Taking Stock of the Olympic Free Dances

It’s the Olympic year! Almost 10 years into the IJS and with a handful of choreographers creating the majority of the work, there has been a homogenization of ice dance and the emergence of a general Detroit style. There are some interesting free dances this year—many from the second tier elite teams like Gilles/Poirier, Papadakis/Cizeron and Hurtado/Diaz—but on the whole the material feels more conservative than the non-Olympic years. Let’s take stock.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White

Watching Davis and White’s Scheherazade, I think of Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert’s Scheherazade at the Sarajevo Olympics. Overshadowed by Bolero in 1984, the dance was a seminal work—skated with such clarity of movement, fluency and point of view—that influenced not only the ice dance landscape, but all the Scheherazades we’ve seen across the four disciplines ever since. (The program was so ahead of its time that the Italian judge decided Scheherazade was inappropriate ice dance music, giving Blumberg and Seibert the 5.5 that lost them the Olympic bronze medal.) There are few truly iconic programs in the history of U.S. ice dance, but this is certainly one of them, so I was surprised to learn that Davis and White, attempting to win the first Olympic ice dance gold medal for the United States, also chose Scheherazade.

Davis and White’s version doesn’t land with the same impact of Blumberg and Seibert’s and it’s not entirely their fault—the free dances are so overstuffed now with required elements, many of which go back to the base of ballroom dancing. (I can’t really imagine Blumberg and Seibert’s Scheherazade with a 30 second circular footwork sequence in the middle.) Too often storytelling feels limited to intro choreography, a few transitional steps and an ending position. Davis and White’s Scheherazade has many charming choreographic moments—the heavy step Meryl takes in each direction as the program opens, the placement of the twizzles, the repetition of smaller transitional steps and leaps (reminiscent of Christopher Dean choreography)—but I don’t feel a narrative arising out of and with the music.

The program displays more technical polish than what Davis and White produced at the Vancouver Olympics; their steady improvement over the quadrennium is undeniable. The lifts are breathtaking— appearing out of nowhere, effortless positions, her landings are soft.
Their technical perfection has tempered the abandon that made, say, Samson and Delilah such a visceral experience. Gone now is the grasping and crashing toward each other. Still, watching this dance at NHK I felt the same way I did watching Daisuke Takahashi skate his Beatles long program—these may not be the best programs of their careers (Die Fledermaus gets my vote for Davis and White)—but such a relationship has been built with the audience over many years and that generosity elevates the work. Charlie in particular gains energy from his audience. It will be exciting to see them skate to Rimsky-Korsakov in Russia.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

Marina Zoueva, Virtue and Moir have each explained the story of this dance differently, but I gather that it’s a swan song, career-narrative of some sort. The dance is certainly in the style of much of their past work—Valse Triste, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Mahler come to mind—and care is taken to remind us that this is the team with the real connection (note the choreographed pre and post-dance oogling). Davis and White may have passed Virtue and Moir technically in recent years, but Virtue and Moir are still the once-in-a-generation ice dancers with unlimited artistic range. This is a team that can charm you, seduce you, break your heart; their movement is dazzlingly fast, light and synchronized. With this free dance, Virtue and Moir are more interesting than the material they are working with.

Mahler wasn’t a narrative dance, but a mood was set in the opening 10 seconds; the dance goes somewhere. Skating to pieces from early 20th century Russian composers Alexander Glazunov and Alexander Scriabin, the music cuts for this dance feel heavy-handed and as a result the program doesn’t truly build. The first and last lifts are lovely highlights, but they lose impact because nothing feels at stake in the surrounding choreography. I’m fond of the pledge-of-allegiance ending—it’s really the only unexpected moment in the dance—but the Paris audience in particular seemed confused.

I understand why Zoueva went back to the style that won Virtue and Moir their Olympic gold medal, especially after losing the World title last year, but I wish Carmen could have been their Olympic program. Ice dance only reaches a large audience once every four years and it would be wonderful for Carmen to take that stage. This dance isn’t trying anything new; it’s pleasant but safe through and through.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev

In August, Bobrova and Soloviev debuted pieces of their free dance at the Russian test skate. By all accounts the dance was well-received and we learned that Bobrova and Soloviev are portraying hunted birds, with Ekaterina shot at some point in the dance, dying in Dmitri’s arms as the program ends. I thought this character worked well for Dmitri, who has a very youthful, innocent presence; the stressed-out bird character masked some of Ekaterina’s weaknesses.

