The Tour of World Figure Skating Champions ended its 1997 run in the Los Angeles area in mid-July, with performances in Anaheim and Los Angeles. We got to see the performance at "The Pond" in Anaheim, and had the rare privilege of being allowed to photograph the show. We don't normally cover shows, but who could pass up such a deal.
The Tour is one of the smoothest skating operations around. Running like clockwork, it starts on time, charges on to the end with energy, and is packed up and ready to move to the next stop before the parking lot is empty. The lineup varies somewhat from night to night, with some performers doing only parts of the tour, and with occasional "rising stars" given a chance to do a number in their hometown area. In this case, it was the 1997 Junior Pair Champions, Johnnie and Tiffany Stiegler, who got their turn in the spotlight.
The Anaheim stop included 22 numbers with one intermission. The usual cast of characters performed the typical assortment of skating exhibition routines. Our take on some of the highs and lows of the performances in Anaheim follow, with a few shots from the show mixed in for good measure.
Technically (i.e., trick-wise) the stand out performance was from Tara Lipinski, who basically skated a competition program. She was rock solid on the jumps and spin; but artistically ... nothing. Perhaps someday she will develop some presence and sophistication, but not while she still looks like a 12 year old on the ice.
On the other side of the coin we had Michelle Kwan who is still inconsistent with the triple Lutz (falling in Anaheim, but landing it in Los Angeles), but in terms of presentation is well in front of her rivals. None of the eligible skaters - men or women - can touch her. Skating her number a few skaters after Dorothy Hamill one was struck by their similarities in terms of artistic sophistication and presence on the ice.
Hamill is in great shape for an "old lady". Coming from the era before senior ladies had triple jumps, one did not expect much in the air; but the spins are still fast and strong. Her grace, line, and flow were a joy to watch.
Skating to music from "The Indian in the Cupboard" that is exactly were the routine from Nancy Kerrigan should have stayed. Kerrigan it seems could not buy a triple jump at this point, and the routine was dreary beyond redemption.
And then there is Gary Beacom. His routines remain the most creative, if bizarre, creations to be seen on the ice.
Surya Bonaly skated well and finally seems to have fully recovered for the serious tendon injury that hampered her last year. She received only a luke-warm response from the audience, however.
If one wants to see the professional ice dancers, virtually the only place to find them is in shows like the tour. The majority of professional competitions are geared towards the men's and ladies singles, with the pairs a distant third and the dancers virtually shut out.
Usova and Zhulin skated a capable number, but lacked the passion so central to their skating as eligible competitors - not surprising given the on-again off-again aspect of the current professional careers following their divorce. Klimova and Ponomarenko did a fine job skating to music from "Gone with the Wind", though Sergei could stand to lose a few pounds. The most dynamic number from the dancers, however, came from Grishuk and Platov; lively, quirky and energetic they had the place rockin.
Overall the pair routines were undistinguished. Meno and Sand are still taking it easy following Todd's wrist surgery; and while understandable, the competition season is upon them and they have an inordinate amount of work ahead of them if they hope to hold onto second place in the US, no less recover the top spot.
From Elvis we got same-old-same-old; but at least he moved - which is more than we can say for his performance at Worlds. Viktor Petrenko's number was also basically the same old stuff he has been doing for the past four years. Admittedly the audience loves it, but where is the growth? Maybe it's time to get a new idea.
Artistically, the most satisfying number of the evening was the closing performance of Oksana Baiul, skating to a Beethoven sonata (No. 8). Her jumps (which were never the strongest) are gone, but the expression and intensity of the performance was without equal.
With the end of the tour, the pros take a short break to count their money before their season begins in October, while the eligible skaters have begun to gear up for the start of the real competition season that starts this month.
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