by Doris Spicer Pulaski
(25 January 2013)
Four-time U.S. Champions, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, took one more step today towards their fifth U.S. national senior ice dance championship, and a step toward their ultimate goal, Olympic gold medals. As Charlie White stated, "...we’re professional, we have lots of experience and, moving forward, we’re aiming at Olympic gold medals."
The University of Michigan students skated a near perfect program, so light, so intricate, and so joyous, in keeping with the character of the polka that it passed beyond sport into the realm of art.
The team earned 79.02 points to win the short dance by a huge amount, 8.22, points over the second place team, Madison Chock & Evan Bates. Dancing to a march, a waltz, and a polka from the ballet "Giselle" by Adolphe Adam, Davis & White earned level 4 for all five of the required elements in the short dance, and were credited with hitting all six key points in the two required Yankee Polka pattern dance sequences for the very first time this season. And they achieved a personal best score for a short dance while doing it. The amazing thing about the 2011 World Champions is that after fifteen years competing in ice dance, they are still improving.
Davis was asked what keeps the team motivated: "“There are a lot of reasons we stay motivated: first and foremost, we like to improve year to year and from one National Championship to the next, regardless of where we are coming out in placement. I think we feel we are making huge strides in terms of what we are putting out on the ice, and what better place than the U.S. Championships to improve and show your home country how far you’ve come? So that’s really exciting for us."
At first it might have seemed that when the compulsory dance was combined with the original dance that ice dancers might not have as heavy a training burden. However, dancers have had such a hard time earning credit for key points, that fans have wondered whether more or less training time was required for the short dance than for the previous format of compulsory dance and original dance.
When asked that question, Davis replied, "I can only speak for the two of us, but I think we put in about the same amount of time into the pattern dance in the short dance as we did in the compulsory dances. I think it's important, though, because the benefits of merging the compulsory dance and original dance so far outweigh the time commitment. I think the original spin that everybody is able to put on the pattern itself, set to a different piece of music, alone that makes it so much more entertaining to watch already, as least as an ice dancer, and I imagine for an audience member, that it is much more pleasant to watch twenty…fifteen Yankee Polkas when they're set to different pieces of music than rotating through the same couple pieces of music."
Madison Chock agreed with Davis, “I really enjoy doing the short dance, and I think it has been a great change for ice dance, because the audience can be more involved, and I think it's more interesting for them to watch the short dance and the free dance as opposed to the compulsories where everybody is just repeating and repeating. ... and it’s more fun for us, too, to have these two programs."
Davis & White were the expected winners today, but Madison Chock & Evan Bates were surprise second place finishers. The students of Igor Shpilband scored a career high of 70.80 points, finishing ahead of the 2012 U.S. Nationals Ice Dance silver medalists, and 2011 World Bronze Medalists, Maia & Alex Shibutani, their former rink-mates. Chock & Bates also earned level 4 for all their required elements while weaving a tale about a circus performer who falls into the lap of a spectator at her performance and is swept up in a relationship, to the music of "Quidam" from Cirque du Soleil.
While Davis & White and the Shibutanis continued to train in Canton, MI, with Marina Zoueva, Chock & Bates made a different decision and chose to be coached by Zoueva's former partner, Igor Shpilband, in Novi, MI. When the dancers were asked about their decision, Chock answered, “That was a difficult change. We took a lot of time to think through everything and we feel like we made the best choice for us. We’re very happy right now."
Bates added, “The best choice for our skills, [but it was] difficult to leave all those personal relationships behind that we enjoyed so much in Canton. The new start in Novi [Mich.] has been like a new chapter for us and I think there has been a lot of improvement in our skills since we have moved.”
When Chock & Bates were asked whether the relationship between them and Igor Shpilband, their coach, has grown closer now that they were his main focus in the U.S., Chock commented, “Oh, definitely. I would say absolutely. We’ve always been close, but now we’re his only American team and we’re in it together, and it’s a feeling of solidarity.”
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, are in third place after the short dance with 69.63 points. The Shibutanis received only a level 3 for their midline-not-touching step sequence, and also lost a point due to an over extended lift. Marina Zoueva's students changed their entire short dance program to “Ojos Azul," "Dolencias," and "Sikureada" by Incantations just before the NHK Grand Prix event, and have made more significant changes between NHK and today's performance.
The eighteen-year old Maia Shibutani and the twenty-one year old Alex Shibutani were asked about their music choice. Alex Shibutani answered, : “It’s a South American polka and I think the general perception of polka is that it’s Bavarian, German, American … polka is a rhythm that is found all over the world. I think the flow of the program is just a tribute to our training, coaches, and choreographers."
Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue, last year's bronze medalists are in fourth place after the short program with a personal best score of 67.75. Hubbell & Donohue, who are coached by Angelika Krylova, Pasquale Camerlengo, Elizabeth Punsalan, Natalia Deller, andMassimo Scali, danced to music from the "Titanic" soundtrack by James Horner, a waltz, and the "John Ryan's Polka" tune from the "party in steerage" scene from the movie. The team received credit for all the Yankee Polka key points, but only earned level 3 for their midline not-touching step sequence, and their grades of execution and program component scores were all lower than the top three finishers.
Fifth place went to last year's fourth place team, Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giuletti-Schmitt, who chose to really go Yankee when performing the polka short dance. The team chose "Ring of Fire" and "I Can't Help Falling in Love”, covered by Chris Isaak, to portray a rousing Country & Western-themed dance. The winners of the 2012 Ice Challenge of Graz, their recent first international victory, scored 64.69, and received level 4 for both Yankee Polka sequences, but only a level 3 for their midline step sequence. Their sequential twizzles were also downgraded to a level 3 because Kriengkrairut was unable to grab the blade of her free leg's skate within half a revolution of starting their second twizzle sequence.
Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, who skated their short dance to "Eljen a Magyar" by Willi Boskovsky and Wiener Johann Strauss Orchestra, "Accelerationen - Walzer, Op. 234" by Willi Boskovsky and Wiener Johann Strauss Orchestra, are in sixth place after the short program with a score of 56.33.
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