Ranking the Programs of Russian Nationals, Pt. 1: Pairs Free Skate

Trying something new here, because I’m on break and I have time!

To recap Russian Nationals, I am going to take on the ambitious challenge of watching every  Ice Dance/Ladies/Pairs FS and ranking them (literally in the order of how much I like them, because objectivity is boring). Since the Ladies field is going to take a VERY LONG TIME to watch (even though I saw half of it live), I’m starting with the much smaller pairs event. But, just to make it seem *credible*, here’s what I will be scoring the programs on:

  1. Music choice – letter grade from A-F
  2. Costume – letter grade from A-F
  3. Choreography – letter grade from A-F
  4. Musicality – letter grade from A-F
  5. Originality – letter grade from A-F
  6. Performance/Expression – letter grade from A-F

There were 11 pairs in this event. Each of their free skates will be scored on this scale. The higher the team’s “GPA,” if you will, the higher they are on the list. So…let’s get going!

11. Anastasia Poluianova/Maxim Selkin  

Actual Placement: 1oth

Scorecard:

Music Choice: A (Notre Dame De Paris). One of my favorite musicals for skating. I will never not approve of that choice, even if the skater’s interpretation of such is lacking.

Costume: B. Nothing great, nothing awful.

Choreo: C. Lots of two-foot skating, nothing particularly interesting. (I can’t stand boring choreography, especially if it involves 8,000 crossovers.)

Musicality: C. They were in time with the music at some parts of the program, but they didn’t seem to have any sort of connection to it.

Originality: C. This concept and piece, as much as I like it, has been done before – over and over, to be frank.

Performance/Expression: C. Not much going on in terms of emotion or audience/musical/partner connection. However, they’re (I think?) young and probably inexperienced as seniors, so they have a lot of time to grow in that area.

10. Bogdana Lukashevich/Alexander Stepanov 

Actual Placement: 11th

Scorecard:

Music Choice: B. Don’t know what it is (my Shazam app has ceased to work, and their ISU bios have virtually nothing in them), but it sounds sort of like an old action movie score. It’s not my favorite, but I have to give them points for originality here (I mean, I’ve never heard it before…).

Costume: C. Not crazy about her all-over polka dots (would’ve been better if they were only the skirt, or only on the bodice, instead of the entire dress) or his…open-jacket-over-a-prisoner-shirt…thing.

Choreo: C. Again, lots of two-footed skating, and not much of interest.

Musicality: B+. They did well in keeping time with their music and matching the movements to it, but again, I didn’t see any connection to it.

Originality: B+. I’ve seen a couple of programs that were stylistically similar to this one, but it’s not an overdone style.

Performance/Expression:  C. They were kind of robotic, to be honest.

9. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov

Actual Placement: 2nd

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: C (Disco-ish medley). Okay, before I even start this, I am aware that it seems odd to put a world-class pair (who medaled) this low in the standings, but Evgenia and Vladimir’s problem has always been packaging, and although they have an excellent SP this year, their free skate is…yikes. It’s more choreographically complex, thus why it’s above some other programs, but I do not like the music/concept/choreography/execution. Their music makes me want to run screaming (if anyone here happens to like this genre of music, please don’t throw tomatoes! It’s just not my thing), thus the low score.

Costumes: C-. Just…WHY. WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYWHY. CANNOT GET OVER THE FACT THAT SOMEONE TOLD THEM TO WEAR SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE SOME SORT OF FRANKENSTEIN-INSPIRED SPACESUIT. LIKE, THEY PAID ACTUAL MONEY FOR THAT. If it weren’t so sad that they actually competed in an elite athletic competition in these, it would be almost amusing.

Choreo: B+. Some interesting bits, and the transitions were good and complex, but mostly blah.

Musicality: B. Sometimes really into it, sometimes totally tuned out.

Originality: A-. Disco programs aren’t exactly a hot trend in pairs (and for that I am eternally grateful), but originality should be encouraged, even if it doesn’t work, so here ya go.

Performance/Expression: B-. They seemed like they were getting into it at times, but it was kind of patchy throughout the program. The slow sections were very blah.

I know I went sorta snarky on them, and I feel bad, because I actually really like this team. It’s just this program.

8. Elizaveta Zhuk/Egor Britkov 

Actual Placement: 9th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+. Not sure what it is, but it’s unconventional and not an earsore.

