By Lynn Rutherford
All photos Copyright 2006 by George S. Rossano
Old-Fashioned Waltz Bores Many
On Thursday afternoon, eleven couples took the ice at Hartford’s Civic Center to perform two sequences of the Westminster Waltz, a sedate, nearly somnolent dance set in three-quarters time.
First performed at London’s Westminster Ice Rink in 1938, the Westminster is among the oldest of the senior compulsory dances. It was chosen for Skate America in a blind draw that also included the Golden Waltz and Rumba, which will be performed at Skate Canada and Cup of China, respectively.
Sinead Kerr spoke for many of the ice dancers when she said, "The Westminster’s music is quite heavy and the timing is quite slow. I think if youngsters were to come to see this compulsory, they would not be inspired. They would associate it with something older people do as a social dance."
Despite their incongruous purple and chartreuse costumes, World champions Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviski were the class of the field, earning 39.19 points (19.56 TES + 19.63 PCS) with a waltz marked by deep edges and fine flow.
"We don’t find this dance boring. We enjoy all of the compulsory dances; they take a lot of skill and time," said Denkova, who was recently elected president of the Bulgarian Skating Federation.
"We’re pleased with how we skated for our first competition, and we’re pleased that even the small audience that was here had some signs and banners for us. We are very thankful to the American audiences."
The Bulgarians’ Newark, Delaware training mates, U.S. silver medalists Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov, showed improved power and unison, the result of endless summer training sessions with new coaches Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. The Americans took second place with 35.02 points (17.94 TES + 17.08 PCS).
"We’ve been working really hard with Gennadi on our (compulsory) technique, to perfect those little things that the audience might not notice but that make a big difference with the judges, like making sure the right leg movements are on the beat. It’s a simple dance but if you take it to the next level it becomes more difficult," explained Petukhov.
French silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat showed a lovely waltz with fine timing and carriage, earning 32.38 points (16.96 TES + 15.42 PCS) to place third. They overcame the late arrival of their skates, which arrived 2 a.m. today.
"Yesterday we trained off ice, since the airline misplaced our skates. We had been training six to eight hours a day, so we were okay – we didn’t need any more practice," said Bourzat.
"We’ve been training (the Westminster) a lot since August, because we are performing it at least three times this season."
British champions Sinead & John Kerr, who train in Montclair, New Jersey under Evgeny Platov, had a smooth outing, although they skated a bit too far apart and lacked unison at several junctures. The Scottish siblings took fourth place with 30.98 points (15.94 TES + 15.04 PCS).
"It was okay; maybe we could have attacked it a little more. But there are another two parts to go in the competition and we’re definitely looking for a medal here," said John.
The Kerrs recently returned to the U.S. after training in Moscow for six weeks so Platov could take part in a skating reality show.
"When Evgeny dropped that bombshell on us, we weren’t too keen on going to Russia, but we had already made the jump (to Montclair) because we wanted to train with him and we wanted a lot of ice time. We got both those things in Russia," said Sinead.
Former World junior champions Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin showed good speed in their waltz, but had a few awkward transitions. They received 29.95 points (15.60 TES + 14.35 PCS) and will enter the original dance in fifth place. Japanese champions Nozomi Watanabe & Akiyuki Kido performed an elegant waltz in close positions, but were a bit slow. They placed sixth with 29.79 points (15.84 TES + 13.95 PCS).
The brother-and-sister Israelis Alexandra & Roman Zaretski showed improved form to placed seventh with 27.62 points (14.86 TES + 12.76 PCS). Like the Kerrs, they accompanied Platov on his Russian sojourn and have since returned to Montclair. Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre, who placed fifth at the 2006 U.S. Nationals, skated with fine edges and flow, but lacked the on-ice presence of some of the top teams. They were eighth with 27.56 points.
2006 World junior silver medalists Natalia Mikhailova & Arkadi Sergeev of Russia took ninth place with 25.80 points. The couple, who are coached in Moscow by Alexander Zhulin, performed an elegant compulsory but had rather shallow patterns.
