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2020 Skate America Dance

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany



The ice dance competition at Skate America had a good level. None of the eight couples made a big mistake, and there were no falls at all. There were only five judges in this competition whereas in single and pair skating there were seven.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue won the event as expected, this time with 211.39 points. For years they have been training in the Ice Academy of Montreal under Patrice Lauzon, Marie-France Dubreuil and Romain Haguenauer. They were not fully happy with last season’s results and want to be better this season. Although the ISU kept the required rhythm and music choice in the rhythm dance from last season, Hubbell & Donohue created a racy new program with three music pieces from “Burlesque“ sung by Christina Aguilera.

In the Finnstep pattern sequence, all four key points were acknowledged, therefore they had a level 4 on this element. In the twizzle sequence, both skaters had a level 4, as well as on the rotational lift. The midline step sequence had a level 3 and in the partial step sequence she had a level 4 and he a level 3. All of these five elements were executed brilliantly and therefore the GOEs were mainly between +3 and +4. Three elements had even one GOE of +5. They skated in good speed and with a lot of expression and therefore their components had an average of 9.3.

Hubbell commented: “We missed competing and tonight certainly was a nice way to get back into the swing of things. Although there was no live audience we did feel some of this familiar adrenaline, We certainly took a long time during the summer to make the final decision about what we wanted to do for the Rhythm Dance. Zach and I really love the challenge of a new project and we felt like as we loved Marilyn, we didn't feel there wasn't so much left to squeeze out of the program. We wanted to take all of the things that we learned from that character and apply it to something that is a little bit more modern, sexy, powerful.”

Their new free dance “Hallelujah“ was choreographed by Olympic Champion Scott Moir who spent several weeks with them in the summer. It uses both Jeff Buckley and k.d. Lang’s version of the classic ballad, but there are many more versions. Hubbell said: “The soulfulness and the honesty in the way Jeff Buckley sings those lyrics, that’s what I was really attracted to. And we wanted to end with a different interpretation, finding hope even in these tough times, and the way k.d. lang sings her last hallelujah is just absolutely breath taking.”

They had danced to “Hallelujah“ five years ago in a short dance and it became their signature program. Hubbell explained: “This is the only program we were interested in revisiting; we’ve done it in shows as well. We just can’t step away from it, I knew I really want to start with Jeff Buckley, just the soulfulness and the honesty in the way he sings those lyrics. And I wanted to end with k.d. Lang’s version." In the middle part they dance to “Pray Gently to the Light“ by Karl Hugo.

At Skate America 2020, all elements were excellent and got GOEs of mainly +3 and +4, the levels were relatively high, but there were still three level 3, which are planned level 4 later in the season. The flow and speed were high and therefore the components were around 9.4 with one 9.75 as highest one. Like always, Hubbell took the word: “Tonight was a successful first step into the competitive season. This is a program that Zach and I are very passionate about and we already feel like we have almost a very easy time skating it because every part feels purposeful.“

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker also train in Montreal, were third at U.S. nationals eight months ago and won the silver medal in Las Vegas with 202.47 points. They mainly kept their entertaining Swing Rhythm Dance to several pieces of “Saturday Night Fever“, which was a good idea. They also won all four key points in the Finnstep section. The other levels were good as well and their components around 8.9. Hawayek explained: “This program is such a joy and so much fun to not only perform but also to train. It doesn't feel like work when you're going in, have the run throughs, get the mileage. It was really easy for us to choose to keep it, because we love it so much.”

All nine or (if you count the combination lift as two elements) ten elements of their free dance to two music pieces of U.S. composer Philip Glass had GOEs of +3 on the average. The levels were excellent. Hawayek said: “Tonight was a really special night for us, This performance at least at this point in our career feels like the most intentional, focused, strong performance we've had. One of the things we've really worked hard on this year is being able to stay a 100 percent committed to our story and to our focus from the very beginning of the program.” Both top couples stayed in the USA for a week to see their families and hope to be allowed to come back to Canada by car in early November. But they have to go into quarantine for two weeks in Montreal, like their coach Romain Haguenauer who as a resident of Canada came back quickly, but has to teach online from home for two weeks, even with a negative test.

Christine Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko were fourth at U.S Nationals in January 2020. They train with Igor Shpilband in Novi, Michigan and won the bronze medal, earning 185.78 points. In springtime Carreira broke her foot off-ice, but when the rink opened again in the summer, they could train again. They kept their rhythm dance music “Too Darn Hot“ from “Kiss Me Kate“ by Cole Porter. It was flawless with mainly GOEs of +3, and very good levels. Carreira, who is Canadian, finally received her Green Card in August. She said: “After quarantine, when we got back on the ice, we felt that this program still has room to grow. We wanted to improve our Finnstep. I think we felt this was our weaker element last season.“

Their music for their new free dance is from the soundtrack “Doctor Zhivago“ with two small included pieces by Ludovico Einaudi. Their flow was good, many elements as well, but they had two small slips in their program and their levels were mixed. Carreira said: “We are a little bit disappointed with how today went. We left a lot of points on the table. There are a lot of things we want to improve and change when we get back home to make this program as special as it can be. We love the music.”

Caroline Green & Michael Parsons came fourth with 178.05 points in only their second season together after their siblings in both cases had finished their career. During the lockdown, Parsons packed a backpack and went camping in the woods of Maine. He explained: "I think, honestly, the combination of that and the whole lockdown actually did a lot mentally for me, just in terms of reinforcing how dedicated I was to skating, and how much I wanted to get back on." In the summer they moved to Leesburg, Virginia with their coaches Alexei Kiliakov and Elena Novak.

Skating to the Foxtrot “I Turned the Corner“ and the Quickstep “What Do I Need With Love“ both from “Thoroughly Modern Millie“, four of their five elements were very good, but in the Finnstep sequence only one keypoint was acknowledged. Their free dance to three songs of Prince was mainly good, but Parsons stumbled on the second part of the twizzle sequence.

Molly Cesanek (19) & Yehor Yehorov (21), also from the Kiliakov school, finished on fifth position with 168.09 points. Skate America was their promising senior debut. In the Rhythm Dance, their Finnstep got no keypoints, but everything else was good. Their free dance to two pieces by Matt McAndrew was faultless. Lorraine McNamara & Anton Spiridonov, also from the Kiliakov school, gave their debut together and are on sixth position with 159.89 points. McNamara had skated with Neil Carpenter for many years until U.S. Nationals 2020. In their twizzle sequence, she had a small problem, otherwise the Rhythm Dance was good. In their free dance to three Pink Floyd music pieces, their levels were high, but the GOEs mainly only +1.

Eva Pate & Logan Bye are students of Igor Shpilband and Pasquale Camerlengo in Michigan and gave their international debut together. They are seventh with 151.40 points. They had a good speed, but got only few plus points for their elements. Emily Monahgan & Ilias Fourati compete for Hungary because he has Hungarian grandparents, but both were born in the USA. They had been 24th at Europeans 2020. Their programs were a bit slow and the levels especially in the Rhythm Dance relatively low. In their free dance they had an element in their choreographic steps that looked like a fall of him, but they had trained it while the jury was watching practice and saw that it was performed intentionally.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates, who train in Montreal with the same coaches as Hubbell & Donohue and Hawayek & Baker, withdrew from Skate America a few weeks before the competition. One reason is a small injury which prevented them from a full training in August and September. They commented: “Our training and preparation have been affected by the pandemic and at this time we are 100% focused on our preparation for the 2021 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships. We will be staying at our training base in Montreal, but will certainly miss the thrill of competition and seeing our U.S. Figure Skating family.”