Saturday, 26 April 2014

2014 Stars On Ice Canada (Halifax, NS) Review



Halifax, Nova Scotia isn't exactly the figure skating capital of North America. We're lucky if we get one skating event a year, but when we do people come out in droves and go cray. It's just not very often any of us have fabulous figure skating come right to our doorstep so I think people really appreciate it when they have that opportunity. Once again this year Stars On Ice descended upon us in a fabulous fashion and again, the Metro Centre was packed. What I always love about this tour is just how truly professional the skating is - there is such thought put into every cast member, program, costume, lighting design and piece of music. There's a reason that Stars On Ice has survived and thrived as the premiere skating tour for decades and we really have to thank producer Scott Hamilton for his vision and incredibly hard work and also Jeffrey Buttle and Renee Roca for their brilliant choreography and Jef Billings for his stunning costume design and direction. From the first note of music to the last standing ovation, this was just phenomenal skating and I couldn't have had a more intimate and interactive experience with the tour this year if I tried.

On Wednesday afternoon, I got to take a break from my work day and have coffee with my favourite pairs team competing today... Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. So here I am looking like something the cat dragged in (unshaven and far from dressed for success) but I was like you know what? I didn't even care... I was like "I just love these guys' skating and I'm going even if I look like crap!" I'd interviewed Meagan in July of last year and seen both her and Eric skate live a couple times but it was beyond fabulous to meet them both in person. They couldn't have been any more down to earth, sweet or interesting and we talked about everything from the short program to the format and programs in this year's Stars On Ice tour to ice dancing, their 2013/2014 season and vegan eats in Halifax. I was a HUGE fan of these two before and am even moreso now if that's possible. Very cool stuff!

Although I did say we needed to have a red rover, red rover, send Jeremy Abbott over moment with the U.S. tour, we couldn't have been any more fortunate to have the star studded cast we had this year if we tried. Between them, they have won an incredible thirty one Canadian titles. Four time World Champion Kurt Browning, Olympic Gold and Silver Medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Olympic Silver Medallist and three time World Champion Patrick Chan, Olympic Bronze Medallist Joannie Rochette, Olympic Bronze Medallist Jeffrey Buttle, Olympic Silver Medallists and two time World Medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canadian Silver Medallist Shawn Sawyer all returned for opening night of this all Canadian affair tour and were joined by new additions to last year's cast (fresh off trips to Olympics and Worlds) Olympic Silver Medallist Kaetlyn Osmond and World Silver Medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. The tour this year was adapted on the same themes used in the U.S. tour, with some exceptions (for instance, the "Piano Guys" duet that Alissa Czisny and Jeremy Abbott are skating in the U.S. tour this year was skated by Jeffrey Buttle and Joannie Rochette in last year's Canadian tour so that obviously wasn't included) and the choreography for the group numbers was adapted as well to fit the Canadian cast.


Again this year, my mother and I had front row, on ice seats and I have to tell you, SPEND THE
MONEY... it's worth every penny. It's a completely different experience when the skaters are literally right in front of you and the ice is within toe tapping reach. The opening number this year was a stark contrast to the whimsical, imaginative "Somebody That I Used To Know" show opener from last year. Skated to Hans Zimmer's "What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?" from the "Man Of Steel" soundtrack, the piece was skated with giant white flags and really let the quality of skating of the entire cast speak for itself. The opening number accomplished its goal, getting people so excited for what was to come and giving everyone their first taste of the amazing cast for this year's show.

The first solo of the evening came from Olympic Silver Medallist, two time Canadian Champion and 2012 Skate Canada Champion Kaetlyn Osmond. Skating to Jewel's beautiful cover of "Over The Rainbow" from "The Wizard Of Oz", being mistakenly announced as 'Canadian Silver Medallist Shawn Sawyer' didn't cause Kaetlyn to skip a beat. She landed a righteous triple flip and followed it up with a strong double axel and triple toe for good measure. Not a touch of nerves whatsoever, just good clean - and gorgeous - skating.

Following Kaetlyn was Canadian Silver Medallist and fan favourite Shawn Sawyer. Never one to shy away from the creative and theatrical, his brand new program to AWOLNATION's "Sail" was a huge hit with the Halifax crowd. Dressed in a lifejacket with a giant kayak paddle as a prop, Shawn was the star that he is, landing two backflips and keeping the crowd in the palm of his crowd. Halifax GETS Shawn Sawyer and always enjoys the fact he's putting on a PERFORMANCE every time he steps foot on the ice. Great music choice too! I love the song and Shawn turned it out.

