The things the audience missed – a backstage look at the Antwerp SOI shows

Part I: Thursday

by Mireille Geurts & Titia Tolsma & the rest of the "AS Antwerp Crew"

Photos © Absolute Skating

The skaters and crew arrived in Antwerp a few days before the shows, and had some hectic days ahead. Some suffered from jetlag, and all needed to get used to the surroundings, practice their own programs in the actual setting and learn and practice the group numbers together.

And we had the honor to watch all this again. We already knew there’s a lot of work putting everything together, not just the choreography of the programs, but the entire shows with the costumes, all the equipment, the cast and crew etc. Still, to see it first hand is mind boggling. And every time we watched we started to understand it a little bit better. Going from chaos to show in just a couple of days, is truly a small miracle!

Many people from Absolute Skating came to Antwerp this weekend, crew and members alike, and of course the prize winners of the Game!

But the first day of actual practice, Thursday, was pretty quiet. The only people present, besides the IMG/Proximus crew and the people of the ice rink, were us; Titia and Mireille. In fact, not even the entire cast was there yet; like the two ice-dance couples from Italia and Russia. Later we’d find out that one of them wasn’t coming at all. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Like in previous years, the practice on Thursday was not held at the Antwerp Sportpaleis, because the ice there was still being prepared.

So we went to an icerink in the near vicinity of Antwerp. An icerink where it’s really cold but only right by the ice. There’s no space for spectators, except if you stand behind the boards. But a half level up, there’s a nice cafeteria where you can watch through a huge glass window. It is pretty comfortable and a lot warmer than downstairs, and you can sit at a table and order coffee or lunch and still watch the skaters. It does have a downside though, you can only see, but not hear.

When we walked in, we took seats some distance away since we didn’t want to disturb the skaters, who also had their breaks, lunch and dressing rooms in or near the cafeteria. Little did we know that they would run around the entire cafeteria while warming up, and before we knew it we were surrounded by skaters jumping, stretching, hopping, running and crawling around. How was that for a nice start of our Antwerp adventure?

Kevin (van der Perren) was already on the ice, practicing parts of his solo routine. In the first half hour we were there, we noticed a clean 4-3, a 3-3-3 combination as well as a triple Axel. We weren’t the only ones being off to a good start…

Katie & Garreth

After the other skaters had warmed up, they came on the ice too and one by one they all started on their solo numbers. We figured out what they would skate to, but we also knew we’d get a music list with the show program, so we didn’t put all that much energy into trying to recognize the music or writing everything down. It’s not like we immediately recognized all the music anyway, so we mainly wrote down our impressions, some of them could be read in the live report that was posted on AS the next day.

As you can read there too, at first we weren’t really surprised when Margarita Dobriazko and Povilas Vanagas walked in. We had already taken photos and all that, when one of us suddenly remembered: “Hey, aren’t they supposed to NOT be here?” We actually had to check the press pack we had with us, and indeed, they weren’t. This was a nice surprise!

In the early afternoon we learned that Emanuel Sandhu’s music hadn’t arrived yet, and the technical guy got orders to play it as soon as it showed up. Unfortunately, we never noticed this to happen. We also heard the joyous news that they would have a real Zamboni this year, yea! Who doesn’t remember the troubles they had with the thing-that-was-supposed-to-be-an-ice-resurfacing-machine last year?

Thursday afternoon was spent putting together the first group number. At least that’s what we thought… later it turned out to actually be two; the opening and the first part of the cast appearance before the break, but really, at this time we had no clue. All the music pieces had a nice flow into each other, and the opening was already set to a mix of music, we couldn’t tell where the opening ended and the group number started!

In our show review it was explained what these programs looked like, but you just can’t imagine how many times the “Citius! Altius! Fortius!” was being played! Luckily it never got boring. For the skaters it might have, they had to stand on the ice, waiting for a long time while different sections were being practiced. And waiting makes one do silly things... We witnessed some very odd moves (described in our live report), as all the skaters tended to play around a bit while waiting. And when you’re waiting in a line for five other skaters to do their moves, there’s nothing like having fun with the people around you. At least it’ll keep you warm. Sometimes we felt really sorry they wouldn’t be doing this during the show.

It might surprise you how long it takes to make a synchronized circle out of a line and then go back to a line. And since this was done a few times in the program, it used up a lot of time.
After the lunch break (that was already a lot later than lunch normally is) they continued on the last steps of the opening and what turned out to be the first part of the cast group number at the end of the first act.

There was time for some laughing too

In between all this, a handsome young man approached us and asked if we were from Absolute Skating. Wow, was this really Ruben Blommaert, the cute, shy little boy we saw for the first time last year? Well, he’d sure changed in a year! He not only got bigger (because that’s what kids do ;) ) but he also seemed to know how to make contact easily. We said yes, and he sat down by us. He asked us a few questions about what we were doing and we chatted a little. We then talked a bit about where in the Netherlands we all came from and Titia taught him a lesson in Frisian dialect, then he had to go.

Glancing back at the ice, we saw some people we hardly recognized. Because of the severe cold, everyone was putting on more and more clothes as the day went by. We had to zoom in on Ekaterina Gordeeva to be 100% sure it was her, after she added a hat. Vera Vandecaveye (Kevin’s coach) had fetched the coat he’d left in the car, and Emanuel had added a flashy pink sweater to the red costume everyone saw in the show. Luckily, Susanna Pöykiö had just put a yellow coat over her pink sweater, so at least we wouldn’t get those two mixed up...

2 photos the left; Kevin & Garreth putting on a coat. Photo to the right; Brian explaining something to Povilas, Ilia, Ekaterina & Susanna

Povilas tried to imitate what Ilia Kulik was doing with the Riverdance steps; Ilia already did them Russian style. We have no idea how to explain this to you, but Povilas mimicking him made Ilia totally crack up. And us too, for that matter. Margarita came up with pretty original on-the-spot choreography, as did Emanuel. It’s a good thing those weren’t used in the show…

After a long day of practice, all the skaters left for the hotel and so did we. But first Kevin informed us what the costumes for the opening looked like (the bee ones).
At the hotel we confirmed the schedule for the next day with the excellent IMG show organizer Ellen Dupont, and asked her about the surprise arrival of Margarita and Povilas, and the absence of the two other ice-dance couples. At this point, they were still both scheduled to arrive the next day. We spent the rest of the evening getting the report and photos to you. This was not an easy task, but we’ll spare you the details.


Go to Part 2

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