Cut to the Ice Star competition in Minsk one month later and Alexander Zhulin had completely revamped the dance, replacing the more obscure Russian music with warhorses from Mozart and Vivaldi (including The Four Seasons, music Zhulin used with Maya Usova at the 1992 Olympics). This second version also featured a barking track (hunting dogs, presumably) layered on top of Vivaldi. Three weeks later at Cup of China, the barking was gone. Another three weeks after that, at Rostelecom Cup, the barking was back with a new dying bird noise at the end of the dance.

Pick a lane, Zhulin! While these new versions attempt to keep most of the original choreography, almost all of the subtleties are lost. I wish I had never seen the first version; now I see a dance with a lot of rushing around—in open holds with lots crossovers—trying to force choreography to fit with music it wasn’t created for. Mozart’s Lacrimosa, the second piece, is somber, even formal, and the choreography uses it as little more than background music. I think Zhulin is keenly aware of the weaknesses of his team (sloppy lines, weak posture) and he has tried to create material that best masks their shortcomings and also gives them enough downtime in the choreography to gather a lot of speed. He apparently also has put a lot of pressure on himself to create a masterpiece for the Olympics. He many have overshot this one.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte

There is an understated elegance to Cappellini and Lanotte; their skating is very smooth and unfussy. This team is so well-matched with similar range and both look completely at ease with their dancing and what they are being asked to give to the performance. This is not a small thing—many teams have similar skill levels or are a good physical match, but one partner gives 90% of the performance. Cappellini and Lanotte certainly do well with the grand, theatrical free dances—La Traviata, Carmen and now Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. It doesn’t appear they are approaching the choreography from a narrative point of view (that would be quite an undertaking), but in the spirit of the opera, the choreography is light and whimsical with comedic touches. The most charming moment of the dance, played so perfectly by both of them, comes at the end when Anna elbows Luca to turn around for the final position.

Cappellini and Lanotte sometimes lack the power of the other top teams, and when they get nervous their edges can get shallow. When considering the free dances this year, this one doesn’t really rise to the top of the conversation (not enough bird slaughter in this program), which might hurt them at the Grand Prix Final and in the race for the Olympic bronze medal. I hope they keep competing after this season. Each year they are getting better.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

Weaver and Poje’s free dance is a reminder that only ice dancers should attempt tango programs. Choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, this is Weaver and Poje at their very best. Skating to Astor Pizaolloa’s dark 1968 tango opera María de Buenos Aires, the dance is structured so thoughtfully and the choreography is so complete that the program feels two minutes long. We are left wanting more.

The opening circular footwork is a program highlight, which I didn’t know was possible, and at the conclusion Kaitlyn stops right in front of the judges, her legs planted in a deep lunge, before collapsing to her right—a completely satisfying moment. (In María de Buenos Aires, half the action takes place after Maria’s death.) The tango vocabulary could certainly use some polish and they could skate with more attack, but that’s nitpicking. What a pleasant surprise this dance has been this year.

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat

For their final free dance of their career, Péchalat and Bourzat are interpreting The Little Prince, the 1943 novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with Fabian as the prince and Nathalie the capricious rose who inspires the prince to leave home and embark on an intergalactic journey. In a wonderful interview with Jean-Christophe Berlot for Icenetwork, Péchalat and Bourzat explained the development of the dance with clown/mime artist Julien Cottereau, a seven month process that included everything from storyboarding the program to Couttereau reading passages from the book to Nathalie and Fabian as they improvised on the ice. Instead of music from the film, musical or opera versions of The Little Prince, the program is divided into four parts and features music from Cirque de Soleil, two pieces from French film soundtracks and an original composition from Maxime Rodriguez; Fabian told Berlot they selected music they felt synced with the atmosphere they were imagining for the dance. New coach Igor Shpilband was not involved in the choreography or development of the program; his involvement, Pechalat and Bourzart have made clear, was limited to the technical elements.

At first glance the costumes threaten kitsch, but the dance is one of the most charming of their career—whimsical, generous and full of nuance— in a way that feels authentic to their dance aesthetic. Nothing is thrown away. The characters don’t disappear during the elements. As the rose, Nathalie is fickle and vain; right from the opening “bloom” she uses her wrists and abruptly shifts her focus to demand things from Fabian, who is following behind her through the opening two sections of the dance. Couttereau’s involvement is evident in the many details; each time I watch this piece I notice something I missed before.