Chantal LeFebvre & Arseni Markov, who placed fourth at the 2006 Canadians, lost ground when LeFebvre slipped during the second pattern and had to be held up by her partner. They placed 10th with 25.15 points. Canadian junior champs Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno, who are coached by Victor Kraatz and his wife Maikki Uotili Kraatz, were 11th with 23.58 points.
Bulgarians Shine in Tango
Hartford’s Civic Center saw a broad variety of tangos Friday evening, with several ice dance couples putting forth personal best performances.
World champions Albena Denkova & Mazim Staviski brought their decade’s worth of experience to the fore with a fluid, mature performance to Astor Piazzola’s "Libertango." The couple’s controlled passion and superb edges shown throughout, particularly in the difficult mid-line step sequence and superb straight-line lift. The overall effect was mesmerizing, although the rather monotonous music may not be to everyone’s taste.
The Bulgarians earned 62.27 points (31.30 TES + 30.97 PCS) and lead the competition 101.46 points overall, nearly ten points more than their nearest rivals’ total.
"For this early in the season, we’re very pleased with the marks. We are especially happy that we received Level 4 for all of our elements, except the diagonal steps which were Level 3. We made a little mistake on those steps which we will correct," said Denkova.
Cheered on by their many friends in their adopted hometown of Hartford, U.S. silver medalists Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov recovered from Petukhov’s frightening head-first fall into the boards during the six-minute warm-up to set a new personal best with their tango.
The husband-and-wife couple opened with an exciting highlight (non-scoring) move, where Petukhov "dragged" his partner up into a Level 4 twizzle sequence leading directly to their Level 3 mid-line steps. They maintained good energy throughout the remainder of the program, but while their closing rotational lift earned a Level 4, Gregory’s position – holding her legs just slightly apart – was not as attractive as some "easier" positions.
The couple’s 55.61 points (28.80 TES + 26.81 PCS) put them in second place with 90.63 points overall.
"My start (fall) was not what I expected, but the performance was. I was very pleased we pulled everything together and for the first competition we are very happy," said Petukhov.
"We skated well for the first competition of the season but we know inside we have a lot more to give and will get even better," added his wife.
French silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat continued to impress the judges with a unique, softer take on the Argentine tango, set to music with a hint of Cuban drums. They opened with an exceptionally attractive spin with Pechalat in a side position, followed by a flowing mid-line step sequence and stunning, low straight-line lift. The ending, a rotational lift showing three difficult positions, was equally strong.
Like the Americans, the French earned a new personal best 52.88 points (27.70 TES + 25.18 PCS). They enter the free dance in third place with 85.26 points overall.
"We wanted to do something different. We really think this competition, this season, is our opportunity to move up," said Bourzat.
Former World junior champs Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin performed an intricate tango highlighted by an effective mid-line step sequence with good unison on a difficult twizzle sequence. Their spin featured Matthews in lovely layback and camel layover positions, and the couple carried good energy throughout their diagonal steps.
The young Americans earned 51.05 points for their OD, placing fourth in that segment, but sit in fifth place overall with 81 points.
"It was pretty clean, nothing special. That’s how we usually do it (in practice). We’re happy; it was stable, we felt a connection and performed it well," said Zavozin.
To improve, the couple said they planned more training sessions with their Argentine tango specialist.
"We want to establish a stronger connection and make greater eye contact in this dance," said Matthews.
British champions Sinead Kerr & John Kerr skated an intricate but uneven tango. They opened with a strong diagonal step sequence, but the performance was marred by a poorly executed spin, unison trouble on the second half of their mid-line steps, and a one-point deduction for a too-long straight-line lift.
The Scottish siblings earned 50.06 points (26.00 TES + 25.06 PCS), placing a disappointing fifth in the OD. They enter the free dance in fourth place with 81.04 points overall.
"We went into (the spin) with too much force, came up and then had nothing to hold on to. We kept it up for dear life so we could get some points out of it at least. It’s an occupational hazard these days. We talked to the Bulgarians (Denkova & Staviski) about it, since it happened to them at the Olympics and basically put them out of contention," said John.
