by Tatjana Flade
Chock & Bates Take Gold as Expected, initsina & Katsalapov Surprise at Skate America
Obviously, World silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates were the top favorites at Skate America this year again. They had no trouble defending their title, although they had to put together a new Short Dance from scratch following the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the end of September. However, the bigger surprise was the silver medal for Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia who came off a disappointing season.
At Nebelhorn Trophy Chock & Bates debuted their Short Dance with the rhythms Waltz and Polka set to “Dark Eyes.” The program was well received by the audience and judges, the score was excellent. But a high ranked official let the skaters know that the Polka was not properly interpreted. That meant weeks of hard work on the program were obsolete.
Skating is a judged sport and Chock & Bates are going for the World title in March in Boston, on home ice. So they and coach Igor Shpilband decided better not to take any risk and dumped the program, although it stood out.
The couple debuted a more conservative dance in Milwaukee, a Foxtrot to “More” performed by Andrea Bocelli and the Waltz “Unchained Melody” performed by Il Divo.
Chock & Bates are top quality dancers and put out a strong short dance that didn’t look new or raw. They received 70.56 points, but not all the top levels they had aimed for. The Waltz was rated a level two and three, the step sequence (which is for whatever reason named “partial step sequence” although it is a complete sequence) was a level three. The program is nice and well done, no doubt, but not as original as their first choice.
"We made the change after Nebelhorn (Trophy) and decided to completely make a fresh short dance and really try to make something elegant and sophisticated in the ballroom dance world. It was kind of a stressful two weeks for us getting ready for the event, so considering the time table, we're really thrilled tonight“, Bates said after the Short Dance.
“The main reason for the change was to just really emphasize the rhythm. We wanted to do the fox trot because we think it’s a good rhythm for us and it suits us well. We worked with our ballroom dance instructors, Steve and Susan McFerran, and they choreographed the fox trot beginning for us to really give us the authentic feel for the program. I think in the long run of the season, our goal is to do well in Boston at Worlds and we felt like this approach would take us there," he added.
The Americans headed into the Free Dance with a comfortable lead of almost eight points. Their interpretation of the Adagio and Allegro of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Concerto No. 2” is mature and convincing. Chock & Bates have especially improved in showing a more emotional connection on the ice. Five elements merited a level four, the footwork a level two and three.
“It was definitely something fresh for us. We looked at it (this season) more as a fresh start, a new way to re-invent ourselves and to push ourselves to places we haven’t been before and just see how much we could do with our skating this year. We have two great programs now that will help us with that, and I think they are different for us and it will be something we’ll keep building upon," Chock noted.
Sinitsina & Katsalapov had teamed up in 2014. Katsalapov, an Olympic bronze medalist with Elena Ilinykh, had decided to split ways with her and to skate with Sinitsina. Many did not approve of this decision, and also the Russian Skating Federation was not happy.
In their first season, Sinitsina & Katsalapov had a few rough skates and didn’t qualify for the European and World team. So it was interesting to see how they looked now.
They looked much improved, already in practice. For their short dance they selected music from “Swan Lake” and they performed it easily and with flow. The Russians had the same levels as Chock & Bates (levels were one of their problems last season).
Being in second came as a surprise to them. “We came here well prepared, but we didn’t think about which placement we would achieve”, Katsalapov said. A lot of things have changed for them, he explained: “First of all we feel like a pair now. It might sound simple, but it is an important thing. I know now how Vika (Victoria) thinks, we know how the other one feels and moves, all these things that pairs have that have been skating together for a long time are coming now. Secondly, Vika has developed a lot, she has developed her qualities as a person and as a skater. She has really made a lot of progress and I hope I help her with that and I will continue to do so. What else - we also have prepared very well and we are moving forward, that is the most important thing.”
