Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Celebration on Ice - Boisbriand, QC - Dec. 16, 2011

written by Tina

The 2011 Celebration on Ice tour was a creative collaboration between Kurt Browning and Geoffrey Tyler, with Kurt choreographing the show, and Geoffrey helping to provide creative direction (and his singing voice). The tour kicked off in Boisbriand, QC, in front of an extremely enthusiastic full crowd who loudly cheered for every skater and audibly oohed and ahhed and laughed at every jump, spin, and humorous moment.

My review of this show will be marred by the fact that I don't speak French, and the dialogue and introductions were all necessarily in French. In fact, it's rather ironic because Kurt and Geoffrey both play roles in the show but neither speak French, so Kurt couldn't host, and neither could really do much dialogue! My understanding is that in St. John, they will play a bigger role, speaking-wise. In the first three stops on the tour, they will have to rely on the other skaters, especially David Pelletier, who played the host in Kurt's stead.

The other skaters seemed to more than step up to the task, though. The show opens with the guys in the cast greeting each other and bantering while pulling out a little mini-set to center ice, with a fake fireplace, small TV, Christmas tree, and boxes to sit on. They settle down to watch TV, but can't seem to get reception, so they use Shawn Sawyer to improve the reception by extending his super flexible leg up to help augment the antenna, leaving him standing there for a while with leg up in the air while they happily watch the "game" (for which the commentary is provided by Kurt via recorded voiceover). I wonder how long it'll be before that joke makes no sense to anyone - antennas on a TV you have to fiddle with??

The girls come out and confront the guys, asking if they're going to stay watching TV all day. Guys: Yes. Girls: Don't you want to do something? Guys: What do you mean? Girls: Something else. Guys: Ohhhh...no. Girls: Come on, let's do something. Guys: Like what? Girls: Let's go dancing! The guys shake their heads, so the girls shut off the TV. At which Jeff and Shawn Sawyer mockingly make fun of the idea (did not know what they were saying) while Kurt, David, and Dylan Moscovitch start prancing about mockingly, skating around all "prettily" (and with simultaneous jumps, etc) before dismissively laughing off the idea and plopping down in front of the TV again. Finally, the girls each grab a guy, and they waltz around to "Sleigh Bells Ring", and have a nice little opening number before the music draws to a close and the guys plop down back in front of the TV again while the girls strike a closing pose. It's a bit of a cute different kind of show opener, drawing in the audience via watching the skaters interact and show their personalities and interplay, rather than with a big skating opening.

The first skater to hit the ice after the opening was Shawn Sawyer, skating to "Everything is Cool at Christmas Time." Shawn is such a dynamic performer, super-charismatic, and clearly loves to perform. He throws himself into every move with such energy, at times it almost felt *too* frantic to me, but it was never dull and always engaging. His love of performing just completely shows in his eyes and face and body language.

Cynthia Phaneuf was next with "Merry Christmas, Baby." She's such an elegant skater, in a completely different way than Joannie Rochette. This was a nice program, though I'm currently rather distracted watching CSOI on TV, so it's a bit difficult for me to remember the details, unfortunately.

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch skated the next program to "Jingle Bells." It's interesting - I don't watch eligible skating, really, so my only exposure to this pair has been with Celebration on Ice last year and this year, but I feel like I saw a lot of development in them in just that one year, between their numbers this year and the numbers last year. They just seem more polished and their programs more professional. Though, I think Kirsten was wearing the same dress as for one of their programs last year.

The first local skater of the evening, Melina Di Lauro, took the ice next to skate to "All I Want For Christmas Is You". She was quite good - very polished and reasonably confident in front of a supportive audience. I did wonder, though, why it seems so many younger skaters like to use this song. I feel like I've seen a number of local skaters skate to it. She had a nice skate to it, though.

Jeff Buttle was next (garnering a huge cheer on announcement), skating to his SOI program from last year, "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger". Actually, it was kind of funny b/c he, Shawn, Joannie, Kurt, and Jamie & David all skated to the same program that aired last night on CBC, so if anyone in the audience had watched that broadcast, it was like a live repeat. Jeff *totally* sparkles out there when he's performing. I don't know if it's because the audience was so amped and he was feeding off of it or because he's just gotten to be so very comfortable as a performer, but he was completely into the choreography and completely reaching out to the crowd with his eyes and his smile. It's like he knew he had us in the palm of his hand and was just inviting us to play. And he was landing jumps super-solidly too, which just added to that overall confident feel of this number.

