Canadian Stars On Ice 2013

(May 10, Vancouver, Canada)

August 28, 2013
By Anna Zeitlin
Photos © Anna Zeitlin

Ever since the last bow and wave from the skaters of last year's Canadian Stars on Ice show I've been eager to see what the next production would be like. And there I was again, a year later, rushing to my seat in the Vancouver's Rogers Arena, all excited and looking forward to an exciting evening. Sit down, take a deep breath - here it begins. Lights, camera, action.

Sorry, did I say "lights"? The first number by the entire cast actually opened in almost complete darkness, except for some spotlights and lowlights, to the tune of "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye. It's a very quaint song, and the number conformed to this completely: very interesting black-and-white clown-like costumes, different for each skater, complemented with unusual moves. It was hard to grasp everything at once, as different skaters did different choreography all over the ice, and to add to the overwhelming amount of interesting things happening at once, big screens in the arena corners were showing a video of the cast members doing a "cover" to the song's video. I especially liked the use of umbrellas as props here; first Joannie Rochette was strolling across the ice with a huge striped umbrella, in time to the song, then Shawn Sawyer sported a red umbrella, and more striped black-and-white umbrellas followed, held by other cast members, and the number concluded by everyone disappearing behind the stage curtain, with only an umbrella visible, spinning. I was absolutely spellbound by this number, and would've liked to have watched it over and over again, taking in all of its elaborate intricacy. One couldn't wish for a better start for a show.

The solo numbers of the night were opened by the fresh hat-tricked World Champion and a newcomer to Stars on Ice, Patrick Chan, who skated to "I Need a Dollar" by Aloe Blacc. This is a fun program wonderfully choreographed by Christopher Dean and it suits Patrick's character perfectly. He wore a baseball cap that he was constantly taking off, turning it, fumbling with it, throwing it in the air and putting it back on. Complemented with trademark smooth and fast skating, a triple, a double Axel and a nice spin in the end, it was a pleasure to watch.

Ashley Wagner performed beautifully to "Vienna" by Billy Joel. I really like Ashley's style, soft and flowing, yet you can feel her strength and energy in each of her programs and this one was no exception. She did two triples (although the first one was wobbly) and a double Axel, and her dark blue costume looked stunning against the white ice and blue lights. She looks better with every program I see from her.

I was really happy to find out that one of my all-time favourite ice dance couples, Sinead and John Kerr, were invited to join the Canadian leg of Stars on Ice for the first time. Their number in the first act was "Mad World" by Adam Lambert and it was absolutely stunning. The music and the performer's voice are magical and Sinead and John expressed it so well in their dance, I think I was forgetting to breathe sometimes. Their movements were powerful, lifts magnificent and I still have shivers from this program. Gorgeous... simply gorgeous.

From a deep, enthralling, serious number to something completely different, even though to a no less solemn and much more grandiose piece of music - "Carmina Burana" by Carl Orff. As Sinead and John were leaving the ice, they stopped to take off the cover from a strange object laying in one corner, and it turned out to be a huge caterpillar, which started to crawl with the sounds of music until finally Shawn Sawyer emerged from it, fittingly clad in a black costume with colourful butterfly wings, creating the effect of absurdity between the music and the costume. His program was packed with action: 2A, 3T, a beautiful spiral, backflip and spins that looked really good with those wings flapping around. I adore Shawn's style and the way he clicks with the audience. I wouldn't be the first one to state that he was born to be a performer in a show like SOI.

Watching the next number, performed by Joannie Rochette and Jeffrey Buttle to "Piano Guys" by Dave Brubeck & Van Cliburn, was very interesting, as Joannie and Jeffrey are single skaters so they didn't really skate as a pair. It was mostly just side by side skating, when sometimes they moved in unison and sometimes only one of the skaters danced. They moved really smoothly together and looked like they were really enjoying it all - the music, the skate and each other. It was a lovely program and performed beautifully by Joannie and Jeffrey.

Kurt Browning took to the ice next, skating to "Kurt's Song" which, you guessed it right, was written especially for him by Tragically Hip. It's a clean, calm and beautiful piece of piano music, and Kurt's choreography expressed and accentuated the feeling and the mood of the composition very well. This program had a lot of jumps, but they didn't go too well for Kurt that night; nevertheless, he pulled two double Axels, two triple toes and attempted another jump closer to the end. Aside from jumps the program was absolutely gorgeous - clever footwork, interesting direction changes, soft, flowing arm movements. Kurt at his best.

The following composition, "Stay" by Rihanna, was another soft and quiet piece, but unlike its predecessor, very sensual, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were embodiments of passion on ice. They started the program by lying on the ice, and then rolling over each other, and finished the performance by kneeling, after which Tessa lay down and turned away and then towards the sitting Scott. They danced beautifully and no one does better lifts than them - it's amazing how they can do everything staying perfectly in character all the time, having every movement perfectly match every note, creating such a strong yet simple emotion on ice and in every person watching. How many times am I allowed to use the word "perfect" and its derivatives in one paragraph? Probably not enough to describe Tessa and Scott. They were, yes, perfect.