Skating to “Io Ci Saro” by Andrea Boccelli in the Free Dance, the Russians put out another strong performance with solid elements: Level four for the spin, twizzles and lifts and a level three for the footwork. They scored 99.45 points, a top score, and they would have come even closer to Chock & Bates’ 102.66 points if they hadn’t had two deductions for extended lifts in the Free Dance (they also had one in the Short Dance, so they need to check their timing on the lifts). However, the program is a bit boring – slow. It would be nice to see something more exciting from this team.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier finished third but had hoped for more. They were expected to finish second and looking to see how close they could get to Chock & Bates. But the Canadians earned only a level two for the Ravensburger Waltz pattern. However, they showed the most original interpretation of this year’s rhythms in their Short Dance to Waltz and March to music by The Beatles and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
"The opening sequence is a Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which is from the Seargent Pepper album. The costumes are from the album cover, what the Beatles are wearing. The other pieces of music (are) from the 18th century. The Beatles’ piece has a harpsichord that’s giving the waltz speed and it actually transports us to a trip back in the past. So the middle two pieces, the waltz and the march, are us imagining ourselves in the dream state from the 18th century“, Poirier said. “As the program goes on, when it goes back into “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” that harpsichord takes us back to real life,” Gilles continued.
The Canadians were just about one point behind after the Short Dance and wanted to overtake the Russians in the Free Dance, but it didn’t happen, although their performance was strong. A level two in the serpentine step sequence cost them points on the technical side and they also got lower components.
Apparently the judges preferred the conservative program of Sinitsina & Katsalapov over the more innovative dance of Gilles & Poirier to “She Said” and “Neverland.”
Of course, there is another story to the music: “The meaning is about something that you desire but you can’t have. We start off as two separate people nearing each other – I want something that he has and he wants something that I have. As the program develops, when the music changes, it is almost an acceptance of who you are. Towards the end it is like a celebration of just the movement and things that we love. When we finish, we became one.”
Kaitlyn Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker skated much better than at the Finlandia Trophy two weeks earlier to finish fourth. Their levels in their balletic Short Dance still could be better, though. One Ravensburger Waltz sequence garnered a level one and the “partial” step sequence a level two. But the performance was smooth.
In the Free Dance set to “The Theory of Everything” soundtrack the 2014 World Junior Champion picked up a level four for everything except the two footwork sequences that were a level three. The couple from Detroit set a new personal best for the Free Dance with 94.15 points.
"To go from a 77 (at Finlandia Trophy) to 94 -- I know we’re in the U.S., but that’s the kind of score we’re looking for and learning to improve on. It’s a personal best for our free dance. There are a lot of things I think we could have done better, so we’re excited to get back to work on Monday or Tuesday and get ready for (Cup of) China next week,“ Baker said. “We’re happy with it, and it’s a great start to the season to be getting that score already,” added Hawayek.
Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus completed a strong showing of U.S. ice dance by placing fifth. They ranked sixth in the Short Dance with “Cinderella” by Prokofiev and then pulled up one spot with their Beethoven Free Dance that tells the life of the German composer.
"I think we both really feel attached to this program, now that we have a really important story to tell, that of Beethoven and is his life, a very prestigious man. We really just tried to do that story, give it justice”, McManus said. “We feel like we performed it like we do every day at home. Every time we skate it we get more into character and I think by nationals it’s going to look even better,” Cannuscio agreed.
The team feels that they are on a good way: “We get better every season, at least that’s how I feel. We’re continually taking steps up the ladder and it’s the highest point total we’ve ever gotten at an international event, so of course, that makes this the best Skate America for us so far“, McManus explained.
Reigning World Junior Champions Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov of Russia placed sixth in their debut at the international senior circuit. They had a wobble on a transition move in the Short Dance, but overall were solid. In their Free Dance, they interpreted songs from the “Great Gatsby” soundtrack.
“We took inspiration from watching the modern ballet The Great Gatsby by the famous American choreographer Dwight Roden,” Yanovskaya said. “We tried to realize our own vision using elements of modern choreography. Our theme is love in each form. To say it with one word, it is about this kind of love that rules fate and is above human reasoning.”
Ukraine’s Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin had a solid senior debut as well and again impressed with some innovative moves and transitions in their programs. They finished seventh.