The Very Compulsory, Very Long Program!

by Jack Curtis

Weíve seen Paris and Moscow of the 2009 Grand Prix series. More are coming; please do not blame me; I have no responsibility in the matter. You saw Nobunari Oda and you saw Meryl Davis and Charlie White; be satisfied with that. Yes, I know what you sat through to see them; nothingís free, right? What? Two delightful performers out of two entire competitions isnít enough? Picky, picky! Well, picky by current standards, anyway. We get quality performances for our pricey admissions about as often as Alaskan tourists find nuggets when they pan for gold. Did I somehow forget Evgeni Plushenko and Yu Na Kim? Not really; their talented, reliable (in Plushenkoís case) and talented, reliable and elegant (in Kimís) performances are inarguably well above the average but neither was athletic or expressive at a professional level from my seat. They were slow; Plushenko tired as he skated; neither paid enough attention to their music.

We get to see each "athlete" (using the word mostly because you certainly canít call many of them "artists") twice. Three times if itís dance. I am not sure why; wouldnít they do better if they put all the work into one program instead of two? Most of them do seem to need more work! There is no obvious difference between the two programs but their lengths; the "short" program often seems too long; the "long" program seems both interminable and clearly beyond the capabilities of both the performers (unless they get lucky on a day) and their choreographers.

Choreographers are in general use as we are told by the commentators; there is little other evidence to suggest that. We hear a moody, whiny, largely unrecognizable recording of some orchestra tuning up before a concert in the background, primarily intended so far as I can tell, to drown out skate noises. Many of the competitors seems to pass around the same piece, perhaps a way to save money, though when orchestras are tuning up, it can be difficult to tell one from another; something also applicable to skaters. The frequent total lack of any clear relationship between the "music" and the gyrations on the ice should be enough to defrock any reputable choreographer except that any remotely expressive choreography of the music often provided would entail the skaterís laying herself flat and donning a sleep mask, a maneuver with low point value.

We not only seem to hear the same music, we get to see pretty much the same programs with the same mistakes. There is plenty of time to make comparisons considering the long periods of slow travel from one end of the arena back to the other, punctuated by the same, too often unfortunate "highlights" too frequently located in the same places. The only true highlight in altogether too many of these performances is when they are eventually over.

To sum it up, the sport has gone from classifying generally competent performances with a few unfortunate mistakes here and there all the way to compulsory performances structured beyond the capabilities of all but the occasional performer too much of the time. Imagine a troupe of jongleurs whose balls, dishes and dumbbells were taken from them and replaced with thin-shelled eggs. The change has killed the quality and the artistic range of performances and most of the audience too.

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