by Martha Kimball
All photos copyright 2009 by George S. Rossano
"The Q" was barely awake, with a crowd of perhaps 150 spectators seated opposite the judges when Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager, Pacific Coast champions, opened the Paso Doble segment elegantly turned out in purple and black. Their scores of 16.77 for Executed Elements and 15.99 for Program Components (factored Total Segment Score 22.93) held up well for a second-place Paso finish.
Only Anastasia Olson and Jordan Cowan, Midwestern champions, skating last in the field of twelve, could do better. The tall, dark, elegantly matched couple, distinctively costumed in brown within a field skewed toward red and black, earned 17.61 and 16.61 (segment total 23.95) and looked, by carriage and crispness, like the ones to beat in Novice Dance. They were fourth last year in the same division and seemed likely to move up.
Gabrielle Friedenburg and Benjamin Nykiel, second at Easterns, had the third-best Paso with scores of 16.52 and 15.91 (22.70), diminished by a handful of negative Grade of Execution (GoE) marks.
Next came Moriah Tabon and Matt Kleffman, third at Midwesterns, in fourth place with nice attack and rhythm; then Katherine Zeigler and Samuel Rashba, third at Easterns, crisp as well for fifth place.
Eastern champions Una Donegan and Andrew Korda landed all the way down in eighth place with a great many negative GoEs and low marks for timing and performance. Third in Novice in 2008, they faced a fight to move back up the ladder.
With the Blues came a change in color, both of the costuming and the music, as well as a somewhat surprising change of position at the top. Bonacorsi, who just turned 16 on January 17, and Mager, 18, won the dance (17.91, 16.79, 24.29) and the overall Compulsory Dance event. All of their components were strong, in the mid-fours.
Olson, 16, and Cowan, 18, slid to second for the dance (15.54, 16.33, 22.31) and overall with a smattering of negative GoEs, particularly from two of the judges. Less than a point separated the top two teams at the end of the CD event.
Friedenberg, 16, and Nykiel, 18, lost a little theoretical ground with a fourth place for the Blues (15.54, 15.09, 21.44) but held onto their third-place position overall.
Grace Lee Sells and Robert Cuthbertson, fourth at Midwesterns, put themselves in the picture with the third-ranked Blues (16.35, 15.06, 21.99). Sells, 18, wore sparkly silver to sell the dance, complemented by Cuthbertson, 20, in black. Tenth last year in Novice Dance, the team moved up from tenth in the Paso Doble to fifth overall after the Blues, sandwiched by Tabon & Kleffman in fourth and Zeigler & Rashba in sixth.
A very appealing young team, Joylyn Yang, 13, and Jean-Luc Baker, 15, last yearís Intermediate champions, glided into fifth place for the Blues and seventh overall.
Bonacorsi, from St. Louis, representing the Peninsula SC, and Mager, from Fulton, Md., representing the Columbia FSC, placed second to their rivals in the Paso Doble compulsory, then moved up to first place and stayed there.
Bonacorsi had spent the previous season looking for a new partner. When Mager, too, broke up with his previous partner, he saw Bonacorsiís profile on IcePartnerSearch.com and phoned her to arrange a February tryout. The duo had a second tryout in April and began their partnership in late May of 2008. They train primarily at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel, MD.
Mager said, "This season was all about making a splash each time for us. It was going in with no expectations and showing what we could do, hopefully coming out with some sort of positive feedback. We couldnít come in with any expectations because we had no track record."
Bonacorsi, wearing a dress in gradations of dusky rose, was reminiscent of her coach and choreographer Genrikh Sretenski, skating in the 80s with his partner Natalia Annenko to Romeo and Juliet in similar hues. She had the delicacy of a music box ballerina as the duo interpreted music from the film scores Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor, with Bonacorsi playing the role of her partnerís Muse.
Said Bonacorsi, "Today we really wanted to have fun and enjoy the program, because itís something really special to us."
Their first three elements, synchronized twizzles, a straight-line lift, and a curved lift, all received level fours, along with a straight-line lift linked to a curved lift later in the program. Their circular steps and final spin were assigned level twos. They received no negative Grades of Execution, and their component scores ranged from a high of 5.07 for both linking movements and performance to a low of 4.96 for choreography.
