2007 Skate America
By Lynn Rutherford
Belbin & Agosto Take Lead with Elegant Austrian Waltz
Four-time U.S. dance champions Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto spent much of the summer going "back to basics," and the extra work paid dividends Friday night, when the couple fairly floated across the ice during their Austrian Waltz and took a 1.47-point lead at Skate America.
"It felt very strong," Belbin said. "We tried to make improvements in the tightness of our positions and our free leg extension. It could have been a bit bolder; it was a little conservative, which is always the case at the beginning of the season. But it was a good start."
"I think this was a breakthrough for us; we really felt comfortable," Agosto added.
As one competitor remarked, the light, elegant waltz in three-quarters time "is hard to skate, but when you do it well you make it look easy." With Belbin in a long white dress with silver sequins and handless white gloves, and Agosto in white tie and tails, the couple certainly looked the part. They skated with good leg unison, speed and an airy quality. The only jarring note was the usually well-coiffed Belbin’s unruly hair.
The Americans earned 36.03 points (TES 17.86 + PCS 18.17).
French silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat, who won the bronze medal at this event last season, were equally elegant, and attacked the waltz with good speed. They placed second with 34.56 points (TES 17.36 + PCS 17.20).
"We spent three weeks in Moscow this summer to study with Alexander Zhulin, and I think that helped our compulsory dances, especially the edges and flow," Bourzat said.
Usually, the couple trains at Muriel Boucher-Zazoui’s school in Lyon.
Italians Federica Failla & Massimo Scali were also impressive, performing the waltz in close holds with elegant arm positions. Failla wore a lovely backless dress in shades of blue and aqua, and Scali donned black tie and tails. They are third with 31.43 points (TES 16.30 + PCS 15.13).
"We feel strong, much better than last season," Scali said. "The last few years have been very difficult. We changed coaches (to Pasquale Camerlengo), we moved (to the Detroit Skating Club), and then I had visa problems after (’07) Europeans. It really hurt our training, but we are looking for better results now."
The Italians were sixth at ’07 Europeans and ninth at ’07 Worlds.
Kristin Fraser & Igor Lukanin of Azerbaijan, who train in Hackensack under Nikolai Morozov, impressed the judges with their speedy, confident waltz, placing fourth with 31.19 points (TES 15.88 + PCS 15.31).
U.S. bronze medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White, who like Belbin & Agosto train in Canton, MI under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, skated in a light, easy style that looked especially fast on the turns. They sit fifth with 30.16 points (TES 15.62 + PCS 14.54).
"We skated it well, and we feel good about it," White said. "We practiced it for an hour a day. It’s a hard compulsory; we did Golden Waltz last year, and it’s definitely easier than that, but it’s not easy."
"There are definitely aspects of this dance that make it exciting," added Davis. "The ladies’ twizzle adds a certain amount of excitement, at least if you’re the one doing it."
U.S. pewter medalists Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre had a smooth, fast outing that gained surprisingly low marks from the judges. They sit sixth with 27.90 points.
"We were really pleased; it felt like we were right where we wanted to be, in terms of the timing," Navarro said.
The couple’s coaches, Robbie Kaine and Cheryl Demkowski Snyder, were a bit perplexed.
"I don’t know (about the marks)," Kaine said. "They were smooth and quiet, and dead on with the timing."
Kaine speculated that the ISU’s new procedure of having skaters compete in the order of their world rankings, rather than via a blind draw, may be having an impact.
"Kim and Brent have never been to Worlds, and they skated in the first group," he said.
Other coaches have remarked that ISU Junior Grand Prix placements are weighted too heavily, and some younger skaters just off the junior circuit are gaining undeservedly higher rankings than more experienced competitors.
Alexandra & Roman Zaretski, the brother-and-sister Israeli couple who recently changed coaches from Evgeni Platov to Galit Chait and Nikolai Morozov, had a near-disaster when Alexandra hit Roman’s boot with her toe toward the end of the second pattern, nearly causing a fall. They placed seventh with 27.80 points.
Ekaterina Rubleva & Ivan Shiefer of Russia, who placed third at the 2007 Russian Nationals, skated a clean waltz with good ice coverage. Elegantly clad in a white and silver sequined dress (Rubleva) and white tie and tails (Shiefer), they placed eighth with 26.95 points.
Representing Japan, the U.S.-born Cathy & Chris Reed did not show their best lines, and appeared a bit slow, perhaps due to Chris Reed’s knee problems, which have curtailed their training time for several months. They earned 26.47 points for ninth place.
Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang of China made an elegant appearance, but had several awkward moments and were a bit hesitant and far apart at times. They sit in 10th place with 22.14 points.
Hoedown Highlights Eclectic Evening
The ISU dance committee’s selection of "country/folk" original dances this season is challenging for choreographers and coaches, but a bonanza for spectators and skaters.
"The fact that you have such a wealth of choices really frees you up as an artist; you’re not stuck with a tango, or a cha cha/rumba," said four-time U.S. dance champ Benjamin Agosto, who with partner Tanith Belbin ventured far from the ballroom with an "Appalachian Hoedown."
Following a series of exotic programs – including a gorgeously costumed flamenco – the Americans’ hillbilly-style outfits made a startling impression. Agosto looked like an Amish farmer, and the glamorous Belbin resembled Daisy Mae. All that was missing was the hay.
Belbin & Agosto gained Level 4s, and positive GOEs ranging from .4-.7, for all six of their elements. Especially impressive was their opening curve lift with a fast, tricky entrance; the circular steps, featuring Belbin grabbing and playing with Agosto’s hat; and the mid-line steps, the first half done on one foot, which ended with well-timed twizzles. They earned 59.24 points (TES 59.24 + PCS 27.74) for the segment, and held first place overall with 95.27.
"The main thing with this (OD) is adding more speed," Belbin said. "Going forward, there are definitely other things to work on as well. But the most important thing here was to get the elements and characters out there, and (gauge) the reaction of the crowd."
French silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat sit second after a florid Spanish flamenco, choreographed in Madrid with Antonio Navarro.
"At first, we wanted to do a French can-can, but we were told it was forbidden," Bourzat said. "We also (considered) using castanets, but it was too hard." They settled for a few well-timed claps, and Pechalat punctuated several moves by waving a red fan that was cleverly attached to her shoulder.
As with Belbin & Agosto, the couple’s elaborate costuming – especially Pechalat’s long, blood-red tiered skirt – set the mood.
The couple began with a superb rotating stationary lift (Level 4), with Bourzat balancing on one foot and holding Pechalat in elegant, floating positions. They showed lovely arms throughout their mid-line sequence (Level 4), which began with well-timed, Level 4 twizzles. Their straight-line lift, which was rated Level 3, had a slightly awkward exit, but they recovered with a Level 4 spin featuring fine sideways and layback positions. Circular steps (Level 3) ended the entertaining and visually stunning performance.
Pechalat & Bourzat earned 56.95 points (TES 29.90 + PCS 27.05) for second place in the OD, and are second overall with 91.51.
Performing a traditional Neapolitan tarantella, Italians Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali opened with a smooth and easy-looking rotational lift (Level 4), and held difficult arm and leg positions in the twizzle sequence (Level 4) that began their mid-line steps (Level 4). There’s no "reverse" lift in either their OD or free dance this season, but Faiella did "drag" Scali and lift him from the ice in an effective transition highlight move leading into their spin (Level 4). Their Level 4 curve lift features a unique position with Faiella balanced on her partner’s back, and their closing circular steps were speedy, if a bit far apart.
The dance – which is far lower key than the explosive tarantellas depicted in Italian wedding scenes in movies – could benefit from a bigger, more dramatic finish.
"It is a real Pizzicata and Tarantella, which means the pinch or bite of the spider," Pasquale Camerlengo, who coaches Faiella & Scali in Detroit, said.
"The tradition of this dance is deep in the culture. People believed that when bitten by the spider, you had to dance three days in a row to make the poison go away. This dance is set to an (authentic) folk orchestration."
The Italians took third in the OD with 54.56 points (TES 29.90 + PCS 24.66), and sit third overall with 85.99 points.
U.S. bronze medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White’s traditional Kalinka (Russian folk dance) was exactly what you would expect – traditional, colorful and lively, with Davis effectively flashing a yellow scarf tied to her wrist during the circular steps and transitions. As always, the young couple’s speed and technique took center stage; five of their elements were rated Level 4.
"It was kind of disappointing our (rotational) lift was a Level 3," admitted White. "We’ll have to go back and work on it."
Highlights included an excellent spin with quick changes of position, and speedy twizzles in the now common grasped foot position. The couple was fourth in the OD with 52.84 points (TES 29.70 + PCS 23.14), and moved up to fourth place overall with 83 points.
Kristin Fraser & Igor Lukanin of Azerbaijan skated a lively yet elegant and romantic OD to a Russian folk dance ("Shatritsa"), elaborately dressed in shades of purple, and with many sparkles added. Fraser hit a nicely arched drape position in the straight-line lift (Level 4). Their midline steps (Level 3) and twizzles, done in a grasped-foot position, were attractive, but they lost a bit of unison. They closed strongly with a fast rotational lift (Level 4).
