Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Brian Boitano Skating Spectacular - San Francisco, CA - Dec. 5, 2007

written by Tina

The rain gods smiled down on Brian Boitano and his show this year. In fact, the weather in general seemed to be conspiring to help him. Despite rain showers Tuesday morning, the rain dried up in time for dress rehearsal Tuesday night, the weather stayed clear and relatively balmy all through Wednesday for the show, and the rain didn't come back until early Thursday morning, after the show and retakes had completed.

This was good, because Brian Boitano decided to do something a little different this year with his annual show. Rather than putting it on in a typical indoor arena or amphitheatre, he decided to put it outdoors. In a baseball park. In downtown San Francisco. In the beginning of December.

No one ever accused Brian Boitano of a lack of ambition.

The baseball park setup made things a little odd for the live spectator. A postage-sized rink (well, large postage - 60'x120') was set up midfield with one end around home plate, and the other, with a stage set up for Barry Manilow, probably around 2nd base. The bulk of the seating was up in the stands, at a bit of a remove from the ice surface. The lighting was relatively low, coming from temporary rigs rather than using stadium lighting, and there was a boom camera smack in the center of the ice facing the stands. In general, the show setup seemed to favor the TV viewer and those who shelled out $150 for general admission seating along the sides of the rink.

The subpar viewing conditions did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, however, who seemed largely there due to the musical guest, Barry Manilow. Cries of "Barry! Barry!" and "We love you Barry!" frequently punctuated the air. In fact, the atmosphere seemed to be influenced by the ballpark setting, with the crowd acting more like rowdy fans at a baseball game than a figure skating show with their frequent shouts and gusty singing along to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." This did not mean that they did not appreciate the skating, though. Olympic Gold Medalists Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill, and Viktor Petrenko in particular got appreciative shouts and cheers, and the gasps from the crowd were clearly audible when the acrobatic team of Besedin & Polishuk were out on the ice. The applause was well-deserved, since Boitano and choreographer Renee Roca put on a great show.

The show opened with a 70's medley featuring the entire cast. This was a fun group number which really brought home how male-dominated the cast was. It opened with the four male singles skaters - Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko, Steven Cousins, and David Pelletier (not a singles skater but pretending to be one for the show) coming out and skating together, doing Russian splits and double axels in turn down the ice. They were followed by the three pairs - Yuka Sato (doing double duty as a singles skater as well) & Jason Dungjen, Elena Leonova & Andrei Khvalko, and the all-male pair of Vladimir Besedin & Oleksiy Polishchuk. Besedin & Polishchuk did some breakdancing and backflips at center ice while the other two pairs did lifts around the outside of the rink. Finally, after some dancing by the cast, Dorothy Hamill, the sole female singles skater (who wasn't also skating pairs) came out for a solo spot before being lifted by the four singles men. The program closed with a nice full-cast pose that seemed to tell the crowd "stay tuned, there's more where that came from."

The Barry-hungry crowd were thrilled to see Barry Manilow come out on stage for his first number, "The Way We Were." This was a special treat to skating fans, since it featured skating legends Brian Boitano and Dorothy Hamill skating together. The two stood together at the end of the ice while the rest of the group gradually peeled away, leaving the two alone to skate to the very suitable song. Dorothy Hamill's grace and gorgeous edges perfectly complemented Brian Boitano's strength and deep edges as the two stroked down the ice in counterpoint with each other, curving in and out as they moved down the ice. They clearly had a wonderful time skating together, constantly smiling at each other between doing beautiful moves like simultaneous Ina Bauers, spread eagles, and spirals. At one point, Dorothy showed off her still-lovely layback as Brian demonstrated his signature spread eagle around her.

Barry fans were undoubtedly happy to see Barry Manilow stay out for the next number - the rather ironically titled "It Never Rains in Southern California," given that it had just been raining quite a bit in Northern California, where the show was. The featured skater for this program was Steven Cousins, whose red shirt perfectly complemented Barry Manilow's red scarf. Steven skated this number with verve and his trademark big smile, having fun interacting with Barry and drawing the crowd into the number as he interpreted the music.

