by Doris Spicer Pulaski
(25 January 2013)
Meryl Davis & Charlie White scored a little more than one point away from perfection today in the free dance portion of the 2013 U.S. National Free Dance Championships, earning a free dance score of 118.42 out of a possible 119.50. Davis & White really put on a special performance to claim their fifth U.S. National Ice Dance Championship title.
Their free dance program this season to "Notre Dame De Paris" was not an immediate crowd pleaser. When the team first introduced the program at Skate America 2012, some critics felt it was not a particularly compelling piece of choreography.
The team went back home to Canton, MI, and worked with their coach and choreographer, Marina Zoueva, to improve their choreography. They called in consultants. They added bells to their music. By their second competition of the year, the program was markedly more dramatic, and at this recent outing at U.S. Nationals, was close to perfection. How close? The team got 40 of a possible 45 perfect 10.00 program component scores from the nine judges. Even taking account of the score inflation common at national championships in every country, this program and those scores were very special.
When asked how they achieved that level of perfection, and about their use of consultants, Davis said, "We are perfectionists; we're very hard workers; and in improving from year to year, we seek out any help we can get! We have a really talented coaching staff and it’s really exciting, getting help from specialists from year to year. This year we worked with a ballet dancer, named Alex Wong ... We really have to go above and beyond to trump ourselves from year to year, and I think that in pushing U.S. ice dance forward, those steps are really necessary in gaining momentum and becoming better."
Alex Shibutani agreed, and explained, "We're always looking for authenticity... It's necessary to consult experts in their respective fields."
From the opening pair spin, entered from a jump, to the outpouring of emotion, when Davis & White struck their final poses, the audience was completely engaged, exploding from their seats to give the University of Michigan students a standing ovation.
When White was interviewed about this level of perfection, he said the performance was really special, and he had enjoyed it, but the team has already moved on to [thinking about] the Four Continents Championships, and is considering how to make their free dance program even better. It's hard to see how that would even be possible.
Davis & White's level of perfection was not the only story at the 2013 U.S. National Senior Ice Dance Championships. It's now clear that Marina Zueva needs a new stopwatch. Alex Shibutani & Maia Shibutani, who are coached by Davis & White's coach, Marina Zueva, incurred a -1.00 point penalty for lifts that were too long in both the short dance and again in the free dance. The margin between second place and third place in the overall competition was just 1.71 points. The Shibutanis would have won the silver medal for a third year in a row, if they had not lost those 2.00 points. They scored 174.21 and had to settle for the bronze medal.
Other than the penalties, the Shibutanis skated a performance of great delicacy and finesse, to the soundtrack from "Memoirs of a Geisha" by John Williams. The brother and sister team were awarded level 4 for every element, except their diagonal step sequence, and made no errors that would have resulted in negative grades of execution. Their three sets of sequential twizzles were particularly fine, in perfect unison. And their quiet, powerful stroking was, as always, impressive.
The Shibutanis were asked to comment on their performance and their third place finish. "We're really proud of our skates this week,” said Alex Shibutani. “It’s been a long season so far, but we're very happy to be continuing on to the second half. We know what we have to work on, but we’re very happy and proud of each other.
The silver medal was claimed by the team of Madison Chock & Evan Bates, who scored 175.91 points to edge the Shibutanis for second place. Last year, Chock & Bates, who train with Zueva's former coaching partner, Igor Shpilband, finished in fourth place, but this year, their improved speed and "Dr. Zhivago" program earned them the silver medal and a ticket to the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario, Canada. Chock & Bates presented some of the most interesting and creative lifts in the competition, made possible by their difference in size, and the inventiveness of their choreographer, who is also their coach, Igor Shpilband. Chock is only 5'2", while Bates is 6'1". Their final Choreographic Lift, a variation of a Stationary Lift that had Bates spinning in place while lifting Chock, was particularly impressive.
Evan Bates also was asked to discuss his team's improvement. He answered, “We were in a bit of a different situation this year, making the change, so I think that for us, we really trusted Igor that he would steer us in the right direction. So he did bring in an array of coaches. We were fortunate enough to work with Marina Klimova, Barbara Fusar-Poli, Alexei Gorshkov...and that was a major part of developing the programs, and we trusted Igor that he would bring in the right people."
While Chock & Bates climbed onto the podium, last year's bronze medalists, Madison Hubbel & Zachary Donohue, slipped to fourth place, and traded the bronze medal for pewter. Unfortunately, Hubbell & Donohue, who finished tenth at the 2012 World Championships, will be unlikely to be there this year. Hubbell & Donohue scored a personal best 100.11 points in the free dance, but their overall score of 167.86 was only high enough to win them third place and the pewter medal. The team lost points when neither of their two step sequences was graded a level 4. Hubbell & Donohue, who train with Anjelika Krylova & Pasquale Camlerlengo, have only been partners for less than two years, and their unison is not as good as that of the higher placed teams. Hubbell & Donohue performed a sensuous, sinuous flamenco to " Farrucas" by Pepe Romero and “Un Amor" by the Gipsy Kings, a choice of music that highlighted their ability to express passion and drama, but the scores were not quite there.
Hubbell & Donohue still felt satisfied with their performance, as Madison Hubbell said, "We were really happy with our performance today. It's been a really great season for us. We've been working really hard, and the programs have come together really nicely for us, and we keep hoping to keep getting better and better from here."
Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giuletti-Schmitt have really improved. This year they scored a personal best total of 160.01 points total in the U.S. Championships. Last year, the score needed for third place and a trip to worlds was 151.60, by the Hubbells. This year, neither couple made the World team. Fifth place went to Kriengkrairut & Giuletti-Schmitt, who were the first team to skate in the final flight of skaters. The veteran dancers skated to a medley of songs by Adele, including "Rumor Has It," and "Turning Tables,” and made no major errors; however, both their step sequences and a rotational lift were assigned level 3. The twenty-four year old Kriengkrairut and the twenty-seven year old Giuletti Schmitt wove a seamless, contemporary story of love and betrayal, highlighted by completely original lifts.
Sixth place went to a young team, former U.S. Junior Ice Dance bronze medalists, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, who earned a total score of 142.32, and a score of 85.99 for their rock and roll free dance skated to "Comanche" by The Revels, "Please, Mr. Jailer" by Rachel Sweet, and "Jailhouse Rock" by West End Orchestra and Singers.
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