Friends on Ice 2016, dress rehearsal

October 7, 2016
By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

Recently there have been many kinds of figure skating shows in Japan. Friends On Ice is one. It started in 2006 after Shizuka Arakawa won the gold at the Torino Olympic Games. The show turned into an annual event, and has remained one of the most popular skating shows. Remarkably, it opened its rehearsal as a pre-performance event. Tickets were offered to the people who already had Friends On Ice tickets, and many of them bought rehearsal tickets as well. Keiko and I were privileged to cover this event.

The show mainly consisted of pro-skaters who appeared on the skating scene at the same time as Shizuka Arakawa. Shizuka herself took part, as did Takeshi Honda, Daisuke Takahashi, Akiko Suzuki, Kenji Miyamoto, Yuka Sato, Irina Slutskaya, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Jeremy Abbott, Miki Ando, and Ilia Kulik. Add to them overseas guest like Meryl Davis/Charlie White, Tatiana Volosozhar/ Maxim Trankov, and eligible Japanese skaters: Rika Hongo, Shoma Uno and Takahito Mura. And to top it off - some decorative appeal to truly turn this already spectacular event into something quite extraordinary.

The first half

The opening performance was divided into two parts; the pre-opening to The Game Has Changed and the opening to Can't Stop Me. In both parts, each skater appeared in a black, hooded coverall with electric garnish on it. The costumes were very unique and notable, but I'd rather clearly recognized who was who. The lighting wasn't very bright, and with the hoods up all the skaters looked alike.

"Dear Kids" is a unique approach to giving two young skaters a chance to perform in the show, which helps them grow even bigger dreams for the future. The skaters were selected by a draw. Aoi Yoshizawa was one of the lucky winners. She was so tiny and adorable in her pink costume, and she gave a lovely performance too.
Rika skated her short program for the upcoming season, Carmina Burana, and displayed more polished movements than in previous shows this year. Her step sequence looked very strong, but she needs to be aware not to let sophistication overshadow her powerfulness in the other parts. Shae-Lynn portrayed a waitress in a small town in southern Italy in Far L'amore. She looked vivacious, young and just lovely throughout the program. To our surprise, Daisuke took on the part of a nagging cook in this program, much to the audience's delight.

Takahito skated to The Lady Is a Tramp which was a very danceable number. He landed two quads and a high and beautiful triple Axel to show how strong he will be in the upcoming season. Akiko was enthusiastic and fabulous as usual in her Swan Lake program, and Takeshi skated as if he were a textbook example of how to skate as a veteran in his This is a Moment. The spread eagle in the last part of his program was really amazing.

One of the most attractive scenes in this show was the collaborations of different skaters. In a piece simply named Group Number 1, Yuka, Jeremy, Meryl and Charlie, all from the Detroit Skating Club, performed together to Rhythm of Love. They all looked very fashionable as two city couples. Yuka and Jeremy's death spiral was unusual and very nice.

Irina's performance to Creek was just beautiful. Dressed in a black dress and with long, black hair, she created an exotic atmosphere.
In his first participation in the show, Shoma showed off his power. The sharpness of his movements, consistent jumps, expressiveness, everything proved he is one of the strongest skaters in the world now. Shizuka and Ilia let us see a difference aspect of figure skating in Memories of Geisha. They skated in a gracious way and unfolded a nostalgic story.

The second half

It started with the Group Number 2 collaboration. Japanese regular members Shizuka, Daisuke, Takeshi and Kenji skated to Tikai (which means "faith" in Japanese); a homage to fellow skaters who had worked together to plan and start this show, but had quit performing already. The group seemed a little disjointed, but this was only a rehearsal and they would surely harmonize in the actual show.
The "Dear Kids" winner in the second half was senior skater Suzune Kubo, who skated to 007. She was never shy in front of a crowd and acted a young and sexy Bond girl very well.

The most experienced skater in this show was Yuka Sato. She was very graceful in her pale pink costume, and her amazing skating skill has not changed. Jeremy's Bridge Over Troubled Water made the crowd happy and excited even in the rehearsal. He really expressed the spirit of this famous, timeless song. Even though he didn't manage to perform to capacity, the essence reached into the heart of the audience.
Akiko and Takahito's collaboration program O was the one thing you couldn't miss. Both of them had used this music for competitive programs, and gotten good reviews. Now as a show program, they expressed the wonderful and mystic world-view of this music, and created their own special world on the ice.
Miki Ando looked different in her lovely dress which reminded me of the women in the 19th century. She seemed to enjoy skating to The Trolley Song from the heart-warming movie Meet Me in St. Louis.

Meryl and Charlie's program was a definition of ice dance! Even though they didn't show the whole program, the audience was happy with what they saw.
Ilia chose Japanese pop music for his program. He had worked with Japanese pop singer Kaname Kawabata in another show, and said he loved it. He was the gold medalist in the Nagano Olympics back in 1998. Now, 18 years later, he still skates as a professional and can sure move people with his performance, which is amazing. Tatiana and Maxim's program was Writing On the Wall. They didn't skate the whole program either, but their introductory part made us imagine how the interesting drama would start.

The most enthusiastic cheering was given to Daisuke Takahashi. He didn't flirt with the audience, but rather seemed to try to reach their hearts in a softer, deeper way in his Lilac Wine program. There was a bitter sweet feeling watching his performance. He did two triples and both were really easy and solid. I bet many wished he would have stayed eligible.

Shizuka skated to With You. She said she wanted to express the hopeless longing and heart breaking sorrow for the people you won't meet again. She was gorgeous and elegant as a queen, and her performance somehow offered healing and comfort.

All the skaters appeared on the ice in the finale and grand finale. They used a Queen medley for the finale and C'est La Vie for the grand finale. They weren't quite unison at the rehearsal, but who cared? The fans looked happy and the skaters did too. Shizuka said, after the show, that it was only a rehearsal and that they knew they didn't move perfectly in tune. But the performers would practice very hard from then until midnight and offer a better performance the next day. She was definitely right; when the real shows started, people said the group numbers were in wonderful sync.

Friends On Ice finished on a great note. The most remarkable point of this show was familiarity of the participants. The skaters who had been sharing the same era got together and enjoyed a reunion, not only by themselves but together with the audience. The 2016 show marked the 11th anniversary. You may argue that 11 years is not that long. I say yes and no. Yes: time flies like an arrow. Miki, Shizuka, and Irina are now mothers. In the men's field, Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez scored over 300 points, which used to be only a dream, and Boyang Jin, a young Chinese skater, landed 4 quads in a free program. However, no matter how much the world changes, the bond of hearts in figure skating has not changed. I wish this heart-warming show would have lasted much longer.


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