After Steven cleared the ice, a "mystery" figure clothed in a grey ski cap, what looked like a big white puffy parka covered with silver $20, $50, and $100 bill imprints and grey camouflage pants danced out onto the ice with a great deal of attitude and some hip-hopish dance moves. This included getting down on the ice and doing the kind of worm move skating fans might recognize from Sale & Pelletier's "Super Freak" program from last year. That would be because this mystery figure was none other than David Pelletier, skating alone and providing the transitions between several of the programs in the show. After revealing himself with a grin, David took his bows and cleared the ice for the next act.

The next act needed all the room they could get for their amazing acrobatics and feats of strength and balance. While their second number had more of the truly jaw-dropping maneuvers, this Mozart-inspired first number provided a more than adequate warm-up for the audience for Vladimir Besedin & Oleksiy Polishchuk's deadpan humorous style and acrobatic moves. Opening the number in white wigs, gold-trimmed green velvet coats, and lacey white shirts in the style of 18th century aristocrats, Vladimir mimed playing the cello with his upside down counterpart acting as the cello. After garnering laughs from the audience, Oleksiy quickly flipped himself upright, and the two played the part of gracious, dignified musicians who periodically threw each other into flips or pushed up into overhead handstands, all to the music of Mozart. As the music switched to "Rock Me Amadeus," Besedin & Polishchuk's moves got faster and more impressive, and they stripped down to fake muscle tees. What is really impressive about Besedin & Polishchuk is not just the danger factor (Oleksiy doing a one-handed handstand off of an upright Vladimir's head?) but the transitions, how one move leads to the next to the next, with both skaters changing position and orientation and turning while maintaining their grasps on each other, constantly shifting the nature of the lift with great precision and no break in between. Their programs are also enjoyable because they play to the audience with humor, and simple, but amusing character, winning them laughs and gasps in turn from the audience.

It would be difficult to follow up Besedin & Polishchuk with a standard skating program so instead, they wisely followed them up with a beautiful program by Brian Boitano. Before he came out for his program, though, Kristi Yamaguchi, looking beautiful and warm in her coat, came out on the ice to introduce him. Brian's "Imagine" program was a lovely one for him. Introspective and emotional, he interpreted the music wonderfully with a program that seemed almost too big for the ice. Brian seems to have taken a page out of the eligibles' book, adding new spin positions and variations, 3-jump combos, more turns and changes of direction in his skating, and tricky moves. While Brian has tried a variety of styles over the years, his signature style is probably the big sweeping dramatic style with long held deep edges and spread eagles, rather than quick turns or footwork. This program was a bit of a different look for him, and it was nice to see.

Mixing things up again, Elena Leonova & Andrei Khvalko provided a humorous change of mood as a pair of thieves, fresh off a heist, celebrating their big take (in two cloth sacks, each marked with big $ signs). The music was "Hafanana," an interesting-sounding song of apparent nonsense sounds by Mozambique musician Afric Simone, and a song with a cheerful rhythm that lent itself to the rather over-exaggerated facial expressions and physical exuberance of Leonova & Khvalko's interpretation. It also lent itself to a number of impressive big tricks and lifts, including Andrei holding Elena in an upside down split position, one handed over his head while he spun, and a big throw jump. At one point in the proceedings, the music suddenly went into super slo-mo, and the skaters went slo-mo with it. This was also the point where the robbers apparently started having a breakdown between the two of them, squabbling over the money, each scrambling to grab the sacks and keep the other one away. The number ended with the two thumping each other over the head with the money sacks, and ending up flat on their backs on the ice.

Given the prevalence of bank robbers in the Old West, it wasn't that far of a stretch to the transition to the next program, a cowboy-themed program by Viktor Petrenko. Before Viktor could take the ice, though, a white-clad David Pelletier in a silver cowboy hat first took his turn around the ice, with the cowboy swagger and cool attitude. He and cowboy Viktor ran into each other with a start, and then circled each other warily, quick-drawing their finger guns, and eyeing each other. David finally turned away dismissively, only to get shot in the butt on his way off the ice.

