Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Holiday Festival on Ice - Abbotsford, BC - Dec. 4, 2009

written by Tina

The 2009 edition of Holiday Festival on Ice kicked off in Abbotsford, BC on a brisk December night. The arena was quite full, especially on the sides, and the audience was a really appreciative one. They cheered, supported the skaters, and very few of them left during retakes. They seemed ready to take in as much skating as the skaters were willing to show them, and stay for more. The show is traveling to four cities in total, but the Abbotsford show was a bit different because it was taped by CBC for TV. As such, it had live music - the Canadian Tenors and Andrea Menard - and quite good show lighting. The musical guests were great - the Canadian Tenors in particular really added to the show with their gorgeous voices, sense of humor, and casual interaction with the audience and the skaters. Even without those trappings, though, the show should still be a good one for the remaining three stops on this short tour. While I appreciate Disson Skating for providing a venue for figure skaters to showcase their talents, and keep skating on the airwaves, you can feel a difference between a show like Holiday Festival on Ice, where they seem to have put more time into the choreography and rehearsal process, and the one-off Disson shows. The group numbers feel more polished, with more complex choreography, and the whole show has a more coherent feel to it.

Act 1

Opening - "Adagio" - Cast and the Canadian Tenors
The show actually opened with two ensemble numbers in a row. The first opening was a bit more of a traditional spotlight each skater in turn number, though it did it well with nice transitions between the skaters coming on and those coming off, and the skaters skating together. In particular, it gave a sense of the ensemble coming together, as individual skaters joined with other skaters to skate together, breaking apart and then rejoining. It was a nice way to open the show. I seem to recall that they waited to announce who the skaters were until the close of this number.

"Silent Night" - Cast, the Canadian Tenors, and Andrea Menard
The second opening number, however, was my personal favorite. The Canadian Tenors and Andrea Menard sang a beautiful version of "Silent Night" together, their voices blending and harmonizing in a lovely fashion. On the ice, I liked the creative touch of having the skaters all "frozen" on the ice, while one skater or pair skated, and then having the first skater "tag" another skater/pair, unfreezing them to skate together for a while, weaving in and out of the other skaters and doing some nice bits of choreography (including Kurt and Katia skating in sync for a while, and then Katia doing pairs lifts and spins with Steven). The whole program just flowed really well, and was one of my favorite recent group numbers that I've seen.

"Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" - Caryn Kadavy (music by Cheap Trick)
Caryn Kadavy was a late addition to the cast, I'm told replacing Cynthia Phaneuf. I'm fairly certain this program was from Scott Hamilton's show where Cheap Trick were the musical guests and they sang covers of Beatles songs. Caryn Kadavy has a lovely presence on the ice, a great deal of poise and and beautiful whisper soft edges. She can put a little edge into her choreography, though, as she did here, and overall did a nice job with the program.

"Tainted Love" - Shawn Sawyer (music by Soft Cell)
This was one of Shawn's numbers from Stars on Ice last year, and he performed it every bit as dynamically and intensely as he did on tour. Shawn is fascinating to watch on the ice - he's got charisma to spare and isn't the least bit shy about using his intense gaze to reach into the audience challengingly and draw people into his performance. He also cuts a unique figure on the ice with a very distinctive style - that extreme flexibility and taut carriage, coupled with some solid jumps and great choreography. I definitely enjoy him as a show skater.

"Halo" - Ekaterina Gordeeva (music by Beyonce)
For her first number, Katia performed the program she did at Kristi's show in October, but with a different costume. I'm not sure if that's because the costume she wore at Kristi's show was the one she wore in the finale for this show, or if she just changed the costume, but this time around she wore a flowy chiffony (on one side) purple/black costume that really showed off her lovely physique. I like this program far more than I ever expected to - I like Katia's pacing of it, the slow builds and deliberate movements that transition to almost frantic free footwork and turns, that she then recenters and brings back to a more calm feel. She does a good job of conveying delicate strength in the number. Katia unfortunately had a bit of trouble with her jumps this evening - she fell in the opening, and either bobbled or fell on a jump in both her solos.

