manifest into mind numbing self-doubt and snap your self confidence in two. I just wanted to leave the building and get on the next flight to nowhere. I don't doubt that a lot of skaters can relate to those feelings. Alas, the competitive forum was not the place for me. When I joined Disney the transition was so easy, seamless actually. My friend from competition days, Mark Hird, was there and he was a great help. I joined with one other guy just a few days before Christmas and was in the show within days. I remember waiting behind the curtain with the full ensemble and thinking how I was going to remember all the steps and then off we went. I never looked back. I loved skating again, loved skating after the shows, loved rehearsing and loved backstage... old show poodles smoking in their robes by the coffee stand. I loved travel days and loved getting into a new city and trying to figure out the lay of the land. I loved everything about it.

Q: As a principal with Willy Bietak, I can only assume you took a crash course in selling skating as entertainment. What is life performing with a touring show or on a cruise ship really like - the good, the bad and the stuff you reserve for a tell all book?

A: First of all, I want to say I love working for Willy. I joined Broadway On Ice in 1990. He is always supportive and nurturing of anything I do; I'm really lucky to be in the Bietak family. I never had the feeling of "I have a lot to learn" when it came to show skating. The process and the product I took to easily. It felt like I had always belonged in the environment. It felt natural. I never felt a culture shock going from competition to performing. I loved it the whole scene. I loved and still love touring. I work very differently now than when I was in my 20's. Then I took my abilities a bit more for granted and loved the "social" aspect of it, although I always worked hard and put in extra time. When Madonna's "Truth Or Dare" came out I was performing at King's Island with my dear friends Doug Mattis and Darin Hosier. We all went to see it and we laughed because the backstage drama and the lifestyle of touring was the same, just a different budget and star attraction. They had better hotels too. I always loved rehearsing as a skater even more than before. I love the process of perfecting. My party days are over. I'm on the sleep bus now (not the party bus). I need rest and I have to pay attention to how I want to feel in performance. No more late nights or "just one glass of wine" after the show. Some people consider it uptight or anti-social not to go out for drinks but I want to feel my best for the show so I can be in the moment and really take it all in. When I was younger I thought it would last forever and now I know it won't so I would like to be as present as possible when on stage. I wish I had been more present when I was younger... you live and you learn. My ship experience is very different to those who are in the cast. I go on the ship to install the show. This could take up to 5 weeks depending on what ship I'm on. These days I will tag team with other choreographers to either start or finish work. Some ships I go in just as support to another choreographer who is installing the show. My life on the ship is teach the show, sleep, teach the show, sleep, teach the show, workout, sleep, teach the show, maybe see the sun, teach the show... I won't comment on the lives of the cast members. In my mind they all eat, sleep and live the ice show and only the ice show.

Q: Enjoying a huge boom in the 1980's and 1990's, professional skating opportunities that afford skaters and choreographer to showcase whatever work they feel needs an appreciative audience have dwindled over the years. What's exciting is that it's something that seems to be changing, with ProSkaters hosting the first real live professional competition in years in 2014 and a lot of new things popping up. To sum it all up, why did pro skating as we know it die and how can it be effectively revived?

A: My former coach, Thom Hayim, recently said to me (and I agree 100%) "OVER EXPOSURE". There was a hunger to see skating when the only things that were televised were Nationals, Worlds and Olympics. There was no YouTube, no live streaming, no Grand Prix event every weekend, just 2 events a year and Olympics every 4. The only way we could see live skating was with the touring shows. There was a mystique to skating. The opportunity to see a World or Olympic medallist was in a show, usually Ice Capades or perhaps Disney. I was lucky to see Toller live when he skated in our club show. John Curry and JoJo Starbuck rehearsed at our rink when the ProSkate tour came to Montreal. It was exciting! They all seemed so otherworldly and untouchable when I was young. I also think that due to the nature of the athletics of skating and the need for a prepubescent world champion the longevity of champions is much shorter, especially the ladies. How can you follow a skater's storyline for more than a year? I do think skaters (and not all) are in it for very different reasons these days. I remember a very high-ranked skater once said they wanted to be in the top five at Worlds so they could get an apartment in New York. I thought 'awesome'... and went on getting ready for the show.

Q: When you say skaters are in it for different reasons these days, do you think that this generation of skaters has stars with the kind of star power that previous generations had?

A: I look at how skaters contribute to skating outside of coaching. Obviously show skating is where my interest lies. I think Patrick has a great future professionally and Yuna Kim is an anomaly. Stephane Lambiel is doing some nice work. We'll see if Virtue and Moir use their notoriety in any major way. Scott Hamilton did an amazing job with Stars On Ice but it's for A list skaters who perform primarily exhibition style with a few ensemble pieces. Skaters like John Curry, Robin Cousins, Toller and Torvill and Dean all had the respect and vision to move show skating forward using an ensemble. John Curry's company was something only the best show skaters were chosen for, Robin had Electric Ice and now ICE and was involved in countless other shows and Toller's TV specials were ground breaking at the time. They all influenced professional skating. I saw Torvill and Dean's 6.0 tour. It was the show that blew me away and was something I would have loved to have been a part of. They used their ensemble beautifully. They also created the most stunning Bach pieces with Yo Yo Ma for television. It's inspiring! All these skaters are artists and performers and make us aspire to a life of skating after competition. I don't know if skaters today have that type of influence. There are some that could but that remains to be seen.

Doug Mattis' "Hypnotize" program choreographed by Christopher Nolan

Q: You choreographed Doug Mattis' BRILLIANT "Hypnotize" and "Imitation" programs, which I just love. They make me smile! From where do you draw inspiration for your choreography?

A: Doug and I are a very collaborative team when we work together. I love movement that looks good... pretty simple. I know I did like the idea of the dream pushing and pulling him in different directions. I think we got a bit of the feel of drifting in a dream state. Thankfully I had been to a few hypnotist shows that were so big in the 80's and 90's! With any competitive piece you still have to get the job done with pockets of interest. Doug was the mastermind behind "Imitation". The imitating part choreographed itself. I did most of my work on the last jazz section. It was just fun movement with no story needed. I love jazz and I think I move best to that genre.