Left alone on the ice, Viktor Petrenko cut a fine figure as a swaggering tough cowboy skating to "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done," all attitude and saddle-weariness as he climbed onto his imaginary horse and took off at a slow amble. Ever the showman, Viktor engaged the audience on all sides, whether pointing a quick draw, dancing a quickstep, or doing a footwork sequence that went all the way around the end of the ice facing the stands. He also drew the audience in with a number of jumps, despite the small ice surface.

Barry-time again, as Barry Manilow returned to the stage to sing "My Eyes Adored You" as Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen performed on the ice. This is the type of soft, romantic program that it's sweet to see a married couple perform, since they can just sort of let the romanticism and love shine on the ice. Yuka and Jason just beamed at each other, seeming to genuinely find joy skating together. The program featured a lot of dips in the choreography - Jason dipping Yuka while gazing into her eyes, as well as some beautiful lifts, and just plain dancing together. It was a lovely performance all around.

To close out the first act, Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano took to the stage with Barry Manilow to introduce the last program before intermission. They bantered a bit about how nice it was for Barry to come out and perform for them and how Barry was honored to be asked. Brian teased Barry that next time, he should come out and skate, and Barry cracked a joke about doing his herniated double back flip axel, or words to that effect. Kristi finally took the mike to introduce Dorothy Hamill, one of her heroes and favorite skaters, skating to one of *her* favorite songs by one of her favorite artists, "Weekend in New England."

The immediate impression while watching Dorothy Hamill skate is one of quality and precision. Quality of edges, which were deep and virtually soundless, and quality of position. Even moving from one position to the next, Dorothy always presents a beautiful figure with back position, arm position, leg position. Her free leg toe is always pointed, her arms fully stretched, and her head up. She may not have the big tricks, though she still does a single axel and a beautiful traditional layback spin, but her skating, her actual movement across ice, just possesses a lovely quality. Her music interpretation is also good - she clearly liked the song and connected to it, and brought the connection to the audience. Lovely to see, and a lovely way to end the first act.

Over intermission, the mini-zamboni they had on hand to smooth the ice apparently broke down, and the audience was treated to the sight of men with hoses spraying the ice down, while others went out with brooms and squeegees to fill in the holes and make sure it all froze the way it should.

The second act opened with Kristi Yamaguchi introducing a group number that was inevitable, given the setting - Brian Boitano, Steven Cousins, Jason Dungjen, and David Pelletier skating to a baseball-themed number in full baseball uniforms and baseball bats. At least the music - "I Want You to Want Me" - was not baseball themed. The four of them had killer SF Giants uniforms, each with their name emblazoned boldly across the back, and with their number correlating to their respective big competitions - Boitano 88, Cousins 98, Dungjen 97, and Pelletier 02. This was a fun number, with the four basically goofing around with their baseball bats, pretending to play ball, but the hilarity level went up when Vladimir Besedin came out as a cross-dressing groundskeeper, chasing around the horrified guys. The skaters were having a great time out there, and their laughter at the end of the program was clearly audible to those sitting rinkside.

After that many men on the ice, it only made sense to turn things around with Yuka Sato skating her solo program to "Turn the Beat Around." Dressed in the costume she'd previously work in Stars on Ice for "Naughty Girl," Yuka showed off her dancing skills, as well as her sassy side, as she moved confidently to the beat. Yuka is known for her elegance and "skater's skater" skills, but she's quite a good show skater as well, engaging the audience with her great musicality and personality. Her neat, precise footwork doesn't hurt things either. This sassy dance program provided a nice counterpoint to Dorothy's more sedate, elegant programs.

