Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Kaleidoscope: A Holiday Skating Spectacular - San Antonio, TX - Dec. 8, 2010

written by Tina

This year's Kaleidoscope marked the fourth year of this celebration of cancer survivorship. Survivorship was a theme that ran throughout the night. It was intorduced in the opening remarks by Edge Health's Mike Burg, Sanofi Aventi's Paul Hawthorne, Pfizer's Maria Koehler, and the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship's Tom Sellers (who was celebrating his birthday). It was emphasized repeatedly in hosts Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill's comments throughout the evening. And it was embodied in the opening program, "I Will Survive" sung live by Gloria Gaynor and a choir, and skated by Sasha Cohen.

Before the opening number for the televised show rolled around, though, the crowd was first exhorted to bring up their energy level for the TV broadcast (which they happily complied with), and were brought to their feet to sing and dance along with a recording of "I Will Survive". The audience would prove to be extremely receptive to all the performances throughout the evening, cheering particularly hard for David Archuleta and Johnny Weir, but very free with their applause and appreciation for all the rest of the skaters. It was one of the first shows I've been to in a while with a fair number of standing ovations. Despite the fact that there were stands only set up along one side and one end of the ice (the Alamodome is a HUGE football stadium, and the rink was set up at one end of the field, with a stage at one end, and a curtained wall of lights along one side), the audience was noisier and more enthusiastic than many recent skating crowds I've been in at professional shows.

The crowd was then further warmed up by a giggle-inducing, highly entertaining program by Vladimir Besedin & Oleksiy Polishchuk. Introduced as "the world's fastest acrobats," Besedin & Polischuk then proceeded to perform a verrrrry slow version of their usual tricks. The downcast expressions, droopy body language, and labored slow movements evoked laughs from the crowd, but the exaggerated slowness of the lifts and moves only served to highlight both the difficulty of the tricks and both Besedin and Polischuk's terrific strength and balance. Every handstand and lift was held for a very long time, and was awesome to watch. What I find even more impressive is how one lift will transition directly into the next - how they slowly flip over each other and up into the next move, without a break in between. Oleksiy starts off lying on the ground with his feet in the air, with Vladimir standing and holding his feet. They do a slow flip and suddenly Vladimir is lying on the ground, holding Oleksiy's skate blades, while Oleksiy stands above him. Then Vladimir, still holding his blades, rolls onto his front while Oleksiy basically rotates above him, and then back onto his back. I don't think B&P's programs will be aired on TV, unfortunately. They seemed to be there to warm up and keep the crowd going.

The proceedings slowed down a bit with the aforementioned opening remarks, but then really got going with Sasha Cohen's performance of "I Will Survive" with the "diva queen" Gloria Gaynor singing live. Skating with sass and attitude to match the strength and defiance of the song, Sasha was a hit with the audience. And since "I Will Survive" has become my go-to song at karaoke, it was really fun to hear Gloria Gaynor perform it for real, live.

The show didn't have an organized opening number. Instead, the announcer introduced each skater and his/her credentials one after another, allowing each to come out and have their spotlight skate around the ice. Kurt Browning was first, receiving a big cheer and dazzling with his flashy fast feet and playing to the crowd, grinning and putting his hand to his ear to encourage cheers, and just generally getting them eating out of the palm of his hand. He was followed by Surya Bonaly, and then Johnny Weir, who was clearly both known and popular with the crowd. Kimmie Meissner, Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, and Joannie Rochette came next. Then, in his first televised skating performance in 6 years, was someone I was particularly thrilled to see - Paul Wylie, who didn't at all look like he'd been off the ice and away from performing. Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes, who did layback spins in the exact same spot in each of their solo bits, finished off the skater intros. David Archuleta, Dave Koz, Gloria Gaynor, Dorothy Hamill, and Scott Hamilton then took the stage to wave to the audience as each was introduced (poor Dave Koz got a noticeably quieter cheer than David Archuleta and Gloria Gaynor when Mike Burg first mentioned the musical talent at the top of the show, but the crowd was more generous for his on-camera introduction).