Q: You were the original skater to perform Douglas Webster's "Transitions" with the Ice Theatre Of New York. How did you first become involved with Ice Theatre Of New York? How has it changed skating for the better?

A: The very first thing I did when I turned pro was call Moira at Ice Theatre Of New York. I can't remember exactly how I had heard about them but I called and she said to come to New York and take class. I took the train from Montreal (11 hours!) and stayed with her skating partner Patrick within walking distance from the old Sky Rink. Little did I know I'd be taking class with John Curry! I think that changed my life. He was very official when he taught class. I don't remember speaking to him and I just tried to follow the best I could. I watched him on a free skate session and I remember him taking his guards off, placing them on the boards and skating away, such intent in every move he made right down to just taking off his guards. I'll never forget it. Moira was great and gave me an open invitation to come and work with Ice Theatre Of New York. It wasn't until I went back years later as a guest and eventually as a company member that I really got to work with them. Doug Webster was fantastic to work with and Judy Blumberg put me through my paces. Rehearsals were always fun, intense, crazy and hysterical. I remember Doug and I working on our tango in the corner and we would laugh our heads off and Judy would not be happy with us... we were reprimanded on numerous occasions. Ice Theatre Of New York was a great place to work with amazing choreographers (dancers and skaters) and be involved in experimental pieces I would not otherwise have the opportunity doing. I really got to expand my language as a skater and push the way I moved, especially in "Transitions". "Transitions" is a number other than "Secret" that really pushed me emotionally. I really had to go to an emotional place. I had to truly surrender myself to Doug's direction and vision of the character. I think everyone that has ever skated "Transitions" would say the same thing. I wanted to do it justice for Doug. We all wanted to be our best because we knew it was a deeply personal and emotional piece. Over the past few years I would have liked to do some work with Ice Theatre Of New York but I always had schedule conflicts. I have a special place in my heart for them.

Q: Is the current IJS judging system acceptable? How do you THINK competitive skating should be judged?

A: As Willy Bietak said, "once they took away the 6.0 they took away the drama". I think there is less accountability due to anonymity and I especially hate how on NBC shows the points accumulating in the corner of the screen. We know the marks before the skater knows... talk about anti-climatic. I also think they should bring back the classic 2 minute short. Ahh... the added stress of only having 7 elements and sometimes blowing the last and most simple of elements. The events were fast-paced, stressful and dramatic. When you strip down skating and simplify it you have nothing to hide behind and your real skill and expertise of the language is revealed. Most skaters are not that interesting if you were to replace all their jumps with doubles.

Q: Looking at the skating at the Sochi Olympics, what was the good, bad and ugly in your opinion?

A: The good: Mao Asada's long. The bad: The men falling so much. The ugly: the Facebook and Twitter firestorm about the judging... and wearing gloves to compete! Hate it!

Q: Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?

A: Loaded question. I have different favourites at different times and all for different reasons. No one skater is everything for me. How about 3 categories (although there are more in my head) and I'll pick one skater out of numerous skaters in each category? For precision, John Curry. For sensuality, Cindy Stuart. For versatility, Kurt Browning. There are SO many great skaters who have had an influence on my skating I wish everyone could have seen them skate at one time. There are some really exciting new young and dynamic skaters that I love as well who are very motivating to be around.

Q: To be asked specifically by Toller Cranston to perform in his farewell show doesn't just happen. What is your relationship with Toller like and what do you respect most about him as a skater, artist and person?

A: Actually, I invited myself. I was skating at the Cricket Club one day and Toller was there practicing (along with an 11 year old Shawn Sawyer) and he told me he was there trying to get ready for a TV special in a couple of weeks. I said to him "I can't believe you're having a TV special and you didn't ask me to skate!" He asked to see what I was working on and I skated "Secret" for him. After I had skated the number he asked how long it was. I told him 4 minutes in two movements. He said I would have to cut it down and that it was too self indulgent even for him. To which I answered, "I refuse to compromise the integrity of the piece. All or nothing." He pushed me aside and simultaneously said "OK, you're in." I met him at a very young age. He and my coach Thom grew up skating together, and then got to work with him a few times as a professional. Whenever we cross paths we usually have a good laugh. I do like that he pushed the boundaries and really brought dramatic performance into the rink. I admire he has no inhibitions when he skates, especially when he interprets. I have been privileged to see him in action on a few occasions.

Q: What is the program "Secret" about?

A: "Secret" was really a personal piece for me and the most cathartic and visceral piece I ever created. It was the first and only time that I put something on the ice that was happening at that very moment. I received some information in confidence and I couldn't digest it immediately. I wasn't sure how I felt about it and went though a few emotions until I got to acceptance. It was a very clear and effortless piece to create. I was even surprised with how quickly it came together.

Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: That if I could do it all over again, I would be a dancer. This does not mean I don't love skating but I have always been drawn to the lifestyle, dedication and sacrifice dancers make. I would love to feel and know that experience.

Q: Word on the ice is that you've got some massive things planned for skating. What can you share at this point? 

A: Being injured right now has made me sit down and start working on some things I've been wanting to do for a while. Getting my thoughts organized can be an arduous task at times. They are in the fetal stage and I am just trying to get through the first trimester before I feel they are something I can talk about with the masses. One thing I do know is that I'm not done with this body yet and would love to skate more. I have always believed that skaters over 40 still have a lot to offer. I think so many people lose touch with their skater selves and I want to stay connected as long as possible (don't worry, I do have friends who will say "get off the stage" at the right moment). I will always consider myself a skater first.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Saturday, 26 April 2014

2014 Stars On Ice Canada (Halifax, NS) Review



Halifax, Nova Scotia isn't exactly the figure skating capital of North America. We're lucky if we get one skating event a year, but when we do people come out in droves and go cray. It's just not very often any of us have fabulous figure skating come right to our doorstep so I think people really appreciate it when they have that opportunity. Once again this year Stars On Ice descended upon us in a fabulous fashion and again, the Metro Centre was packed. What I always love about this tour is just how truly professional the skating is - there is such thought put into every cast member, program, costume, lighting design and piece of music. There's a reason that Stars On Ice has survived and thrived as the premiere skating tour for decades and we really have to thank producer Scott Hamilton for his vision and incredibly hard work and also Jeffrey Buttle and Renee Roca for their brilliant choreography and Jef Billings for his stunning costume design and direction. From the first note of music to the last standing ovation, this was just phenomenal skating and I couldn't have had a more intimate and interactive experience with the tour this year if I tried.