Jeffrey Buttle switched the audience's mood to being light and jazzy, skating to "Just in Time" by Mel Torme, the second "hat number" of the evening. It's always great to see a program which the skater himself enjoys so much, and it was definitely showing here. Jeff fits so well into the jazz style, and the quality of his skating, the smoothness of his movements, the speed of his spins and the sheer lightness and happiness he channels in this program are a joy to watch. As for the jumps, he only did a double and a single, but honestly, this didn't affect the overall impression of his performance at all.

From light and playful back to passionate and sexy, as Joannie Rochette performed to "Is It A Crime" by Sade, in a gorgeous black dress and with beautiful flowing hair that were adding to that sexy look and feel. Joannie always has a strong presence on ice, you can just feel her energy when she skates, and this number was no exception. She nailed a double toe loop and a double Axel, and overall looked really good, although the number was not very memorable, I must admit.

The last number of the first act was the "World champions number", to "Wonder" by Naughty Boy & Emeli Sande. It started with Tessa&Scott, Kurt, Jeff and Patrick on the ice while a spotlight was lit on each one of them in succession with the announcement of their names and World titles. There was a really funny moment when Patrick was announced, as Kurt jumped near him and poured a bucketful of water on his head! I guess this was their "last performance prank" (another reason Vancouver show rules!), as Jeff in his speech after the number referred to Patrick as "rookie", saying that he would know more than anyone that this was indeed their last performance. After this the number got serious, they skated in unison, with Tessa being in the center, and then they were breaking and skating separately, each showcasing their abilities (with side-by-side triple toes and double Axels from Kurt, Jeff and Patrick). The best part was when two or even four of the skaters were lifting Tessa, and she changed positions in the air during those lifts - it was very cleverly done. In the end, the guys lifted Tessa high up and she stretched her hand to almost touch a big umbrella hanging from the ceiling, continuing the umbrellas theme started in the opening act. A superb number, demonstrating how many great World champions Canada had in recent (and not so recent) years.

 

The second act opened to an energetic "Come Together" original and covers by The Beatles/Eurythmics/A.Skillz in which guys and girls, all clad in black, were separated at the start. In the first section the attention was more on the guys - they skated in a group, hands on their belts, doing some cool moves and jumping. In the second section the girls got the attention, and then everyone came together, guys pairing with the girls, and dancing. They seemed to finish the number, dramatically posing in the center, but then the music resumed and the skaters approached the spectators in the first row, slapping hands with some of them - something they usually do only at the end of the show, so this was a nice touch. Here, as in most of their group numbers, I couldn't always decide where to look, as the number was action-packed and everyone looked great in it.

Shawn Sawyer stayed on the ice when the rest of the skaters left after the opening, giving the immediate introduction to the solo numbers of the second act. He skated to the "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, and his costume was apparently linked to the name of the band, as he had white straps dangling vertically on his black costume, and as he skated, he played with them like they were suspenders, or "played" them like they were guitar strings or used them as strings on a pretend straightjacket - a great touch. The number was not only inventive in a unique Sawyer-style, but also strong technically - there were two triples, two backflips and some great spins. Awesome number; powerful, upbeat and weird - in a good way.

The next skaters in the program should have been Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, but they didn't skate their solo, although they did participate in the group numbers. After the show I learned that Eric injured his hand shortly before the show and they couldn't perform. It was a pity as I was really eager to see the fresh World bronze medalists; I hope Eric has fully recovered since then and that this injury did not affect their preparations for the coming season.

Ashley Wagner was superb skating to "Sweet Dreams" by Eurythmics. This number bursts with energy and sexuality and Ashley delivered an intense performance, doing a double Axel, triple toe loop and some excellent spins in the process. She looked awesome too, in her black sparkling blouse and shorts, and seemed like she herself was enjoying this program a lot.

Jeffrey Buttle gave a magical performance to "In This Shirt" by The Irrepressibles. The choreography in this number is great, and I love his arm movements so much - they perfectly express the delicate music, and his lines are so gracious and interesting. Jeffrey doubled-out the first jump, but then made a solid triple and a double Axel, and many spins - which, as always with him, were simply to die for (or rather, stop and try not to blink throughout the entire spin).