Costume: B. I don’t really care for the weird tattoo deal on her dress, but it’s all but invisible from far away, and they just look like generic black costumes. Boring, but better than crazy.

Choreo: C. Nothing particularly interesting going on in this program’s choreography. Not too complex.

Musicality: A-. Their movements matched the music really well. I really liked that.

Originality: A. Like I said, unconventional choice.

Performance/Expression: C. Meh…

7. Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert 

Actual Placement: 3rd

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B (“Cry Me A River”). A lot of skating fans run screaming at the first sign of any and every Michael Buble song. I am not necessarily one of them. (Okay, so maybe I groan a little when Feeling Good comes on, but generally, I’m pretty tolerant of warhorses – really can’t think of any one I legitimately can’t stand.) However, someone at my rink used this song a few years ago, so I connect this program to that one, which is sort of distracting.

Costume: A. I love her dress, even though I have no idea what it has to do with the program. He looks fine, too. Their ombré game is strong.

Choreo: B. Fine, but nothing that really stuck with me.

Musicality: B+. They were fairly strong in this area, but they did not reach the level of DRAMATIKS™ that this music requires.

Originality: B-. Don’t think this one has been used too much, but it is Michael Buble, so it kinda isn’t very original.

Performance/Expression: C+. Again, needs more DRAMATIKS™.

6. Alexandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii 

Actual Placement: 6th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+ (Tristan and Isolde). A warhorse, yes, but I kind of like that particular warhorse.

Costumes: A-. I like them, but they don’t really stand out.

Choreo: B+. It fits the music and is decently complex, but I don’t remember any of it standing out.

Musicality: B. Passable.

Originality: C. Warhorse, but to a lesser extent than some other warhorses.

Performance/Expression: B+. Their emoting was okay, but it went in and out like a spotty wi-fi connection.

5. Anastasia Mishina/Vladislav Mirzoev

Actual Placement: 7th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: B+ (samba piece/La Vie En Rose). Weird combination of pieces, but I liked both of them. (Maybe not together, though…?)

Costume: B-. Hers is a really strange cut with the stomach cutout and the asymmetrical skirt. I am actually sort of loving Vladislav’s purple shirt, though…

Choreo: A. Complex, interesting, matches the music…finally, a program I can give a high choreo grade to!

Musicality: A. They were with the music and seemed to connect with it.

Originality: A-. While both of the pieces they used are fairly mainstream in skating, they are pretty much never used together…so I gotta give them that.

Performance/Expression: A-. Pretty good! They had really great expression in parts, and although it waned a little bit in others, it wasn’t bad for a junior pair.

4. Kristina Asthakova/Alexei Rogonov

Actual Placement: 4th (hey, it matches!)

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (The Storm, Le Bien Qui Feit Mal). I LOVE the first piece (“The Storm” is one of my favorite instrumentals!), and the second piece is okay, too, although it still sort of blows my mind that there is a rock opera about Mozart. People really will watch anything these days…

Costume: D. Uhh…what even are these? I can’t even come up with a humorous analogy for these costumes, except maybe that he looks like a vampire. And I have no words for Kristina’s dress.

Choreo: A-. Kristina and Alexei have a sort of simultaneously quirky/dramatic style, and this choreography fits that image. It’s unique and memorable, which is more than I can say of most of the programs on this list.

Musicality: A. They were totally into this music and their choreography matched it perfectly.

Originality: A. This program is a sequel to their last FS. If that doesn’t get the point across, I don’t know what will.

Performance/Expression: A. They were SO INTO IT. I just love their total commitment to character.

3. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin

Actual Placement: 8th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (Strauss medley). Can’t go wrong with good, solid classical. Not too original, but it’s a standby for a reason.

Costume: A-. Not too crazy about his purple velvet pants, but her dress is nice.

Choreo: A. One of my favorite things about this program. It was just perfect for this music.

Musicality: A. They did a very good job keeping time with the music and matched the moods of it well.

Originality: B. Um, not really…

Performance/Expression: A. I thought their interpretation of the music and projection to the audience were excellent.

2. Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov 

Actual Placement: 5th

Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A (Clair De Lune). I actually used this piece for a program once. Needless to say, I really like it.

Costume: A-. Simple and elegant. Exactly what Clair De Lune costumes should look like.

Choreo: A. Elegant, complex, and beautifully executed, as is their custom.

Musicality: A. As is also their custom, their interpretation was on point. Very nuanced. In that regard, Yuko and Alexander are far above the rest of this field. Nobody else comes close to matching their refinement and maturity, except maybe Stolbova/Klimov (and that’s a serious ‘maybe’).