While Yuka and Jason provided the romance in the first act, and Elena and Andrei provided the more upbeat comedy number, in the second act, it was Leonova & Khvalko who brought the romance while Yuka brought the funk. Skating to "Even Now," while Barry Manilow performed, Leonova & Khvalko showed off their softer side, with romantic, soaring choreography, beautiful lifts, and Elena's elegant lines. This number was not without its daring moves, with a headbanger right in front of Barry Manilow, but overall, it was a lovely romantic program.

Continuing in the romantic vein, Viktor Petrenko came out for a quieter, more introspective skate to Barry Manilow singing "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart." Although he had some problems with the jumps that had to be fixed in retakes, Viktor and Barry together set a wistful mood that wasn't marred by any technical mistakes that may have occurred. Viktor gave off the aura of a man thinking over his broken relationship, wishing things could be otherwise, and ruefully reaching out for lost opportunities. It was just a lovely program all around.

Of course, lest the mood get a bit too introspective, it was time to break things up a bit with a little humor and energy. David Pelletier utilized some of the push broom skills he learned from the "Work 'n Time" Stars on Ice group number a few years back to come out and sweep the sentimentality of the last few programs away and clean the ice for the next act. His janitor character was disconcerted to find two men dressed up in froofy white ballet outfits on the ice, all ready to skate their own rendition of "Swan Lake." After dusting them off, he quickly cleared the ice.

While "Rock Me Amadeus" gave a pretty good preview of Vladimir Besedin & Oleksiy Polishchuk's amazing acrobatics and sense of humor, "Swan Lake" really earned the gasps and rapt attention of the crowd. Admittedly by virtue of doing less actual skating and movement around the ice (which Besedin and Polishchuk are very capable of), the extended strength/balance sequences were really quite astonishing and impressive. They also reaped a lot of humor out of the solid, deadpan dignity of Vladimir Besedin, slowly and deliberately flapping his arms like a swan, as well as the pinched up, slightly constipated look of pain Oleksiy Polischuk kept on his face as he performed as a seemingly fearful and cowering ballerina. They seem to like to play with the apparent danger factor of what they do. Oleksiy's dismounts from various handstand moves are often veritable free falls, with Vladimir catching him at the last moment, or even allowing him to plunk to the ice, only slowing him down on his way down. It was rather nerve-wracking to watch Oleksiy go completely limp to the point of letting his head drop loosely towards the ice as he fell from an overhead lift, just to be caught by a knee and a wrist only a few inches shy of the ice. It was also rather cringe-inducing to watch Oleksiy climb up and over Vladimir with his sharp blades, step all over his prone body, and then end up supported by sitting on Vladimir's blades (they must have been well-padded). Ultimately, though, it was most impressive watching extended sequences such as Vladimir keeping Oleksiy standing over his head by holding his boots, even as he rolled over or rotated on the ice under him. The coordination, balance, and precision was amazing. Or watching Oleksiy basically step his way up Vladimir's back as the latter went from a crawling position to standing fully upright, and then pushing himself up into a one-handed pushup on Vladimir's head. The two even managed to transition from comedy smoothly into a strength move when an extended odd sequence of squirming and turning with their hands linked between Oleksiy's legs magically resolved itself into an overhead handstand move, without them ever separating their hands.

Both Besedin & Polishchuk and Steven Cousins decided to reach back into 2002, for some reason, with the choice of their second program. B&P performed "Swan Lake" on the 2002 Champions on Ice tour, while Steven Cousins performed his Tom Jones medley on the 2002 Stars on Ice tour. The years didn't take the fun off either program though, with Steven hamming it up to his fullest, pretending to be James Bond and exaggeratedly emoting to the more exaggerated parts of the song. The Tom Jones medley really allows Steven to utilize his audience-charming skills, flirting, winking, and playing to the audience while looking to be having a ball the whole time.

Dorothy Hamill's second program, "Time in a Bottle," really allowed her to demonstrate her gorgeous flowing edges. The song is wistful, a bit melancholic, and flowing, and Dorothy's interpretation really brought out the flowing, looping aspect of the music. Her choreography largely consisted of flowing edges, loops, and leans, which again highlighted her beautiful positions and skating. It was just a lovely program that made it seem like Dorothy had really captured time in a bottle, still preserving the basic skating skills that helped her win her Olympics thirty years earlier.

