Lake Placid Free Dance

By Lynn Rutherford

With Charlie Whiteís ankle infection keeping he and partner Meryl Davis out of action and former World junior champion Maxim Zavozin and new partner Caitlin Mallory also scratched from the event, all eyes were on Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles of Colorado Springs, who teamed up April 1st.

Gillesí five-year partnership with Trina Pratt ended last December. Summersett had been off ice for 15 months, since her partnership with Elliott Pennington went kaput after the 2006 U.S. Championships in St. Louis.

The couple, who have a substantial height difference (Summersett is about 5í2" or 5í3"; Gilles is 6í1"), successfully debuted their free dance to Maurice Ravelís "La Valse," an impressionistic piece described by its composer as "a fantastic and fateful whirlpool."

Tom Dixonís choreography brilliantly reflects the menacing undertones beneath the surface of the lovely Viennese waltz. The program features two Level 3-step sequences full of differing levels, changes of direction and complex holds. The coupleís opening combination lift (SlLi4 + CuLi4) had Summersett in three difficult positions, and they had good unison and speed on their Level 3 twizzle sequence.

Their free dance ended with what was Pratt & Gillesí signature move: a Level 4 curve lift with Gilles in a deep squat and Summersett balanced parallel on his knees.

Summersett & Gilles won the senior free dance with 79.41 points (45.30 TES + 34.11 PCS).

"It was good, a little in and out on the music," the coupleís coach, Patti Gottwein, said. "Itís exciting for me to watch them gel as a team."

Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxlerís free dance to Sarah Brightmanís "Time to Say Goodbye," choreographed by Natalia Linichuk, took second place with 74.96 points (43.60 TES + 31.36 PCS). The routine was highlighted by strong, Level 4 twizzles and an attractive straight-line lift with a flip-over entrance that put Maxwell on Traxlerís shoulder, while he balanced on one foot. It was an enjoyable program that looked like a performance, rather than a series of elements.

"We tried to maintain the integrity of the music in relation to the footwork," Pierre Panis, who coaches the couple in Plano, Texas, said.

Third place went to 2006 Canadian Junior Champions Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno, who performed their free dance to electronic new age music from Nortec Collective. The couple opened with an effective Level 4 rotational lift, with Hann-McCurdy on Corenoís shoulder. They had good unison on their Level 4 twizzles, and although they lost their timing midway through a Level 2 mid-line step sequence, then regained it at the end. They finished with 74.28 points (43.30 TES + 31.98 PCS).

"With skating, itís an age thing," Victor Kraatz, who coaches the couple with his wife, Maikki, at Vancouverís BC Centre of Excellence, said. "The older you get, especially in dance, the more you understand how skating is transmitted. You learn how to communicate your skills and grow your knowledge.

"(Allie and Michael) are working on the originality and difficulty of their transitions; (the program) is not just six steps, do a bracket, do a lift. We want to keep things surprising, so a lift just happens."

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who train in Ann Arbor, Mich. under Iouri Tchesnitchenko, performed a sharp, edgy tango with leg flicks, ganchos (hooks) and interesting shapes. They opened with crisp, Level 4 twizzles, one set done with their hands over their heads and the other in the catch-foot position. A strong combination lift (SiLi4 + RoLi4), with Kriengkrairut draped over Giuletti-Schmittís arm in the rotational, followed. Their spin, with Kriengkrairut in a Biellmann position, did not appear to be fully completed. They placed fourth with 72.18 points (41.20 TES + 32.98 PCS).

"The last minute of the program, they were fatigued, and that hurt their spin," Tchesnitchenko said.

"My hand caught in the netting of her skirt," Giulietti-Schmitt explained. "It was supposed to be a sit spin/Biellmann into an upright/donut, but I was just glad to be able to do any spin at all."

"Weíve liked the tango a lot ever since last seasonís OD," Kriengkrairut said. "We do a lot of off-ice (ballroom) and practice pieces of the program in front of a mirror. Watching Argentine tangos on video also helped us a lot."

The couple, who teamed up last May, found each other via IcePartner Search after their previous partnerships ended.