"Christmas Medley" - Kurt Browning (music by John Sheard)
From delicate strength to sheer silliness, it was time for Kurt to bring the humor with his mostly improvised number to "Christmas Medley". The song was a collection of random Christmas carols that almost careened from one to the next, and Kurt's program was reminiscent of "Meditation from Thais" (from Improv-Ice 1999) in how part of the humor came out of how he reacted to the unexpected musical shifts. From the footwork to the goofy facial expressions to the body language, Kurt had the audience in the palm of his hand, ready to laugh at every nuance in the program. Some of his humor came out of doing the unexpected, so convincingly that the audience was initially fooled and then appreciative of the deliberate subverting of expectation. At one point, he seemed to be setting up for an axel, and his body language was utterly convincing that he was going to jump until he went (with a loud dig into the ice sound) into the takeoff and never left the ice, instead turning into footwork instead. The audience seemed to almost hold their breath for the jump and then let out a genuinely appreciative sounding laugh at the non-jump. Or at another point, when he seemed to "run out of the ice", skipping up onto the boards, he drew an inadvertent gasp, and then laughter from the crowd. Kurt has such a natural rapport with the audience, and this was just a nice, fun, lighthearted Christmas number.

"Winter Wonderland" - Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon (music by REO Speedwagon)
When I first started watching D&L after they turned pro and joined Stars on Ice, I was impressed by their beautiful lifts and choreography, and the romantic sizzle they brought to their programs, but sort of got the impression that they mostly just did the sexy intense thing. I may have been wrong about my initial assessment, but I still feel like they've really come into their own as show skaters over the years. Patrice, in particular, seems to have developed a mischievous twinkle to him, and instead of mainly showcasing Marie-France and gazing adoringly at her, has started doing more of a flirty goofy thing in how he looks at and moves in front of the audience. It's really quite fun to watch. This was a fun, light-hearted number, with bits of subtle humor and just a nice easy, playful feeling to it.

"Remember Me" - Steven Cousins and the Canadian Tenors
Am I wrong in thinking this is a song that Josh Groban has sung in the past? It sounded familiar. Not that I was comparing - the Canadian Tenors' performance was intense, passionate, and absolutely gorgeous. Steven Cousins' skate to the song went a long way towards matching the intensity and passion of the vocals - he certainly threw himself into it and committed to the emotion and passion of the music. I couldn't help but feel while watching him that I'd seen all these moves before, though. I've heard he did the choreography for this show, so maybe he focused his creativity on the wonderful group numbers. This number, I unfortunately kind of felt was kind of like recycled choreography skated with a great deal of passion.

"Belle" - Jeff Buttle and the Canadian Tenors
I think it was before this number where the Canadian Tenors introduced themselves and where each of them was from. All four singers are charismatic and funny, and great at talking to the audience. At any rate, though, one of the singers was from Quebec, and introduced this song as being from the musical Notre Dame de Paris. When I spoke to Kurt before the show, he mentioned something about commenting to Jeff that he had a move for every note of the music. Watching this program, and the other one..he really does. I find it really interesting how all the Canadian men I've seen have such completely distinctive styles, so when you put three of them together in a show like this one, it creates such a diversity in performance. Jeff's performance had all the passion and intensity the number called for, along with a sense of freedom and flying over the ice that really complemented the music. He was both engaging and engaged, with soaring choreography, stretched out body positions, and a sense of really feeling the music that was wonderful to see.

"Nella Fantasia" - Jamie Sale & David Pelleter, Kurt Browning, and the Canadian Tenors
I had the runlist for the show, and was initially excited that Jamie, David, and Kurt would be doing an ensemble together. So I was puzzled when Jamie and David came out on the ice alone, and began skating a beautifully romantic, soft, and sweet program. It was a lovely program, but I could not figure out for the life of me where Kurt fit in, and was starting to wonder if it was a typo in the program. And then when Kurt finally joined them on the ice, they did a few graceful turns around each other, skated in counterpoint a bit, and then Jamie & David left the ice..only to have the music come to an end. Then I was just wondering if Kurt had missed his cue and come out way too late. A pause, then one of the tenors asked "so, you ready to step it up a notch, Kurt?" and then it all became clear. The Tenors broke into a much more upbeat, fast version of the song, and Kurt's part took off with a great blend of interpretive footwork that fit the music perfectly and choreography that echoed both the underlying romanticism of the song and the upbeat nature of this version. Overall it was a fairly unique way of presenting different interpretations - both musically and choreographically - of the same song, and added up to a really enjoyable number from all the artists involved. I really enjoyed this number (and probably would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't seen the runlist and didn't come in with preconceived expectations).

The first act ended with Jeff Buttle coming out on the ice to make a plea for WorldVision, and ask people to donate/sponsor a child in the lobby.

Act II

Act II opened up with the other musical guest of the evening, Andrea Menard, introducing herself and her co-producer, and telling us that she'd be performing some songs from their upcoming album. Andrea didn't seem quite at ease with the chatting with the audience bits as the Tenors, but at least seemed fairly enthusiastic to be there.

