by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(14 November 2018) The big favorites and reigning World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron withdrew from the 2018 NHK Trophy on Monday before the competition because Cizeron has suffered from heavy back pain since the Wednesday a week before the competition. When they announced their withdrawal it was too late to invite alternates, therefore only nine couples competed. Even without a top team, the dance competition in Hiroshima had a high level.
The gold medal of U.S. dancers Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker with 184.63 points, who had been tenth at the World Championships 2018, was a little surprise. The NHK Trophy was their first competition of this season after Baker had a concussion in August and could not train for some weeks. They work in the same Montreal ice dance school as the French team. This school of Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, of French Romain Haguenauer and several other coaches has become by far the most successful dance school in the world in the past three or four years. They had five of the nine teams competing in Hiroshima. With the French team it would even be six of ten teams. The three best American couples train there, plus 17 other couples. The two American teams‘ medals in Japan show the high level of U.S. ice dancing even without the Shibutanis and Chock & Bates.
Hawayek & Baker were second in the Rhythm Dance with 70.71 points and almost five points behind the Russian team on first place. Dancing to the Tangos “Vuelvo al Sur” and “A los Amigos” they opened their program with a very speedy set of twizzles with level 4 for both partners and GOEs with an average of +3. They hit only one of the eight key points in the two Tango Romantica sections, their midline step sequence had a level 2 and the excellent curve lift a level 4, which is normal for lifts. Their components were around 8.5. Baker commented, “We’re both thrilled with the performance that we put out today. It’s been a long road and we’re really happy to be here right now. We have a lot of levels to improve and we’re really looking into that for our second Grand Prix in France.”
In their free dance, they used the two music pieces “Trampoline Theme” and “In This Shirt” by the British music group “The Irrepressibles”. Their twizzles sequence at the beginning was outstanding and had mainly GOEs of +4. Next was an excellent combination lift (curve and stationary) which is allowed instead of two short lifts but risky if the first part goes wrong. The curve lift was impressive as well as the step sequences (level 3), the spin and the three choreographic elements which have no levels. Their components had an average of 8.6. and they won this part of the competition being only .63 points ahead of the British team. “Our main goal was really to try to put out two solid performances, but also to understand our programs,” Baker explained. “It is our first event. We really just wanted to get our feet wet. We’re very happy that we’re walking away with the gold medal.”
Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro from Russia, 13th at the Olympic Games, 8th at the World Championships 2018 and third at Skate America three weeks ago, had taken the lead in the Rhythm Dance especially as they hit seven of the eight key points in the Tango sections. Skating to two Tangos, their first element was an excellent twizzle sequence, followed by a very good sidelong lift (both level 4) and an impressive midline step sequence (level 3). Their components were around 8.5. Guerreiro commented, “We definitely feel a little bit the jet lag kicking in, so hopefully tomorrow we’ll feel a little better. I think it was quite a good performance nevertheless.” Zagorski added, “We just want to do the same tomorrow - show a nice performance and perform better than at our last Grand Prix and show everyone our improvements.”
But their free dance to "Blues for Klook“ by Eddie Louis was only the fourth best of the competition. They got more than six points less than the Americans and therefore dropped to second place, earning 183.05 total points. After a very good choreographic spin and an excellent lift combination, Guerrero’s twizzles were a bit shaky and lost a level and their rotational lift was longer than seven seconds and therefore got one point of deduction. Some other elements also got less GOEs than those of the winners and their components were around 8.4, two tenth less than Hawayek & Baker’s components. Zagorski said, “Today our performance wasn’t one of our best, but we’re still happy with what we put out on the ice. We still think we’ve improved and we keep on improving. Hopefully next time we’ll do even better and secure our place.” They have to wait and see if the third and the second place are enough for the qualification for the Final.
Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons from the Ice Dance Academy in Wheaton, Maryland, Junior World champions in 2017, took the bronze medal at their first Grand Prix in this season, winning 178.64 points. Dancing to the two tangos “Vuelvo al Sur” and “Tango Cha”, they performed a very good curve lift and a twizzle sequence in good harmony. They got rewarded for five of the eight key points in the Tango sections, but their midline step sequence was only a level 2 and their components around 7.9. Parsons later said, “For our first skate at our first Grand Prix in Japan we’re really happy with what we did. We left some points on the ice, but in terms of feeling we’re definitely progressing this season.”
In their free dance to "To Build a Home“, they had five level 4 and two level 2 for the two step sequences. Everything was well presented, but not in an outstanding way. “Overall we’re pretty happy with the performance that we put out there, but there is always something that we could have done better,” Rachel Parsons explained later. “There are some levels that didn’t go quite as planned, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
British ice dancers Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson, who train in Montreal, were only seventh in the Rhythm dance after Fear stumbled a bit on the twizzle sequence and their levels were not too high. But with their fascinating, very rhythmical and speedy disco free dance, which was even the second best free dance of the competition, they could move up three spots and finish fourth, winning 177.20 points. They also were crowd favorites. Being only 24th at the World Championships 2018, they had been nominated as alternates for the Japanese couple of Muramoto and Reed who split in the summer. But in this season the British have improved much.
Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus from Canada, also students of the Montreal school, are on fifth position with 169.84 points. Twizzles and lifts in the Rhythm Dance to a modern Tango and a Hip Hop Tango, both played by the Norwegian group Electrocutango, were impressive, but only two of the eight Tango key points were approved. In the free dance, they used two pieces by the group "Weekend“.
The Chinese couple Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, another couple from the Montreal dance school since this summer, were fourth in the Rhythm Dance after getting relatively high levels there. But in the free dance they dropped to sixth place, earning 167.96 points, because they had more GOEs of +2 than +3 or +4 and skated not as extroverted.
Anastasia Skotcova & Kirill Aleshin from Russia, the reigning Junior World champions, took the seventh place with 159.96 points. They had high levels in the Rhythm Dance, but lower GOEs and components than the top teams. The same is valid for their Michael Jackson free dance, because they do not have the energy on the ice which Michael Jackson had on the stage.
Misato Kumatsubara & U.S. citizen Tim Koleto who are married to each other, compete for Japan and train in Montreal for a a few months as well. They finished on eighth position with 154.27 points. In their free dance, they performed the story of their lives, using the famous Love Story soundtrack. Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin from the Ukraine train in France in this season and ended up ninth and last with 153.22 points.