On Wednesday afternoon, I got to take a break from my work day and have coffee with my favourite pairs team competing today... Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. So here I am looking like something the cat dragged in (unshaven and far from dressed for success) but I was like you know what? I didn't even care... I was like "I just love these guys' skating and I'm going even if I look like crap!" I'd interviewed Meagan in July of last year and seen both her and Eric skate live a couple times but it was beyond fabulous to meet them both in person. They couldn't have been any more down to earth, sweet or interesting and we talked about everything from the short program to the format and programs in this year's Stars On Ice tour to ice dancing, their 2013/2014 season and vegan eats in Halifax. I was a HUGE fan of these two before and am even moreso now if that's possible. Very cool stuff!

Although I did say we needed to have a red rover, red rover, send Jeremy Abbott over moment with the U.S. tour, we couldn't have been any more fortunate to have the star studded cast we had this year if we tried. Between them, they have won an incredible thirty one Canadian titles. Four time World Champion Kurt Browning, Olympic Gold and Silver Medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Olympic Silver Medallist and three time World Champion Patrick Chan, Olympic Bronze Medallist Joannie Rochette, Olympic Bronze Medallist Jeffrey Buttle, Olympic Silver Medallists and two time World Medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canadian Silver Medallist Shawn Sawyer all returned for opening night of this all Canadian affair tour and were joined by new additions to last year's cast (fresh off trips to Olympics and Worlds) Olympic Silver Medallist Kaetlyn Osmond and World Silver Medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. The tour this year was adapted on the same themes used in the U.S. tour, with some exceptions (for instance, the "Piano Guys" duet that Alissa Czisny and Jeremy Abbott are skating in the U.S. tour this year was skated by Jeffrey Buttle and Joannie Rochette in last year's Canadian tour so that obviously wasn't included) and the choreography for the group numbers was adapted as well to fit the Canadian cast.


Again this year, my mother and I had front row, on ice seats and I have to tell you, SPEND THE
MONEY... it's worth every penny. It's a completely different experience when the skaters are literally right in front of you and the ice is within toe tapping reach. The opening number this year was a stark contrast to the whimsical, imaginative "Somebody That I Used To Know" show opener from last year. Skated to Hans Zimmer's "What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?" from the "Man Of Steel" soundtrack, the piece was skated with giant white flags and really let the quality of skating of the entire cast speak for itself. The opening number accomplished its goal, getting people so excited for what was to come and giving everyone their first taste of the amazing cast for this year's show.

The first solo of the evening came from Olympic Silver Medallist, two time Canadian Champion and 2012 Skate Canada Champion Kaetlyn Osmond. Skating to Jewel's beautiful cover of "Over The Rainbow" from "The Wizard Of Oz", being mistakenly announced as 'Canadian Silver Medallist Shawn Sawyer' didn't cause Kaetlyn to skip a beat. She landed a righteous triple flip and followed it up with a strong double axel and triple toe for good measure. Not a touch of nerves whatsoever, just good clean - and gorgeous - skating.

Following Kaetlyn was Canadian Silver Medallist and fan favourite Shawn Sawyer. Never one to shy away from the creative and theatrical, his brand new program to AWOLNATION's "Sail" was a huge hit with the Halifax crowd. Dressed in a lifejacket with a giant kayak paddle as a prop, Shawn was the star that he is, landing two backflips and keeping the crowd in the palm of his crowd. Halifax GETS Shawn Sawyer and always enjoys the fact he's putting on a PERFORMANCE every time he steps foot on the ice. Great music choice too! I love the song and Shawn turned it out.

Following Shawn's program, there was a short group number/more of a segue with Kurt Browning, Joannie Rochette and Patrick Chan skating to "Stompa" by Serena Ryder. I'm a firm believer that if Serena Ryder tells you to get up, listen to her, clappa your hands and stompa your feet you do what she says. It got the crowd going and set the pace for three time Canadian Champions, Olympic Silver Medallists and two time World Medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's first program was set to "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Meagan explained to me that she'd first heard this music on America's Got Talent and it had a folky feel and I have to say, I not only adored the music but adored the program choreographed by Julie Marcotte as well. It really showcased Meagan and Eric's strength as a pair, highlighting their difficult lifts, high energy and personalities out there. They did a huge triple twist and massive throw triple salchow and were positively glowing. You can tell when skaters are having fun out there, and they were having a blast.

Skating to Donny Hathaway's classic "A Song For You", Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's first program couldn't have possibly gone any better! I've heard a million versions of this song and I have to say, I'm always going to be partial to Whitney Houston's, but this was a classic and was full of such expressiveness and emotion. That's one thing I noticed through the entire show from Kaitlyn and Andrew... there was real emotion out there, right down to facial expressions and the sense of meaning behind simple arm movements. A gorgeous new program!

Playing double duty as show choreographer and headliner must have been exhausting for 2006 Olympic Bronze Medallist, 2008 World Champion and three time Canadian Champion Jeffrey Buttle, but it certainly didn't show whatsoever in his act one program to "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic. Having seen many of the programs on the U.S. tour, this program kind of struck me as the closest equivalent to
Jeremy Abbott's "Latch" number on the U.S. tour. Completely unsurprisingly, the choreography was tight, original and incredibly entertaining. In a contrast to the programs Jeff performed on last year's tour, it was great to see him go in a more upbeat direction (although I just loved "In This Shirt" last year). He's such a musical skater that knows how to work an audience and his jumps were bang on as well. I'd have to say this particular program was one of my several favourites of the night.

