Stars on Ice
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Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate 2005 Review

Air Canada Centre - Toronto, ON - Oct. 18, 2005

written by Tina

For three years in a row, Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate has been held at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, ON. This year, the show's fifth, the show moved a little bit closer to home for Kurt, to the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto. It's a move that seems to have worked. Despite the show taking place on a Tuesday night, the lower bowl was pretty much packed to capacity, with seats sold up into the upper bowl and even some of the suites well-occupied.

Of course, a large part of the attraction for this year's show, besides its popular host and stellar cast of skaters, was its musical guest star, Italian singing sensation Andrea Bocelli. The audience clearly loved Bocelli and was thrilled to have him there, cheering loudly when he was announced and whenever he was on stage. Bocelli, in turn, gave a standout performance, filling the rafters with his powerful and beautiful voice on six songs from both his upcoming album and an old favorite. He was joined on stage twice by 18-year-old New Zealand singing star Hayley Westenra, who also performed another song solo.

The theme of this year's show was love, romance, and in particular, Italy, an appropriate focus given this year's upcoming Olympic Games in Torino, Italy. Along with its Italian singing star, the show also boasted major Italian talent - current World Bronze Medalist and Italian Champion Carolina Kostner, and former Italian Champion Silvia Fontana. Many of the songs, particularly in the first half, were in Italian, and the whole show had a bit more of a serious, classy feel than past Gotta Skates.

The opening number, featuring the men in red, white and black patterned shirts over black pants, and the women in red dresses, was skated to an instrumental number, "Volare" by Richie Cole. The number opened with Kurt skating alone, welcoming the audience with trademark Kurt footwork as he skated all over the ice. The rest of the cast then joined him one by one, each doing a bit of spotlight footwork out to their spot on the ice. The highlight of this opening number featured Kurt "teaching" the ladies to do bits of footwork. He'd get their attention and demonstrate a piece of footwork, then gesturing to them to try it. They would, he'd applaud them, and then demonstrate a harder bit of footwork, with them following until finally, he did this fast, frenetic bit of footwork that just left them shaking their heads at him. The guys then had their turn to skate together, doing simultaneous axels, death drops, and other moves, before finally joining with the ladies and skating together as a group.

After the skaters left the ice, Andrea Bocelli was introduced with great fanfare and wild applause by the audience. The first skater to perform with him was fellow Italian Silvia Fontana, wearing her opening number costume and skating to Andrea singing "Te Extrano". Silvia is an expressive, passionate skater whose emotional style beautifully complemented Andrea's powerful singing voice. Her body carriage and posture is a bit different than the other ladies, which often adds to the feeling of passion she emotes.

At the conclusion of Silvia's program, a musical interlude provided a flowing transition between Silvia and Brian's programs as they circled each other, clasped hands, and essentially passed the ice from Silvia to Brian. Brian's program, to Andrea singing "Voglio Restare Cosi", started without pause straight out of the interlude. Brian's program was powerful and dramatic, with Brian clearly feeding off the energy of Bocelli's live performance.

Kurt came out on the ice as Bocelli made his way offstage to introduce Carolina Kostner. He talked about how he had the honor of getting to know her recently as he choreographed her Olympic LP for her, and how she was a talented and beautiful skater. Carolina then came out to skate to "Ave Maria" by Filippa Giordana. Carolina may be very tall, with long lanky limbs, but she skates with a great deal of grace and feeling, and her program was beautiful. She also excited the audience with her speed and beautiful jumps, including a triple-triple combo, as well as her flexibility and lovely spins. Artistically and expressively, she fit right into this seasoned cast of pros.

Carolina was followed by Elvis Stojko, skating an elegantly expressive program to "Alla Luce Del Sol" by Josh Groban. This was a beautiful program that showcased Elvis' ability to skate seriously and fluidly, and to interpret classical-style music. It was also an opportunity for him to show off his great jumps and fast spins, not to mention great footwork. I was critical of Elvis' skating at Gotta Skate last year, but I really enjoyed his program this year, and felt he performed it really well.

Following Elvis were Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen, skating a very Spanish-influenced number to "Burn it Blue" from the soundtrack of Freda. The program was elegant and dramatic, featuring a lot of Spanish dance poses and posture, as well as attitude. Yuka and Jason also had an interesting series of transitions in their lifts, with Yuka changing direction and position overhead as Jason skated down the ice. It was an interesting program, choreographically, and Yuka and Jason carried it off well.

Shae-Lynn Bourne then came out in her dramatic red dress to skate to "Caruso" by Lara Fabian. Shae-Lynn can move like few others can, and has a sort of slinky sensuousness to her movement that is quite compelling and interesting to watch. She excels at dramatic skating like this, and her deep knee bends give her a different body shape that brings her closer to the ice while at the same time gliding effortlessly over it.

After Shae-Lynn came Steven Cousins, dressed in a black sportscoat loosely buttoned over a white dress shirt and black pants. He was skating to "Tender Trap", a kind of jazzy/swingy number that gave him a great opportunity to showcase his personality and ability to connect with the audience. I also feel like Steven's footwork has just gotten better each year, with him getting lighter on his feet and his footwork more interesting.