Following Shawn's program, there was a short group number/more of a segue with Kurt Browning, Joannie Rochette and Patrick Chan skating to "Stompa" by Serena Ryder. I'm a firm believer that if Serena Ryder tells you to get up, listen to her, clappa your hands and stompa your feet you do what she says. It got the crowd going and set the pace for three time Canadian Champions, Olympic Silver Medallists and two time World Medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's first program was set to "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Meagan explained to me that she'd first heard this music on America's Got Talent and it had a folky feel and I have to say, I not only adored the music but adored the program choreographed by Julie Marcotte as well. It really showcased Meagan and Eric's strength as a pair, highlighting their difficult lifts, high energy and personalities out there. They did a huge triple twist and massive throw triple salchow and were positively glowing. You can tell when skaters are having fun out there, and they were having a blast.

Skating to Donny Hathaway's classic "A Song For You", Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's first program couldn't have possibly gone any better! I've heard a million versions of this song and I have to say, I'm always going to be partial to Whitney Houston's, but this was a classic and was full of such expressiveness and emotion. That's one thing I noticed through the entire show from Kaitlyn and Andrew... there was real emotion out there, right down to facial expressions and the sense of meaning behind simple arm movements. A gorgeous new program!

Playing double duty as show choreographer and headliner must have been exhausting for 2006 Olympic Bronze Medallist, 2008 World Champion and three time Canadian Champion Jeffrey Buttle, but it certainly didn't show whatsoever in his act one program to "Counting Stars" by OneRepublic. Having seen many of the programs on the U.S. tour, this program kind of struck me as the closest equivalent to
Jeremy Abbott's "Latch" number on the U.S. tour. Completely unsurprisingly, the choreography was tight, original and incredibly entertaining. In a contrast to the programs Jeff performed on last year's tour, it was great to see him go in a more upbeat direction (although I just loved "In This Shirt" last year). He's such a musical skater that knows how to work an audience and his jumps were bang on as well. I'd have to say this particular program was one of my several favourites of the night.

Following Jeffrey's program was 2009 World Silver Medallist, 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist and six time Canadian Champion Joannie Rochette, who performed a gorgeous program to music from "Notre Dame de Paris" by Luc Plamondon. Joannie had used music from "Notre Dame de Paris" as a competitive program at the 2013 Japan Open competition, where it was enough to place far ahead of the 2014 Olympic Gold Medallist Adelina Sotnikova. And no wonder... the presentation and attention to the detail in the choreography was out of this world. This version had lyrics, EASY looking triple jumps and floating footwork from element to element and the jumps were used an exclamation points in the choreography to "Danse Mon Esmeralda", not as tricks. I think Joannie's become a much better skater since she turned professional and there's something about watching her that puts you completely at ease out there. This particular program is a great vehicle for her!

2014 Olympic Silver Medallist, three time World Champion and seven time Canadian Champion Patrick Chan followed Joannie with a program to Michael Bublé's "Best Of Me". With big triple jumps including a huge triple lutz down on the other end of the rink, Patrick looked so confident and at ease out there in his program. His speed and the security of his edges are always something to behold but I really have to say what impresses me the most with him when he's skating on a tour like Stars On Ice is his ability to relate to an audience... little things like eye contact and taking the time to work the crowd as he zooms by that are the mark of a great show or professional skater and not 'just' a competitor. I found it beautifully appropriate that the final lyrics of the song he chose to skate on the Canadian tour were: "No one will ever touch me more / I only hope that in return / No matter how much we have to learn / That I might have saved the best, very best of me for you".


Olympic Gold and Silver Medallists, two time World Champions and five time Canadian Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were next to take the ice, performing a new program to Van Morrison's 1970 hit "Into The Mystic". Now, here's what I say about this program... I love it. The music is like a cozy sweater on a fall day on a patio and really highlighted the maturity and depth of their skating I feel. A very adult music choice and the program felt to me like a professional program, not an "amateur" skating an exhibition. Gorgeous edges and "transitions" (for all you IJS mathe-magicians out there) and chalk full of challenging lifts with interesting entrances and exits. This one's definitely a keeper for Tessa and Scott and they did a great job out there.

The final solo performance of the evening came from living legend himself Kurt Browning. The four time World Champion performed to "Who's Got The Pain?" by Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse from the "Damn Yankees" soundtrack. He came out with a three step

ladder and started on top. A wonderful, wonderful comedic mambo number and I don't think he missed a single beat or nuance in the music the entire time. This was Kurt Browning comedy at its very best. One thing I noticed about Kurt's skating this year as opposed to last year was that his jumps (particularly his triple toe) were looking way more secure. We're talking bang on. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I could watch Kurt skate all day and this program was simply fabulous.