The Azerbaijanis took fifth place in the OD with 51.23 points (TES 27.70 + PCS 24.53), and are fifth overall with 82.42 points.
Skating in front of a near-hometown crowd, U.S. pewter medalists Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre’s fast, complex and fluid Soweto (African) harvest dance was the hit of the evening. Each element and step fit the music, and their upper body movements were as effective as their feet.
The couple’s closing rotational lift deserves special mention. Navarro hits four or five positions, and Bommentre changes levels, crouching down mid-way through to match the beat of the drums.
"That applause was probably 50% from people we know – students, family and friends – but we’re still thrilled," Navarro said. She and Bommentre train under Robbie Kaine and Cheryl Demkowski Snyder in the Philadelphia area.
The program, which was choreographed by Michael Velez of the Koresh Dance Company and Natalia Linichuk, was artistically and technically challenging.
"We got one Level 3 (for elements), and the rest Level 4’s, which is great for October," said Bommentre. "It’s a good starting point for the season."
Navarro & Bommentre earned 51.13 points (TES 29 + PCS 22.13) for sixth place in the OD, and stand sixth overall with 79.03.
Alexandra & Roman Zaretski of Israel opened their Arabian dance strongly a fine spin with Alexandra in a good upright split position, right up into a straight-line lift with Roman holding his sister upside down. Overall, the OD was difficult, creative and angular, with powerful highlights. However, the cacophonous music will not be to everyone’s taste.
Like several other couples, the team earned Level 4’s for five of the six elements; only their circular steps were Level 3. The Israelis scored well, gaining 51.12 points (TES 28.50 + PCS 22.62), but in this strong field are seventh overall with 78.92 points.
Ekaterina Rubleva & Ivan Shefer of Russia skated a lively Ukrainian folk dance in colorful ethnic costumes. They showed good unison on mid-line step sequence, and a nice straight line lift, but Shefer lost his edge on a joint back "shoot-the-duck"-type maneuver. At the same time, Rubleva’s sash came off in her hand, and she dropped it on the ice in confusion. Therefore, they got one-point deduction for a costume piece falling free and touching the ice. They earned 45.46 points for eighth place in the OD, and are eighth overall with 72.42 points.
Cathy & Chris Reed of Japan, performing to "Zorba the Greek," had good performance quality, but a few missteps in the mid-line steps took their toll, and their twizzles gained only Level 1. The Reeds, who are courageously competing here after being sidelined for five months by Chris’ knee surgeries, were ninth in the OD and stand ninth overall.
Skating to Hava Nagila, a Jewish folk dance, Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang of China were a bit tentative and slow, but impressively gained Level 4 for three of the six elements, including a fine closing rotational lift. They remain in tenth place.
A new emphasis on elegant lines and what they called "basic skating" helped Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto win their third Skate America title with a delicate interpretation of their new free dance to a selection of Chopin piano concertos.
"There’s not so much of a storyline to our free dance," Agosto said. "We’re going for more of a feeling, a light and breezy quality."
"In the past, we’ve never thought (skating to) classical music was necessarily one of our strengths," Belbin added. "We haven’t had a (classical) free dance since "Four Seasons" in ’99. But this season we’ve spent our preparation time wisely and felt ready to tackle it."
Costumed appropriately – Agosto in solid black, Belbin in white over black – the couple formed interesting positions in many of their lifts, four of which gained Level 4. They projected a true dance quality, especially through the circular steps, also graded Level 4. As usual, their (Level 4) twizzle sequence was pristine, and they wove through their free-flowing straight-line steps (Level 3) with ease.
Belbin & Agosto’s free dance scored 97.68 points (TES 50.40 + PCS 47.28), and they won the event by a wide margin, with 192.95 points total.
In contrast to the Americans’ elegant, airy program, French silver medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat’s "Craziness" free dance is set to hard-to-classify techno music with a fast, heavy beat. The technically impressive but emotionally cold program portrays Pechalat as a troubled woman, with Bourzat trying to lace her into a straitjacket.
"At the end, I go a little bit crazy, too," Bourzat said.
Like Belbin & Agosto, the French had four unique-looking Level 4 lifts. They carried good speed throughout their footwork and transitions, and the close of the program was effective.
"It was quite good today, not as good as in training, but almost done correctly," Bourzat said. "We need to train it a lot more."