Joannie Rochette's Christmas number was "The Perfect Gift" by the Canadian Tenors, the program she did for Holiday Festival on Ice. This was a really pretty and lyrical program, heartfelt and emotional. The Canadian Tenors seem to make for really good skating music, at least if you want to do a pretty, earnest, skating program. She performed it beautifully and the crowd ADORED her. She got the biggest cheers on being announced and during her bows.

Jamie Sale & David Pelletier's first number was their "Let's Go Crazy" number from CSOI last year. The number is a total crowd pleaser, with the side by side dancing, and the crazy, aggressive tricks and lifts. I've reviewed this program before, and I can't say much I haven't said before - it was fun, energetic, and the crowd loved it. These two are crazy strong and fearless.

Kurt Browning's "Christmas Time is Here" program was next. The music was instrumental - a pretty piano piece - and the program itself was an interesting mix of nice, pure skating, and whimsy. He started off essentially doing figures, and I was amused when the crowd started cheering such non-flashy turns and moves enthusiastically. I was struck by the irony that figures used to be considered so boring that they did away with them, and now doing figures in a program can seem super creative and garner cheers from the audience. The program wasn't unabashed pure skating, though - he had moments of crowd interaction where he'd do things like "Should I? Eh, why not?" in gestures, or take a move a little longer or further than necessary to make it humorous, or shrugged at something he did. There was an amusing "chasing his tail bit" where he starts off kind of turning slowly, but then goes faster and faster, trying to grab his own foot. I liked that it wasn't a full out goofy clown number, and it wasn't a pure pretty skating number. It was very Kurt, and his jumps were pretty on.

Evidently, Pete Dack injured his arm this week and couldn't perform, so Violetta Afanasieva did her hoops program as a solo, with an assist from Kurt. The music was a medley of cute upbeat Christmas songs, starting off with the Chipmunks and moving on to "Rock 'n Roll Christmas" or something with the word "rock" in it. I've seen Violetta do the hoops programs a few times before, but I swear she's picked up more tricks. It's amazing what she does with those hoops. She's got such control with them just spinning around her hands, and the fact that she can hula while skating is even more impressive. Towards the beginning of the program, she steps into a hoop lying on the ice, and manages to use her skate blade to hook it up and start it spinning around herself without using her hands at all. She appeared to jump up and through the hoop while holding it a couple times, and the things she can do with the hoops in her hands are really cool. Kurt's role was to hand her more hoops, the whole time acting like he couldn't believe she could handle anymore. Then, she did the thing where she's hulaing like 8 hoops around different parts of her body, and manages to hula each one up to her hand and toss it over to Kurt, most of the time landing the hoop over his head neatly. Then, as she's bowing, he gestures to the big hoops slinky, making expressions and gestures as if he doesn't think she can do it because it's too hard, and she does a strongman pose, showing off her muscles, like "I'm strong" and he's all "whoa!" And of course she does hula the entire stack. In the end, Kurt tries to hula a few himself, and falls over in the process, before he sheepishly grabs them all up, and the two skate off together. I hope Pete gets better soon, but I have to say, I think Kurt and Violetta were super cute together and he helped her add more character to the number.

Celebration on Ice always integrates local skaters and synchro teams, and the Boisbriand show was no exception. I believe the team was called "Golden Ice", and they skated to a medley of English songs with a vaguely Spanish sound. There was some interesting, clever choreography, but I think that nerves got to the team, because there were also some falls that disrupted the synchronicity (I watched them warm up, and they did a better job in warmups). The skaters presented it for all they were worth, though, and recovered quickly from the problems.