Kimberley Navarro & Brent Bommentre took a light approach to the tango, performing to "Assassin’s Tango" and "Little Drop of Poison" from the soundtrack of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Navarro’s ability to quickly hit elegant positions served them well in the curve lift, and although diagonal step sequence tailed off a bit but they closed with a fine rotational lift.
The couple earned a personal best 47.63 points (27.10 TES + 20.53 PCS) and sit in sixth place with 75.19 points overall.
Alexandra Zaretski & Roman Zaretski of Israel showed increased maturity in their sophisticated tango, but struggled with their mid-line step sequence. They placed seventh in the OD with 46.02 points and sit eighth overall with 73.64 points. Japanese champions Nozomi Watanabe & Akiyuki Kido had a solid but uninspiring performance, taking eighth place in the OD with 44.37 points. They enter the free dance in seventh place with 74.16 points.
Canadians Chantal LeFebvre & Arseni Markov, who train in Quebec with Tyler Miles and Elise Hamel, performed a sophisticated program with choreography by Pasquale Camerlengo but skated slow and far apart. Markov has slimmed down considerably since ’06 Canadians, but still tired during the closing mid-line step sequence and he put a foot down on a twizzle. They placed ninth with 43.34 points (24.20 TES + 19.14 PCS).
Reigning World junior silver medalists Russians Natalia Mikhailova & Arkadi Sergeev, who recently began training with Alexander Zhulin in Moscow, had a solid performance to Astor Piazzolla’s familiar "Tango Adios Non," although they struggled a bit on the diagonal footwork sequence. The young couple earned 41.90 points (22.50 TES + 19.40 PCS) for 10th place.
Canadian junior champs Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno performed "Tango Por Una Cabeza" from "Schindler’s List." The choreography – created by their coach, Victor Kraatz -- had charm, but the couple was slow and lacked unison. The couple finished 11th with 39.57 points (22.20 TES + PCS 17.37).
World champions Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviski overcame a scary collision with Sinead & John Kerr in the final dance practice to win Skate America by more than 20 points.
The accident happened as Denkova & Staviski practiced their free dance to a medley of Mozart and the soundtrack of "Romeo and Juliet." The couple stopped their run-through for a few moments and the Kerrs went into a serpentine lift. When the Bulgarians resumed skating, the couples crashed.
"They didn’t see us and we didn’t see them, so we fell together. (Sinead) cut me with her toe pick in the back of my leg, but Max was more hurt – he injured his hip and had to ice it and take some anti-inflammation (pills) before we competed," said Denkova.
The World champions performed an impressive program despite the incident, although their performance intensity was lower than usual. Highlights of the intricate and multi-level dance, which depicted the seven deadly sins, included a peerless twizzle sequence; an attractive spin with Denkova hitting a "skate-to-the head" position; and a stunning serpentine lift that gained a rare +3 grade of execution ("GOE") from one judge.
Denkova & Staviski, who won each portion of the competition handily, earned 100.12 points for their free dance and 201.58 points overall.
"Overall I think we are very pleased with the marks and with the levels. We have just a few things to improve and we hope to talk to the specialists and to the judges and to some of the coaches after the competition to see what their opinion is and how we can improve some things more," said Denkova.
Playing the roles of Adam and Eve, U.S. silver medalists Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov performed a dramatic free dance set to original music by Yoav Goren.
The performance was marked by Petukhov’s deep edges in both the curve and combination (curve + rotational) lifts, as well as the couple’s increased speed. There were some hesitations in the circular step sequence, but the choreography built effectively to the end. The Americans earned 90.35 points (47.6 TES + 42.75 PCS) for the free dance and 180.98 points overall to take second place.
"It was very challenging for us just starting the season and doing (higher) levels and fighting for higher medals. It’s a lot more difficult to pull yourself together when you are actually going for a bigger result," said Petukhov.