Pechalat & Bourzat’s program earned 90.33 points (TES 46.50 + PCS 43.83), a new personal best, and 181.84 overall.
In another change of pace, the often frenetic and fast-paced Italians Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali performed a lyrical, balletic program to "Papa Can You Hear Me" from "Yentl."
"This couple can (perform) modern and Latino, but they can also do classical," Pasquale Camerlengo, the Italians’ coach, said. "They grew up in a classical (tradition) and are excellent classical dancers on the floor. They have always had this quality, but have just never used it so far."
After opening with a lovely, Level 4 rotational lift – which gained +1 and +2 GOE’s from the judges, along with an inexplicable -3 -- Scali lost his footing on a transition move, falling to the ice for a one-point deduction.
"I don’t know what happened, it was on a three-turn," he said.
The couple recovered with a well-defined Level 4 spin, followed by polished Level 4 straight-line steps and an effective serpentine lift. The flowing program betrayed no grasping for position; and the couple seemingly melted into good shapes throughout their elements.
"(Federica) represents the butterfly; that’s why her (costume) has wings," Scali said. "The idea of (the butterfly) came by just listening to the music. In the beginning, she is closed (in a cocoon), then she is enjoying flying around. In the end, she dies. That is the life of the butterfly."
The Italians earned 86.29 points (TES 47.20 + PCS 40.09), to take third place with 172.28.
U.S. bronze medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White’s introspective and intricate free dance to the Beatles’ "Eleanor’s Dream" ("Eleanor Rigby") was exceptionally polished for so early in the season. The couple quickly hit difficult positions quickly in their lifts – four of which were Level 4 – and their spin, also Level 4. Their only obvious flaw was slight lack of unison in their twizzle sequence, resulting in a GOE of -.10.
Davis & White’s free gained 85.79 points (TES 46.70 + PCS 39.09) for fourth. They were also fourth overall, with 168.79 points total.
Kristin Fraser & Igor Lukanin of Azerbaijan interpreted Sarah Brightman’s familiar "Time to Say Goodbye," as choreographed by their coach, Nikolai Morozov.
The elegant program suited them better than some of their harder-edged free dances, and their elements – all Level 3 or 4 – flowed easily across the ice. They lost a bit of speed in the final third, not surprising considering they closed with five lifts in a row. With additional run-throughs and performance, this ending will likely become even more effective.
The Azerbaijanis were fifth in the free with 85.38 points (TES 45.80 + PCS 39.58) and ended the competition in fifth place with 167.80.
Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre performed a captivating program to Corinne Bailey Rae’s soulful version of "Since I’ve Been Loving You," so engrossing it seemed to go by in a flash.
"It’s the story of a troubled relationship that is going through hard times," Navarro said. "We wanted something different from our previous (light-hearted) dances, but at the same time not totally depressing."
The couple opened with a lovely (Level 4) rotational lift, with Navarro "hooked" on to Bommentre’s neck, followed by Level 4 twizzles done with hands over head; smooth serpentine steps; and unique curve lift (both elements Level 3). The program, choreographed with Natalia Linichuk, seems looser and less rule-bound than many, and is able to tell a story while still entertaining the audience.
"It felt really good," Bommentre said. "A couple of things got away from us; there was a (curve) lift that was supposed to be Level 4."
The U.S. pewter medalists placed sixth in the free with 80.90 points, a new personal best, and sixth overall with 159.93.
Skating to a medley of Louis Armstrong’s version of "Let My People Go" and the big band "Sing, Sing, Sing," Alexandra & Roman Zaretski of Israel showed intricate lifts and good musicality. The choreography flowed well between elements. The siblings earned 78.93 points for eighth place in the free, and were seventh overall with 157.85.
Ekaterina Rubleva & Ivan Shefer, performing to "Prayer in the Night," made a few missteps here and there but impressed with their speed, deep edges and Rubleva’s flexibility. They placed seventh in the free with 79.17 points, and ended the competition in eighth place with 151.58.
Cathy & Chris Reed of Japan, the former U.S. Novice champions (they hold dual U.S.-Japanese citizenship), showed dramatic flair and good musicality in their free dance to "Prayer in the Night," but their closing rotational lift was aborted when Chris, who was plagued with knee problems all summer, took a misstep and appeared to injure himself. The Reeds were ninth in the free with 72.37 points and ninth overall with 142.53.
Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang of China skated a clean program to music from the "Troy" soundtrack, but need a bit more power and polish. They placed 10th in the free with 69.96 points and 10th overall with 135.29.
2007 Skate America Dance Medalists
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