"Ice Age" in Tel Aviv.

By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Reut Golinsky

“Dancing on Ice” is a British television show in which celebrities and their professional partners figure skate in front of a panel of judges. The format, devised by LWT (London Weekend Television), has been a prime-time hit in 8 different countries including Germany, Italy and even Chile. The Russian version of Dancing on Ice (Танцы на льду) has been aired on RTV channel since September 2006, and was renamed in 2008 to Star Ice (Звёздный лёд). Its counterpart called Ice Age (Ледниковый период, initially Stars on Ice - Звёзды на льду) is being broadcasted on Channel One.

While “Dancing on Ice”/”Star Ice” was the exact copy made from the British version with Bestemianova and Bukin having the roles of Torvill and Dean in the original one, “Stars on Ice”/”Ice Age”, produced by Ilia Averbukh, took the idea of stars and skaters performing in pairs, but was more “showy” with new rules added each season, for example, the competition between two main choreographers Averbukh and Zhulin, finals, super finals, episodes with changing partners, etc. Before this TV-project started, Ilia Averbukh was a producer of a rather successful tour, “Ice Symphony”, so, as the project on TV was popular, he decided to continue with his tour by adding some numbers with celebrities, which were shown in different episodes on TV. This brought to the tour more interest from all those who were barely interested in skating, but were eager to see their favourite actors and singers live. This was the third season of the TV show, the third year of this tour and the third time figure skating stars along with their “non-skating” partners were coming to Tel Aviv. The cast of celebrities was obviously different each year, as each year they have different participants, the cast of figure skaters was almost the same, including the figure skating elite of Russia and in later seasons also Bulgaria and Lithuania.

We have only one skating rink in Israel, and it is situated too far in the north of the country, so Averbukh brought to Israel not only the stars but also the ice itself. Each year, the show was held in a big “Nokia” stadium in Tel Aviv and gathered more than 10000 spectators each time. The public consisted mostly of repatriates from the former Soviet Union, who watched the TV show aired in cable and satellite TV in Israel. Most of them watched and liked this sport, which, decades ago, was a very popular sport in USSR, but still most of them came to see the celebs initially. For those who are still interested in figure skating it was a unique chance to see live performances of the skaters they loved. I remember myself two and a half years ago when I heard that my “first love in figure skating”, Alexei Yagudin, was actually going to come to Israel and perform here. It was something surreal; it was something hard to believe. To see his famous golden “Winter” live, in my home country, it was something I didn’t even dare to dream about!

But with the years, each coming tour brought less and less excitement for me. The non-professional stars were rather bad, especially after I could compare them to real skating I had a chance to see at competitions over the years. Celebs were slow, and heavy-footed, which on TV they somehow managed to hide, more or less. The ice itself was rather lousy and narrow for professionals, especially for pairs’ skaters. The more I watched real figure skating live, the more I attended different high class ice shows, like “Art on Ice”, the more this show looked like a parody of figure skating, though each year they proclaimed more and more to be those who popularize figure skating in Russia and promote this sport. Actually this is too far from the sport they want to promote… Unfortunately most of the audience, both at home watching TV and coming to shows, don’t realize that what they see is not figure skating at all, under the delusion that everyone can learn to skate in a few months and after that will be able to skate at the level of elite figure skaters who’ve given years of their lives and hours of very hard work. This is what I don’t like about this TV show and about this idea of “skating with stars” in general - that they depreciate all those medals skaters have won and demean the sport itself. You can’t learn to skate in three months, period.

While I sound bitter about all this, I saw this show all three times it was here. Most likely I’ll go next time too, because it is still the only chance to see “on Israeli ice” (brought by Averbukh) such great skaters as Alexei Yagudin, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Irina Slutskaya, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski.

The latter skated the program to a mix of Timberlake’s songs, which I already saw in “Golden Skate Awards” in Milan last autumn. This program is very energetic and it’s nice that Maxim even has a little solo there, but I still love their “romantic” type of programs more.

Alexei Yagudin was the only skater who got two numbers to perform himself due to the illness of his partner for the show, Valeria Lanskaya, who didn’t come. Actually from all the seasons of the show, I think, Lera was the best partner Alexei had and they had very nice programs together. I’m still glad that I had a chance to watch Alexei all alone, as a single skater, in the area he is best at. Alexei performed “Bumbarash” which was actually the “remake” from the program he skated together with Lera in the show.

In the second act he skated to Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street”, the program which he used to skate in 2004/05 while he was performing in professionals. Alexei has amazing style and skating skills. It’s always such a pleasure just to watch him over and over again. I only regret he doesn’t have new programs recently, because when he skates some “old” programs of his which I can compare to his “old” performances it’s usually not in his current state’s favour. It’d be great if Tatiana Tarasova could create for him some new program which suits him as he is now. She was always so good in hiding weak sides of skaters and emphasizing the strong ones.

Petrova/Tikhonov did a vivid program to Sarah Brightman’s “Gothica”, fireworks and different special effects also added to the experience. There are skaters who blossomed during “Ice Age”, showing new interesting sides of their skating talents with new partners, and this pair is definitely among them. I really like Maria and Alexei as people, from what I know about them, from their interviews and their official site, but in sport they were a bit boring for me, though their technique was always great. Now, in their professional career they don’t stop to amaze me with interesting, different programs, still staying on very high technical level of performance.

