Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2013 U.S. International Classic Recap

I’ve been home from Salt Lake City for less than two days and I'm already experiencing PSED (Post Skating Event Depression). I miss my friends that I get to see only a couple of times a year! Now that I have some time to collect my thoughts on the event, I’ll go day-by-day and give my first-hand impressions.

On Thursday I arrived at the rink just in time to see the men's short program warmup. In the first group, Josh Farris had lots of trouble with the quad and was looking shaky on the triple axel, too. I was so happy he did a much better axel in the actual competition later. Grant Hochstein landed a quad-triple but couldn't duplicate it later in the competition. In the second group, Max Aaron was popping off quads like nothing. I'm not a fan of his new hairstyle or his costume, but his jumping is "first rate" as Uncle Dick would say.

After the men's warmup, I scooted over to the ice dance practice in the main rink.When I tried to take a seat on the judges' side, I was shocked and beyond annoyed to learn that no spectators were allowed on that side of the rink (last year there were no restrictions). I always sit on the judges' side because photographing skating from the opposite side results in lots of backs and butts in photos. Skaters design their programs with the key elements and poses facing the judges. The bleachers on the judges' side were practically empty, so why ban us lowly spectators from sitting over there?

Sorry for the rant. Back to the skating! I was most excited to see Meryl Davis and Charlie White's free dance run-through and also Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt's FD run-through, and neither disappointed. I've been wanting Lynn and Logan to try the classical style for a long time, and it looks beautiful on them. Their wonderful lines and lyricism are really shown off in this Spartacus program. In the same practice group, Meryl and Charlie cast a spell over the place with their Scheherazade run-through. They only did sections of the program, but it was enough to blow me away. Their movements were so balletic and fluid. Charlie's really caught my eye because he's always been a little "on the edge" with his movement, but here he's so controlled yet powerful and soft all at the same time.

After a quick dinner break, I headed back to the rink for the pairs and men's short programs. I was very happy Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea skated well. Kiersten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch's program works so well for them, and I can see why they kept it another year. It was a treat to see it again. They were the clear leaders at the end of the event.

The men's short wasn't too pretty. Lots of technical difficulties. I loved the tension in Josh Farris' tango choreography.  It's such a different look from his usual lyrical programs. Wish he could've landed the quad, but it was a good attempt.

I enjoyed Stephen Carriere's Scheherazade program a lot. Great choreography by Tanith Belbin. It was also great to see Grant Hochstein's Lady Caliph program again. He has such beautiful lines. Max Aaron's artistry looked improved over last year, but I had to roll my eyes at Tom Zakrajsek giving him the same Latin music that Ryan Bradley skated to (and I think also Brandon Mroz?) Agnes Zawadzki also did a mambo program while she was training under Tom. Is skating to a mambo a rite of passage in his camp?

Friday started early with the short dance warmup in the practice rink. Afterward, there was only enough time to run to Corner Bakery for lunch before going back to the rink for the short dance. My friends and I managed to sneak over to the judges' side, so we had a great view of the action. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje's program was cute, but I prefer their more serious and emotional programs (like their FD, which I'll discuss later). Anastasia Cannuscio/Colin McManus's program was also fun and it showed off their very nice power and speed. If I may offer a costume critique - I don't think long skirts work for skaters who are on the shorter side. I'd like to see Stasia in a shorter skirt for the SD and without the belt, which I think cuts her off at the waist. I loved the length of her red FD dress last year. It was the perfect style for her.

Meryl and Charlie's program was utterly charming, and they looked incredibly crisp and polished for the first performance of the season. They were flying across the ice. I also enjoyed Nicole Orford/Thomas Williams' performance. Thomas seems to often be channeling Charlie. If so, he's picked a great role model!

I skipped the ladies' short program on Friday afternoon so I could grab an early dinner and be back at the rink in time for the pairs free skate. The event started off shakily with Felicia Zhang/Nate Bartholomay's uncharacteristically error-riddled performance. I was worried something might be wrong with Nate after he singled his jumps and they aborted two lifts. The energy picked up after that with great performances from the medalists. Kayne/O'Shea have a gorgeous look on the ice and they had a very strong outing of their Don Quixote program. So many wonderful little moments in their choreography. I'm very excited about their future!

