Canadian Stars On Ice 2012 - the Vancouver show

(May 18, Vancouver, Canada)

August 12, 2012
By Anna Zeitlin
Photos © Anna Zeitlin

After enjoying the Seattle Stars on Ice show so much, I could not miss the opportunity to see the last Canadian SOI stop in Vancouver. The cast was largely different, but the group numbers would be the same, I knew. I was curious to see how the show had evolved between one of its first US stops and the closing night of the tour.

The Rogers Arena is a great venue, but I was a bit sad to see it was not fully packed. The crowds were still decent and the audience received the skaters and the show very well indeed.

The overall flow of the show was the same as in Seattle - same group numbers with a different cast, solo numbers by the skaters and a few entertaining transitions.
The show opened with the "A Suite For Stars" group number, introducing all the skaters and this year's theme: "Love 'n' Life". Each skater/pair entered the ice while their recorded voices talked about life - that it's awesome, or hard work, it's about overcoming, or passion; and many other simple truths. I think it was a lovely number which set the mood for the whole show.

Kurt Browning commenced the solo numbers of the evening, skating to I'm into Something Good by The Fire Apes. This is a very light and entertaining program, with great interpretation and steps, as always with Kurt. I must confess I was impressed with his first number in Seattle, I'm Yours, slightly more, as I think it had more meaning to it. But this number also had really good interaction with the audience, and the technical side was great as well, with strong jumps and impressive footwork.

Ashley Wagner's number to Tightrope by Janelle Monáe was playful and cute, with some interesting and unexpected moves, exercising the name of the song with deliberately unbalanced steps and clumsy jump landings. She was strongly connecting with the audience and the sparkly black dress added to the overall playful mood.

Shawn Sawyer skated to We No Speak Americano by Yolanda be Cool & Dcup, representing a mime with white gloves, red-and-black striped shirt, suspenders and eye makeup. His performance was a hit and the audience loved it. Shawn's flexibility is absolutely unbelievable, his spins and spirals are to die for and it just shows how much he likes and wants to entertain - and does it to his best. Both of his performances were among the show's highlights for me, and I think skating in shows like SOI suits him perfectly.

Shawn's performance was followed by the first of the mini-transitions of the evening – "The Four Stops"- presenting Harry (Jeffrey Buttle), Barry (Jeremy Abbott), Larry (Scott Moir) and Les (Kurt Browning). They were announced and their faces shown (with Kurt looking slightly unhappy) on the big screen. The guys came out on the ice with flowers in their buttonholes, Les having an enormous one which interfered with his moves, creating comic situations. "The Four Stops" returned with a second number after Cynthia's performance, this time featuring Les being unable to escape Harry's choreographed punches. The numbers were the same as in Seattle, but to me they looked more thought out and with finer details in Vancouver (just the addition of the "Four Stops" announcement greatly enhanced the comic effect).

Cynthia Phaneuf's number was to Let Me Think about It by Ida Corr vs. Fedde Le Grand. She looked lovely in her black dress and moved gracefully, but the jumps didn't really work for her the night of the show. The program didn't stand out – it was kind of a nice but generic performance.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje were very intense and dramatic skating to Shake it Out by Florence + the Machine. The golden fringed dress looked really good with Kaitlyn's scattered blonde hair, and the sense of drama and passion in their skating is always overwhelming. They were constantly moving and building the tension to the music finale - a strong performance.

Jeremy Abbott was introduced as a "true artist" and that was a fitting description. In my opinion Jeremy is one of the best eligible skaters interpretation-wise, and his choreography is always intricate and complex. His number to I Won't Give Up by Jason Mraz had very interesting movements and it felt like he was flying above the ice, changing directions and speed when you weren't expecting it. I was taken by this number and left wanting to see more.

Joannie Rochette showed the same two numbers she did in Seattle, but her costume to Indestructible by Robyn was different – a black tight cat-suit which looked quite good on her. The performance itself was technically not as good as in Seattle, but still interesting and very upbeat. This rhythmic style suits Joannie very well and she always captures the audience's attention with it.

Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley is used by skaters in shows a lot, often becoming quite a boring music choice. But Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir interpreted it brilliantly, surprising me with their amazing lifts and crisp moves, as they always do. Their style is so different from Weaver/Poje, much more reserved and clear, but their skating is so beautiful it can stir up feelings as strong as in any expressive drama.

