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Sun Valley on Ice Review

Story By Dorothy Knoell     Photos: Shirley McLaughlin

There were a few differences for long-time Sun Valley, Idaho, patrons in the annual summer ice show series at the resort. A familiar face or two were missing … the name of the show had changed … the format was a bit different … and there was an enhanced sound system.

But one thing – perhaps the most important thing – hadn’t changed: The show still offered top-rate skating in a unique, beautiful, under-the-stars, outdoor setting.

The Sun Valley Ice Show became Sun Valley on Ice this season, and Gia Guddat, a performer for many years in the show and a contributor as a choreographer some times, is back as choreographer for the second straight year. A new sound system helps the music sound better. Long-time performers Dan Hollander and adagio pair team Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding were not in the cast this season, and none of the performers other than the guest star (in this case, 1988 Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano) did two solos.

That last “difference” made for a bit of a short show—there were only two in-show ensemble numbers (besides opening and closing) so the show lasted only about an hour. And it did miss the comic touch of Hollander, who always got the audience laughing. Jason Graetz, who was listed to fill that role, was not in the Aug. 25 show, and neither were adagio pair team Fiona Zaldua and Dmitry Sukhanov, who were listed as part of the regular cast.

“We each have two programs that we have ready for the show, but we alternate them,” said Kim Navarro, one of the show’s performers. “What they (producer Lana Breazeale and director Scott Irvine) wanted to do is to keep things new and fresh, so we do one program one week, and one the next. That way, if people come to see the show twice, they’ll see a different show each time.”

While the show may have been a bit short, it wasn’t short on great skating.

As the sun sank behind the mountains on Aug. 25, and the spotlights became visible on the outdoor ice rink, the show got under way with Sun Valley FSC member Emma Steussi, who recently won a gold medal at the National Showcase Championships, providing a warm-up act, charming the audience with a Charlie Chaplin-themed program.

Following Steussi’s program and the traditional singing of the Star Spangled Banner, a fun, upbeat opening to Out on the Edge featured all the core skaters, as well as the ensemble cast, which appeared to be a bit larger than in past years – at times, there were about 20 skaters on the ice at once.

Up first in the show was another Sun Valley tradition, a performance by the youngest members of the FSC. Six 7-and-under girls appeared on the ice along with one small boy participating off the ice, tickled the audience with a performance to Myley CyrusHoedown Throwdown.

Darlin Baker opened the solo portion of the show with a lovely program to If My Life Was A Movie, and crowd favorite Craig Heath followed with a lively outing to Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy.

“I had actually planned to do Nessun Dorma,” Heath said with a smile, “but since Brian (Boitano, that week’s guest star) was doing that, I decided to change to a different program.” And, ever the professional, Heath had another program ready that the audience would love.

Next up was a fairly new pair team, featuring 2010 U.S. national champion Jeremy Barrett (who won that title with Caydee Denney, and competed at the 2010 Olympics) and Natalia Zaitseva, who has skated with various pair partners in the ice show for the past several years. The duo had a nice death spiral and side-by-side spins in a good performance to Everything.

An ensemble number, which showed off  lovely group skating combined with soft lighting and beautiful, flowing blue costumes, featured skaters forming various patterns on the ice and ended with them circling around long-time regulars Elena Leonova and Andrei Khvalko as they posed in a lovely lift.

It was then time for Boitano’s first offering, which was a lively performance to the BeatlesDaytripper. Boitano, who has been coming back from a serious knee injury for the past couple of years, looked fast and powerful throughout the practice sessions during the week, tossing off triple-doubles and three-jump combinations. That carried that over into his show performance, as he tossed off a triple Salchow and double Axel with ease while interacting with the audience throughout the program.

For the audience, it appeared everything was well and good with the 1988 Olympic gold medalist. Turns out, he had a bit of blade trouble during the Saturday afternoon practice.

“His blade broke – the right blade,” said Linda Leaver, Boitano’s coach and manager. “That’s never happened to him before. We tried getting it soldered, but that didn’t work.”

For a while, it appeared Boitano might not be able to perform in the show, but Lady Luck was smiling on Boitano and the audience members who were expecting to see him skate. Turns out Khvalko had just traded out his old blades for a new set within the past couple of days and still had the old blades on hand. While the length was different by an inch or so, the rocker was almost identical to Boitano’s. So, after trying it out a bit during a public session Saturday afternoon, Boitano was on the ice to perform that night. And while the combination he’d been tossing off in practice didn’t happen in that first program, the audience couldn’t tell that anything was amiss.

Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who have been skating in the Sun Valley summer shows as regulars since they retired from competition after the 2010 season, followed Boitano with a beautiful performance to Coldplay’s The Scientist.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to put something together, a program, by ourselves and it’s been so fun,” said Navarro before the show. “It’s been so great for us to be in these shows, skating with some of the best skaters in the world.”

Another cast regular and crowd favorite, Ashley Clark, was sexy and beautiful to Natural Woman, with some great split jumps and a back flip that, unfortunately, ended up with her stumbling almost into the audience. She jumped up quickly and finished with a flourish, brushing off the fall after the show with a laugh and saying she was fine.

“Jumping Joe” Sabovcik, who has performed in the Sun Valley shows for 20 years, paid homage to those two decades by performing a program he first did 20 years ago in the show – Bruce Springsteen’s Fire. And four years removed from a serious ankle injury, his triple toe is back to great heights, along with his signature split jumps and backflip.

Another group number, featuring Baker and a group of “flappers” to Let’s be Bad, was a big hit with the audience, and led into the performance of another audience favorite act, Leonova and Khvalko. This pair has also performed for more than a decade in the Sun Valley shows, and they had an interesting take on Hallelujah for the audience’s enjoyment. Leonova, a mother of two, is still as flexible as she was before having children, twisting herself into impossible positions in lifts. Their head-banger still draws gasps from the audience, and the throw double Axel has a lot of hang time.

That led into Boitano’s final performance to one of his signature programs, Nessun Dorma, and it was a signature performance. Triple Salchow, double Axel-double toe and double Axel were tossed off without a hitch, the spread eagles were fast and with incredible lean and the death drop was high and secure. A fist pump as he bowed to the cheering audience was the only indication that Boitano might have been a little more pleased than usual about a perfect performance.

“Yeah, it (the blade) was a little strange, but it worked out all right,” he said. “That’s probably the best I’ve done that program for a long time. Maybe,” he said with a laugh, “I ought to just keep this blade.”

A medley of familiar rock songs accompanied the finale, which gave the ensemble skaters and each of the soloists a chance to be recognized and perform a last move or two for the audience.

After the show ended, the now-traditional autograph-signing period, when the skaters greet fans around the rink, sign autographs, visit and have pictures taken, kept many of the performers on the ice for about 45 minutes, giving fans another highlight to remember from Sun Valley.

So, while there have been some changes to the Sun Valley Ice Show, the new Sun Valley on Ice seems to be on track to provide many more years of top-flight skating entertainment under the stars.