The world of figure skating choreography has been both blessed and cursed in recent years. On one hand, you have the world's top choreographers mathematically regurgitating the same programs to the same music with the same jumps, spins and contrived footwork sequences to satisfy the requirements of skating's current judging system. For this reason, the vast majority of the performances we are seeing in competition these days are not works of the art, and sadly that isn't the fault of the skaters or the choreographers creating them... but "it is what it is". On the other hand, you have the Ice Theatre Of New York, American Ice Theatre, Robin Cousins' upcoming show in Great Britain, Young Artists Showcase, the Grassroots To Champions Seminars. You have the Lorna Brown's, the Adam Blake's... you have ProSkaters... the Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding's and Rory Flack Burghart's who are very much doing their part to keep professional, artistic skating alive. We're seeing people like Zabato Bebe, Garrett Kling, Kate McSwain, Jodi Porter... like Yebin Mok, Aerial Ice, Audrey Weisiger, Moira North, Cindy Stuart, Robin Cousins, Doug Mattis, Allison Scott, Jeremy Abbott, Jeffrey Buttle, Shawn Sawyer, Shae-Lynn Bourne... and so many others. These are positive people who through their involvement in the sport have contributed to keeping artistic skating alive despite what competitive skating has turned into. I'm not saying it's all bad, but is it artistic and aesthetic? Come on now.
In a different time not so long ago, things were so very different and I want to look at one man and his vision and choreography. The late Brian Wright was not someone I knew personally but the heartiness, theatre and complexity of the choreography he created honestly has to make him one of, if not my favourite choreographer ever. In this brief look at some of his best work, I'm not going to look at the gems he created for eligible skating. Although (for instance) the programs he created for skaters like Scott Davis and Michael Weiss were masterful programs that brought out the very best in these skaters, some of the work and choreography he created for professional skaters in his career is really some of the best choreography and true theatre brought to life that the sport has ever seen. Regarding Brian and his work, his dear friend and colleague Audrey Weisiger said, "Brian Wright's genius as a choreographer was that he could create programs that he himself loved, gave the performers a sense of expression and emotion in telling his story and we, the audience, were privileged to bear witness to the connection he created between his vision and the skater's performance. He was a larger than life personality, a force of nature, and it is evident from the response you get from people when his name is mentioned that he was, and still is, beloved." With regards to Young Artists Showcase, which was inspired by his work, Audrey went on to say "I have boxes of letters he wrote, as do many of his friends. He always wanted to do a one man show. This is as close as we have come," Audrey said of Young Artists Showcase. I thought it was only fitting with my blogs about Young Artists Showcase that I explored and shared some of the choreography by the man that inspired Audrey to create YAS and still inspire me and many others to this very day with their depth, drama and creativity. Instead of 6.0 great performances, in honor of Brian being a true professional, let's look at 10.0 instead:
SCOTT WILLIAMS - SIDESTREETS
MICHAEL WEISS - ABRAXAS
With the coaching of Audrey Weisiger and choreography of Brian Wright, Michael Weiss had the kind of competitive career many skaters dream of and few come to realize: 2 trips to the Olympics, 7 to the World Championships (2 of which he medalled at), Grand Prix and international wins, a U.S. junior title and 3 senior national titles. He also won the national title in compulsory figures. The program that really broke him into contender status came during the 1995/1996 season, when he skated to music from Carlos Santana's "Abraxas" choreographed by Brian Wright. He retained that program during the following season and went on to win his first U.S. senior medal. With powerful jumps, musicality and a strikingly masculine, athletic and sexy image on the ice, Michael's "Abraxas" program by Wright defied how male figure skating programs could come across. Brian Wright's choreography in this program helped create a star that still shines so brightly.
ANITA HARTSHORN AND FRANK SWEIDING - 1492
RORY FLACK BURGHART - SUMMERTIME
SCOTT DAVIS - WEST SIDE STORY
Surrounding the time of the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, the talk of the rink was Nancy and Tonya, but they weren't the only U.S. figure skaters making their names headlines. Defending his title against a formidable challenge from 1988 Olympic Gold Medallist Brian Boitano, Scott Davis earned his second consecutive national title and a trip to the Lillehammer Olympics with a thrilling performance to "West Side Story" choreographed by none other than Brian Wright. Brian used the music and choreography to capitalize on Davis' strong technical skills, and that triple axel hit right on the music was a thriller, that's for sure... but so was the whole program!
ANITA HARTSHORN AND FRANK SWEIDING - VOICES
JERI CAMPBELL - PRIMITIVE
CRAIG HEATH - OLD FRIENDS
SCOTT WILLIAMS - BOLERO
Like in the "Sidestreets" piece mentioned earlier, the vision and attention to detail in Scott Williams' "Bolero" program that Brian choreographed are phenomenal. In the wake of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's iconic "Bolero", Ravel's score from Ten is almost skating suicide usually because every program set to this music is inevitably going to be critiqued as a comparison. This didn't fall short and it DID have something completely different from Jayne and Chris' piece. It's actually really interesting that Scott skated to this music as he really made his mark as a pro while touring with the two. What I like about this program is that it finishes stronger than he started, the entries to the jumps are incredibly difficult (they come out of nowhere) and there is this angular and almost "against the grain" movement going on throughout the program. The final minute of the program with that variation jump into a flying spin is just spectacular.
ANITA HARTSHORN AND FRANK SWEIDING - SADNESS/ENIGMA
The final program I'm going to rave about that Brian choreographed is his "Sadness" Enigma piece that won Anita Hartshorn and Frank Sweiding professional competitions and fans around the world. Using such driving, dark and mysterious music, the good/evil white and black costumes and very sharp movements, this program will go down in history as one of the most striking, DIFFERENT things that I've ever seen on the ice. You stop, you watch and you are mesmerized from start to finish. This kind of program and choreography paints a picture on the ice that draws in the viewer and makes them excited to see what will happen next. And that's the beauty of all of these programs - with Brian's work you WEREN'T able to see what that was going to be. This was absolute MAGIC, as was the similar but very different "Mea Culpa" piece he created for them as well along the same artistic vein. I recommend watching both.
Unlike Audrey and all of these fantastic skaters, I didn't know Brian Wright personally. I would have loved to. I did learn a little bit about his vision and his passion for good skating through each of these programs... and dozens more. He so obviously cared about putting together choreography that benefited both skaters and audiences, that was innovative, fresh and interesting. I can't think of a more fitting tribute than to develop a competition like Young Artists Showcase (YAS) in his honor. As a fan of Brian's work and YAS both, I can only hope more skating fans and members of the skating community take the time to watch and to celebrate artistic skating for what it is. We can't say the sport is dying. The way the eligible competitive skating system is may be killing it, but if we pay attention to the good that's happening in the sport right now and nurture the skaters, choreographers, coaches, writers, photographers, parents, judges and fans that clearly give a damn - we might just give artistic and professional skating the attention that it richly deserves and skating more of a future. I tend to think that would make Brian very, very happy.
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