And Now for Something Completely Different

By Lynn Rutherford

ISU communication # 1449 defines the OD rhythm for the 2007-2008 season as "any type of folk country based on a specific country or region," adding that the music must have a "genuine feel" for the dance. The tango, last season’s rhythm, is prohibited, as is anything with the "feel of the grand ballroom," such as a Strauss waltz. Clarifications affirmed that the accompanying music should be "authentic, not contemporary."

A list of examples, ranging from the tarantella to Chinese minority dances, is provided. Otherwise, things are left vague. For example, a Canadian couple in Lake Placid performed to "The Blue Danube," Johann Strauss II’s signature composition, but with a "barnyard" arrangement. Does this qualify?

While entertaining for the audience, the folk country OD certainly presents a few issues for coaches and choreographers.

"The biggest challenge is finding authentic music," said Barrett Brown, a veteran coach at the Skating Club of Boston. "Some of the indigenous music is a bit dull and hard to find, and even if you can find it, the recordings are scratchy."

Iouri Tchesnitchenko of Ann Arbor, who brought several novice, junior and senior teams to the competition, felt dance choice would be key to captivating the audience and judges.

"A Russian folk dance can be very entertaining," he said. "A lot of other dances are more reserved, and don’t have so many tricks, so they might look boring next to the (livelier) dances. Having everyone doing something different makes it harder to judge."

In Lake Placid, we saw Russian, Hungarian and Romanian folk dances; a tarantella; African dances; even a Peruvian scarf dance. What we didn’t see was hip hop. Bob Horen, a member of the ISU Ice Dance Committee, said that while hip hop may fit ISU communication #1449’s the definition of a folk country dance, some officials and judges do not approve of its inclusion. Therefore, he advised teams to avoid courting controversy and choose something else.

Senior Original Dance

The new partnership of Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles – winners of the senior free dance and two compulsories (the Argentine Tango and Yankee Polka) -- also triumphed in the senior original dance, with a lyrical country western/gospel program choreographed by Christopher Dean.

Performing to selections from "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" the couple opened with cross-foot twizzles in low, "pancake" positions, followed by back twizzles with their hands to their heads. Their mid-line sequence had strong unison and deep edges, although Gilles may have touched the barrier at the end.

Their weakest element, the spin, had Summersett in Biellmann and sit positions and Gilles in a camel. The second half was slow and labored, although it did not receive an overall negative GOE. Their straight-line lift was steady, and the circular steps – featuring changes of position, behind-the-back holds and barnyard kicks – were a highlight. They closed with a strong one-arm rotational with Summersett in a "bird’s nest" position, taking first place with 49.39 points.

"There were a few areas we could improve," Gilles said. "We were waiting for Chris (Dean) to come back to Colorado Springs after his "Skating with the Stars" tour, so we’ve only had the program for five weeks."

"Technically, a few issues may show up (in the marks), but they stayed committed to the program," the couple’s coach, Patti Gottwein, added.

Canadians Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Corena, who placed third in the free dance, were second in the original (48.08 points) with a light-hearted program to "Log Drivers Waltz" and a Newfoundland jig, choreographed by Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe.

The couple’s circular steps had good speed and close holds, and they had a swift entry and exit on their one-arm rotational lift. The twizzles at the end of their mid-line steps had good unison and difficult bent-leg positions. Their closing lift, with Hann-McCurdy standing on Corena’s thigh, was inventive but looked a bit rough.

"We went back to our Canadian roots for this," Victor Kraatz, the couple’s coach, said. "The ‘Log Driver’s Waltz’ is from an old CBC cartoon." (The three-minute animated footage may be found on YouTube.)

"In the jig, we wanted to show off our fast feet," Corena added. "My dad is from Newfoundland, and it was cool doing a true "Newfie" jig."

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who train in Ann Arbor, Mich. under Tchesnitchenko, placed third (47.23 points) with a romantic Russian Gypsy dance. They had good twizzles in the (now ubiquitous) cross-foot and hand-to-head positions, although the rest of their mid-line steps were a bit out of unison. The diagonal and circular steps had good flow, and they hit nice positions in their curve lift, but their rotational lift looked a tad messy.

"It was pretty clean, a few things here and there but we executed it well," Giulietti-Schmitt said.

"We did the catch foot in the twizzles to get Level 4. The arms were a bonus," Kriengkrairut added. "If we miss our feet, the arms will at least give us a Level 3."

Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler performed a Native American dance to pipes and drums that was entertaining, evocative and perhaps a bit underappreciated. They showed good unison on their mid-line sequence, completing the first half on one foot, and their twizzles were well synchronized. Their straight-line lift had a flip over entrance, with Maxwell balanced on Traxler’s shoulder in a Biellmann-type position. They closed with a one-arm rotational lift, with Maxwell held horizontally. They placed fourth with 45.67 points.

"It was strong for the first time out but there is still work to be done," Traxler said.

"I’m half Native American – my tribe is Seminole Creek – so we choose this dance," Maxwell added. "My dad and I went to Oklahoma and saw some pow wows to watch the way they danced. We also watched some videos on You Tube."

Canadians Bethany Puttkemery & Kevin Gallagher, who performed a dramatic dance that may have been Portuguese, placed fifth with 42.74 points. They skated with good energy and attack, with a strong mid-line step sequence and fine rotational lift.

Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky’s charming Hungarian dance placed sixth with 39.56 points. They opened with a lovely straight-line lift, with Whetstone balanced in a graceful upside-down arch with her feet in the air. They had an unfortunate stumble in the circular steps, and Obzansky put a foot down on the twizzles in their mid-line sequence, put closed strong with a rotational lift with Whetstone in a "donut" position.

Clare Farrell & Chase Fishpaw were seventh (38.54 points) with an entertaining Irish folk dance. They set the scene with some "Riverdance"-type steps, and then went into a well-done diagonal sequence. Their spin was a bit slow, and Fishpaw could hit a bit deeper position in the curve lift, but the overall feel and energy was excellent.

Performing an Israeli folk dance, Mauri Gustafson & Joel Dear – who have only skated together for 10 weeks -- had a few rough spots, missing their initial contact on the spin and looking a bit ragged on their steps. Both the curve lift, with Gustafson in a stunning back bend, and the rotational, with Gustafson in a full split, were solid. They were eighth with 36.45 points.

Junior Group A Original Dance

Canadian junior champions Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier won junior group A with an elegant, evocative Romanian gypsy dance that began with well executed circular steps showing good line and lovely flowing edges. This transitioned into a Level 4 curve lift in a low "hydro-blading" position. Their twizzles and mid-line steps had excellent unison. They closed with a fine one-arm rotational lift and a spin with a unique "shoot-the-duck" entrance.

"The beginning is not a typical (folk dance); it brings out their lyricism," Carol Lane, who coaches the couple in Scarboro, Ont., said. "There are a few things they can work on to (better) portray the character of the dance."

The dance was chosen in part because Crone was born in the Romanian port city of Constanta, and adopted by Canadians as an infant. The couple, who will skate in the senior event at the 2008 Canadian Championships, are scheduled to compete at the Romanian Junior Grand Prix in Miercurea-Ciuc in early September.

Anastasia Rose Cannuscio & Dean Copley, who train at the University of Delaware, were second with an energetic Russian Kalinka to traditional Balalaika music. They opened with Level 4 twizzles that were slightly out of sync, although the remainder of their mid-line was clean. Cannuscio hit a lovely drape position over Copley’s knee in their Level 4 straight-line lift. Their closing circular steps were clean and energetic, and they placed second with 45.50 points (27.10 TES + 18.40 PCS).

Canadians Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill were audience favorites with their African tribal dance, which opened with interesting "mirror" footwork that led into Level 4 twizzles and the mid-line sequence. They had a striking straight-line lift with Hill in a low crouch, and Ralph jutting forward even lower. Ralph hit a fine layback position in their closing Level 4 spin. The creative and interesting program took third place with 44.04 (25.50 TES + 18.54 PCS) points.

Rachael Richardson & Brad Coulter of Ann Arbor had the most colorful program of the event, a Peruvian folk dance to the music of pan flutes. They were the only couple to use costume props: scarves tied at their wrists, which they swung around to good effect during some of their elements, including their closing rotational lift. They place fourth with 43.74 points (26.10 TES + 17.64 PCS).

"We had some issues (with the scarves) getting caught, and tried different variations on how to connect them to our wrists," Coulter said. "We also watched some videos of (Peruvian dancing)."

Canadian junior silver medalists Joanna Lenko & Mitchell Islam, who are trained in Richmond Hills by Mitchell’s father David, placed fifth with 43.37 points. Performing a Russian folk dance, the couple began with well-executed Level 4 twizzles, followed by a clean mid-line sequence. Their straight-line lift, which had Islam on one foot, was a bit shaky. Their serpentine steps and Level 4 rotational had good control and speed, but their closing spin was a bit wild.