Following Jeffrey's program was 2009 World Silver Medallist, 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist and six time Canadian Champion Joannie Rochette, who performed a gorgeous program to music from "Notre Dame de Paris" by Luc Plamondon. Joannie had used music from "Notre Dame de Paris" as a competitive program at the 2013 Japan Open competition, where it was enough to place far ahead of the 2014 Olympic Gold Medallist Adelina Sotnikova. And no wonder... the presentation and attention to the detail in the choreography was out of this world. This version had lyrics, EASY looking triple jumps and floating footwork from element to element and the jumps were used an exclamation points in the choreography to "Danse Mon Esmeralda", not as tricks. I think Joannie's become a much better skater since she turned professional and there's something about watching her that puts you completely at ease out there. This particular program is a great vehicle for her!

2014 Olympic Silver Medallist, three time World Champion and seven time Canadian Champion Patrick Chan followed Joannie with a program to Michael Bublé's "Best Of Me". With big triple jumps including a huge triple lutz down on the other end of the rink, Patrick looked so confident and at ease out there in his program. His speed and the security of his edges are always something to behold but I really have to say what impresses me the most with him when he's skating on a tour like Stars On Ice is his ability to relate to an audience... little things like eye contact and taking the time to work the crowd as he zooms by that are the mark of a great show or professional skater and not 'just' a competitor. I found it beautifully appropriate that the final lyrics of the song he chose to skate on the Canadian tour were: "No one will ever touch me more / I only hope that in return / No matter how much we have to learn / That I might have saved the best, very best of me for you".


Olympic Gold and Silver Medallists, two time World Champions and five time Canadian Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were next to take the ice, performing a new program to Van Morrison's 1970 hit "Into The Mystic". Now, here's what I say about this program... I love it. The music is like a cozy sweater on a fall day on a patio and really highlighted the maturity and depth of their skating I feel. A very adult music choice and the program felt to me like a professional program, not an "amateur" skating an exhibition. Gorgeous edges and "transitions" (for all you IJS mathe-magicians out there) and chalk full of challenging lifts with interesting entrances and exits. This one's definitely a keeper for Tessa and Scott and they did a great job out there.

The final solo performance of the evening came from living legend himself Kurt Browning. The four time World Champion performed to "Who's Got The Pain?" by Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse from the "Damn Yankees" soundtrack. He came out with a three step

ladder and started on top. A wonderful, wonderful comedic mambo number and I don't think he missed a single beat or nuance in the music the entire time. This was Kurt Browning comedy at its very best. One thing I noticed about Kurt's skating this year as opposed to last year was that his jumps (particularly his triple toe) were looking way more secure. We're talking bang on. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I could watch Kurt skate all day and this program was simply fabulous.


The first act concluded with the 'boys number' to "The Walker" by Fitz And The Tantrums. Adapted from the all male number used in the U.S. men's tour, the skaters for this program were Patrick Chan, Scott Moir, Jeffrey Buttle, Andrew Poje and Shawn Sawyer. It was cleverly and playfully choreographed and almost had a 'boy band' feel to the choreography. As compared to the more elegant opening number, it was great to see these skaters come out of their shells and have a little fun out there. It featured two sections where the men lifted Shawn and ended with the cast snapping a selfie on center ice that instantly went onto the four screens in the corners of the rinks. What a way to end the first set - I mean act - here I am thinking I'm at a drag show again. I don't know how he did it after skating that all out number, but Jeff Buttle was right back out there, giving his speech for World Vision immediately following the number and not even sounding the least bit winded. I'd be hacking up a lung!


Speaking of hacking up a lung, after a nice refreshing good Christian cigarette, I was back in my seat and
ready for 'Act 2' in no time. The men having had their moment in the spotlight in "The Walker", it was now time for the 'girls number' set to a haunting cover of Radiohead's 1992 debut hit "Creep" by Scala and Kolacny Brothers. I'd heard this version about a year or two ago and had always wanted to see someone skate to it, so I really enjoyed this (which, like "The Walker" is also on the U.S. tour with different skaters). The moody, dark choreography was expertly delivered by Tessa Virtue, Joannie Rochette, Kaetlyn Osmond and Kaitlyn Weaver. The program made great use of the ballet bar and you could hear a pin drop during this number. The audience 'got it' and loved this piece.

Shawn Sawyer's second program was set to Sergio Mendes' "Magalenha" and was an absolute treat. In a jungle bodysuit type costume, the only way I could describe this program and the choreography would be if Toller Cranston and Surya Bonaly had a baby, it would be Shawn Sawyer skating to "Magalenha". It had an African/Brazilian carnivale jungle motif going on and Shawn landed a great triple flip and backflip along with his deep back of tricks which included his sickening spins, cantilever, a ton of gymnastics (not just a cartwheel, we're talking more flips than you can shake a Skate Guard at) and a really musical straight line footwork sequence. I have to say, we are incredibly lucky to have Shawn on the tour and the audiences here in Canada GET and LOVE his skating. He's such a born performer out there and both of his programs this year were fantastic vehicles for him.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's second program was set to A Great Big World's "Say Something", choreographed by Julie Marcotte. I've been hearing so much of this beautiful song lately - two of the programs in this year's Quest For Creativity (which I'll be judging) are both set to it as well and I have to say, this song just gives me goosebumps. Despite a problem on the landing of their throw triple, Meagan and Eric turned it out and put on a
exquisite and emotive performance full of gorgeous lifts, great speed and wonderful body shapes and interpretation of the music out there. Halifax really loves and appreciates these two and this program is an absolute gem in my opinion.

Kaetlyn Osmond's second program was to J-J-J-Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best". Aside from her beautiful "Who You Are" song, I'm not a huge Jessie J fan but I have to say Kaetlyn's program kind of made me forget that for a minute. She started literally right in front of me and I have to say, even though I love me some boys, she looked SMOKING in her outfit. I'm sure that Rosie DiManno one who wrote the article about Kaetlyn being the "Miley Cyrus of skating" will have a field day with it, so stay tuned! Don't even get me started on that foolishness. Someone will have to hold my earrings! Anyway, enough ranting and back to the program. The confidence and choreography were out of this world and you wouldn't know for a second this was Kaetlyn's first year with the tour. She looked like a pro out there and WORKED it! She had problems on some of her elements, falling on a triple toe, doubling her flip and slipping on her final spin, but she didn't let the program go for a SECOND and the audience just loved her. Kaetlyn's really a born performer out there and what a great addition to the tour she really is!