Originality: B-. I mean, it’s Clair De Lune, which is basically a warhorse.

Performance/Expression: A. See above, because I’m lazy and it’s late.

  1. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov

Actual Placement: 1st

Before continuing, please take a moment to appreciate this majestic screencap.

Now, the Scorecard: 

Music Choice: A-. I don’t know what it is, but I like it fine.

Costumes: B+. I don’t love jumpsuits, but Ksenia looks amazing in everything, so I’ll give it a pass. Fedor looks like modern art, which I don’t think is a compliment, but it’s better than last year’s “Netflix marathon in pajamas” costume.

Choreo: A. Smooth, difficult, interesting, and very complimentary to the music. Plus, their SS is amazing, which makes everything look even better.

Musicality: A. They were very connected to the music, as usual. Their style is what I would describe as “intense”, so this music was a great fit for them.

Originality: A. Definitely a unique program. (I’m running out of words, y’all.)

Performance/Expression: A, because ^^. I cannot think anymore, so I shall leave this post.

Stay tuned for the next installment sometime soonish. Merry Christmas! 🙂

A Few of My Favorite Things, 2015-16: Free Skates

So, you know how in yesterday’s post, I said I was going to try to spread this series out over several weeks?

I didn’t.

At least, not the first two posts.

If you read my last post, you will probably know how this works. I list my three favorite SPs and FSes in each discipline and say why I like them. It’s pretty simple. However, it is hard for me to remember all the programs I loved in each discipline. I frequently accidentally leave out one of my favorite programs and forget about it for about a day until I remember, slap myself, and promise to give it a shout-out in the next post. That being said, I left Alaine Chartrand’s short program out of yesterday’s SP post, despite it being one of the ones I knew I wanted to include when I came up with the concept for this series. Deepest apologies; I would have put it in if I remembered.

Okay, that was really long, and I didn’t mean for it to be that long, so here we go.

Top Three Free Dances

  1. Shibutani/Shibutani (“Fix You”)

When IceNetwork’s Twitter did its annual fan vote for best program in each segment of each discipline, the overwhelming majority of voters chose this as the best free dance. Not surprising at all. This is, in my very biased opinion, the single best program in any discipline this season. Just…ugh, it’s too perfect to be real. I got to see this program in person at Worlds and I nearly made myself sick and blew out my vocal chords because I was hyperventilating and shrieking until I could barely breathe. (If you were there and heard someone screaming “‘MURICA!” repeatedly after this performance in Loge 8, that was me.) The placement of the twizzle sequence, the lifts, the step sequences, everything about this program was amazing. I am in such awe of this program that I  have taught myself the twizzle variation (with the leg extended) that they do. LOL. 🙂

2. Cappellini/Lanotte (“La Dolce Vita”)

I like this free dance for most of the same reasons I like their short dance: it’s frothy, frivolous and fun, achieves #costumegoals status, and really stood out from the rest of the top teams’ FDs. Is it me, or were there a LOT of “look at us, we’re arteestick!” free dances this season? I feel like there were, so this was a very nice contrast. Also, I’m very predictable, because I put these in the same order as I did for the SDs.

3. Sinitsina/Katsalapov (“Lo Ci Saro”)

A lot of people criticized this program for being “bland,” but when I saw it at Worlds, I thought it was fantastic. I can’t really put my finger on what it was I liked about it, but I did, so on the list it goes.

Top Three Pairs Free Skates

  1. Seguin/Bilodeau (“A Whiter Shade of Pale”)

I warned you. 😉

Getting to see this program in person at Skate America was one of the highlights of the entire season for me. This program is truly wonderful: lyrical but passionate, delicate but powerful, emotional but subtle. They had SUCH a moment with it at the Grand Prix Final; I was very eager to see it at Worlds, and although they weren’t there, they had many memorable performances with it. It’s taken me from barely knowing they exist to a huge fan of theirs. As I said in the previous post, one of the things that I like most about Seguin/Bilodeau is their connection. This program showcases their connection beautifully.  Highlighting your strengths is one of my criteria for deciding whether or not a program is good, so this program passes with flying colors.

(It made me ship them. You don’t get any better than that.)