Jeffrey Buttle's number to Big Love by Fleetwood Mac is very interesting choreography-wise, with lots of interesting moves. I always liked Jeffrey's sense of rhythm and plasticity very much, but in the performance this evening he looked somewhat off, and not focused. He took a really nasty fall in a double Axel into a split and the program looked decomposed, which is a pity. I'm sure it's a great number when Jeffrey skates it cleanly.

The first act was closed by the whole cast skating to Rolling in the Deep by Adele. It's a great number and I appreciated it in Vancouver even more than I did in Seattle. It started with Kurt Browning, Jeremy Abbott and Shawn Sawyer doing some sort of a tap dance (with off-stage sound). Kurt occasionally got carried away during the steps, at one point finishing standing on one foot for a very long time, while Jeremy and Shawn continued the tap dancing (in Seattle all three guys were trying to stand on one foot, which looked a bit clumsier and was less funny). The guys were gradually joined by the rest of the cast, and the little solo moves were merged with the choreography by the whole cast. This number was very rhythmic, powerful and offered a rare opportunity to look at the ice dancers doing solos without their partners.

I knew the second act would open with the cast number to A Life Loved from the "Up" animated movie. This was my favorite group number in Seattle and I was eager to see it again. And I was very pleased to see that the number had evolved since the beginning of the US tour, with additional touches that made it even more romantic and humane, and as a whole, a moving spectacle. It depicts an old man (portrayed by Kurt) sitting in his armchair, browsing through an old photo album while listening to music on a recorder. Suddenly a young couple comes in (Weaver/ Poje), apparently the younger self of the old man and his love. They dance (and the old man quietly repeats some of the moves, as if recalling them) and then the youngster kneels before his lady, proposing to her. They head for the exit, meeting a slightly older version of themselves (Virtue/Moir) midway. This couple is acting more "domestically", with the wife dusting the furniture when her husband comes home. Then the husband finds out his wife is pregnant, he jumps for joy and they depart, holding hands. As this happens, the old man gets up from his chair and his elderly wife (Joannie) joins him on the ice. They look so sweet together; for one moment it seems like they will engage in a fast dance routine of the good old days, but they only take a few slow steps, looking comic but at the same time very touching. And then she drifts away, leaving him alone again, but only to return with her two younger versions. The three of them stand on the ice and, while being spotlighted one at a time, make some moves which are reflected and mimicked by the old man, obviously reliving these happy moments in his memory. This part was not present in Seattle, and I found it added even more to the feeling of loneliness and past sweet love that the number brought you (well, me at least). In the end all three women glide away and the old man is left alone, picking up a framed photograph and giving it a light kiss. I still have tears in my eyes when I recall this scene and I cannot praise the touching quality of the whole number enough.

In my opinion it was hard for any number to follow such a moving act opener, but Jeremy Abbott performed wonderfully to Sing, Sing, Sing from the "Swing Kids" soundtrack. This was his short program of the past season (not sure if it was exactly the same), and I just loved it. Jeremy was interacting very well with the audience, being flirty and playful, and pulling his suspenders all the time (the suspenders actually suit him very well). His jumps were great, including a triple Axel and a combination.

Maybe it was because Cynthia Phaneuf's routine to Je l'aime a Mourir by Shakira followed two truly great and innovative numbers, that to me it looked somewhat bland. It was pleasant, with nice and graceful movements, but it didn't bring any excitement, anything you would remember after the music stopped.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje performed their free dance, Je Suis Malade by Serge Lama. I consider it one of the best dances of the past season and was thrilled to see it live. It shows so much passion, longing, pain, desire - all building up to the climax, all done with innovative choreography and style, beautifully and intensely expressed by Kaitlyn and Andrew. Everything works in this dance - steps, lifts, costumes and the skaters' facial expressions; all creating a spectacle that doesn't leave anyone unaffected.

There was a short introductory transition into Shawn Sawyer's number to Alegria from Cirque du Soleil. I thought it was a really good thing to have, letting the audience switch their mindset from the powerful and dramatic dance by Weaver/ Poje, into the no less powerful, but mood-wise completely different performance from Shawn. He was brought in by Jeremy and Scott, directed by Jeffrey, who was waving light sticks and making beeping noises. Then Jeremy and Scott laid Shawn, face down, on the ice and all three intended to leave, but Shawn popped his leg up, clearing his throat loudly. Jeffrey hastily cleaned the blade and finally the actual number could start. I think Shawn made really good music choices for both of his programs in the show. The songs alone swept you away and put you in the right mood - in this case, ready to see one of the signature Cirque du Soleil characters - powerful, flexible, artistic and daring. And Shawn delivered exactly that. His beautiful jumps, spirals, back-flips and steps, completed with a very fitting costume and makeup, did the Cirque theme justice and, as I mentioned already, made this program one of the evening's highlights for me.