"I had moved to Ann Arbor with my former partner (Mauri Gustafson), but after two months we broke up," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "After the tryout, we talked and found out we had similar goals, so Lynn (Kriengkrairut) moved to Ann Arbor that same weekend."

They now train in a group that includes three junior, two novice and several juvenile teams.

"Itís a great environment, very motivating," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "Working together with these other teams everyday helps us a lot."

Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky, who train in Canton, Mich. under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, had an entertaining free dance to classic pop tunes ("Should I Let Myself Go" "Reet Petite") that was marred by an unfortunate double fall on their final element, the rotational lift. They finished fifth with 72.18 points (41.20 TES + 32.98 PCS).

Christina Chitwood & Mark Hanretty, who compete for Great Britain, were sixth (69.05 points) with an elegant free skate to "Nella Fantasia" that showed off their fine lines and good extension. Their opening combination (CuLi4 + RoLi4) began with a curve lift in unique position, with Chitwood standing on Hanrettyís bent leg. They lacked speed and strength on their circular and mid-line steps, but their Level 4 twizzles were solid.

The couple trains in Sheffield, England, and Colorado Springs, but also spent time in Simsbury, CT this summer working with Matthew Gates, who choreographs their programs. (Gates has since moved to Montclair, NJ.) Chitwood is obtaining a visa so that she may live in Sheffield and attend university there.

"I want to compete at the Olympics some day," she said.

Chitwood & Hanretty, who placed seventh at the 2007 British Championships, are hoping for better results this season.

"Last year, I had mononucleosis, so we couldnít train as hard," Hanretty said.

Clare Farrell & Chase Fishpaw, who train with Robbie Kaine and Cheryl Demkowski Snyder in the Philadelphia area, performed their free to "Notre Dame de Paris." They opened with solid Level 3 twizzles and had several strong lifts, but struggled on their diagonal steps and placed eighth with 64.60 points.

"It was a fairly clean skate with no major errors, but it needs to be faster and stronger," Kaine said. "Itís a good place to start. Theyíre just moving up from juniors."

"Weíre focused on improving our component scores, especially our skating skills," added Farrell. "Our choreographer, Natalya Linichuk, has been working with us on how to interpret our step sequences to the music."

Canadians Lisa Johnson & Joseph Scott skated an expressive program to music from "Schindlerís List," finishing ninth (62.48 points). Scott showed deep edges in their opening Level 4 curve lift, while Johnson hit a difficult Biellmann position in their Level 3 rotational. They lost ground when they fell out of their twizzle sequence, and their closing diagonal steps were a bit labored.

Also representing Canada, Megan Wilson & Garett Goodman performed to an unusual mix of Halloween-type music, including Michael Jacksonís "Thriller." While they had interesting lifts, their step sequences were a bit messy, and they placed tenth with 60.78 points.

Performing their free to "Malaguena," Marsha Snyder & Peter Fischl, who are coached by Brandon Forsythe, placed 11th with 46.90 points. Their program featured a strong combination lift (SlLi4 + RoLi4), with Snyder in a lovely drape position in the rotational, but they fell out of unison on their twizzles. Snyder fell on some transition steps, and the final portion of the program (including the circular and diagonal steps) lost momentum.

Canadians Natalie Ritaler & Denis Kondrashin, who are also coached by Kraatz, were 12th (42.65 points) after both skaters fell on the opening straight-line lift.

Junior Free Dance Group A

This event got off to a rocky start when four of the first five couples suffered falls. Overall, the junior group A skaters took eleven tumbles, mostly on difficult lifts and twizzle sequences. Considering the August timeframe; the many couples just moving up from novice; and the new ways couples can gain Level 3 and 4 twizzles (hands over head, grasping blades with hands), thatís not too surprising.

Isabella Lucia Cannuscio & Ian Lorello of the University of Delaware won the event with a fast-paced free dance to music from the Broadway musical "Edward Scissorhands," choreographed by Elena Garanina. Their opening steps were a bit simple but well executed, and two superb Level 4 moves Ė a curve lift with a difficult entrance, and a spin with Lorello in a low sit spin position Ė followed. The finished strong with three solid lifts.