Asked about the performanceís high points, Mager said, "I thought our step sequence worked really well. We definitely made eye contact with the judges. Expression, all of that, really went well today. We always like doing our first lift. Itís fun for us. I thought the third lift was pretty solid. We hit all of our musical notes with our third lift. I think those were our top three."
The team was marked 31.37 for Executed Elements, 27.21 for Program Components, 58.58 for the segment and 105.80 overall.
Olson, from West Bloomfield, Mich., representing the Ann Arbor FSC, and Cowan, an Angelino representing the All Year FSC, won the Paso Doble and then placed second for the Blues and the Free Dance for second place overall with marks of 30.08, 26.44, 55.52 and 101.78.
Olson dressed in lime green with lavender accents. Cowan wore black for their Santana salsa program to "Corazon Espinado."
Explaining the significance of the Spanish title, Cowan said somewhat humorously, "I am, I suppose, in lust; she is the thorn in my heart."
The couple received level fours for four elements, their spin and all three lifts: curved, serpentine and rotational. However, their circular footwork was judged level two, and the synchronized twizzles drew a painful level one, with all-negative GoEs, thanks to Cowanís freak fall.
As they left the ice, Olson seemed to give Cowan a consolatory hug.
Said Olson, "Even though we had one mistake, I was really satisfied with our program, so I just wanted to give him a big hug.
"I think I just over-thought [the twizzle]," Cowan explained. "The past two weeks, itís been very, very consistent.
Did he catch an edge or perhaps skate over a sequin? "Weíll have to go to video to answer that."
Assessing the big picture, Cowan said, "We came to this competition, not to win but to show the judges and everyone out there that weíre ready for Juniors, weíre ready for international competition. Novice isnít about who winsÖ.Itís where we are at the Senior level, internationally, that matters."
Third place went to Moriah Tabon of Colorado Springs and Matt Kleffman of Naperville, Ill., both representing the Broadmoor SC. They had placed fourth and eighth in the two compulsory dances but pulled off a third-ranked Free Dance for scores of 29.51, 24.91, 54.42 and 96.76 overall.
They skated in burnt orange and black Gypsy-look costumes to interpret "Dark Eyes," first a straight-up version and then a funky, "hooked-on" version. They left the ice looking delighted with the generally excellent performance that was marred only by deductions on their synchronized twizzles. They received three level fours, one level three and two level twos in a program that featured strong, inventive lifts.
The partnership is only eight months old.
Kleffman explained, "I used IcePartnerSearch.com over the last season. I went through a bunch of tryouts, bringing girls from different places to get the feel of different body types. I ended up partnering with Moriah who was training in the Springs, so itís kind of ironic that she was right under my nose and I didnít know it."
By their second skate together, Kleffman knew that he had a match. Finishing third here was a bonus.
Tabon said, "To be honest, at this level, and this being our first year together, it was a lot about experience, being able to have this experience. Just being here at Nationals was a big victory in itself, a big personal victory.
Gabrielle Friedenberg of Columbia, Md., representing the Washington FSC, and Benjamin Nykiel of Glen Burnie, Md., representing the Bowie FSC, slipped from third after the Compulsory Dance event to fourth overall with a sixth-ranked free dance to Lucia de Lammermoor that had a twizzle problem. Friedenberg ended the program off the music and looked just a little bit stunned.
Grace Lee Sells of Richardson, Texas, and Robert Cuthbertson of Bedford, Texas, both representing the Stars FSC, rose from tenth in the first compulsory to fifth overall with the fifth-rated free dance, an artistically fascinating skate to the pulsing "Sadness" by Enigma.
Una Donegan of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and Andrew Korda of Saco, Maine, both representing the SC of Boston, rose from eighth after the Compulsory Dance segment to sixth overall with the fourth-ranked free dance, a romantic skate by a beautiful pair to music from Dr. Zhivago.
Finally, Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker of Washington State, representing the Seattle SC, finished in seventh place after the fifth-ranked free dance to "Kingdom of Heaven." Baker, dressed in a gray tunic as a crusading knight, skated with passion and fluency, extending every expressive line. This number was intellectually engaging and artistically enjoyable, boding well for good things in the future.
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