Performing to "Four Seasons," an original composition arranged by Assen Merzouki (unrelated to Vivaldi), Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France hit quirky, angular positions, but their unique choreography and hard-to-grasp theme – Pechalat is portraying winter and summer; Bourzat, autumn and spring – will not be to everyone’s liking.
The French silver medalists lost ground when their curve lift, which featured Pechalat in a spectacular high position, was judged illegal, due to Bourzat’s arm being raised over his head. Not only did they get slapped with a two-point deduction, they received no points for the move. Still, they placed fourth in the free dance with 82.02 points (43.70 TES + 40.32 PCS) and took their first Grand Prix medal with 167.28 points overall.
"We are very happy. When we saw the roster (for Skate America) we thought (placing) in the top four would be very difficult so early in the season. Being third after the compulsory was very surprising, especially since (the airline) lost our luggage and we couldn’t practice. This (result) gives us a lot of confidence for upcoming competitions," said Bourzat.
Skating to music from the soundtrack of "The Piano," 2005 World junior champions Morgan Matthews & Maxim Zavozin of the U.S. had some stunning highlight moves, particularly the opening with Zavozin sliding on his knee, supporting Matthews in a upward bending position. The program flowed well but required more speed and attack to compete at the highest level. Still, with no deductions they were third in the free dance (83.94 points) and fourth overall with 164.94 points.
"We need to train ourselves a bit more but overall it was good. We were confident with our skating and bottom line, I guess we are pleased with the way we did the whole competition here," said Zavozin.
British champions Sinead & John Kerr revisited music from "The Last of the Mohicans," the soundtrack they used their first season skating together, for their free dance.
"We love the music and the style suits us; it’s very wild and brings out animal instincts. No one else has used it or anything like it since, so we decided to use it again," explained John.
While the program showed promise, the performance had several noticeable errors, including a too-long combination (curve + rotational) lift and shaky serpentine lift. They also lost speed on the diagonal steps and missed a connection. The Scottish siblings earned 79.05 points to place a discouraging fifth in the free dance, and were fifth overall with 160.09 points.
"We’d be lying if we said we weren’t disappointed, but we always seem to peak late in the season. That’s not intentional on our part, but that’s the way it’s worked out," said John.
Kimberley Navarro & Brent Bommentre, fifth-place finishers at the 2006 U.S. Nationals, showed their trademark light and airy style in a free dance to a Beatles’ medley. They earned 77.59 points and placed sixth overall with 152.78 points.
"We are really, really happy with our performance and honored to be here at Skate America. It was slightly intimidating at times but I’m glad we rose to the occasion," said Navarro.
Japanese champions Nozomi Watanabe & Akiyuki Kido skated a solid program to Chopin’s "Fantasie," but the routine demanded greater flair than the somewhat sedate couple could muster. They were seventh in the free and seventh overall with 149.27 points.
Israelis Alexandra & Roman Zaretski’s intricate free dance to "Carmina Burana" is a step up in difficulty from their previous routines. While there were awkward spots in both the circular and serpentine step sequences, the program should grow with more practice and performance. The siblings placed ninth in the free skate and eighth overall with 143.95 points.
Skating to "Memorial," Canadians Chantal LeFebvre & Arseni Markov hit good positions in their lifts, but their step sequences were labored and they appeared a bit unprepared for the competition. They were eighth in the free dance and ninth overall with 142.87 points.
World junior silver medalists Natalia Mikhailova & Arkadi Sergeev of Russia showed good potential in their free skate to music from "Jesus Christ Superstar," although Mikhailova carried much of the difficult footwork. The couple was assessed three points in deductions for over-long lifts, which may prompt their coach, Alexander Zhulin, to re-think their choreography. The placed 10th in the free skate and 10th overall.
Canadian junior champions Allie Hann McCurdy & Michael Coreno, who performed in tattered gray bodysuits to the new-agey "Kyoko’s House," had fine positions and a nice rotational lift, but were slow and out of unison throughout their footwork sequences. They finished 11th in all three phases of the competition.
2006 Skate America Dance Medalists
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