Performing their competitive free dance to "A levare", "Yo soy Maria" and "Milonga de la Anunciacion" by Gideon Kramer and Astor Piazzolla that won them the silver medal at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were show stoppers. They skated their program with conviction, finesse and a fabulous quality to their edges and footwork. Their step sequences were complex and lifts very strong, but again it was the emotion and passion that they skated with that captured your complete attention. Kaitlyn and Andrew are an absolute pleasure and this tango is something very special.


From an awe inspiring energy to full speed ahead, high energy skating, Joannie Rochette was fabulous in her
program to "Shot Me Down" by David Guetta featuring Skylar Grey, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne. Starting off in a white silk dressing gown that she removed to reveal a long sleeved dress that she unzipped? unsnapped? (I don't know) to add these green stripes later on, Joannie's program was a complete departure for her and was high energy, all out skating that had Shae-Lynn Bourne written ALL over it. She landed two big triple toe-loops and a double axel and finished the program with a final "Bang Bang", shooting down Eric Radford at the entrance to the skater's tunnel and got a huge response for this program.

Slowing things down with an exquisitely choreographed program to the "Liebestod" aria by Richard Wagner (from "Tristan Und Isolde"), Jeffrey Buttle showcased just how much he's 'kept up' his skating since turning professional. Easy looking triple flip! I was saying to my Mom after the show that I think there's something quite brave about choosing to skate a classical piece in a show like Stars On Ice and if anyone was going to pull it off, it was Jeff. There are no stops, no rests, no poses in his programs; everything flows from one movement to the next. He's really in fantastic shape and has kept his jumps up so well, but I find that the maturity and depth to his skating speaks volumes to what he's accomplishing as a professional skater. I'd dare to say that he's this generation's akin to John Curry.

Next, ice dance duos Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje joined forces for one of the most passionate performances of the night, set to Pink's "Try", reworked from a piece used in last year's U.S. tour but not included in the 2013 Canadian tour. The lyrics of this song have always spoke to me and this program did as well. The choreography painted a picture - to me at least - of the same couple going through different phases in a relationship and I have to say, as much as I adore Tessa and Scott, it was impossible to take my eyes off of Kaitlyn and Andrew during this piece. You really couldn't watch both teams much at the same time because it was like two different programs and stories were being told on different parts of the ice concurrently but what a masterfully done piece. Loved it.


Skating to Holly Cole's brilliant cover of "Trust In Me" from "The Jungle Book", Kurt Browning weaved a magical spell and as always, had the audience in the very palm of his hand. I don't know about you, but I could watch Kurt skate all day and I think this program is one of his most cleverly choreographed pieces in recent years. Again, the jumps (including the triples) were secure and confident, but this program was just peppered with difficult footwork, deep edges and fascinating choreography. I was hoping he'd do "Trust In Me" and I'm thrilled I had the chance to see it live!

In a throwback to an earlier era of Stars On Ice, Patrick Chan skated to a piece of music Scott Hamilton used on the tour twenty years previously. Like Hamilton, Chan brought down the house to Tony Bennett's "Steppin' Out With My Baby". Now, you have to appreciate the fact that when I hear "what a night!" at the end, I see Scott backflipping in my head, not Patrick doing a spin combination, but that said, this program was charming, very difficult and skated with finesse and charm.


Keeping with the big band feel of Chan's program, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were fabulous in their program to "Top Hat And Tails" and "Cheek To Cheek" by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, which seemed to fittingly pay tribute to their Louis/Ella short dance that won them an Olympic silver medal in Sochi. The program started with a kind of window frame being lowered onto the ice. Tessa started out with Patrick Chan and then he left and she was joined in no time by Scott. They put on their top hats, put on a show, then rested the top hats on the 'window' frame which was lifted back up into the rafters and ended their program with the "Cheek To Cheek" section they skated in their Olympic short dance, complete with that fabulous spinning lift. A wonderful throwback to another era of ice dancing and it couldn't have gone over any better if they tried.

The finale of this year's tour (as in the U.S. tour) was performed to a cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" from the 2012 film "Rock Of Ages" and was a wonderful conclusion to a show that featured all out skating from a cast of Canada's absolute best. I'd describe it, but I'd rather just let you all see it for yourselves! The bows were performed to Pharrell Williams' hit "Happy" and Mom and I got high fived by the entire cast (including Kurt) as they skated by, so if I get a cold, I'm blaming the one with the triple toe-loop... or the triple twist... or the twizzles... that covers everyone I think!

 

All in all though, what a fabulous show! We don't get to see great live skating like this 'much in these parts' and no T, no shade to the U.S. tour but with a cast like this, when you go to watch you're getting to see a damn good SHOW! The programs are all polished, the skaters know how to work a crowd and the program choices highlight the very best in these talented souls. Big thanks again to Meagan and Eric for making time to meet, photographer Dave W. Carmichael for giving me permission to share his wonderful photographs of the show and to Rob from Stars On Ice for all of his help! Watching the opening night of the 2014 Canadian Stars On Ice tour was a privilege.

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Die Anfängerin: Christine Stüber-Errath's Remarkable Comeback


Talk about a comeback! In a forthcoming feature film, 1974 World Champion and 1976 Olympic Bronze Medallist Christine Stüber-Errath will mark her return to the ice in a film directed by Alexandra Sell. The plot of the film centers around a doctor (played by Katrin Sass, who was lauded for her role in the 2003 film Good Bye, Lenin!) with an unfulfilled dream of becoming a figure skater. Sass' character was forbidden by her mother to take up skating despite being a huge fan of Errath's own skating in her youth. Taking up skating in her late fifties, Sass' character ends up meeting the very skater she admired most on the ice and forming a bond with the former skating star. It's really a fascinating story. You've got two ladies in their late fifties - an actress who has never skated before and a World Champion skater who hasn't performed in decades both coming together in the most unexpected way.