I’ll be very sorry when this team is gone. Like their predecessors Delobel and Schoenfelder, they have been one of the more thoughtful, inspired teams of the last 10 years, and one of the last vestiges of the drama and originality of the 6.0 era of ice dance.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates

With the Olympics two months away I spare a thought for Emily Samuelson and her exquisite free leg; her absence casts a long shadow over this partnership. Madison Chock winks at us, she smiles; she is always reminding us to look at her. Evan is a wonderful ice dancer, but you have to go out of your way to notice; their programs seem put together with only Madison in mind.

This season they bring one of the many Les Mis programs being skated this year. Shpilband makes use of their size difference to create highlights and Evan can swoop Madison around with ease; in one lift Madison is draped over Evan’s shoulder as he skates backward on one foot and then she backflips down to sit on his skate—that sort of thing. Unfortunately “One Day More” starts to overpower them halfway through the dance and by the time they are pumping down the ice in the final footwork sequence, totally exhausted, the damage is done. Still, the athleticism of this team, specifically what they are capable of with lifts, is the direction ice dance is moving. Looking past Sochi, they should be well-positioned. Just give us more Evan Bates, please.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani

I wasn’t ready for wholesome, sweet Alex Shibutani to grab his crotch two seconds into the free dance at Skate America. It was too much! The Michael Jackson free dance may be the strongest material the Shibutanis have had since their 2011 free dance. There is a level of excitement surrounding this dance (mostly from Tanith Belbin, but still) that has been missing the last two years. I’m confounded, however, by the lengthy string section in the middle of the program and curious as to why they went to the trouble of commissioning a special string version of “Ben” instead of using the original. All attempts at “Jackson” choreography is abandoned in this slow section while the combination lift, circular step sequence and dance spin are checked off. It’s as if they didn’t trust that they could actually pull off a full-length Michael Jackson program. The concluding “Thriller” section is so brief that there isn’t enough time to completely win the audience back. It’s nice to see Alex having a really good time with this dance; Maia seems to be trying her best to be a good sport about the whole thing.

I wonder where the Shibutanis go from here. These two have been kicked around since their fluke bronze medal at the 2011 World Championships, so much so that one has to admire their perseverance and resilience these past two years, especially in the Kiss and Cry, solemnly nodding at those sub-60 short dance scores. They are still so young with many wonderful qualities, but it’s not clear that Zoueva knows what to do with them. When they first broke through it seemed possible they could move in the direction of the Kerrs, or even the Duchesnays, and use the limitations of the brother-sister team to push their work in a new direction. It hasn’t happened yet, but fingers crossed for the next four years.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov

After their surprise silver medal in Paris, Elena told Jean-Christophe Berlot of their free dance: “We do not want to tell a story. It is just two strong characters showing love and passion.” Fair enough, but pull out a Rachmaninoff piano concerto or a Bach cello suite; Swan Lake is perhaps the most famous story ballet of all time. Like much of their work since 2010, there are flashes of brilliance in a dance that has an overall slapdash feel. Nikolai Morozov has incorporated the requisite nods to ballet, but little attention has been paid to execution. Elena’s attempt at bourrées (quick, small steps done on pointe) are totally thrown away– she takes large steps instead of small ones, doesn’t keep her legs glued together and leads with her front leg instead of her back. Toe point is hit and miss throughout the dance and the carriage of Elena’s arms could use more attention. This team has struggled in the past to match the lift difficulty of the other top teams, and there is some real improvement in that area this year. (Although two lifts feature Elena casually sitting on Nikita’s shoulders, which feels out of place in a Swan Lake free dance.) Beyond the elements there is very little going on in the transitions—at one point between the rotational lift and the dance spin I actually wondered if they were improvising. When a footwork sequence or lift is completed, they immediately let go of each other and skate separately until it’s time to prep for the next element.

You can forgive a lot when you watch this team. They are physically stunning; they attack programs with speed (it’s a rush to watch them charge into twizzles). Elena is the tutued star, but Nikita is a superb ice dancer—the carriage of his head, the way he sharply shifts his focus, his confident and full range of movement; and he’s a wonderful partner. Four years ago when they became junior world champions, many expected this team to vie for the Olympic gold medal in Sochi. Like the Shibutanis, Ilinykh and Katsalapov haven’t chosen the best vehicles the past few seasons. They struggle more than any other top team with consistency. They also went through a high-profile, acrimonious coaching change (Zhulin’s recent interviews indicate he’s still bitter). They are spellbindingly beautiful and totally unpredictable. This team could be the Olympic bronze medalists—or they could botch the dance spin and finish 8th.

