Tuesday, November 14, 2017

It's Ice Dancing Season!

I have been watching the current series of Ice Dancing Grand Prix competitions as it winds through the various countries:  Russia, Canada, China, and Japan, so far, with France, United States, and Japan (for the final) yet to come.

I am particularly fond of observing particular pairs of ice dancers perform; especially with regard to the total impact that each of them make.  The four couples that serve as centerpieces for my observations are:

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada)
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (France)
Anna Cappellini/ Luca Lanotte (Italy)
Maia Shibutani/ Alex Shibutani (United States)

And the three that I enjoy watching the most are the last three on this list. 

There are other very fine ice dancers, but these four are the ones I enjoy the most,  for various reasons: 
1.     For some couples, it may be that I don’t like the costumes, and Russia heads the list for bad costumes.  There are a number of Russian dancers for whom the costumes – and this is particularly true for the ladies – are simply awful.  I especially dislike transparent skirts on the women, and Russian dancers seem to use them a lot.  What the dancers wear, and especially the women dancers, should serve to present them in the most flattering way, and often for the Russians, this just isn’t the case. 
2.     Sometimes the costumes for the men are designed to make them fade into the background, so that the women are featured; sometimes they coordinate with the women’s costume, sometimes they are neutral.  I like to see an effort made so that the men and the women BOTH flatter themselves and showcase each other.  I also find the modern trend of showing, or appearing to show by using flesh-colored fabric, way too much skin, both unnecessary and unflattering.  I especially dislike costumes that are designed to appear that large bites have been taken out of the material, making me wonder if the costume is something left over from a shark attack.  The same for overly-slashed skirts.
3.     Sometimes it is the choice of music, which goes a long way to lending mood and theme to the dance.  Good music greatly enhances the mood and beauty of the dance; but bad choice of music can fracture the presentation into separate and sometimes conflicting parts.  Bad music makes me want to turn off the sound, and for me, the performance is badly flawed.  Luckily for these performances, however, music is not scored.
4.     Sometimes the skaters just aren’t expert enough in their craft to get beyond the technical aspects of the skating to include a presentation of the total program.  I’m very forgiving of the lack of technical skill, though, and I really enjoy watching younger/newer couples as they begin their careers, especially if costuming and music are well done.  It was just such a couple – the Shibutanis – that I began watching when they first arrived on the televised skating programs, and who have now risen to the very top of the ice dancing scene. 

Anyway, on to my observations: 

This couple executes – and I think “executes” is the right word – a program that emphasizes the athleticism of the pair; and, they are out to win. The emphasis is on the technical execution of the program, with the goal of maximal point accumulation. It is hard to fault them in this goal, since that is, after all, the point of the competition, but with them it is more obvious than with other skaters.  As a result, technical competence is very high indeed.  However, there are some non-technical (and non-scored) aspects to their program that could be substantially improved.  There is very little interaction between the two of them, for example, and little if any interaction with the audience – they are focused, and obviously focused, on the technical performance, rather than the total presentation.  Neither Tessa’s costume nor hairstyle does anything at all to flatter her, (and it would be so easy to flatter her), but rather the opposite.  It almost seems that it is unflattering on purpose.

Summary:  I appreciate their technical expertise; but I don’t find them all that much fun to watch.  In short, they get high scores, but I don’t care whether or not I see their performance.

This couple personifies the unearthly, ethereal beauty that can be achieved through motion.  Many times during their performance the commentators will fall silent, as awed by the performance as is the audience.  Papadakis wears mildly flattering costumes that often include filmy, dreamy, floating fabrics that contribute to the spiritual/ethereal content of the program, and Cizeron is absolutely un-matched in the use of body motions to bring, and sustain, the exquisite feeling of floating, peaceful, grace.  He is one of the few men who draw the eye by motion alone, without having to make any special effort to do so.  Music is expertly chosen to enhance the feeling of the dance; costumes are chosen to complement each other; skating is technically perfect; interaction between the two of them is focused on each other continuously from beginning to end, with the audience put in the position of an awed voyeur, which is obviously one of the major goals of the program.

Summery:  No performance by these two should be missed, ever.

This couple is the personification of the joy of dancing together.  They are extremely engaging people to watch.  They interact with each other constantly, smile often, and draw the audience into their performance as if the audience were composed of friends that they knew personally.  Anna chooses modest (which I like), well-designed costumes, with skirts that are of a proper length, opaque (sometimes double-layered with contrasting colors), and that move continuously with her and flare beautifully when she twirls.  She uses her costume to enhance and project her feminine beauty and grace, and it helps that she herself is breathtakingly beautiful. Luca’s costume is designed to mesh seamlessly with Anna’s so that together they help to tell the story of the dance, often with a hint of boy chasing girl (and both enjoying the pursuit) in many of their programs.  Music is well chosen to enhance the dance and both are highly technically competent.

Summary:  To watch these two dance on ice fills me with pleasure.

The word I keep coming to for these two is “professional”.  Nothing is overlooked, everything is in is proper place.  Maia is a lovely woman and hairstyle and costumes are chosen to enhance every aspect of her beauty.  She chooses modest outfits with skirts of exactly the right length, of exactly the right color, and exactly the right consistency so that they flow and flare exactly right as she moves on the ice.  Alex’s costume is a muted complement to Maia’s costume.  Music and dance compositions are designed to bring out and show off their strengths and talents.  I have watched them for years, now, as they continue to get better and better.  They work together beautifully, and they are very, very good.

Summary:  Every presentation is a jewel.