The film is based on over three years of copious research of figure skating by director Alexandra Sell. One of the main inspirations for the film was Stüber-Errath's 2010 book which recounted her career in skating and paid tribute to her late coach Inge Vishnevsky. "I am honored that such an exceptional athlete as Christine takes part in the film project," said Sell in an interview with German newspaper Märkische Allgemeine. Sell's previous film credits include the 2005 documentary Durchfahrtsland.

Christine's bronze medal winning free skate at the 1976 Winter Olympics

Though this is essentially Stüber-Errath's first feature role in a film, she's no stranger to German audiences even in recent years. Errath works in television and hosted the popular entertainment show Außenseiter Spitzenreiter with Hans-Joachim Wolfram. She started preparing for the role in September 2012, taking her first skating lessons in decades with Heidemarie Walther-Steiner once a week to prepare for the film role. Even more remarkably is the fact her comeback started in the same skates than won her an Olympic bronze medal. She later got new ones for the first time in thirty seven years for the film. "My Olympic skates have simply not fit. After fifteen minutes on the ice, my feet were numb," stated the former three time European Champion. I think it's wonderful to see a skater who has been away from the ice for so many years return and can't wait to learn more about this film. It sounds like it has the makings for something truly special.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Interview With Lorna Brown


Growing up near Newcastle, England, Lorna Brown is without question not only a significant figure in the world of figure skating but someone who has left the sport better than she found it. A British and World Professional Champion and internationally renowned choreographer, Brown has choreographed for the best and the rest, and the consistent theme in all of her work is its rich and layered quality and that marriage of music and movement that transforms the ice into a stage. She's choreographed for innovative skaters like three time Canadian Champion Emanuel Sandhu and toured with John Curry's Skating Company, but the real story in Lorna Brown is her passion for skating and refreshingly honest approach to the sport/art. We talked in depth about everything from her own experiences on the ice to her thoughts on the current state of skating, touring with John Curry's Company, losing her student Lars Dresler to HIV/AIDS and much, much more. Grab yourself a coffee or a Genmaicha tea (I swear you'd think I should get royalties for how much I advertise the stuff) and get ready to take a trip inside the mind of one of skating's most fascinating figures:

Q: After your own ten year international "amateur" career ended, you turned professional and became both the British and World Professional Champion and toured with John Curry's Ice Dancing (performing on Broadway) and at the London Palladium's "Theatre Of Skating" show. How difficult was the transition from the "amateur" to professional worlds for you and what did you love most about the creativity afforded in professional skating?

A: I felt freedom at last - and thought to hell with all the judges. I was literally deprived of a place on the British team because of the fact I was way ahead of my time and as the winner of the British Junior Championships I shot up to the number one free skater in the country in the senior Championships, so they knocked me down in the figures so they didn't disturb the top three that had been there for years. I ended up finishing fourth three times and so that was enough. It broke my heart but I then competed in the World Championships in Wembley the first time and came second to a European Champion who was also an Olympic and world bronze medallist by 0.2 and the pro marks were out of ten. I skated to "On the Waterfront" and I remember the ice was liquid blue so I was in my element. The next time I did World Pros in Jaca and won it. I skated to "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" and really became the story in my program. Soon after that, John asked me to join his first company. He said I was the first person he invited. As I had known him for many years, we had stayed quite close even when apart and continued to be close during the following years. I was devastated when he died and attended and spoke at his funeral and again at his memorial the following year. I continued to do other shows in between John's shows and studied dance even more. I actually started ballet when I was three and was on the stage all my life. I also began choreographing in between shows and doing ice ballet classes too.

Q: We've talked at length about the importance of open professional competitions like the U.S. Open, World Professional Championships in Jaca and the American Open. Where do you see professional and artistic skating regaining ground in recent years and how can it continue to develop or should I say redevelop?

A: I don't know where but I see it has to happen. I think there is more in Europe than here. Events like Art On Ice etc. Really, a lot of amateurs are professionals anyway but to remain popular on TV and survive as a sport it has to be more entertaining so more shows and more pro competitions would be amazing. I think it is great now that skaters can use music with lyrics too. It is the start of a new era. I think that pro competitions and galas could be done to aid good causes and charities. I would love to have one to help children in need or to support suffering animals.


Q: Going back to touring with John Curry, I want to ask you about your experiences working with John. What made him so undeniably special and what are your favourite memories from both the show and working with him specifically?

A: John and I would talk about our dream of having an ice ballet company when we were very young. We were both winning competitions together but then I turned pro and John went out to the USA and eventually won Europeans, Olympics and Worlds on the trot and that enabled him to do what he really wanted to do and that was to dance on the ice in theatres and do things his way: the way he always dreamed of from being a child. He was hugely inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky as I was with Isadora Duncan. He was a perfectionist and was very dedicated in everything he did for his work. he shows were incredible. We had people like Diana Ross, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova attending... all of these amazing people were in the audiences and THEY were amazed that John was bringing ballets to the ice. We used to laugh a lot. We would sit on the bed and I would sing "Life" by Shirley Bassey to him. We would go into the park pretending we were Romeo and Juliet. We were going to do Midsummer Night's Dream someday and he wanted me to play Puck on the ice. We were like brother and sister: very close. We had our moments. One memory from John's shows that will always stand out is skating "Tango Tango" with him. Jojo wasn't there at that show. I wore a different costume than her and I was very different to Jojo. We were each other's understudies. The beginning was amazing and then he took me down into the death spiral and he let go and I lost the death spiral. I remember leaving the ice and I was so upset with him. I asked him "why? Why would you do that?" and he looked at me and said "I thought you could do it by yourself". There I was with these black tears and bright red lips. It never happened again. Once, we were all so tired after a twelve hour rehearsal and he was being very picky so I felt I had had enough of his nit picking and stormed off and told him to take me out of the pas de trois. I was the only soloist in it. Then I stormed off and told him he could take me out of the whole show. I dreaded what would really happen as I did not want that to happen but he was a slave driver at times. Next day, I went back in (we were at the Twickenham film studios in London) and he came into my dressing room and said good morning to me so I think he was a little worried too. That day, I dressed up in a fabulous outfit with a big white floppy hat and he said I looked like I just stepped off of the cover of Vogue magazine. We were all happy again. There are many stories but really he was also very loving and deeply involved with the work we were doing and tried to live out his dreams as much as possible in reality until the dreaded end to his life began. I could write a book about it all. There is a wonderful book coming out in August of this year called "Alone: The Triumphs and Tragedy of John Curry". I will be featured in the book and can't wait to read it. I will meet with the author Bill Jones when I visit England in the summer time this year.