Ashley Wagner was lovely in Your Song by Ellie Goulding. The choreography was great; movements, steps, jumps - all were really into the music and going along with it. She almost floated above the ice, fast yet graceful and gentle. This was a beautiful number and Ashley skated it impressively.

In Seattle, one of the best group numbers for me was Waiting for my Real Life to Begin by Colin Hay, performed by four male skaters. In Vancouver they were Jeremy Abbott, Jeffrey Buttle, Scott Moir and Andrew Poje; and I enjoyed it no less than in the US show. The skaters came on the ice wearing simple white tops, with spotlights, while the rest of the arena was left in darkness. Each skater did a short solo dance, while the others lit him up with their spotlights. The concept of this number is really interesting, combining the skater, the music and the light in perfect sensual harmony. Kudos to Kurt Browning for the concept, Geoffrey Tyler for the music selection and Linda Garneau and Jeffrey Buttle for the wonderful choreography!

The transition into Joannie Rochette's Formidable by France d'Amour had Kurt Browning entering the ice with flowers and a box of chocolates, waiting to impress the lady. When the lady - Joannie, looking gorgeous in a red dress with a scarf and sunglasses - didn't even notice him, let alone was impressed, he left the ice, mumbling to himself about not wasting these delicious chocolates while chewing them up. This gave a nice introduction to what was a very entertaining, flowing, flirty, sexy and playful number by Joannie. The music and this character suited her perfectly, her jumps were good, spins beautiful and steps intricate. Very enjoyable!

Jeffrey Buttle's Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell was a thing of beauty. He interpreted the music really well, flowing on the ice, pausing, reflecting; and at the end left you with a vague feeling of yearning, yet no sadness. Jeffrey's footwork is amazing and I liked his arms and body movements in this number very much.

While the first act had two short transition numbers by male skaters, the second act featured a single longer one, Good Feeling by Flo Rida, with Cynthia Phaneuf, Joannie Rochette, Tessa Virtue, Ashley Wagner and Kaitlyn Weaver. It was not as entertaining as the fun guys' numbers, but overall it was very upbeat, with flashing lights and nice moves - Tessa Virtue stood out for me there. While the girls were midway through the number, Shawn Sawyer suddenly appeared, dressed in a yellow swimsuit and a flotation tube. He waved hello and wobbled through the entire rink making ballet-like swinging movements with his hands. It was a bit strange, though amusing, and looked like a prank more than a choreographed piece.

While I watched Kurt Browning perform to Feeling Good by Adam Lambert, I had only one thought in my head, and it could apply both to the skater and the singer: "How on earth does he do that?". The match between the music, voice, moves and choreography was just perfect. Kurt's jumps were the most impressive of the night - a couple of triples and a few double Axels. The program just flowed and transitioned smoothly between the faster and the slower parts. And there were a lot of interesting arm movements, great footwork, engagement with the audience - all forming a performance which was, well, perfect!

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir didn't look as smooth to me in Ain't No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, as they did in the first act. This number doesn't look as one whole piece but rather as a collection of fast sections mixed with a slower one. But it was still sheer fun to watch, with intricate footwork, breathtaking lifts, great body movements in the fast sections and the Virtue/Moir trademark romantic mood in the slow part.

The closing number by the whole cast (to Dog Days are Over by Florence + the Machine) was a great ending to a spectacular evening. At times all the skaters stood so close together and moved simultaneously, that they looked as one body. And the individual moves were good, especially with single skaters doing lifts. All the skaters maintained a high quality of skating throughout the show, and the last number was no different. It just demonstrated, extremely well and clear, what made this show so much more than a mere exhibition of standalone talents (and a very, very impressive lineup of talents it was). The individual numbers, the cast numbers, the transitions, the small touches here and there - they all combined, aggregated and built the narrative and the flow of the show, making its theme, "Love 'n' Life", truly come to life - and the love from the audience deservedly followed.

After watching two shows with different casts and thus different individual numbers, but with the same cohesive group performances and transitions, I feel the greatest admiration for Kurt Browning, the Stars on Ice co-director since this season. He made this magic happen with the help of Jef Billings, Jeffrey Buttle and Geoffrey Tyler. And having been present at one of the first US stops as well as the last Canadian stop, I could see how these cohesive parts were becoming more polished and thought through. And I understood that the show creators have never stopped working to make the show better and better, until the very end. The end that will, I hope, be followed by a wonderful new beginning next season.

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