The first act concluded with the 'boys number' to "The Walker" by Fitz And The Tantrums. Adapted from the all male number used in the U.S. men's tour, the skaters for this program were Patrick Chan, Scott Moir, Jeffrey Buttle, Andrew Poje and Shawn Sawyer. It was cleverly and playfully choreographed and almost had a 'boy band' feel to the choreography. As compared to the more elegant opening number, it was great to see these skaters come out of their shells and have a little fun out there. It featured two sections where the men lifted Shawn and ended with the cast snapping a selfie on center ice that instantly went onto the four screens in the corners of the rinks. What a way to end the first set - I mean act - here I am thinking I'm at a drag show again. I don't know how he did it after skating that all out number, but Jeff Buttle was right back out there, giving his speech for World Vision immediately following the number and not even sounding the least bit winded. I'd be hacking up a lung!


Speaking of hacking up a lung, after a nice refreshing good Christian cigarette, I was back in my seat and
ready for 'Act 2' in no time. The men having had their moment in the spotlight in "The Walker", it was now time for the 'girls number' set to a haunting cover of Radiohead's 1992 debut hit "Creep" by Scala and Kolacny Brothers. I'd heard this version about a year or two ago and had always wanted to see someone skate to it, so I really enjoyed this (which, like "The Walker" is also on the U.S. tour with different skaters). The moody, dark choreography was expertly delivered by Tessa Virtue, Joannie Rochette, Kaetlyn Osmond and Kaitlyn Weaver. The program made great use of the ballet bar and you could hear a pin drop during this number. The audience 'got it' and loved this piece.

Shawn Sawyer's second program was set to Sergio Mendes' "Magalenha" and was an absolute treat. In a jungle bodysuit type costume, the only way I could describe this program and the choreography would be if Toller Cranston and Surya Bonaly had a baby, it would be Shawn Sawyer skating to "Magalenha". It had an African/Brazilian carnivale jungle motif going on and Shawn landed a great triple flip and backflip along with his deep back of tricks which included his sickening spins, cantilever, a ton of gymnastics (not just a cartwheel, we're talking more flips than you can shake a Skate Guard at) and a really musical straight line footwork sequence. I have to say, we are incredibly lucky to have Shawn on the tour and the audiences here in Canada GET and LOVE his skating. He's such a born performer out there and both of his programs this year were fantastic vehicles for him.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's second program was set to A Great Big World's "Say Something", choreographed by Julie Marcotte. I've been hearing so much of this beautiful song lately - two of the programs in this year's Quest For Creativity (which I'll be judging) are both set to it as well and I have to say, this song just gives me goosebumps. Despite a problem on the landing of their throw triple, Meagan and Eric turned it out and put on a
exquisite and emotive performance full of gorgeous lifts, great speed and wonderful body shapes and interpretation of the music out there. Halifax really loves and appreciates these two and this program is an absolute gem in my opinion.

Kaetlyn Osmond's second program was to J-J-J-Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best". Aside from her beautiful "Who You Are" song, I'm not a huge Jessie J fan but I have to say Kaetlyn's program kind of made me forget that for a minute. She started literally right in front of me and I have to say, even though I love me some boys, she looked SMOKING in her outfit. I'm sure that Rosie DiManno one who wrote the article about Kaetlyn being the "Miley Cyrus of skating" will have a field day with it, so stay tuned! Don't even get me started on that foolishness. Someone will have to hold my earrings! Anyway, enough ranting and back to the program. The confidence and choreography were out of this world and you wouldn't know for a second this was Kaetlyn's first year with the tour. She looked like a pro out there and WORKED it! She had problems on some of her elements, falling on a triple toe, doubling her flip and slipping on her final spin, but she didn't let the program go for a SECOND and the audience just loved her. Kaetlyn's really a born performer out there and what a great addition to the tour she really is!

Performing their competitive free dance to "A levare", "Yo soy Maria" and "Milonga de la Anunciacion" by Gideon Kramer and Astor Piazzolla that won them the silver medal at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were show stoppers. They skated their program with conviction, finesse and a fabulous quality to their edges and footwork. Their step sequences were complex and lifts very strong, but again it was the emotion and passion that they skated with that captured your complete attention. Kaitlyn and Andrew are an absolute pleasure and this tango is something very special.