Q: You not only lost John to HIV/AIDS but also your very talented student Lars Dresler, who you coached to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. How devastating was that era in skating when we lost so many great skaters to a virus that so few people then had any true understanding of?

A: It was a terrible time. Two or three years after John died I lost Lars Dresler. I went through a lot with him after he found out as he didn't want anyone to know, as his family didn't even know he was gay. I had to tell his sister for him to get her used to that idea before she found out he had AIDS. We only competed for one more year and then it was too hard to cope with. He would be on a warm up at an international competition and would come over to me and say "what's the point?" It was so devastating. The last I saw of him was when he was very ill and a friend who was a former Danish Champion (Anette Nygaard) and I took him to Spain for a vacation as he had never been and wished to go there. It was so very hard to see him so thin and ill and every day he thought he was dying. I helped him as much as I could and we called each other between England and Denmark until almost the end of his life but I didn't make it on time as I had promised him I would. He died suddenly in the hospital. The whole male cast of John's Company I was in are all gone. Paul McGrath, Paul Toomey, Brian Grant, Ron Alexander and John himself.

Q: You are most known and loved for your work as a brilliant choreographer and coach. What strategies or principles to you bring to the table every time you work with a skater or develop a new piece?

A: I put a great deal of effort and communication into my work. With choreography, it is first about the music and the idea for the type of movement and mood of the program. I always think the beginning, the middle and the end have to be the strongest. I love body movement and expression. I have to be deeply involved and not rushed as that kills it or just doesn't allow me to bring the best of me out. I like to help the skater be open, uninhibited and free to be with me as one and to feel total awareness of the movements they are learning with their whole body. The blend of the whole piece from beginning to end is important. I never really plan the choreography, just the music and the vision of it. I structure it when we begin the actual creation. With technique, I am very different and analytical so I have two sides to me... both extremely detailed. Often people say if you are an artist then you cannot be a technician but I don't agree as I am both. Leonardo de Vinci was like that!

Q: I read a wonderful quote by you in an interview with the American Ice Theatre, whose work I am just so impressed by. You said "It is easy to be average. You really have to work hard to achieve originality and to be unique. Creative people use who they are and what they have learned and experienced to inspire themselves to create new ideas. These people are individuals who are comfortable with themselves but who also realize their imperfections and thrive on achieving excellence. They continually search for new ideas by attending the ballet, shows, art galleries and anything that will inspire them in life to develop themselves. It is those who dare to be different who are remembered and who leave an everlasting impression." I have a hypothetical question for you. If a top level skater wanted to skate an artistically brilliant performance in the current IJS competition knowing full well that in order to skate that masterpiece they'd have to throw the requirements ("levels", etc.) out the window to do it, would you be supportive? Do you feel there is value and merit to artistic protest?

A: Yes I do, but they would slaughter them for it. I don't know how it would go down? It would be great though! I have often wondered the same thing. Maybe Stephane Lambiel could to that!

Q: I want to talk to you about the ladies competition at the Olympics and the current judging system. There's a can of worms, right? Do you think the right skater won Olympic gold and what suggestions would you offer to improve the judging of "amateur" skating to ensure it is fair, transparent and rewarding the 'right' qualities? 

A: This is a debatable question. I love Yuna Kim and respect her a great deal as a person and as an ambassador to her country and all she does for charities. She is a very highly skilled and beautiful performer with maturity and beauty. Adelina Sotnikova did as much as she could to get the scores, as Scott Hamilton put it "she ticked every box" and every jump and spin had difficult entries etc. so it was like the two of them should both have the gold medal. I think the rules have improved the spins, the footwork and the creativity of the whole programs. When you look back, there were much simpler programs and lot more crossovers but at the same time the programs can be crammed up with transitions and can be overloaded then you can't see wood for trees. I don't think the point system matters as in the end it all boils down to one number: first, second or third, if you know what I mean. The rules could have changed without the judging system itself.

Q: What is the most beautiful piece of music you've ever heard, the book you cherish most and the
place you go when you need to think?

A: The book is Isadora Duncan's "My Life". There are too many pieces of music which I love but one very beautiful piece that I love always is Mahler's 5th Symphony - track four. Where I go when I need to think is right in front of the ocean with no one around.

Q: Tell me about your work with Emanuel Sandhu. What makes him such a star?

A: He is an individual who is very well trained as a ballet dancer and other forms of dance. He is an emotional person with deep feelings and at times very eccentric. I was privileged to work with him even though he never did make his comeback happen for the Sochi Olympics. He had many problems including finances, personal support and also knee problems. It's sad he never made it to be an Olympic Champion as he is one of the most beautifully artistic and technically perfect skaters ever. A talent that should have made it to the very top.

Q: What are the three most brilliant programs of all time developed by other choreographers you have ever seen skated? Programs that just made you stop and go "wow"?

A: John Curry in" L'apres Midi D'une Faun" choreographed by Norman Maen. Kurt Browning in "Singin' In The Rain" choreographed by Sandra Bezic and Viktor Petrenko skating to "When I'm Back On My Feet Again"... but then there is Stephane Lambiel in practice, improvising and choreographing for himself. So many that I actually don't know how to answer this! It is endless and would take a lot of research to give really precise answers. I also love Jeffrey Buttle and Gary Beacom as well as Yuna Kim. I think she has such a lovely expression which is so deep and subtle. I feel sometimes the girls need to be more totally physical and open so they can really show their feelings with mind, body and spirit. A lot of skaters aren't open enough physically. It's like they're afraid of their bodies. It's not just about positions, it's about being with the music.


Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?