2. Sui/Han (“Samson and Delilah”)

When Sui/Han skated this program well, it was completely breathtaking. It’s intense and passionate and never stops building until the end, and when they landed things, the effect was extremely impressive. Everything about this program is BIG: the elements, the choreography, the emotion, Sui’s performance quality…I feel like this program, but especially this particular performance, could be described as “we’re here, we’re perf, and we’re going to leave y’alls in our dust.” A very accurate statement indeed. :p

3. Kayne/O’Shea (“Music of the Night”)

Admit it: this performance made you cry.

Kayne/O’Shea seem to have developed this lovely habit of completely slaying their FS at every competition, demonstrated by their showings at Cup of Russia, 4CC, and (mostly) Worlds, but most prominently at Nationals. There was just something about that particular performance that made it really special. So even though I liked this program a lot before that, it became something special after Nationals.

Top Three Men’s Free Skates

  1. Shoma Uno (“Turandot”)

Everyone’s favorite leprechaun made history at TCC by landing the first ratified 4F in competition, ending his season on a much-needed triumphant note. In addition, his free skate takes top honors in the Men’s FS category of this recap. It was maybe more of an “introverted” interpretation of Turandot (I feel like I’m saying that a lot), but a convincing one, with a lot of cool choreographic bits. (*eh ehm* CANTILEVER!) Gorgeously choreographed and interpreted, with a delightfully punnable costume.

The Leprechaun has his ups and downs, but, being a leprechaun, always ends up with a pot of gold. 😉

2. Grant Hochstein (“Les Miserables”)

This is another program that I basically chose because of one performance. His Worlds free skate was, IMO, the moment of the night (well, one of them). It blew the roof off the place; his interpretation is some of the best I’ve ever seen, actually. A lofty statement, but a deserved one.

3. Yuzuru Hanyu (“Seimei”)

How can I leave out the program that broke the world record twice? I don’t understand how this dude is even real. (However, I will stop saying that because I think it jinxed him at worlds.)

Top Three Ladies Free Skates

  1. Rika Hongo (“Riverdance”)

Rika Hongo’s transformation from a possible contender with poor posture and few standout qualities to a reliable, electrifying performer has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season. I love the way she keeps up the high-energy, appropriately Riverdancy feel of this program throughout, and the ChStSq is one of the best I have ever seen-and that includes everything ever done by Mao Asada! I especially appreciate the Irish dance steps in both StSqs; they were very well-integrated into the program. This free skate has really made me take notice of Rika, and I am surprised by how much I have enjoyed watching her this season. I hope she works with Akiko Suzuki (who choreographed her programs) next season, and can’t wait to see her next programs!

2. Adelina Sotnikova (“Je Suis Malade”)

I might have questionable taste, but I am kind of obsessed with Je Suis Malade. Naturally, any Je Suis Malade program that comes to my attention will be lauded as a masterpiece with excessive hyperboles.

Okay, maybe that was a slight  large exaggeration, but I do typically like Je Suis Malade programs, and Adelina’s was a very good one. She gave it the over-the-top angsty drama it deserves, and I found the program to be very well-choreographed. I can understand why one might not like this program (I mean, if angsty drama isn’t your thing, there is a LOT of angsty drama going on here), but I happen to love overdramatic interpretations, so I enjoyed Adelina’s free skate a lot.

3. Gracie Gold (“Firebird”)

As you may know, I am kind of a noob as far as skating fans go. I have not been watching for very long (I obviously watched the 2014 Olympics, but other than that, my first experiences watching skating were on the 2014-15 GP because I did not have IceNetwork prior to that), so I have not seen very many of the “great” programs. Thus, the only Firebird program I had ever seen before this season was Anna Pogorilaya’s 2014-15 FS, and (no offense to Anna, who has improved a lot since then) virtually any rendition of Firebird would be an improvement over that.

Enter Gracie, the other prominent artistically-challenged blonde, who is actually quite like Anna: a headcase, and not a natural artist, but improving.

This is definitely one of the best programs Gracie has ever had, certainly the best free skate. First of all, The Squat. It is my favorite thing. I can often be found listening to Firebird and randomly squatting (with the correct arms, too :p). Also, I feel like this powerful music is easier for her to interpret than most of what she’s had before. It wasn’t perfect: when the jumps weren’t there, neither was the performance. But when they were, she showed quite a bit more fire and emotion than she ever has before. The style was a good fit for her, so I hope to see her continue to do things similar to this. (She also said many times that she loves this program, so that is always a bonus.)

Well, that’s a wrap…next up, one of the two “best costumes” ones.