It's been almost twenty years since the last skater of the evening won his Olympic Games in 1988, but Brian Boitano is another skater who refuses to allow age to slow him down. His final solo of the evening, to Barry Manilow's "I Write the Songs," was a particularly special program for him. In a taped introduction to the program that was played over the jumbotron in the park, Brian explained that in all his years as a skater, his father had only ever suggested one song for him to skate to, and that was "I Write the Songs." This program, then, was dedicated to his father, which clearly meant a lot to him - people sitting near where he stood for his opening position saw tears in his eyes and watched him pull himself together to start the program. At one point in the program, Brian stopped to stand facing the stage and jumbotron as images of himself and his father flashed across the screen. The program itself was a beautiful one - a program very much in Brian's dramatic sweeping style with his long held edges, gorgeous spread eagle that just went on and on, and his gigantic death drop. Pure, classic Brian Boitano, and a wonderful solo with which to close out the show.

Of course, the show wasn't exactly over yet, since the finale, to Barry performing "Could It Be Magic," was still to come. It was in the finale where David Pelletier really got to demonstrate that he could more than hold his own as a singles skater, with an extended solo spot to lead off the ensemble. David has a deep-edged spread eagle - both back and front - to rival the best singles skaters, a nice death drop of his own, and a commanding presence on the ice. He could easily have done a solo program on his own, and it's a shame he didn't, but his portion of the finale did showcase him quite nicely. Eventually, of course, he was joined by the rest of the skaters - first just Viktor and Steven so they could weave around each other and trade off jumps and leaps, and then the pairs, each demonstrating a lift and spin. The cast then joined together to dance around to the music, and eventually were joined by Dorothy and Brian, skating out together and creating nice patterns together on the ice. The show finally closed with the entire cast taking a bow and applauding Barry, before waving and skating off the ice.

For those in the live audience, things still weren't quite over, since it was retake time. David Pelletier was given the mike, and quickly proved himself to be a funny and self-deprecating, if somewhat insecure, retake host. He pulled Steven Cousins out on the ice with him to "be Jamie" since he claimed to find it too scary as a pairs skater to go out on the ice himself. Steven, however, failed his audition as a pairs skater due to not having shaved (David: "Oh I don't skate pairs with people who haven't shaved!") and due to his refusal to take the mike and bail David out when David ran out of things to talk about. David did a pretty darn good job for a while though, thanking Barry Manilow, talking about his baby boy Jesse standing in the locker room in the same spot where Barry Bonds used to sit, trying to get surprised audience members to ask Steven a question, and making fun of his own English. He was very relieved when Yuka finally emerged, ready for her retake.

The skaters ran through their retakes quickly, almost no one having any problems hitting the moves that had given them problems earlier. Brian Boitano insisted on coming out to do a 3-2-2 combo, even though the 3-2 combo he had done during the show was solid (he just ran out of space to do the third jump), and then insisted on retaking a 2-axel that had only minor problems. Viktor Petrenko reskated almost his entire "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" program, with Barry Manilow coming out to lipsync in the background, and hit every single jump solidly and with confidence. He also redid a fair portion of the cowboy program and played up the character even more the second time around. After Brian did his retakes for his "I Write the Songs" program, he took the mike to thank the crowd and Barry Manilow for everything, and to declare his love for San Francisco.

Especially given the solid work done in retakes, Brian's show should look great for TV. He brought together a great blend of humor, nostalgia, quirkiness, and beautiful skating for a fun night of skating and music. While the outdoor show in a baseball park concept may need a little tweaking to make it better for the live audience, overall it was a great night of skating, and that's all that ultimately matters.

Brian Boitano's Skating Spectacular airs Dec. 22, 2007 on NBC from 4-6PM EST. It reairs on the Style Network on Dec. 23, 2007 from 10AM to noon, and again on Dec. 28, 2007 from 5-7PM. Check your local listings.