"Evergreen" - Shawn Sawyer, Andrea Menard
One of the changes the audiences will see in the upcoming shows is that, without the live musical artists there, Shawn won't be doing this number in the other stops, he'll be skating to a song by David Archuleta. To be perfectly honest, that's probably just as well. His skate was wonderful, his choreography excellent, and he gave it all he got as he usually does. I just didn't particularly like the song. It was still a good performance, though.

"Yuletide You" - Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon, Andrea Menard
Andrea introduced this song as sexy or sizzling or something like that, but I didn't really see it. As usual, Marie-France and Patrice brought the heat and romance and passion, but the song itself seemed more along the lines of a standard romantic Christmas ballad than anything with real heat. All the same, D&L had a really nice skate to this song, incorporating some of their signature moves, but usually with a twist or variation that made it seem a bit more new.

"Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" - Steven Cousins (music by Rick Springfield)
Maybe Steven saved his creativity for the group numbers, or maybe he expended it a bit more on this number. Steven seemed to bring a bit more nuance to this program, with more atypical moves for him, choreography that didn't mostly rely on outstretched arms or looking down pensively, and some nice musical interpretation. It was a nice change of pace for him.

"Carol of the Bells" - Caryn Kadavy (music by Barlow Girl)
I've heard this song so many times now at Christmas that I almost associate it with Christmas more than the traditional carols. Caryn's performance to it was nice, with flowy edges and spread eagles, and some nice clean double jumps.

"Sparkle" - Ekaterina Gordeeva and Andrea Menard
Andrea Menard came back out to sing the title song off her new album, "Sparkle", with Katia interpreting the song on the ice. Katia brought her wonderfully light feet and beautiful grace, along with a big sparkling smile to really exemplify the "sparkle" in the program, resulting in a quite nice Christmas number.

"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" - Jeff Buttle (Music by Harry Connick Jr)
Speaking of sparkle, no one quite has the degree of high intensity beam in their smile like Jeff Buttle, who brought a mischievous playfulness and his move-for-every-note-of-the-music choreography to this lighthearted Harry Connick Jr song. Jeff's at that stage in his career where his jumps are really solid and beautiful, but he's also really diving into the musical interpration and artistry, and really utilizing every tool at his disposal to present some great, fun numbers for the audience.

"I Like the Way" - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier (Music by Bodyrockers)
Every time I see this program, it brings the audience to an immediate standing ovation at the close. And with good reason, too. The number is dynamic, exciting, and fun, and Jamie does everything she can to show the audience how utterly fearless and strong she is. Jamie and David both are terrific performers, who exude confidence on the ice, and who can bring both the musicality and the exciting tricks that really capture the audience and pull them to their feet.

"Hallelujah" - Kurt Browning and the Canadian Tenors
The other standing ovation of the night belonged to Kurt, skating an absolutely gorgeous rendition of "Hallelujah" by the Canadian Tenors. Both the music, which the Canadian Tenors stunningly and soaringly interpreted, and Kurt's heartfelt choreography came together to create a beautiful whole. Kurt's done angsty slow programs, and dramatic ones, but rarely has hit this particular note of hopeful triumph, and it's lovely to see. I really love this program and I sincerely hope it makes it on the broadcast, because it was one of the most lovely programs Kurt has done in a while - lots of pretty edges and beautiful turns with awesome music. Unfortunately, Kurt was unable to pull off a perfect program - he had four double axels in a row timed to the music, and pulled off three of them perfectly, only to stumble on the fourth (his body language before he pulled himself back into the program clearly showed how disappointed he was at how close he came to pulling it off). And then more misfortune happened in the retakes, which I'll get to.

"The Prayer" - Cast and the Canadian Tenors
The finale was to "The Prayer", which was a beautiful way to end the night. It started with Katia and Caryn coming out, and doing some graceful edges, and then being joined by Jeff. Jeff skated apart, and then with them, and then the two women broke apart do do a portion themselves. They were then joined by several of the men (except Kurt), which led to some side by side simultaneous butterflies, and other synchronous choreography. Then S&P and D&L came out doing mirror choreography and lifts. Eventually the entire group was on the ice together, with Kurt and Jeff breaking out to do some mirror skating together down the ice, grinning hugely at each other. The program ended with the skaters skating towards the stage to come together with the Canadian Tenors. A few bows and hugs later, and the official show was over.