The program that followed I thought was one of the prettiest and most romantic of the evening. Hayley Westenra came out with Andrea Bocelli, and the two performed "Vivo Per Lei" as Jamie Sale & David Pelletier skated. Jamie & David started out the program with their arms around each other, facing the stage and just watching the singers, before they slowly broke apart, joined hands, and started moving towards the stage. The program just built from there, with both the lyrics and the choreography emphasizing love and romance and tenderness between the couple on the ice. The program also featured some of Jamie & David's trademark interesting lifts and moves, such as her arching into a sort of handstand on his back, or holding an extended spiral position with her foot clamped between his legs, or her standing on his feet facing him in a spread-eagle position, or several other overhead lifts. One thing that has always struck me about Jamie & David's lifts vs those of several other professional pairs, is how long they hold them. Similarly, the two did side by side spirals that just held and held and held as the edge deepened and the spiral tightened. Just a lovely program, and Hayley Westenra and Andrea Bocelli's duet was gorgeous.

The last program of the first act was of course Kurt Browning skating to Andrea Bocelli performing live. The music was "Can't Help Falling in Love", the old Elvis song, and Andrea performed it beautifully, if with a slightly different feel to it than the Elvis version. As for Kurt's performance, it was emotional, heartfelt, and gorgeous. A very flowy, expressive program with lots of beautiful edges, spirals, Ina Bauers, spread eagles, as well as Kurt's typical beautiful jumps out of nowhere. The choreography was very emotive, and Kurt's performance felt like he was really feeling the music as he skated, and feeling the emotion the lyrics talked about. A beautiful way to end the first act.

Act two opened with an incredibly cute, and very funny group number featuring Kurt, Carolina, and Silvia, and skated to the song "That's Amore" by Dean Martin. The scene was an Italian restaurant, with Kurt as the Italian waiter, complete with thick mustache and haughty demeanour. It opened with Kurt polishing glasses, getting them just so, until Carolina and Silvia skated into the restaurant and took a seat at the table. Kurt the waiter is clearly enamored with these two young beauties, and after serving them their water, psychs himself up and then goes over on one knee and requests a dance with Carolina. She's flattered, and the two skate together side by side, with Kurt acting up a storm with the kind of facial expressions and body language he does best, all thrilled and puffed up and trying to be dignified all at the same time. After Carolina returns to her seat and whispers with Silvia, Kurt gathers himself up and stomps his feet, thrusting his arm behind him imperiously for Silvia to take, and the two of them then proceed to skate together. Kurt dips Silvia, but as he helps her back up, notices that he's dropped his napkin, and rushes to pick it up, thus losing Silvia back to her table. He ponders his situation, gears himself up again, and then starts to show off a bit, until he's enticed both girls to get up and skate with him. Kurt plays the mix of pompous arrogance and excited eagerness to the hilt, to hilarious effect. When the girls start doing a series of interesting and fast spins, Kurt the waiter tries his own series of spins that semi-mock both himself and the girls. And when they, skating on each side of him and holding his hands, go into spirals, he hastily tries to join them, though not nearly as successfully. The program closes with the two girls back at their table, and Kurt bowing to them, ready to serve. The three clearly had a great time skating this number, and it was a great showcase for Kurt's physical acting ability. A great time for the audience as well.

After the tables and chairs were cleaned up from this number, Andrea Bocelli came out again to perform "It's Impossible" as Steven Cousins skated. This was a lovely performance, and Steven was clearly thrilled and honored to be skating to Bocelli singing live, and did his best to maintain the solemnity and beautiful skating appropriate for this beautiful number. The program was both serious and joyful, and was very enjoyable to watch.

Silvia and Carolina came out again on the ice, following Steven and Andrea, to skate a short transitory piece to "Come to Italy". It was an appropriate and lovely number for the two Italian champions, with the two utilizing the entire ice surface to skate counterpointed spirals, spins, etc. Very sweeping, and pretty, and ended up with the two at Elvis Stojko's side.

Elvis was clearly already in character by the time he stepped out on ice, rather haughtily looking bored even as he stood between the two lovely ladies. His number, to "Fin, Fan", was a clear parody/mockery of operatic numbers, and featured him mocking the overdramatic gestures and poses of the opera, as well as looking bored and looking at his watch as he pretended to direct the music. In many ways, the number resembled Scott Hamilton's Figaro program of years past, though Scott's character more evoked the concept of the self-important opera singer, while Elvis' character seemed more bored with it all, rather than caught up in his own melodrama. The number was quite funny, and had the audience in frequent laughter.

Following Elvis came Shae-Lynn Bourne and her new partner - a chair. It seems Shae-Lynn can skate effectively and dramatically with just about anything, and she made the chair a convincing partner in this number. I got the impression the chair was actually supposed to represent the missing partner - when she first came out, a man's white shirt was draped over the chair, and she skated with it as if she was missing someone, smelling the shirt and draping it over herself. Eventually, she discarded the shirt and went to skate with the chair. I think Shae-Lynn may have actually come up with more tricks to do with the chair than Stars on Ice has in the past. It was a well-skated number which didn't so much fall back on using a prop as integrated the prop into the program in interesting ways.

