Thursday, 2 April 2015

Everything You Wanted To Know About The 2015 U.S. Open But Were Afraid To Ask


Back in 2013, I wrote a series of three blogs that revisited three incredibly important professional competitions that offered opportunities for ALL professional skaters to take part: the U.S. Open, Jaca World Professional Championships and American Open. The draught of competitive opportunities for skaters outside of the anonymous judging/awkward footwork sequence work of Ottavio Cinquanta's playhouse a.k.a. the ISU has just been so unfortunate. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that some of the most entertaining and artistically meaningful skating the sport has ever seen came out of the professional skating boom of the eighties and nineties and I'd long pined for a revival of these events. Guess what happened? I wasn't alone in my wish.

In the two plus years I've been writing this blog, professional skating opportunities started to blossom again and the 2015 live professional competition put on in Sun Valley that was won by Stephanee Grosscup served as an important catalyst to the rebirth of one of figure skating's most revered and enduring professional events, the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships which will be held on Saturday, May 23 at the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, Minnesota. I couldn't think of a better present three days before what will be my thirty third birthday.

PSA Executive Director Jimmie Santee explained to me the decision to revive the popular event: "For a number of years we have talked about it. It was so iconic back in the day and it was obviously for many years the selection process for the World Professional Championships in Jaca and when we did the Seventy Fifth Anniversary a couple of the pieces I had written were based on the U.S. Open. It brought up memories and thoughts with everyone I think. Doug Mattis is on our board and we all thought it would just be really fun to bring it back. Last summer, I was in Sun Valley during the ProSkaters live competition and I got to judge. I thought to myself, we need to do this. I wanted to give opportunities to performing and coaching professionals who would like to perform and compete outside of the whole amateur setting or at Adult Nationals; to do something with a different flavour and have a little fun. The focus is going to be on entertainment and performance."

Instead of having separate Challenge Cup and Masters Cup rounds and separate competitions in four disciplines, the 2015 revival of this event will be one program only with male and female soloists, traditional and adagio pairs, ice dancers and adagio and group acts all competing against each other. The judging will be on a 10.0 scale with one mark only and the judges will all hold up their scores. None of this anonymous business! "It'll be a bit like Dancing With The Stars," said Santee who explained that judges will also have an opportunity to offer their opinions, critiques and explanations of their mark after each performance. The judging criteria is explained in the application as "based on their 'total performance' with an eye to costuming, presentation, music selection, choreography, style and technique. Costumes are encouraged, but not mandatory and should not pose a safety hazard to the skater. Props are allowed. Judging will emphasize artistic expression, originality, creativity and musical interpretation, which characterize a correct mood of the program. Program should focus on the entertainment value rather than technical skill. Music will be of the skater’s choice and may be vocal." Competitors at the time of publication include Rohene Ward, Larry Holliday, Ryan Jahnke, Jonathan Cassar and Colleen Okolski.

"Hopefully we'll get some traction with this year's event and get it going again. It's a great opportunity for skaters," said Santee. He stressed that he wants the competition to be accessible to everyone, and that's why for the 2015 event there will be no tickets sold to audience members. It will be free to anyone who wants to watch but of course donations will be graciously accepted on site for the PSA's Professional Skaters Foundation. He hopes to make the competition available to watch online for people who can't attend to enjoy. "At the very least, we will record it," he said, but explained that he is working with the videographer that will be there for the PSA Conference in Minnesota that weekend on the possibility of live streaming the event or putting it on YouTube in its entirety.

The host of the 2015 event will be none other than one of my favourite professional skaters Doug Mattis, who finished second at the 1994 U.S. Open ahead of World Champion Alexandr Fadeev and Olympic Silver Medallist Paul Wylie. Doug told me that "Jimmie, as well as many on the PSA Board, have been noticing how inspiring events like Young Artists Showcase and ProSkaters have been in regard to re-energizing interest in creativity and passion for performance. When Jimmie first mentioned to me the idea of bringing back the US Open, of course I was all-in, right from the get-go. The U.S. Open changed the course of my already super-fun career and gave me access and confidence to do some things as a performer and coach that I'd never imagined would be possible. With our re-inventing the US Open, and changing up the rules to focus primarily on performance value, I feel like Jimmie is kind of the J.J. Abrams of the U.S. Open. We've Kobayashi-Maru-ed the U.S. Open to be as much as about celebrating the pure joy of performance as possible. Given that change in the way it will be judged, the U.S. Open is truly more of an opportunity for literally anyone to end up Grand Champion. There are no final placements, as such; the varied and eclectic judging panel (one judge will on purpose know little or nothing about figure skating) will select a Grand Champion along with three other awards based on things like most original, finest skating technique and breakout-star or most potential. Our plan is to make the event a party; a celebration of skating's ability to entertain and touch an audience. As MC, I can guarantee laughs even if they will be mostly at me. I'll be asking the audience to see this as an opportunity to encourage and cheer on those who come to share their artistry, shake what they got, or give whatever performance they choose. I'm sure I'll have a couple of surprises in store for the folks that come to watch and cheer." If you don't know Doug, he's hilarious, so seriously... perfect man for the job!

In June of 2014, I wrote a blog called "ISU Congress, Janine In Apartment 3B And A Solution" suggesting just this very solution to figure skating's dwindling audience and here the U.S. Open is to save the day! Please, please support this. If you can't go, consider making a donation to make NEXT year's U.S. Open a possibility or even just share this blog so that more people can be aware that change IS possible and it IS happening faster than you think. We're not doomed to watch thirty skaters performing the same footwork sequences and spin variations to the strains of Andrew Lloyd Webber if we don't want to be. We have choices as skating fans and if we make the right ones, everyone will benefit in the long run, skaters and fans both.

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