Figure skating is an unusual beast: it’s sort of dance, sort of athletics, and sort of – um – skating. It’s something of an artistic endeavor, but it’s always hard to watch a competition without feeling that in some sense, the “artist” – the skater – is somehow holding their vision back in order to ensure the highest marks. For this reason alone, it’s always nice to see skaters let loose and do some truly fun, crowd-pleasing stuff – as was the main event Sunday afternoon when the Smuckers-sponsored “Stars on Ice” tour came to the BOk Center.
The show was performed by an all-star cast of some of the world’s best figure skaters, including Americans Sasha Cohen (Olympic silver medalist 2006), Todd Eldredge (world champion 1996), Michael Weiss (U.S. champion 1999, 2000, and 2003), John Zimmerman (U.S. champion 2000-2002), Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto (Four Continents champions 2004-2006), Kimmie Meissner (world champion 2006), and Evan Lysacek (Four Continents champion 2005 and 2007); Russian Ilia Kulik (Olympic gold medalist 1998); Chinese skaters Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (world champions 2002, 2003, and 2007); Japanese skater Yuka Sato (world champion 1994); and Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (Four Continents champions 2007), Jennifer Robinson (six-time national champion), and Jeffrey Buttle (world champion 2008).
All of the performers possessed impressive resumes, but Sunday afternoon, they projected a definitive vibe of simply wanting to have a good time and entertain the crowd. And indeed, there was no shortage of crowd-pleasing moves like jumps and flips; the performers even occasionally performed some sketches, much to the delight of the audience (most cast members showed a surprisingly deft touch with comic timing).
Nowhere was this better exemplified than an early routine performed by Yuka Sato, who entered the rink in a pink sequined dress. As she was about to begin her routine, she was interrupted by video of herself, which played on four large video screens that surrounded the rink. “This is why I like to do skating,” the live Yato told herself. “Because I get to wear pretty clothes and skate to pretty music.” “Come on,” the prerecorded version responded. “Loosen up. Let your hair down. Go for it!” Yato then (literally) let her hair down and pulled off her outfit to reveal a much more free-spirited sundress and proceeded to do a very animated routine set to Feist’s “1234”.
This was more or less the overall tone of the show, which featured some rousing routines set to the music of John Mayer, The Beatles, Meat Loaf, and Journey. The skaters all poured enthusiasm into their routines, playing to the crowd rather than to impress judges. In between leaps, jumps and spins (and during costume changes), the crowd was entertained by public service announcements, ads for Smuckers products and a segment entitled “DON’T SKATE” (an absurdist parody of the much-maligned celebrity “DON’T VOTE” ad that circulated around the Internet during the last presidential election).
The highlight of the afternoon was arguably a routine performed by Kulik to the blues classic “Sixteen Tons,” which he performed in a blue-collared shirt and suspenders. Kulik’s routine was as much bar brawl as figure skating routine, as he punched and kicked the air, flexed his muscles, and mimed shoveling coal. Thirteen-year-old boys can say what they want, but Kulik single-handedly brought more masculinity to the ice than an entire NHL team could have in a season’s worth of games – and more importantly, he had the audience enthralled.
Unfortunately, much of the second act wasn’t quite as exciting as the first. Several of the performers apparently thought they needed to prove they could do “real” figure skating, and for a while things got bogged down in blandly pretty routines set to classical music (including Beethoven’s way-overplayed hit “Moonlight Sonata” – really, guys?) and performed in sequins. It was all right, of course, but it just wasn’t as exciting as seeing them let loose in the first. Fortunately, Michael Weiss kept things alive with a piece set to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” (of all things), and the entire cast returned to the ice for a very rousing finale that had the audience on their feet applauding long after the lights went up. All told, it was an enthralling performance overall, and was a big hit with the audience.
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