We were treated to another live singing performance as Hayley Westenra came out to sing "Both Sides Now" while Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen skated. Hayley has a lovely, clear, and rich voice that gave the well-known song a rather different quality than the version I'm used to hearing by Joni Mitchell. This was a beautiful, lyrical program that Yuka and Jason performed to gorgeously, with a plethora of lovely lifts and pairs moves.

Silvia Fontana skated her short program next. I have to say - that woman is in shape. She wore a black and silver skintight costume that bared part of her side and had a rather short miniskirt, and she is very fit and trim. This was a fun and enjoyable program to watch. Silvia's most common move seems to be to skate or spin while holding one foot up behind her head, and she did that a lot in this program. She clearly enjoys skating and brings that joy to the audience as she skates.

There were several times during the evening when I felt like the programs were reminiscent of Scott Hamilton's work. One was during Elvis' Fin, Fan number. The other was in this number by Brian Orser, to "Steppin' Out" by Dean Martin. This program was very Scottie-reminiscent, with its light, fleet footwork, swingy feel, and joy on the ice. It was even capped off by a lovely backflip. Brian brought a great sense of fun to the ice while skating this number.

Carolina Kostner followed Brian, skating to Gabriel's Oboe. Carolina is a lovely skater, and this program suited her well. Dressed in a periwinkle blue dress, and skating with delicacy and grace, Carolina showed off her powerful jumps, beautiful spins, and nice stretch and line. I don't think either of the programs she skated at Gotta Skate were the programs Kurt choreographed for her, which is rather disappointing, but they were a nice choice of programs for the show overall. I really enjoyed discovering her at this show.

Jamie Sale and David Pelletier came next, skating to "I Wanna Know What Love Is" by Wynonna. This program was more about power and drama than the previous program had been, and as usual, Jamie & David did a stellar job in their performance and skating. Spot-on lifts and throws, and choreography that really highlighted the music and emotion. There are a few moves that they seem to be using a lot this year, appearing in both programs at Gotta Skate, such as Jamie standing on David's feet as he does a spread eagle with her back arched, Jamie standing in David's lap as she does a beautifully extended spiral position, etc, but they use those moves to stunning effect. A very enjoyable program.

As headliner, Kurt Browning closed out the show (before the finale) with a change of pace - a fast-paced, dancey, and fun skate to "I Did It" by Dave Matthews. This is not a song I would have ever thought would make a good skating program, but Kurt does an excellent job of finding all the nuances and the moves to make it seem like the song was written for the ice. Dressed in a costume very reminiscent of Brickhouse - light grey shiny satiny light-colored shirt over black shiny tight pants - Kurt shows how he's still one of the best dancers on the ice. Of course, his footwork is fast-paced, interesting, and different, highlighting every beat and transition in the music. But it's how he uses his whole body that really makes the program work - the twisty bendiness he achieves, the whole body language and attitude he evokes. The program also features jumps out of nowhere, and some rather interesting, rather faster than usual spins. The program has a bit more audience pandering than I would usually like to see, with the hip thrusting and pointing into the audience, but in between all that is a lot of interesting and fun skating. This was a great, high-energy way to cap off the show before it took a more solemn turn for the finale. I have to admit - the program didn't fit the feel of the rest of the show, but it sure was a lot of fun.

The finale of the show brought Andrea Bocelli and Hayley Westenra back out to perform "Time to Say Goodbye", perhaps one of Bocelli's most famous numbers (originally performed with Sarah Brightman). Thematically, the song was obviously perfectly suited for a finale and it was a lovely way to end the show. The skaters were all dressed in dark costumes, and the finale found ways to highlight them all. It opened with Brian, Shae-Lynn, and Yuka side-by-side down the ice (Brian in the middle), each getting a chance to skate out and do something separately, and then in unison, and then following each other down the ice. They were then joined by Jamie, David, and Jason, lifting Jamie overhead between David and Jason before Jamie & David broke off to do a death spiral. Then Steven and Elvis in turn came out for a little bit of spotlight footwork before being joined by Kurt (who had done a quick costume change). The three of them followed each other down the ice, doing moves in quick succession after each other, and eventually ending up with Steven and Elvis down on one knee while Kurt did a spiral between them. The two pairs then did side-by-side overhead lifts between the skaters all joined together to skate in a circle, and then serpentine pattern down the ice. The finale ended with the skaters extending their arms towards the audience, before turning to acknowledge the fantastic singers. This was a gorgeous finale, and a perfect way to end a wonderful show.

Overall, I thought Gotta Skate V was a fantastic show with a great selection of skaters and programs, and amazing musical guests. I would highly recommend anyone catch the broadcast on NBC Dec. 18, 2005 (4-6PM ET). Every year, Gotta Skate is a great show, and this year was no exception. I can't wait to see what Kurt has in store for next year.