The first act closed with a group number to "Wooden Soldiers on Parade", featuring Kurt, Shawn, David, and Dylan as the soldiers, and Jamie and Kirsten as two girls who tried to get their attention and disrupt their stiff and solemn marching. The guys were dressed up kind of like British royal guardsmen with the tall black furry hat and the red uniforms. As they marched out stiffly, they were completely oblivious to the girls waving their hands in their faces, so the girls finally tweaked their noses and otherwise bothered them until they reacted. The girls got shooed off while the four soldiers continued to skate and march together. They did a kind of mini pinwheel with the girls on the ends in death spiral position, and there was some choreography that literally acted out some of the lyrics - sabres clashing, soldiers winking, etc. There was a cute bit where the four guys started going further and further down into split positions, before pulling themselves up and clutching their legs together in pain, but then Shawn teetered and "fell" into an actual split, so the rest of them hurried to help him up, by lifting him, still in the split position, while Kurt directed them where to go. After being put down, Shawn's leg kept rising on its own accord and he kept pushing it down. The cutest part, though, was that Jamie and David's son Jesse took a role, coming out to join them in pajamas and hockey skates, with David lifting him over his head before handing him off to Jamie, and Jesse happily jumping and skating around. At one point while he was out there, Kurt and Kirsten did a death spiral, and Dylan and Shawn did a death spiral (Shawn's leg up in the air), while Jamie held Jesse as she went down into a death spiral with David. At the end, the soldiers all happily wave Jesse off the ice before marching their own way off the ice. I think the idea was supposed to be that this was all the little boy's dream. I gotta say, Kurt's signature was all over that number - all the character work, the humorous bits, the boys vs girls thing...

After intermission the local CanSkaters came out and skated to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Most of the skaters were really young, and therefore not very stable on the ice, but it was quite cute. They actually tried to do something with the choreography too, breaking the skaters into different groups that did their own little things on the ice.

In Violetta's first number, Kurt substituted for the absent Pete. In her second number, Geoffrey Tyler was the substitute. Without an intro, though, I'm guessing the crowd was rather puzzled who this tall skinny guy in a Christmas tree costume was, who skated ok but obviously wasn't a professional. Still, it was quite cute, if a tad bit cheesy. Geoffrey was dressed up as a Christmas tree, skating around happily to "The Happiest Christmas Tree", until Violetta approached him. He backed away from her going all "no no" before slumping into a sad tree as she pulled him home to be her Christmas tree. She kept pinning decorations on him, which made him happy, but then he kept rejecting the star and throwing it to the ground. Finally they skated off, with Geoffrey taking an (unintentional but will probably go into future shows) face plant when he tripped over his toepick, before getting up to lift Violetta, kicking and protesting, off the ice. It wasn't much of a skating number, but it was cute and funny.

The second local skater, Nicola Nadeau, came next. I couldn't understand Jeff's intro, but I think he said he was the champion of something? He wore a plaid shirt and skated to a very country-sounding "Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy." This kid was quite a performer too, who really played up the country aspect in his performance, and had no problem engaging and looking out into the crowd as he skated. This was a really fun number. I was a little sad for him though - in warmups he was landing his jumps really solidly, one after another, in the midst of all those champion skaters, but in the actual show, he missed a couple jumps. I wonder if it was the show lighting. He rallied really well though, and never let up on the performance. He was really fun to watch!

Kirsten and Dylan's second number was to "Dreaming with a Broken Heart" by John Mayer, and I really liked it. This is really the number where I was like, wow, I feel like they've matured a lot since last year. They took their time where they needed it, and really just played out the poignancy and heartbreak and emotion of the number in how they related to each other on the ice. It was just really smooth and pretty.

Shawns's second number was his "Working for the Weekend" number from last year's CSOI. This is just such a cute, personality-filled number. It was a great deal of fun, and the audience loved it, especially when he was unbuttoning his jacket with his back to the audience, and really playing it up. The whole businessman shedding his suit and revealing a tattooed wildman underneath theme was cute, though I did think it funny since Shawn's job is nothing like that.

Cynthia skated to something by a French female singer with an acoustic guitar that I didn't recognize. It was slow and ballady, and she did a lovely job skating a subtly emotional and yearning program to it.

Jeff brought his "Ave Maria" program (sung by the Canadian Tenors) to the show, and it was simply gorgeous. Jeff is such a beautiful skater - I love his lines when he does more classical type programs like this, and he's really good at understated emotions in his performance as well. He wore his costume from his Enigma program last year, which was appropriate, since it had a similar feel. Just a gorgeous program.