"I thought we did well," Cannuscio said. "We had one little bobble at the end of the circular but then we were 100% into it."

"They both have a good sense of rhythm, so we thought this was music they could really sink their teeth into," head coach Karen Ludington said, adding that she hoped the teamís strong performance would put them into contention for an international assignment. (They were awarded a Junior Grand Prix shortly after.)

Siblings Maia & Alex Shibutani, who performed a modern dance-style program to contemporary piano compositions, placed second with 66 points (36.10 TES + 29.90 PCS). They started well with a superb straight-line lift and spin with Maia in a good side camel position, but Alex put a foot down on their first set of twizzles, reducing the element to a Level 2. Their remaining step sequences were clean, although they lost a bit of speed toward the end of the circular footwork. Overall, it was an interesting, mature effort.

The free dance was choreographed by Tom Dickson in Colorado Springs, although the Shibutanis have since moved to Canton to train with Shpilband and Zoueva.

"(The move) was a big change, but it worked out for the best," Maia, who is 20 days too young (born July 20, 1994) to compete on this seasonís Junior Grand Prix circuit, said. "Igor and Marina have a great environment. Weíre really enjoying it. Itís a lot of hard work but you arrive at competitions really prepared and excited to get out there."

"Our free dance is based in modern dance, and is about conflict and contrasts," Alex added. "I kind of botched the twizzles but we attacked it and Iím happy with the performance."

"(The choreography) is very, very good," Shpilband said. "I changed a bit of the footwork, but it is Tom Dixonís concept. Iím very pleased they didnít hold back. Itís a good start."

Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring, who are coached by Christie Moxley and Alexander Kirsanov at the University of Delaware, performed a dramatic free choreographed by Irina Romanova to music from the "300" soundtrack. Herring put his foot down on the final twizzle in their opening sequence, and they lost speed on their circular and mid-line step sequences, but their well-executed lifts and spin all gained Level 4. They finished third with 61.90 points (33.50 TES + 28.40 PCS).

"The first half of their performance was solid," Moxley said. "Last year was their first together, and they ended up second (in novice) at Nationals. That was not expected. This is just their first year as juniors, and itís a big jump."

Bailey & Herring have been assigned to the Lake Placid JGP and hope to get a second assignment.

Colorado Springs-based Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker (brother of World junior pairs champion Rockne), who are coached by Tiffany Hyden, also had plenty of drama in their free dance to a modern arrangement of "Tosca." Brubaker stumbled out of the final twizzle in their (Level 4) sequence, and Tibbetts fell during the straight-line portion of their combination lift, costing them a one-point deduction for a fall as well as a point deduction for a repeated element. Otherwise, the program showed flare and promise.

The season got off to a rocky start for Kaylyn Patitucci & Karl Edelman of Ann Arbor when, in the final 40 seconds of their free dance, their CD skipped back to the beginning. Although the couple continued skating and completed their program, they were permitted (after a long wait) to re-start and perform their final two elements, a mid-line step sequence and rotational lift.

The exceptionally tall (she is 5í10"; he is 6") couple showed well-matched lines and expressive arms. Their opening (Level 4) curve lift, with Patitucci draped over her partnerís knee, was especially effective. Their circular steps slowed a bit, and they lost unison on their twizzles, but recovered with a fine Level 4 spin.

An intended combination lift turned into a scoring disaster. During the curve lift portion of the element, both fell. Not only did they receive a two-point deduction for the falls, they were dinged another point for repeating an element (the curve lift). In addition, they received no credit for the move. All told, they lost about eight or nine points, leaving them in fifth place with 58.28 points.

"They are promising," the coupleís coach, Iouri Tchesnitchenko, said. "They just need a little bit more time to get better used to each other. They have only been skating together since May."

Michelle Pennington & Andrew Skillington were sixth with an elegant program to "Phantom of the Opera" that began with a strong Level 4 rotational lift. Skillington had trouble with the steps, slipping at the end of the diagonal sequence and struggling a bit on the twizzles, but overall the effect was good. They earned 57.59 points.