Drobiazko/Vanagas showed very slow, romantic program to “Belyi kon” (White horse) by Alexandr Malinin. As the public was almost all Russian, lots of Russian songs were played that evening. Navka/Kostomarov also used a Russian song for their program; and also about horses. It was to Vladimir Vysotsky’s “Koni Priveredliviye” (Fastidious horses) performed by Garik Sukachev. They used interesting props: Roman skated half of the program with his eyes closed by the black band, I wonder how he managed to do this! Or maybe he could see through it after all? Irina Slutskaya chose a Russian song too and skated to a famous old song “Gadalka” (Fortune teller); she performed with such ardour, maybe also because her close family, who live in Israel, were present in the arena that evening.

Totmianina/Marinin who are probably my favourite Russian pair of the last years, performed to Aguilera’s “Beautiful”. It was gentle and clean, but lacked content a bit - their programs from the last years I somehow loved more.

Ilia himself also had a number with… the other host of the show, the participant and the winner of the first season, actor Marat Basharov. The number was really funny and made the audience laugh. The only thing, the first half of it where Ilia skated as if he tries to catch the light of the spotlight on the music of “Ne me quitte pas” was totally stolen from the act in Cirque du Soleil’s show “Varekai”. As I really like “Varekai”, I felt rather robbed there and wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

It was the first time we were honoured to see in Israel Ekaterina Gordeeva. Sometimes I think that all that TV-project, all those three seasons were worth it if only for bringing Katya back to Russian (and not only Russian) public. Katya didn’t skate solo but had two programs with Russian famous actor Egor Beroev, who was her partner in the last season of the show and with whom she won it. They did two programs they prepared during this season of the TV show. The first one was “romantic rock” to “Medlennaya zvezda” (Slow star) by BI-2 and Arbenina. The second was hilarious and kitschy one to Tom Jones’s “Sex bomb”, with taking off clothes and other funny stuff.

While other pairs in the project were more close to the ice dance, this one because of Katya was closer to pair skating, and Egor performed high lifts, death spirals and even throw jumps. Of course one can not compare this to the great performances of Katya and Sergey, not for nothing the pair that won Olympic Gold twice, but it was Katya, on the ice, again. And it was beautiful.

Two numbers with celebs which I’d like to mention were of Irina Slutskaya and Gedeminas Taranda and of Margarita Drobyazko and Dmitri Miller. As Gedeminas, the former principal dancer in the Bolshoi Ballet and the artistic director and co-founder of the Imperial Russian Ballet, was not so good at skating, this pair always tried to do different funny tricks and themes to get higher marks. One such number was to Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". It was funny, a bit weird; more like a clown act which adds fun and laughter to each show.

And I really liked Dobyazko/Miller’s “Matrix” program, with interesting black outfits and a ball which symbolized, if I got it right, the Earth they were trying to save.

Other celebrities who showed us what they learned during the project were: Aliona Babenko (actress, skated with Roman Kostomarov), Kseniya Alferova (actress, skated with Povilas Vanagas), Ekaterina Strizhenova (actress and TV anchor, skated with Alexei Tikhonov), Timur Rodriguez (showman and TV anchor, skated with Albena Denkova), Vladimir Shevelkov (actor, skated with Irina Lobacheva), Vadim Kolganov (actor, skated with Tatiana Navka).

After the show I asked few people about how they liked it.

Sonia, Jerusalem
It’s her first time at a figure skating show. She is not much into skating but watches some videos on YouTube sometimes:
"I really liked it. I didn’t notice how those four hours passed, I didn’t want to leave; I wanted this to last forever. The only thing I would like to change is to see more professional skaters and fewer stars"

Aya, Haifa
It's her second Averbukh show; she is one of those figure skating fans who knows every program of every skater for the last fifteen years:
"For the middlebrow who sees the skating show for the first time in his life this show must be a real festival, which includes everything – both sadness and joy, which makes you feel and think. When you’re sitting in the third row and all the champions of the last decade are passing near you, you see their emotions, their artistry… Of course those who love real figure skating regret that Ilia Averbukh brought not only figure skating stars, but also participants of this Russian TV-show. Numbers with Russian actors made us smile, but we understood that it’s not actually figure skating. Of course we really appreciate their hard work on the ice but we hope that next time we’ll see the show with the real figure skating stars only…"

Maayan, Herzliya
When she was a child she loved watching figure skating. She knew nothing about the TV project; she just came, because she saw that it was going to be a figure skating show:
“I was a bit late and when I entered I saw Ekaterina in a blue dress (Strizhenova). I was a bit shocked and told to myself: “Is this figure skating? Are all numbers going to be so bad?” I just didn’t know that in the cast there were also non-professional skaters. After that, of course, I calmed down, when I saw professional pairs performing. Alexei was really great. Katya Gordeeva - I was so glad to see her. I remember watching her and Sergei on TV when I was a child. I can’t believe this is really her! She looks amazing!”

Lucy, Jerusalem
She was at all three shows; became interested again in the sport she loved to watch when she was a child and now she follows all the FS events, while the TV show is of less interest for her:
"It’s a pity that Averbukh is not making the shows without celebs! I would love to see figure skating and not programs from the “Ice Age”. I really love figure skating, but what we see in “Ice Age” is not figure skating at all. When you follow the competitions, you immediately see the difference. Next year I won’t come to this show if there are non-professional skaters in cast. I hope Ilia will go back to his professional shows and even invite not only Russian, but foreign skaters, such as Johnny Weir, Stephane Lambiel, Brian Joubert, Jeffrey Buttle…"

I agree with what was said, so my bottom line would be: less celebs and non-professional performances would be great. And without them – even better!

Editors note: We at Absolute Skating realise what an amazing opportunity this show brings to the skaters' careers and the chance for a wider audience to come into contact with the show-side of figure skating. Shows such as these have increased the popularity of skating among young children, and all this will hopefully lead to more appreciation for the sport and generate more figure skaters and fans.

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