A: There are many things. I write poetry and paint and am a very deep thinker. I love to be alone as well as with others. I love animals and nature. I love to help the suffering and would have loved to have married and had a child. It didn't happen and a lot of it was because of my strange life as an ice skater. I'm not sure what people don't know. Sometimes we can give people the wrong impression. I am not sure really what others see in me.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I will be at the Alexandra Palace in London, England first on the 25th of May, then Oxford on the 27th and 28th of May then Plymouth on the 31st of May and 1st of June. I will be seeing friends and family for a few days before I return. I will focus on the many ways to be creative together with skating skills and expression with music. The Ice Class will incorporate as much body movement and as much freedom of expression as I can generate in the atmosphere. Skating needs that. Look at the Nederlands Dance Theatre. I know skating is a different scene but I wish it was more open to being open.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given and what is the best piece of advice you could ever give?

A: It is another hard one to answer. The best advice I have been given is to "be myself" so I would say the same: "Be who you truly are". No false fronts!

I hope you all enjoyed my interview with the fabulous Lorna Brown! In order for this blog to reach a wider audience and for more people to have chance to read interviews like these, I could sure use a little help. All you have to do is "LIKE" the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard for instant access to all of the new blog articles, features and interviews as they are made available. I also share daily updates and headlines from the skating world, videos and much more that's not here on the blog, so if you love figure skating as much I do, it would really be rude not to get on that inside edge! You can also follow all of the fun along on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SkateGuardBlog. If you know someone who loves skating, tell them! It's all about getting a dialogue going on! Fabulous skating is too fabulous to keep secret. Am I right or am I right? I think I'm right.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

On The Frozen Pond: The Magic Of Skating Outside


Winter may be giving way to be spring but there's just something so fabulously primitive, so instinctive and so historic about the simple act of skating outside that lingers in our memories. People started skating on frozen rivers and lakes thousands of years before us and for many years even Olympic and World competitions were held in the throws of mother nature. Competitors battled challenging ice conditions, frigid cold and the elements all in the quest to better their craft, fueled by their love of the ice. From Madison Square Garden to Sun Valley to the Rideau Canal and even the Emera Oval right here in Halifax I went skating only months ago, outdoor skating remains hugely popular to this very day. There's simply something magical about it. That intangible quality is well explained by skaters' affinity for outdoor ice. Shows in Sun Valley draw skaters and audiences alike year round, and many of the world's best skaters have returned to frozen lakes, ponds and even glaciers to carve out moments on the ice.


Kurt Browning's first TV special, 'Tall In The Saddle' featured many outdoor skating scenes with the backdrop of an old western town, including a performance where Kurt skates with Michael Slipchuk and Norm Proft and an old fashioned spaghetti western showdown between Kurt and Gary Beacom. Later in the special, Kurt skates a outdoor "Lake Of Dreams" program full of his energy, flair and that magical something that is definitely Kurt Browning.


Brian Boitano and Brian Orser (Olympic medallists and World Champions both) also turned to outdoor ice in their respective television specials. Orser performed "The Story Of My Life" by Neil Diamond, a signature program dedicated first to his fans then later as a tribute to his late mother and choreographed by both Uschi Keszler and David Wilson over the years, outside in his 1988 TV special Skating Free. I've always loved this program whenever Brian skated to it but there was truly something just that little bit more magical and organic about this outdoor performance that really came from its setting. Likewise, Brian Boitano's well known outdoor "Water Fountain" performance choreographed by Sandra Bezic and skated outside on a rink built on a glacier in Alaska still stands as one of the most beautiful skating moments captured on film. His progression from a waltz jump to single Axel, double Axel and triple Axel and soaring spread eagle in the northern sun were almost as breathtaking as the act of skating in a setting so awe inspiring.


Perhaps the program that captured the mood and the essence of skating outside best wasn't even skated outside at all. Robin Cousins skated an exquisite and haunting program called "On The Frozen Pond" to a recording of him orating the poems "The Skaters" by John Gould Fletcher and "Hawkshead" by William Wadsworth at the 1993 World Professional Figure Skating Championships and you could literally hear a pin drop. Blurring the lines between the beatnik poetry of the Dead Poet's Society and the purity of a frozen pond, Cousins takes you away in this program to another place and another time and captures in its utmost essence the feeling of skating outside that is intangible, magical and bigger than us all. The poetry and skating of "On Frozen Pond":

"THE SKATERS" BY JOHN GOULD FLETCHER

"BLACK swallows swooping or gliding
In a flurry of entangled loops and curves;
The skaters skim over the frozen river.
And the grinding click of their skates as they impinge upon the surface,
Is like the brushing together of thin wing-tips of silver."

EXCERPT FROM "HAWKSHEAD" FROM "THE PRELUDE" BY WILLIAM WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW

"AND in the frosty season, when the sun
Was set, and visible for many a mile
The cottage windows blazed through twilight gloom,
I heeded not their summons: happy time
It was indeed for all of us,—for me      
It was a time of rapture! Clear and loud
The village clock tolled six,—I wheeled about,
Proud and exulting like an untired horse
That cares not for his home. All shod with steel,
We hissed along the polished ice in games      
Confederate, imitative of the chase
And woodland pleasures,—the resounding horn,
The pack loud chiming, and the hunted hare.
So through the darkness and the cold we flew,
And not a voice was idle; with the din      
Smitten, the precipices rang aloud;
The leafless trees and every icy crag
Tinkled like iron; while far distant hills
Into the tumult sent an alien sound
Of melancholy not unnoticed, while the stars      
Eastward were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
Not seldom from the uproar I retired
Into a silent bay, or sportively
Glanced sideway, leaving the tumultuous throng,      
To cut across the reflex of a star
That fled, and, flying still before me, gleamed
Upon the glassy plain; and oftentimes,
When we had given our bodies to the wind,
And all the shadowy banks on either side      
Came sweeping through the darkness, spinning still
The rapid line of motion, then at once
Have I, reclining back upon my heels,
Stopped short; yet still the solitary cliffs
Wheeled by me,—even as if the earth had rolled      
With visible motion her diurnal round!
Behind me did they stretch in solemn train,
Feebler and feebler, and I stood and watched
Till all was tranquil as a dreamless sleep."

ON THE FROZEN POND


"And in the frosty season when the sun was set", Robin Cousins did what he did best: bring absolute magic to life and skate the poetry of the ice.

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