Canadians Catherine St-Onge & Alexander Browne took seventh place (56.60 points) with a unique free dance to Metallica music highlighted by interesting black and white costumes depicting traditional Chinese "yin and yang" (unity of opposites) signs. They had strong lifts, especially the curve, but their closing move, the combination spin, was a bit wobbly and slow.

Eighth place (56.60 points) went to Lili LaMar & Zachary Donohueís promising, but uneven, free skate to "Harlem Nocturne." The couple opened with an excellent combination straight-line and rotational lift, but Lamar fell on a twizzle, and their spin was a bit wobbly and off center.

Canadians Sophie Knippel & Andrew Britten, who placed ninth with 53.44 points, opened well with a set of Level 4 twizzles, followed by a speedy rotational lift (also Level 4) with Knippel in a tight, vertical position. After that, the program lost momentum, especially in the step sequences, before closing with a solid curve lift.

Another Canadian couple, Natalie Feigen & Jason Cumariu, who are coached by Roy Bradshaw in Richmond Hills, were tenth with 53.15 points. They skated with light elegance to a French version of "Don Juan," showing good speed, posture and flow. Feigen hit a full split position in the (Level 2) rotational lift.

"They were together last season, and were third in (Canadian) novice, which was a big surprise," Bradshaw said. "Sheís a ballerina, so we picked the music to emphasize her elegance, as well as their matching knee action."

Skating to "Moonlight Sonata," Tamiko Uyeda & Martin Nickel finished 11th (52.24 points) with a program that emphasized their fine stroking and on-ice presence. Uyeda stumbled out of their twizzles while Nickel executed three-turns.

The expressive Pilar Bosley & John Corona placed a disappointing 12th with 51.63 points after Bosley fell on both the circular and mid-line step sequences. However, their difficult combination lift (CuLi4 + RoLi4) was polished, and their twizzles were completed in the newly ubiquitous "catch foot" position.

Skating to the upbeat "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," Brooklyn Vienneau & Jonathan Cluett showed pleasing personality, but their combination lift (SiLi 2 + RoLi2) was a bit labored, and Vienneau fell on a rotational lift. They placed 13th with 48.45 points.

Alexis Shaw & Oleg Altukhov opened their free dance with a strong straight-line lift in a low position, but had trouble with their remaining elements, including a double fall on their curve lift, and finished 14th with 37.09 points.

Junior Free Dance Group B

Canadian junior champions Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier won junior free dance group B with an impressive, mature free dance to "Libertango" that had officials not on the judging panel congratulating their coach, Carol Lane.

They opened with a unique, Level 4 stationery spinning lift with Poirier in a low crouch and Crone in a Biellmann, followed by crisp diagonal footwork and a well-controlled, Level 4 reverse rotational lift.

After a dramatic "leap" highlight move by Poirier, the couple performed an excellent Level 4 spin, followed by the finest Level 4 twizzle sequence of the event, with the first set completed with legs grasped in an unusual bent position. They gained speed throughout the program and finished strong, earning 72.23 points (39.50 TES + 32.73 PCS).

"It was pretty good for the first performance," Poirier said. "Itís a good feeling to get our free dance out there."

"I was waiting to see the program, wondering if it would work," Lane said. "This was the first time they did it under pressure, and yes, it works. They did such a good job with their tango OD last season that we wanted to explore the tango more this year."

Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier with coach Carol Long Lane

Photo by Lynn Rutherford

Performing a techno tango, Rachael Richardson & Brad Coulter of Ann Arbor placed second (68.24 = 38.30 TES + 29.94 PCS) with a crisp, intricate program. They opened strong, with a Level 4 straight-line lift quickly transitioning into a Level 4 curve lift, followed by a speedy, well-centered spin. Their step sequences were clean, and their twizzles, done in the now-famous cross-foot position, had good unison.

Canadian junior silver medalists Joanna Lenko & Mitchell Islam took third place with a Latin medley featuring the classic rumba "Bťsame Mucho." After opening with a Level 4 curve lift, they did well-synchronized mid-line steps Ė half on one foot Ė and a Level 4 spin. Their circular steps were a bit shaky, but they recovered with a fine Level 4 twizzle sequence.

"It was a good first performance," Islam said. "Itís difficult to stay on the same foot (on the front and back twizzles) so we added arm (above the head) positions."