Author: Emily Tuttle

Emily Tuttle is a choreographer with more than seven years of professional experience. After working as a choreographer and dance teacher in New York City for three years, Emily began choreographing competitive IJS programs and exhibition pieces for figure skaters in 2011. That year she was one of eight figure skating choreographers selected for the second season of Audrey Weisiger's Young Artists Showcase (YAS). Emily studied dance and choreography under Sara Rudner at Sarah Lawrence College, where she graduated in 2007. She has lived and worked in Sydney, Australia, Seoul, South Korea and New York City. Emily works with skaters of all levels and is currently based in Virginia. www.emily-tuttle.com

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  1. Such a thoughtful, well-written post. Thank you to Emily!

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  2. Absolutely wonderful, very thoughtful and engaging. I hope you’ll do similar ones for the other disciplines!

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  3. I really agree with the point made about ice dancers and the tango. I never understand why singles skaters attempt tango programs. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

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  4. Thank you Emily, I love your commentary about this season’s free dance programs. It’s nice to hear that you appreciate Pechalat/Bourzat’s Little Prince free dance. I find it a charming, lovely dance with a great concept, but it hasn’t been well received on the skating forums, with a lot of people complaining they “don’t get it.” I’m glad you enjoy it.

    And I loved your thoughtful comment about how Emily Samuelson’s absence casts a shadow over Chock/Bates’ performances–very true. I guess it’s a tribute to Emily’s talent that she is far from forgotten, even years after she & Evan split.

    And yes, I so much agree with you that tango should only be done by ice dancers! That’s why I feel nervous about Yuna Kim’s long program this year. Tango, to me, seems all about intensity, sharp turns, rapid but very precise changes of position, tight holds, firm back positions, tension. I am not quite seeing how that style plays to Yuna’s strengths of speed and flow. But we shall see, I guess. Weaver/Poje’s tango this year is hugely enjoyable and their best work yet, in my opinion. And, you’re right, it does leave us wanting more.

    Whereas I was thankful when Bobrova/Soloviev’s Rostelecom FD finally came to its (bizarre) end.

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  5. Virtue/Moir really missed the mark this year and that’s disappointing. They tried to do Mahler 2.0 but ended up with something that couldn’t be more forgettable.

    I think a big problem w/ Davis/White’s FD is the music cuts, which aren’t fluid enough. The ending is also too abrupt. But by comparison to Virtue/Moir, the program is a masterpiece.

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  6. Thanks for such a great analysis! Davis and White are indeed pristine, but I prefer performances that manage to create an illusion of spontaneous movement and therefore genuine emotion. Virtue and Moir usually manage this, but their free dance this season is just not good enough.

    The free dances of Weaver and Poje and Péchalat and Bourzat both work so well because they have a well-defined concept (unlike VM) and narrate the relationship between two people (unlike DW). In a better world they would really be in the running for the third medal.

    As for the Shibutanis, doing a Michael Jackson free dance is problematic because his choreography does not lend itself to partner dances. Hence why most of the Shibutanis’ memorable choreography is done in unison, but not in dance hold, and why they seem to give up on the Jackson style for the step sequences.

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    • I love TSL’s commentary, but I also recognize the nuances of skating skills and refined technique may not be well known to them.

      I apologize for my “rant” in advance, but I feel very strongly about ice dance technique and its lack of proper recognition or appreciation by modern day media)

      While DW may be more in tune with their free dance at this point, I have faith in VM’s ability to refine and purify their gorgeous and breathtaking FD – just think, the scores they are currently attained for their (not yet perfect) FD, and how much they are capable of improving before Sochi, whereas DW have pretty much hit the points barrier.

      Regardless of the current state of affairs, VM are still by far and away the best ice dancers – as in, the best when it comes to the skate to the ice where it counts. On the other hand, DW, despite their current success are forgettable, in part because they have not made themselves memorable. They have done the same twizzles for the past six years, *borrow* lifts from their teammates and competitors (there is a distinct lack of creativity through the years as they reuse lifts constantly; think statue lift and split rotational, which they took from Belbin/Agosto, the bastardized upside down lift from VM’s FD last year which VM did so much better, that D on W’s neck with PAIR SHOOT THE DUCK ENTRY, the upside-down catchfoot and arched on back lifts that the Shibs do so much better, etc…), and are still the same DW they were five years ago who just chase each other around the ice and give us Meryl-face and Charlie magical hair tosses and pseudo-Persian hands up in air gestures with random walking (seriously, just watch their feet only and then compare to VM feet only and you’ll see that the latter is SKATING circles around them).

