by Karen Frank
(22 January 2016) When it comes to Ice Dance, it doesn’t pay to expect the unexpected. By the time U.S. Nationals begins, the top teams have competed four or five times, and barring a mistake in their programs, their order of finish lines up with their World Rankings. With three teams having qualified for the Grand Prix Final, the field was one of the deepest in recent years. And while the expectation was that the rankings after the short program would be identical to the Grand Prix Final Results, people still wondered: would this be the competition when Maia & Alex Shibutani’s momentum finally slings them past Madison Chock & Evan Bates? Would there be any alteration to last year’s standings? Would any new teams make a splash?
The answers to those questions: no… yes… yes.
Though the Shibutani’s charming short dance to Coppélia by Léo Delibes had the highest technical marks, with all parts of the program given level four, it was not enough to surpass the reigning World Silver Medalists Chock and Bates, whose Program Components scores kept them in the lead.
Starting with a foxtrot to an Andrea Bocelli cover of More, Chock and Bates flowed smoothly across the ice. The program builds to a fast, powerful waltz to Unchained Melody, taking the audience up to an explosive ending.
Meanwhile, the Shibutanis, chose a character piece, portraying the story of Coppélia by Léo Delibes. Spontaneous applause erupted at the conclusion of their twizzle sequence, which consisted of three changes of direction.
The difference may have been a matter of taste – all of the judges marked Chock & Bates’ components above 9.00. Meanwhile, there was a greater range of opinion for the Shibutanis, who were marked from 8.5 to 10 point.
When it all shook out, the Shibutanis were less than half a point in second.
A short distance in third, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, who recently moved to Montreal to train with Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil, performed an emotional short dance to k.d. Lang’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic, Hallelujah. They received level fours on every element except the Partial Step Sequence (level 3), but like the Shibutani’s program, their performance was more than just about the elements. “We're trying to really create a moment that's not a program, that's not an element, that's not anything technical or component based, it's just a moment to take everyone in and make them feel something, and I think we got a glimpse of that today.” said Donohue.
The one deviation from the 2015 standings came when Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, who finished fifth last year, slipped in 0.08 ahead of Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, last year’s Pewter Medalists. Intensely interpreting Selections from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and telling the story in the process, they gained a slight GOE advantage over Hawayek & Baker. While the latter team had higher Program Component Marks, their performance of music from The Nutcracker had a couple tiny breaks in execution, which made the difference.
Further down in the field, three new partnerships set themselves up with solid debuts. Danielle Thomas & Daniel Eaton, finished in sixth place, with a well-executed performance to the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella. In eighth, Karina Manta & Joseph Johnson were exciting as they skated to a dark, sharp and staccato March and Waltz to Prokofiev’s music, choreographed to great effect by Tom Dickson. And though Alexandra Aldridge and her new-to-ice dance partner Matthew Blackmer finished in tenth place, their evident joy on the ice and with each other, rose above some technical problems. In the mix with these new partnerships were Charlotte Maxwell & Ryan Devereaux who also rose above their elements score with a quirky and entertaining salute to The Addams Family to finish in eighth place. Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker finished in ninth when they completely missed the twizzles.
So, while initial questions have been answered, another one rises for Saturday’s Free Dance: how will the competitor’s close scores in the short dance affect them moving toward the future?
"It doesn't change our mindset at all,” said Alex. “Every time that we've gone out and performed the free dance it's been very special for us and the audience, and we're hoping that we can do that tomorrow.”