"Novices regularly get Level 4ís for elements, so you always have to make things more challenging and raise the bar," David Islam, the coupleís coach (and Mitchellís father), added.

Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein were fourth (64.74 points) with a jazzy program to "West Side Story" that was marred by their fall on some transitional steps. Otherwise, it was a fine effort marked by good speed and deep edges, including solid Level 4 twizzles and a "hydro-blading"/spread eagle highlight move. The couple is coached by Igor Shpilband, who called them "one of my most improved teams."

Performing their free to Prokofievís "Cinderella" Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan were fifth (64.41 points) with an elegant program that opened strong with a superb Level 4 rotational lift, but ran into twizzle trouble.

"It felt good, but we were a little shaky in the circle and the twizzles," Gilles said. "I think we are where we need to be for August."

Canadian novice champs Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill were sixth (61.87 points) with their seductive, soothing "Rainforest" free skate. They showed lovely extension in their opening Level 4 spin, with Ralph in a good layback position. Hill stumbled on their first set of twizzles, but they recovered with a dynamic Level 4 combination lift. They closed with a Level 4 straight-line with Ralph wrapped around Hill in a "pretzel" position.

"We had a time constraint, so we kept last seasonís free skate, adding 30 seconds and changing some elements, including the twizzles," Carol Long, the coupleís coach, said.

"Itís good music to skate to for two years, because it still feels new," added Ralph.

Seventh place (61.08 points) went to Patricia Stuckey & Christopher Mior, who performed to Josh Grobinís romantic "Un Amore Per Sempre." They opened with a solid Level 3 twizzle sequence, with the second set done in catch-foot position. They quickly hit attractive positions in their straight-line lift, although their serpentine lift was a bit shaky and extended, causing a deduction.

"They have only been skating together for six weeks," their coach, Igor Shpilband said. "It was stressful, but they got it done. They were able to deliver the program with good energy; they really work well together."

Anastasia Rose Cannuscio & Dean Copley were eighth (60.57 points) with a Latin-themed medley from the "Kill Bill" soundtrack. They opened with strong Level 4 twizzles and a stunning combination (SiLi4 + RoLi4) lift, but had trouble with handholds in the circular steps. They recovered with a good spin, but stumbled a bit coming out of their straight-line lift. (Anastasiaís sister, Isabella Lucia, won junior free dance group A with her partner, Ian Lorello.)

Canadians Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon, who are coached by Aaron Lowe at the BC Centre for Excellence in Vancouver, had good flow over the ice and fine unison on their twizzles, but ended their free dance slightly behind the music. They placed ninth with 58.89 points.

Anna Stanislava & Dylan Fieldhouse were tenth (54.92 points) with a Middle Eastern-style free dance that featured strong lifts, including a one-arm rotational with good speed; a well-executed curve lift to rotational combination; and an interesting straight-line with Stanislavaís legs wrapped around Whiteheadís neck. They were less successful with footwork, missing the second sequence of twizzles and trailing off at the end of their mid-line steps.

Brin Adams & Dan Donigan, who train at the Skating Club of Boston under Barrett Brown, were 12th with 53.18 points. Their free dance to "Night on Bald Mountain" opened with a strong straight-line lift, but they had unison trouble on the twizzles and circular steps. Their next two elements, a spin and serpentine lift, were solid. Unfortunately, their closing rotational lift was a bit of a mess.

Canadians Maja Vermeulen & Andrew Doleman, who are coached by Victor and Maikki Kraatz in Vancouver, were 13th (52.84 points). Their free dance to "Romeo & Juliet" was choreographed by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. The couple showed elegant lines and a fine rotational spin, but had disruptive stumbles on their twizzles. 

Alexandra Nadeau & Charles-Edouard Bouthillette were 14th with an upbeat rock medley including "Dragonfly," "Black Betty" and "Feeling Good." They needed more speed and unison in the step sequences, but had a strong Level 4 spin.

Canadians Lindsey von Bloedau & Stefan Schneider placed 15th with a flowing, expressive program to "Masquerade Waltz" that suffered from a poorly executed spin and sloppy circular steps.

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