      For proof: I mean, while their upper body may be hard at work, DW really aren’t doing that well with their feet in contrast (AND they are kicking up a LOT of snow)

      DW FD Worlds 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOvxmamLGmg

      VM FD Worlds 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLMm7V73ICM

      Quite honestly (and I should add here that I am actually American), DW do not deserve to be winning. Alas, the American federation and USA dollars and media (DW are seen as the only Americans currently winning and in order to preserve TV ratings and viewers’ interests, and must be propped up). How come when its Dom/Shab with their weak, cheated lifts or the current Russian B/S we make a fuss about technique? Why do we call out the Canadian P/P and American C/B on terrible technique when both of them share similar styles with DW (and try to conceal their flaws by rushed movement as opposed to real speed and pure technique)? How come VM’s subtle elegance and unmatched speed go unnoticed by unversed viewers? Why don’t they merit the PCS cushion they deserve and don’t get the benefit of the doubt from the judges when DW are kicking up snow with poor control over their blades and paltry key points? And for goodness sakes, why are DW still getting level 4s on their SLOW twizzles when they slow down greatly on the second set, don’t exit on a gliding edge, make no attempt at phrase and are NOT in the character of the dance?

      And why do people never go into detail about TECHNIQUE when they talk about DW? Is it because they back up their misguided claims that DW are somehow the best when fans of VM can clearly point to EVIDENCE?

      Please, Jenny and Dave, I beg you to address this issue – that of TECHNIQUE and NUANCE – with details, rather then general comments. Maybe VM and DW (and all the other teams) may differ in presentation, but the bare bones and the basics are still there and if DW still can’t do a dip without both falling (see 2010 SA) or three twizzles, which VM have been doing for YEARS, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

      As carrieanne writing over at fanforum states most aptly:

      “I keep in mind that practically every past champion and current coach talks about V/M in the highest of terms. That’s what matters, because that’s the opinion that will be passed on to future generations. It’s V/M’s tapes that will be studied, V/M’s style that will be copied and built upon. At the end, that’s what truly matters.”

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      • Thank you, Michelle, for your insightful comments that are right on the mark. This article totally misses the point about the ice dance discipline figure skating, which is what will be contested at the Sochi Games. The choreography is just the package to deliver figure skating; it is not an ends in and of itself. The skaters will be judged on their ability to execute elements (in their PCS scores) and the quality of that execution (in their GOE scores).

        Also, can the writer please back up her statements that Davis/White are more polished than they were in Vancouver, and have technically surpassed Virtue/Moir? Because the skating says otherwise. Every aspect of Davis/White’s skating has regressed since Vancouver, yet they are scored like they have improved and have now “surpassed” Virtue/Moir.

        Their skating is more unpolished than ever; no matching lines, no extended legs to finish their movements, but because we’ve duped to believe that they are “faster”, and that their style is “wild”. Sloppy isn’t a style; it’s just sloppy. And their speed is not true speed generated from their blades and soft knee action, it is speed generated from toe picks and pumping up and down the ice. It is fake speed.

        Not only are their lifts poor copies of their competitors, they always employ poor mechanics to get in and out of their lifts: they are often clutching and grabbing at each other for dear life, and have to have all their limbs and cores glued to each other just to get into position; Charlie always has to crouch down to haul Meryl up, because Meryl is incapable of using her core strength to get herself into position. Once they hit their position, it is always crude and inelegant, because of Meryl’s inability to point her toes or hold a line; her legs are often swinging wildly (and we’re misled to believe that that this wildness is style, when it is mere sloppiness). When Meryl (awkwardly) exits a lift, she either immediately pivots on to her other foot, or in the case of the first Shez lift, is on two feet, anything to avoid having to sustain a running edge.

        In between their lifts, Davis & White’s freedance is littered with lunges, hopping, skipping, twirling and two-footed, everything
        to fill up the program and distract from actually having to do one-footed bladework requiring turns and soft-kneed bends in proper dance hold. The two required footwork sequences have them in poor dance hold; torsos far apart, unmatched lines, and lots of skipping and hopping to generate speed instead of bladework.