From an awe inspiring energy to full speed ahead, high energy skating, Joannie Rochette was fabulous in her
program to "Shot Me Down" by David Guetta featuring Skylar Grey, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne. Starting off in a white silk dressing gown that she removed to reveal a long sleeved dress that she unzipped? unsnapped? (I don't know) to add these green stripes later on, Joannie's program was a complete departure for her and was high energy, all out skating that had Shae-Lynn Bourne written ALL over it. She landed two big triple toe-loops and a double axel and finished the program with a final "Bang Bang", shooting down Eric Radford at the entrance to the skater's tunnel and got a huge response for this program.

Slowing things down with an exquisitely choreographed program to the "Liebestod" aria by Richard Wagner (from "Tristan Und Isolde"), Jeffrey Buttle showcased just how much he's 'kept up' his skating since turning professional. Easy looking triple flip! I was saying to my Mom after the show that I think there's something quite brave about choosing to skate a classical piece in a show like Stars On Ice and if anyone was going to pull it off, it was Jeff. There are no stops, no rests, no poses in his programs; everything flows from one movement to the next. He's really in fantastic shape and has kept his jumps up so well, but I find that the maturity and depth to his skating speaks volumes to what he's accomplishing as a professional skater. I'd dare to say that he's this generation's akin to John Curry.

Next, ice dance duos Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje joined forces for one of the most passionate performances of the night, set to Pink's "Try", reworked from a piece used in last year's U.S. tour but not included in the 2013 Canadian tour. The lyrics of this song have always spoke to me and this program did as well. The choreography painted a picture - to me at least - of the same couple going through different phases in a relationship and I have to say, as much as I adore Tessa and Scott, it was impossible to take my eyes off of Kaitlyn and Andrew during this piece. You really couldn't watch both teams much at the same time because it was like two different programs and stories were being told on different parts of the ice concurrently but what a masterfully done piece. Loved it.


Skating to Holly Cole's brilliant cover of "Trust In Me" from "The Jungle Book", Kurt Browning weaved a magical spell and as always, had the audience in the very palm of his hand. I don't know about you, but I could watch Kurt skate all day and I think this program is one of his most cleverly choreographed pieces in recent years. Again, the jumps (including the triples) were secure and confident, but this program was just peppered with difficult footwork, deep edges and fascinating choreography. I was hoping he'd do "Trust In Me" and I'm thrilled I had the chance to see it live!

In a throwback to an earlier era of Stars On Ice, Patrick Chan skated to a piece of music Scott Hamilton used on the tour twenty years previously. Like Hamilton, Chan brought down the house to Tony Bennett's "Steppin' Out With My Baby". Now, you have to appreciate the fact that when I hear "what a night!" at the end, I see Scott backflipping in my head, not Patrick doing a spin combination, but that said, this program was charming, very difficult and skated with finesse and charm.


Keeping with the big band feel of Chan's program, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were fabulous in their program to "Top Hat And Tails" and "Cheek To Cheek" by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, which seemed to fittingly pay tribute to their Louis/Ella short dance that won them an Olympic silver medal in Sochi. The program started with a kind of window frame being lowered onto the ice. Tessa started out with Patrick Chan and then he left and she was joined in no time by Scott. They put on their top hats, put on a show, then rested the top hats on the 'window' frame which was lifted back up into the rafters and ended their program with the "Cheek To Cheek" section they skated in their Olympic short dance, complete with that fabulous spinning lift. A wonderful throwback to another era of ice dancing and it couldn't have gone over any better if they tried.

The finale of this year's tour (as in the U.S. tour) was performed to a cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" from the 2012 film "Rock Of Ages" and was a wonderful conclusion to a show that featured all out skating from a cast of Canada's absolute best. I'd describe it, but I'd rather just let you all see it for yourselves! The bows were performed to Pharrell Williams' hit "Happy" and Mom and I got high fived by the entire cast (including Kurt) as they skated by, so if I get a cold, I'm blaming the one with the triple toe-loop... or the triple twist... or the twizzles... that covers everyone I think!

 

All in all though, what a fabulous show! We don't get to see great live skating like this 'much in these parts' and no T, no shade to the U.S. tour but with a cast like this, when you go to watch you're getting to see a damn good SHOW! The programs are all polished, the skaters know how to work a crowd and the program choices highlight the very best in these talented souls. Big thanks again to Meagan and Eric for making time to meet, photographer Dave W. Carmichael for giving me permission to share his wonderful photographs of the show and to Rob from Stars On Ice for all of his help! Watching the opening night of the 2014 Canadian Stars On Ice tour was a privilege.

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