Words "the Kerrs" and "Scottish dance" promptly bring to mind Sinead and John's original dance from 2008 which they later turned into an exhibition number. But the only things common between that number and their new program to "Coronach" by The Porridge Men are bagpipes and John in kilt. This number has different and fresh choreography, bursting with energy and fun. I really liked the moves which resembled the traditional Scottish dances, and the lifts were really good - especially the two where Sinead lifts John, and the second time they very quickly transitioned from Sinead-John lift to John-Sinead one - smooth work! It's always an immense pleasure to see the Kerrs perform and this number kept their standard of fun, engaging programs that please the audience and leave it with a taste for more. A finishing accent was John flashing his underpants with Canadian red maple leaves on them while bowing. Hilarious.

Joannie Rochette managed to look funny and sexy at the same time while skating to "That Man" by Caro Emerald. It's a very different number to anything I've previously seen from her, and I really liked it. Her footwork was brisk and interesting, her arm movements complemented the silly and sprightly mood of the number and I especially liked her red gloves that gave an additional note to Joannie's beautiful hands. She is also usually very good technically in her numbers - here she pulled a strong triple off the end of a step sequence, choreographed really well into the program, but hiccuped on the second jump and couldn't do it. One cute touch at the end of the program was Joannie going to the ice seats and sitting on the knees of Jef Billings, the show's director and designer. Overall, this was a very light and entertaining number and I hope to see more of the like from Joannie in the coming years.

As Joannie was leaving the ice, Patrick Chan came out, and she rushed to him, throwing herself into his arms. But he made a face like he didn't understand what she wanted from him and dropped her, grinning and shrugging - this was both funny and cute. I can say the same about the number itself, to "Mannish Boy" by Muddy Waters - it is supposed to be sexy, but Patrick didn't really convey that feeling to me. He looked funny and cute doing the "sexy" moves. But this is an entertaining number, and Patrick skated it strongly, jumping two triples and a double Axel and doing some great step sequences and spins. I just have to note that he can be sexy when he is not trying to look that way.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated the short version of last season's FD to "Carmen" by Georges Bizet as their second number, and I was again amazed, now seeing it live and not through the screen, with how can they convey all the music's passion and aggression through their movements and posture; and their lifts just take my breath away. This is a magnificent dance and Tessa and Scott skate it stunningly well.

 

The last solo number of the evening was the legendary "Singin' in the Rain", skated by Kurt Browning. Just seeing him standing there in his costume (the original one from 19 years ago) with an umbrella gave me shivers. The number started with a little prelude, as Ashley Wagner in a blonde wig made a short round on the ice with Kurt and gave him a big kiss before leaving. A very nice entrance to the number, which in itself was a sheer wonder of intricate footwork, great facial expressions and some very deft umbrella-handling. How Kurt can do all these tricks with it, opening, closing, engaging it in the number - while doing steps and jumping is simply beyond my comprehension. The end, when rain suddenly starts to drop from the ceiling for real, and Kurt is still dancing, and then stopping and pulling the umbrella open, is touching, moving, heart-piercing... I'm going to run out of synonyms soon, so I hope I managed to convey my feelings. It's absolutely unbelievable - to witness one of the most legendary figure skating numbers of our time first hand, and Kurt skated it in a way that couldn't be more memorable.

The show's finale had to be great to continue the wonderful feeling the audience had after Kurt's number, and it delivered. Continuing the umbrella theme of "Singin' in the Rain" and the whole show, the cast came out, wearing marching band costumes and each carrying a black opened umbrella. They circled the ice with Kurt, under the rain which was still falling from the ceiling, and then Kurt left (to change) and the rest of the cast started skating to the sounds of "Marchin' On" by One Republic. The skaters were gliding across the ice when the umbrellas were open and marching and stomping with the umbrellas closed, using them as batons. In some sections everyone was moving in unison, and in others different skaters were showcasing their moves, pinnacling with Tessa and Scott's lift where she stood on his back with an opened umbrella, and with Kurt's bursting out to the ice with some energetic footwork in the middle of the number. It was an absolutely fantastic group number and a perfect way to end what had been an exceptionally good show.

 

Looking back at last year's show, the 2013's "Now and Then" is different in some ways - it was mainly choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle with Renee Roca instead of Kurt Browning, who co-directed last year's "Love 'n' Life". There were some changes in the cast, main additions to the Canadian tour being Patrick Chan and the Kerrs. The scheme remained basically the same - group numbers opening and closing each act and solo numbers in between; and there were no little comic transitional numbers between the acts which I was so fond of in the previous show. But I liked the new show even more than the last one, in large part due to the unified theme of the group numbers, which were all featuring umbrellas, tributing the "Singin' in the Rain" number, all skillfully and wonderfully choreographed, emphasizing and outlining the show's title. And the group numbers framed what was a very impressive exhibition of skill, showmanship and artistry from every single solo performance. All that is left for us the spectators now is to reminisce about the great performances of the "now" and "then" shows and look in anticipation to the future, with and without quotes, waiting to see what new and undoubtedly wonderful performances it will bring.






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