        And their so-called ace-in-the-hold, their twizzles, are not only weak compared to Virtue & Moir, but to all the teams mentioned in this article. All the other teams have progressed to doing three twizzles in their twizzle pass, with running edges in and out of their twizzles, varying arm movements and nuances in relation to the music. Davis & White are still only doing two twizzle passes (as are Pechalat & Bourzat, but theirs are more difficult because they are twizzling on the same foot and changing the direction), but the second twizzle grinds to a halt and barely covers any ice, and they immediately have to set down their free foot or pivot. And they perform the exact same twizzles in the short and the free dance, regardless of the style of the music. That would be fine if they were difficult to begin with, but they are not. And before everybody screams “well, they hop into their twizzles, that’s why they are a level 4”, I’m sure once they retire, that rule be changed, because the hop does NOT add difficulty, in the same way that a hop in between a jumping pass in singles skating makes the combination; the hop is a bit of a cheat to make the overall combination easier. It is much more difficult to sustain speed out of an edge than a rotational hop. Same thing applies to Davis & White’s spins; they always have to either hop into it, or in this year’s FD, there is a hop in the middle to create the false impression of speed of rotation.

        There are junior teams that are executing harder twizzle passes (and with better quality) than Davis & White, and yet the judges are scoring them like they are out of reach. They are not, and that is a travesty.

        Exhibits A & B:

        And just to drive home the point:

        I commend the author the author for going into great detail about the choreography, but in the end, it is the ice dancing and figure skating that is being contested, not the package, music cuts, themes, performance value –leave that to the theater. This is an Olympic sport, and should be discussed and evaluated as such.

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        • Looks like a few people are disciples of the insane V/M sekret baby blogger who loves to bash D/W.

          Please go read how twizzle scoring works, before you go off on your diatribe.

          Also, D/W said they’ve been working on these lifts for years. Before Carmen. So I don’t think the upside down lift is property of V/M.

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          • Enlighten us as to how twizzle scoring is supposed to work, because if the judges actually upheld the standards in the rule book, Davis & White’s twizzles fail in every aspect: they far apart from each other, they are always jerky and off-balance in their unison, their second twizzle does not cover as much as distance or speed as compared to the first twizzle, and they never sustain a running edge coming out of their twizzles. Never mind that they use the same twizzles for their SD and FD, regardless of the music. That is not a diatribe; that is analyzing the execution of the required elements by using the rulebook that the judges are presumably guided by.

            As for the upside-down lift, maybe they have been cooking it up for the last three years, who knows; the point is, it is a poorly executed lift because the mechanics of the lift are terrible. Pechalat and Bourzat also have an upside-down lift in their FD this year, almost identical to a lift in their 2012 FD. The difference is that their 2012 lift was difficult to begin with; Natalie quickly (and elegantly) gets into position using her own core strength, Fabien covers the ice securely (in contrast to Charlie, who’s blades are dangerously rocking back and forth to the point that one seriously fears that he will drop Meryl on her head); and Natalie quickly (and elegantly) comes out of the lift and sustains a long, neat edge. A good lift is not just about the final position that they hit; it’s all about the in and out of the lift, and what is happening with the male partner once the female partner hits her position.

            Pechelat & Bourzat’s lift is effective because it is difficult and well-executed, even if it was previously used in another FD.

            The problem with Davis/White’s lift (and all their elements in general) is that they are not difficult and crudely executed to begin with, so when they repeat and/or modify those poor elements in subsequent programs and are gifted with ridiculous over-inflated scores, we are led to believe they have improved and added difficulty, when they have not.

          • And mark my words, that “hop” into the twizzles that makes Davis/White’s twizzles somehow worthy of a level 4 will be dropped the moment they retire, in the same way that the quad was given more value in light of Evan Lysack’s Olympic win, and the use of costume props circa Dominina & Shabalin 2010.

        • Somehow I think that the links you posted only make me draw conclusions about the person who made/posted it rather than think all those other teams have better twizzles than D/W. Judging by all of the V/M pictures posted on their youtube homepage, I would think they are an angry fan looking to tear down a team that has been judged as superior. The other thing I think is that maybe they don’t understand the rulebook as well as they think. Those twizzle examples made me appreciate D/W’s.

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          • Since you seem to be so well-versed with the rule book, enlighten us, please, as to how Davis & White’s twizzles fulfill the criteria as laid out by the rule book better than Virtue & Moir and all the other teams mentioned in this article. And not just because you “appreciate” D&W’s twizzles; justify how the same twizzle set, performed in both their short and free dances since 2011, are more difficult and of better execution quality than that of their competitors.

      • Next time you post, how about including a link to your V/M fanfic?


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        • I never claimed to be a twizzle expert. My point is that while the creator of the twizzle videos were posting ISU rules regarding twizzles, the video clips didn’t fulfill the purpose. Or maybe I missed the purpose.