Retakes - Cast
However, the skating wasn't yet over, as Kurt informed us, skating away from the group with a microphone. As he said, he had personally insured that we'd get to hear the Canadian Tenors perform Hallelujah again. He said something about the Tenors up there singing, and how it made us all think we could do it too (letting out an exaggerated "operatic" note). He also told us how his cousin was in the audience, and how he had been texting him after the first act telling him how tired he was and how his legs were exhausted, and got a very brief response - "Suck it up, princess". He scolded the Canadian Tenors for trying to leave the stage ("where do you guys think you're going?"), leading to some amusing interplay between them ("getting our skates on!"), and generally amused the audience while trying to kill time, before Jamie Sale came out to tell him that he was next. He was all fake-indignant "I'm next? Why don't people tell me these things? I have to put on my costume, and do my hair, and touch up my makeup! Agh! I need to be told these things!" before storming jokingly off the ice, leaving Jamie alone on the ice. This was not a state of affairs Jamie liked - she said she wasn't used to being alone on the ice, and needed someone out there with her. There was some confusion as Kurt ducked in and out, before Steven Cousins came out in his costume, still buttoning and fastening things. He and Kurt mock sparred over who got to go next, before Steven "won" and did his retake. While Jamie was killing time, she and the Tenors started trading compliments - she saying something about how these four good looking guys, it's too bad they can't sing, and then went on about how good looking they all were. One of the Tenors pointed out how during one of her earlier numbers, while she was being held upside down by David, she actually reached out and tucked in his shirt (she said it was bugging her the whole time). Then it was Kurt's turn to do his retakes for Hallelujah. The Tenors were prepared to start from the 2nd verse, but Kurt convinced them to start from the top. On their first try, the guys started to sing but the instruments didn't come in (Kurt's mockingly in character reaction to this was amusing). On their second, Kurt did one double axel, and then stopped dead and started skating slowly around the ice, making a cut-off motion and rubbing and shaking his legs. The Tenors came to a slow stop with the music and were obviously confused, asking Kurt what he'd forgotten, and then as Kurt continued to shake his legs out, joked that he'd forgotten he had to go to the bathroom. Kurt laughed, but continued to skate around looking disturbed. He went to try a single axel and immediately pulled up short, waved apologetically to the crowd, and started to leave the ice. He finally got a mic to explain that he went to try the axel and heard something go pop that shouldn't go pop and knew immediately that if he kept going, he'd injure something. Katia came out to do her retake of her Sparkle program. When she was done, Jamie was sent out to entertain the crowd, because Katia needed to change her costume for her second retake (I think the other remaining retakes involved Kurt), and freaked out about being left alone on the ice, calling for Kurt to come out. Kurt more or less limped out to join her, and continued to test and limber his legs as he skated around and talked. The two traded some banter, thanking the audience for being so supportive and coming out for them, and then Jamie decided to try to get questions from the audience. The first yelled one was about who won Battle of the Blades, leading Kurt to put on his announcer voice to declare Jamie the champion of Battle of the Blades. Someone else asked about the next Battle of the Blades, which Jamie immediately said she couldn't even think about, and then joked "they can't afford me now". Kurt did confirm that there definitely was going to be a Battle of the Blades 2 and as for Jamie, well they were working on her. Jamie talked about how there were hockey players in the audience, but then wasn't able to locate any of them ("they stood us up??" Kurt: "at least they *can* stand up"). She talked about how the hockey players really threw themselves into it (Kurt: "Just goes to show that inside every hockey player is a figure skater waiting to get out"). Someone else asked Jamie how many hours a day they practiced. She laughed, and then said "it depends how old you are" which totally cracked Kurt up, who responded "you mean how many hours a week, right?" Then Katia came out for her retake, coming up behind Kurt and fixing something on his shirt (he hunched his shoulders while she was doing it, and then reached back saying "what are you doing back there anyway?" and then declaring "oh that's what went wrong with my program" upon discovering she had tied the loose ties on the neck of his shirt. Jamie asked her the same question about how many hours she practiced, and she said laughing, "now? an hour". Jamie then said some glowing stuff about Katia and being able to watch her skate all day, before letting her go out to finish her retake. The music took a while to start up, so Katia apologized to the audience for making them wait, but eventually she was able to finish the retakes. The audience had mostly stayed put through all of this, so she grabbed a microphone to thank the audience for their support and for staying out to watch them, and for being a wonderful audience. She said that she loved skating in Canada and loved Canadians, and hoped they liked Russians. The audience cheered loudly for her and then she said good night, saying she was the last "falling down person" and wished us a Merry Christmas and happy holidays and happy new year, before leaving the ice.

Kurt's injury (he strained something) made retakes a bit of a bummer, but he seemed to try to make up for it by being as amusing as possible (if a bit rueful and self-deprecating at times). The show overall was a good one, one of the better ones I've seen recently, with a great musical guest in the Canadian Tenors, and some really nice programs. I'd definitely recommend tuning in when it airs on CBC on Dec. 16, or when it airs in syndication in the US and several other countries.