Caydee Denney/John Coughlin also threw down another great performance. I forgot to mention that I thought their Tosca short program music cut was really bad. I don't think Tosca is meant to be short program music. But back to the long, they skated very well in their return to the international stage after John's injury. Moore-Towers/Moscovitch also skated superbly. Their La Strada program was so impressive, and so were their jumps. Pairs at Canadian Nationals is going to be very interesting!

The men took the stage after the pairs, and I may have zoned out on a number of the performances. Max Aaron's Carmen program had a couple of moments I recognized from Evan Lysacek's Carmen. Again I could see a bit of improvement in Max's artistry as I did in the SP, but I think he still has a ways to go to make the movements convincing. He has to really feel it. In comparison, I thought Josh Farris really felt the choreography of his Schindler's List program. His circular step sequence was stunning, and even with the jump mistakes I felt he was emotionally invested in the entire performance. If he skates this up to par at Nationals, he'll have everyone on their feet.

The men's medal ceremony was quite entertaining. Max had to go backstage to do an interview for a reporter who had a deadline, so Josh and Stephen Carriere had to wait rinkside for him to return for photos. Stephen took it upon himself to entertain the crowd, asking us questions and then telling us a childhood story. It was a great time!

On Saturday, I had a leisurely morning until we headed to City Creek for lunch and then the rink for the free dance warmup. We got our first look at the fabulousness of Meryl's Scheherazade dress and "ooh'd" and "aah'd" over its regal look. Nothing else noteworthy transpired until this happened:

My friend and I had an epic fangirl moment when we got a picture with coach Igor Shpilband. He loved our shirts!

Once again we passed on watching the ladies' competition in favor of uploading photos at the hotel and stopping for an early dinner at Taco Bell (keeping it classy!). It sounded like we didn't miss much. When we returned to the rink, the tailgaters were out in full force for the Utah-Oregon State football game. It was fun seeing the sea of red all over the streets. Inside the rink, the ice dance teams showed us a variety of styles. Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniunas had some cool moves in their James Bond free dance. I especially liked the move near the end where it looks like Isabella is reaching for the sky.

Lynn and Logan had a few bobbles in their free dance, but I absolutely loved the program and the freedom in their movements. I thought they showed wonderful emotion with each step, and their highlight moves are stunning. I also liked that the first cut of music is a lesser-known piece from Spartacus. It's a beautiful section of the ballet. And then it crescendos to the popular section that builds so well and drives the emotion even higher. This is another program that can bring the house down at Nationals.

In the final group, I thoroughly enjoyed Weaver/Poje's tango. They didn't use any of the tango warhorses, so it felt fresh, and I loved the simple costumes. I think their best look is sensual and passionate, and this program shows off that strength.

I wasn't crazy about Penny Coomes/Nicholas Buckland's Michael Jackson program. There were too many music cuts for my taste. I liked Julia Zlobina/Alexei Sitnikov's Pina free dance because it reminded me of Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy's Pina program, which is my favorite of theirs. Zlobina/Sitnikov have impressive flow across the ice, and I think they're going to be a team to watch.

Meryl and Charlie took the ice last and provided the perfect exclamation point to the evening. They've clearly studied the Scheherazade ballet in training this program. Every step has a purpose, every movement matches the music. They ran out of steam a little at the very end, but for the first outing of the season it was amazingly performed. The program has masterpiece written all over it.

I love this event in Salt Lake City, and I hope the USFSA continues to hold this competition there for many years. It's an easy flight, the airport is super close to downtown, the rink has a relaxed atmosphere (despite the dumb new seating restriction this year), and there are lots of dining options near the host hotel. And you can't beat the price of the ticket - $30 for an all-event pass! It's the perfect setup for an international event.

Next up on my skating travel calendar is Skate America in Detroit! I'm so excited to finally visit the ice dance capital of the U.S. I'm going to try to visit a couple of the training rinks while there. Only a few more weeks until the Grand Prix season begins!

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