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2014 Skate America: Dance Free Dance

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany

The ice dance event was the most successful event for the USA as usual, even without Meryl Davis and Charlie White, because American dancers won gold and silver. Madison Chock & Evan Bates from the school of Igor Shpilband won Skate America for the first time, with a new personal record of 171.03 points. They interpreted George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” with a lot of speed, freshness and dynamic steps. Especially Evan Bates, whose expression had been a bit less strong in previous years, showed a lot of enthusiasm with little hops and jumps. Four of their elements got a level 4, the steps had the levels 2 and 3 and the last lift a level 3. The +2 for the GEOs dominated, for six elements there were even a few +3.

Bates commented: “Tonight was electric. I thought the crowd was awesome. We hadn't done a Skate America together. The venue, the setup, being on home soil and having lots of friends and family members there in the audience was really awesome. We had a pretty good skate. I think it's something we can definitely improve on.”

Bates also spoke about the future of ice dancing: “What Meryl and Charlie did was really incredible. We had the opportunity to be with them both in training and in competition and the way they approach their craft, how hard they work, the man-hours they put in. Going forward for us, I hope we can follow in their footsteps. We hope to use those examples as the template for ourselves and as a blueprint of how much work we need to put in and how we need to approach what we do.”

Chock added: “We picked the music early in the season. It was actually Evan and Igor that kind of had the same thought. They called each other one day and said how about how this music. It worked out that they were thinking the same thing and I loved the music so we were all on board. That part was pretty easy. Smooth sailing. We are trying to do a more modern interpretation, put our own spin on it, as if the movie had been remade and was set in 2014.”

No question that their first place and the distance to the rest of the field were correct. But nevertheless it was not a good idea to select former Olympic champion Sergei Ponomarenko as the assistant technical specialist despite his son Anthony being coached by Igor Shpilband, who also coaches the ultimate winners of Skate America.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani finished second with 160.33 points. The three lifts got a level 4, the other four elements level 2 or 3. They skated smoothly and with a lot of elegance, but they did not reach the quality of Davis and White’s interpretation of the Strauss music “The Bat” a few years ago. The Shibutanis chose the two waltzes “Roses from the South” and “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss as their music pieces, a choice which some observers thought to be too conservative.

Maia Shibutani said: “We decided we would be skating to Strauss waltzes probably close to after the Olympics of last season. We think it is a really great way for us to start the next Olympic cycle. The program is extremely musical, we really love it. It's already one of our favorite programs and we are looking forward to the progress we can make with it this season.”

Alex Shibutani said: “We’re very happy with how we performed. It was definitely an improvement on our performance in Slovakia a few weeks ago. We will have to go back and look at a couple of the score sheet because it seems like we didn't get all of the levels we were going for.”

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin from Russia won the bronze medal, earning 143.87 points. They interpreted a version of “Eleanor Rigby” which is originally the Beatles. Their lifts and the spin had a level 4, but their twizzles only a level 1 although they had a level 4 for exactly the same element at the Finlandia Trophy two weeks ago.

Stepanova said: “We are very happy with how things came together at the competition for us. This is our second Grand Prix senior season. We are pleased with the way we performed.” Bukin added: “Our music choice for us was made by our coaches and we liked it right away. We have never skated to anything like this. We only once did an exhibition program to slow music. Building the program went very smoothly. The program is about two lonely people that, at the end, go separate ways but there is still hope.”

Elisabeth Paradis & Francois-Xavier Ouellette from Canada moved up from eighth place in the short dance to fourth place overall, winning 143.87 total points. Their music was the romantic French-Canadian song “Un peu plus haut” (“A little higher”). Their first element was an unusual stationary lift (Level 3), and four elements had a level 4.

The third U.S. pair Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus ended up fifth with 135.61 points. Their three lifts had a level 4, and the +1 was the dominating GOE. Their music were the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens in a modern version and “Transylvanian Lullaby” by Gil Shaham. Cannuscio said: “Obviously I've known the music the entire time I've been skating, and I've always loved the music. From there we created the story. It's something different than other people who have skated to Dance Macabre have done. It's a little bit more contemporary."

McManus mentioned that they reached the technical minimum for the World championships ( 29 and 39 points) in both programs: “We've been trying so hard for the last three seasons that we've been senior on the international circuit to get that World qualifying score, and we finally achieved that this time. That was a huge milestone for us and that was probably our biggest goal coming into this competition. We were thrilled to get the score."

Charlčne Guignard & Marco Fabbri from Italy finished in sixth place with 135.50 points.