Having reviewed like five shows in the last year with Joannie skating "Show Me How You Burlesque", I really don't have anything left to say about it, unfortunately! She does a fantastic job with this number and the audience really enjoys her. Jeff was the recipient of the cane tossing in this iteration of the program, dancing out of the curtains in his Ave Maria costume to catch it.

Jamie & David's second number was to "The Prayer" by the Canadian Tenors, and it was simply beautiful. These two do the energetic high-flying aggressive numbers amazingly well, but I love it when they go soft. Especially when they make ample use of David's spread eagles, which I think are just gorgeous. I love it when they do moves in counterpoint where he's doing a spread eagle around her while she spins, or does a spread eagle next to her while she does some other edgy move. And I think "The Prayer" is a great skating song (even if Roca & Sur already did it, and I think they did it for the HFOI finale the other year the Canadian Tenors were the guest). Loved this.

I've also seen and reviewed "Steppin' Out of My Mind" rather a lot in the last year. I love when Geoffrey and Kurt get to perform together, and I think it's an utterly brilliant program. I do continue to think that they need to highlight Geoffrey more - I *knew* he was there and even I forgot for the first part of the program that there was a live singer there, and then I had to look for him before I found him. It's a testament to how good he sounds that no one even realizes he's live, but what's the point of a live singer if you don't know he's there? They had Violetta come out to give Kurt his coast and throw him his cane, too, so Geoffrey didn't even get that role. This was an excellent performance, not least because Kurt's jumps were working for him. His voiceover is recorded so you could interpret his reaction to his jumps as either actually commenting on a successful landing or a sarcastic reaction to a flubbed landing, but the sarcasm wasn't needed this time around. His footwork was awesome as usual, and the whole premise is so clever, but I did wonder if the French-speaking crowd understood the voiceover.

Kurt escorted Violetta off the ice, while Geoff remained on the ice so David could come out to introduce him to the crowd and ask him a bunch of questions in French (to which he always responded "Ouai"). I'm told they used the fact that Geoff doesn't speak French as part of the joke, with David asking stuff like "so you don't understand anything I'm saying" and "So you like poutine" with Geoff just agreeing to anyting he said. This transitioned into the finale where I *think* the premise was that the skaters requested their favorite Christmas songs, and Geoff sang them while they skated.

The finale was thus a Christmas medley, broken up by dialogue, with Geoffrey singing the whole thing while standing on the ice. It started with "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas", with Shawn and Violetta coming out to skate together. The main highlight of this bit was both of them showing off their extreme flexibility with Violetta doing a backwards spiral with her leg super high, and Shawn a forward one with *his* leg super high as well. This was followed by "Deck the Halls" with the two pairs going out to do side by side lifts and spins, as well as a tandem death spiral. They also did a bit where they traded off partners before switching back to their own partners.

Then came "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", with Violetta escorting Geoffrey to the middle of the ice while Joannie and Cynthia went out to the end of the ice and did simultaneous jumps. Violetta then broke off to do a Biellmann spin, before the three of them started doing choreography together, including a tricky, not quite perfect sequence of footwork side by side down the length of the ice and back again. Then it was the guys' turn with a fun skate to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" - Kurt, Jeff, and Shawn with side by side footwork, jumps, funny bits...all three are consummate performers so they work well together. The fact that it was the first show kind of showed, IMO, but they should get a bit more polish on it over the next few shows. The ending bit was cute, with the three putting their arms around each others' shoulders for an ending pose, then suddenly breaking away and dancing all crazy, before going back to the pose again. Finally I think David asked Geoffrey to close things off with one final song, and he agreed. The lights come down a bit, and he started by inviting "Mssr Browning" out and singing "Silent Night". Kurt had a pretty little solo off the top of that, with some bits reminiscent of Downstream from last year, before the other skaters all joined him on the ice for a group finale.

Overall, the show definitely needs some more practice in the group numbers to get more polish and unison in the moves, and it would have helped a great deal to speak French to judge how well the finale flowed as a premise, but I'd say it was an overall success. I love that Kurt & Geoff really put thought into trying to make the show more theatrical and with more personality, even with the limited time they had to work with the cast. I'm very much looking forward to seeing their next collaboration with Stars on Ice!