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      • It’s honestly embarrassing that you are ruining such a great piece by an actual choreographer with the same boilerplate a V/M uber posing as an armchair expert spews out. Maybe spend a little less time reading “analysis” by someone who claims she knows that VM are secretly married and conspiring to hide their three year old daughter from the public because… fame, or something. Small wonder she also peddles delusions like Meryl has no core strength or VM are the first couple to do an inverted lift, and so on and so forth. For all your talk of recycled lifts which team is pulling from their old programs for lifts this season? Not DW.

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        • The only thing that’s embarrassing is fans of Davis & White’s uncanny ability to talk around the SKATING of their favourites and shut down any evidence-based discussion as mere “analysis”. This is a supposed sport, and in sports, comparison of competitors is welcomed and encouraged. Even seemingly subjective sports such as gymnastics and diving can be analyzed objectively, not just as a matter of “appreciation”.

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          • The issue isn’t recycling lifts; all teams recyle/modify lifts. The issue is recycling lifts that are not difficult, crude and inelegant to begin with and passing them off as difficult. The entrance into V/M’s first rotational lift is the same as their 2008 lift, but the entrance was extremely difficult and well executed to begin with, and they’ve evolved that lift into something even harder. For the sake of argument, D/W’s handstand lift is new to them this year; but if you break down how they enter the lift, how they get into position, how Charlie’s blades are rocking like crazy, Meryl’s awkard rolling onto Charlie’s back to support herself and the way her legs are swinging wildly all about…all these amount to a poorly executed lift, even if it is three years in the making. That is the point.

          • There is no way to respond to you guys! You act like you are delivering a reasoned criticism. You aren’t! You guys are living in a delusional bubble land where Davis/White have gotten worse instead of better this quad and their skating is torn apart in increasingly INSANE fashion. Y’all are just beyond the pale at this point, and it *is* embarrassing. I can’t wait for one or both teams to retire so I don’t have to read your constant bile anymore disguised as bogus analysis that doesn’t even make sense. Even the way you guys attack VM because you can’t let go of the fact that they ARE not together and Tessa WAS NOT pregnant in 2011 is insane. You were wrong or listened to the wrong people, but rather than admit that and move on you have to criticize their everything they do because it’s so terrible for a married couple with a child to behave this way. But they aren’t married! I mean the level of “analysis” we are talking about is for example side by side video of a speed skater’s girlfriend watching him compete and Jessica Dube watching Scott compete. Like watching a free program is the same as watching a race or that some people aren’t more reserved by nature than others. It’s the SAME quality of analysis across the whole blog, but you guys eat it up and repeat it everywhere. You have totally lost perspective. We aren’t talking around the skating, we are talking around your craziness.

  7. No love for Gilles/Poirier’s Hitchcock LP?

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    • She mentions Gilles/Poirier in the beginning of the article as one of the “second tier” teams that have interesting free dances this season.

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      • I could not disagree more – Gilles/Poirier was a brilliant and daring performance. Stupendous!

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  8. This writing is excellent.

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    • Well, I don’t think so. But that’s all a matter of “semantics,” isn’t it?

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  9. I think to compare Blumberg and Seiberg’s Sheherezade to Davis and White’s Sheherezade is laughable, frankly. Davis and White are skating at at a much higher level right now than any ice dance team in the world. Kristy Swanson and Lloyd Eisler could probably practice for 6 months and skate B&S’ choreography just as well; it’s better suited to Skating with Celebrities than the Olympic Games.

    I think it’s become easy to be anti D&W. To say that their skating is sloppy is ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. I’m not going to rally against Virtue and Moir because I like them very much as well. However, Virtue and Moir’s program looks like a not-as-good sequel to their 2010 program. It was, for me, a huge disappointment. Having loved V&M’s progressive, yet sloppily- skated Carmen from last year, I was very excited to see what V&M were going to give us this year. Especially consider Moir gave us his promise that they were going to continue to push the envelope. Their program this year is so safe it makes my eyes cross.

    D&W, meanwhile, may lack the star quality of V&M. But they make up for it with their movement and they disappear into their dance so that what we see is dance. For me, that’s exhilarating. I am an unabashed fan of Meryl Davis because she is frequently perfect. It’s quite impossible for her to hit a bad position and she can take on any dance and dance with authenticity that is without compare. She is a character skater; in movie terms, the Cate Blanchett to Virtue’s Rachel McAdams.

    I truly think that all this talk about Davis and White and their perceived inabilities comes from the fact that Davis can be emotionally a little distant on the ice. But that is the viewer’s problem, not Davis’. She’s doing what she loves and sharing that with us, and has been at such a high quality for years. If people can’t see that, it’s because they are close minded.