Sixth place (43.36 points) went to Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker, who performed the Karabushka, a fast-paced Russian dance which gains speeds as it goes on. The Colorado Springs-based couple had good phrasing in the opening circular steps, which received a high overall GOE of 1.2. The Level 4 straight-line lift, with Tibbetts in a deep backbend, was also strong, as was their spin. Unfortunately, she fell in the opening section of their mid-line sequence, and their timing was a bit off thereafter. They also received a deduction for an extended lift.

Junior Group B Original Dance

Siblings Maia & Alex Shibutani won junior group B original dance (49.14 (28.60 TES + 20.54 PCS) with their Tom Dixon-choreographed Japanese dance set to taiko drums. Their two opening moves – angular, weaving circular steps, followed by a Level 4 spin with Alex in a sit spin, and Maia in attractive side camel to catch-foot positions – set the tone. Their Level 4 twizzles had good unison, and they used the new crossover requirement effectively in their mid-line sequence, but their steps could be more forceful.

As the Shibutanis admit, Japanese dance is difficult to set to ice. It consists mainly of upper body movement and hand gestures, few leg and foot movements, and no lifting.

"European folk dances are bolder," Alex said. "This program was softer. We let the music and choreography speak for itself."

The siblings, who moved from Colorado Springs to Canton, Mich. this spring, now train in Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva’s group. Maia, who was born July 20, 1994, is 20 days too young to compete in this fall’s Junior Grand Prix.

"I think it was very, very good for the beginning of the season," Shpilband said. "There is a lot of work we can do, but they had a great competition and were able to tell a story with the program and share it."

Performing to the blues classic "St. James Infirmary," Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan of Colorado Springs placed second with an expressive program highlighted by liquid step sequences and effective lifts, especially the opening Level 3 straight-line. They lost unison on their Level 4 twizzles, and their mid-line was a bit slow, but they recovered with a pretty highlight move (she was held by her leg in a "drag") and Level 4 spin with Gilles in several Biellmann variations. The program, which was choreographed by Matthew Gates, earned 46.99 points (27.18 TES + 19.81 PCS).

"We knew there would be a lot of polkas and Russian Kalinkas, and we wanted to do something to represent our country," Gilles said. "The blues is so American."

"That was probably our best OD performance yet," McKernan added. "The (mid-line) steps were a little shaky, but not too bad overall. We definitely put it out there."

Isabella Lucia Cannuscio & Ian Lorello of the University of Delaware performed an exuberant African folk dance highlighted by the event’s fastest, most secure spin (Level 4), with Cannuscio in a tight "skate to head" position. Their step sequences were clean and both their curve and rotational lifts both rated Level 4. They placed third with 46.42 points.

Skating a Russian gypsy dance to the famous "Dark Eyes," the Shpilband-coached Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein opened with a strong Level 4 straight-line lift with Chock draped low to the ice over Zuerlein’s knee. Their circular steps had good speed and flow, and their Level 4 spin had effective upright positions. Their twizzles were a bit weak, but their closing mid-line sequence had good unison and they finished fourth with 45.01 points.

Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring, performing to music from "Zorba the Greek," opened with circular steps that had good speed, but at Level 1 lacked some technical requirements. Their Level 4 rotational was done with Bailey in a full split, and their twizzles rated Level 4 although their mid-line steps were Level 1. Both their Level 4 spin and curve lift were solid. They ended up in fifth place with 44.16 points.

Kaylyn Patitucci & Karl Edelmann of Ann Arbor rounded out the top six couples with a highly entertaining Bavarian Schulplattler that had the audience clapping along with the skaters. Their opening Level 4 twizzles were a bit out of unison, and Herring touched the barrier at the end of the mid-line steps. Patitucci hit an attractive catch-foot position in their Level 4 spin, and they maintained the Germanic character of the dance throughout their serpentine steps. Their final two moves, a straight-line lift with Patitucci in two difficult positions and a fast rotational lift, were solid. They earned 43.97 points.

Injury Notes from Lake Placid: The top two U.S. junior couples withdrew from the competition due to injury. Iouri Tchesnitchenko, who coaches Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates and Madison & Kiefer Hubbell, explained, "Evan strained his back on a lift; the MRI was negative, and he should be back on the ice in a week. Kiefer has a hip flexor, and is getting treatment at the Olympic Training Center here. He should be okay too."

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