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    • This isn’t the Oscars; ice dancing is a discipline of the sport of figure skating, which which will be contested at the Olympic Games. There is nothing on the score sheet to award “character”; embodying the character of the dance through athletic elements within the overall choreography.

      Meryl loves what she does? Good for her. Any athlete at this elite level loves what they do, otherwise, they wouldn’t be training several hours a day, every day for several year. There is no bonus points for “sharing her love of skating”; its about what she does on the ice.

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      • ^^
        make that “embodying the character of the dance through athletic elements within the overall choreography, yes; embodying a character a la Cate Blanchett? No.”

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      • Actually, there is something on the scoresheet that encompasses “character”… it’s called “interpretation.” Regardless, I think you missed my point.

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  10. If DW’s twizzles are so “easy,” why aren’t more teams doing it?

    Please don’t sell me the line about “athletes wanting to push the sport.”

    I call Bullsh*t on that. These are competitors. Skating is an exceedingly expensive sport with few opportunities for sponsors and for money. They want and need to WIN to garner any of it.

    I am not saying the 3 twizzle set is easier. Both types are difficult for their own reasons. Just stop trying to sell DW’s twizzles as “easy.”

    Furthermore, nowhere does it punish a team for using the same twizzle set, as much as that breaks some of your hearts.

    And DW does NOT slow down to a halt on the second twizzle set. Stop selling that meme when video proves otherwise. Their twizzle sets are not far apart, as AERIAL FOOTAGE from 2013 4CC FD (for example) shows them as quite close together.

    Commentary on Lifts :

    I don’t recall the inverted lift being the one they’ve worked on for years; it’s the first lift with the shoot-the-duck position. That said, it is getting better with mileage. Charlie’s blades aren’t rocking so much and Meryl is getting better at moving into position. I imagine by Olympics, it should be seamless. Their lifts get better with mileage and as the season progresses. Past examples: Their straightline lift from 2013 FD. Check out Charlie’s blades from 2013 Worlds FD. Utterly steady. Compare the rotational lift from 2013 FD : 2012 Skate America versus 2013 Worlds. The difference in steadiness, fluidity in changes of position is striking.

    I think what’s happening is too many VM fans want to label “DW 2013” as “DW 2008.” Sorry. Not the case here. Everyone but the VM ubers can see that. (including judges and commentators). The people who count.

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    • Their twizzles are not easy; their twizzles are EASIER than that of their competition, and poorly executed at that, yet they are getting the same marks as that of their competitors. To be fair,that’s not entirely heir fault, that’s the fault of a scoring system that is assigning the same base value two a two-twizzle pass vs a three twizzle pass. But the quality of the execution is D/W, and they do not execute them well, yet they are still rewarded.

      ” These are competitors. Skating is an exceedingly expensive sport with few opportunities for sponsors and for money. They want and need to WIN to garner any of it. ”

      Really? Since when did ice dance become such a lucrative sport? And even if it were, it’s all about winning for the sake of garnering sponsors and money? I don’t think any honest athlete (save for Lance Armstrong) thinks that way. I think every athlete wants to win and win memorably, and if they’re really lucky, change the sport for the better.

      “They want and need to WIN to garner any of it.”? What a cop-out.

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      • You see it as a cop-out. It’s the truth. I am not saying it’s a lucrative sport but the few sponsors and prize money is reserved for those who place high. That’s just the honest truth.

        And you keep forgetting, that Davis and White aren’t just using a simple “two twizzle pass”. They take off on one foot into the air and then do the two twizzles. That extra difficulty lends itself a level 4. And they do them quite well.

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      • Skating used to be lucrative, but it is not any longer. However it is still expensive to compete. Do people compete in skating only for the money? Of course not. But skaters know they need to win in order to at least break even financially. Now that there are few opportunities for money, especially in North America, that battle for any sponsor money is real. Top competitors used to make money by touring with “Champions on Ice”, but that is gone. And “Stars on Ice” is barely limping along.

        A lot of families cannot afford the cost outright and refinancing home every year takes a toll.

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  11. If D&W’s twizzles we’re not getting the levels that D&W wanted, they would change them. People on here are talking about twizzles like their quads.

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  1. Rostelecom Cup 2013 | Princess Beany Smiles - […] 5. Taking Stock of the Olympic Free Dances http://www.theskatinglesson.com/taking-stock-of-the-olympic-free-dances/ […]

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