As the singers left the stage in one directory, Scott and Dorothy hastily made their way to the side of the ice where they were to record half their program intros (they alternated between sides of the ice). While Scott went out of his way to keep the audience entertained when he had the microphone, the show was clearly designed around the TV broadcast, with sometimes long breaks while the hosts got in place and tapes were switched, and occasional on the spot retakes of the intros. Scott and Dorothy were amusingly and endearingly self-deprecating about the mistakes, and Scott in particular used those opportunities to endear himself even more to the audience so they were eating out of the palm of his hand. At one point, he joked that he had to do a retake (of a spoken intro) because he tripped over his toe pick (calling out "toe pick!" when referring to it, and when he had to retake it again after flubbing it). When someone on the production team told him he had to restart an intro because they were "getting a glare", he responded "you were getting a glare? What, off of my GIGANTIC FOREHEAD?" and went on to make jokes about planes landing on the shiny landing strip on his head, etc etc. At another point, he was goofing around a bit, and then laughed and told the crowd "no that's really my voice, I didn't just inhale helium." Every time they had to pause for a tape change, Scott would completely overemphasize and mock it, repeating "tape change, we're changing the tape, so as we're taping the show, it will go on tape. tape change..." to amusing emphasis. When another mistake occurred on the production side, they told him "it's our problem" and he jokingly replied "it's your problem? it's your problem? Well your problem is now my problem!" and with obvious sarcasm "It's not like *I*'ve made *any* mistakes tonight". Scott's comfort in front of an audience and his commitment to entertain are self-evident, every moment he's out there.

At any rate, the first intro was for Johnny Weir, who Dorothy Hamill called a US champion and pop icon, but whose elegance and grace might surprise you. And elegant and graceful he was indeed, skating to a gorgeous version of "Ave Maria" with real feeling and buttery smoothness. I haven't had the opportunity to see Johnny skate live before, being a pro skating fan. He really impressed me with his performance ability and beautiful smooth skating. I *think* the costume he was wearing *might* have been the one from Swan Lake (another gorgeously smooth and graceful program of his), but I'm not certain. The audience loved Johnny too, giving him a standing ovation.

Dorothy and "her pal" Kurt then came out to introduce Joannie Rochette. (Dorothy: "I'm out here with my pal Kurt Browning" Kurt (excitedly): "No, I'm out here with *Dorothy Hamill*!!") The first take Dorothy flubbed, and Kurt joked Dorothy was distracted because his hand kept moving lower (he had his arm around her). During dress rehearsal, Kurt seemed surprised to find that they'd scripted him something to say, and seemed to prefer to just speak on the fly, which I think is what he ended up doing in the real show. He talked about watching Joannie grow into the woman she is today, and how she's become a "world citizen" and not just Canada's darling since the Olympics, how everyone has taken her in.

Joannie's first number was "Objection" by Shakira, a very tango-esque number with a dance club twist, and Joannie performed it to the hilt. She combined hip twisting and sassy hair tossing with the most solid jumps of any performer of the evening, completely at ease dancing it up and entertaining the crowd. I remember when I first saw Joannie skate in Canadian Stars on Ice years ago - she seemed more reserved and hesitant to put herself out there, but she's really come into her own as a performer, without losing a bit of her technical edge.

Scott and Paul Wylie then came out to introduce Kurt Browning, but Scott started out seemingly genuinely distracted by the fact that Paul was in his skates and thus several inches taller than him. He bemoaned how short he felt, since he and Paul usually were the same height, while Paul stood with a huge grin on his face, proudly towering over Scott. Kurt, out on the ice, was clearly amused, and when Scott and Paul had to restart the intro due to a flub, he yelled "keep the skate part in!" The second time around, Scott did indeed mention the height differential again, but it wasn't as funny since it wasn't as spontaneous as the first time. At any rate, Scott and Paul described Kurt as their good friend - not just their good friend, but their brother who committed his whole heart to entertaining the crowd and put his all into every skate. They also talked about how Kurt had lost both parents to cancer (one of the few times they had to concede the loss of people to cancer, and not a triumphant survival) and how "with great talent comes responsibility" and how Kurt was committed to the cause and a great supporter. Paul then talked about how much Kurt's fans loved him, and how Kurt's next program shows his fans just how much he loved them back, and "we love you too". Scott and Paul then shouted out Kurt's name together with huge smiles.

Kurt's program was pretty much my favorite program of his from the last few years, "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz. The program is just the perfect combination of music and skater, with the lighthearted, whimsical, and yet sincere music complementing Kurt's fleet feet and playful choreography. Every time I see the program, I feel like Kurt's feet get faster and lighter, just skipping lightly over the ice with amazing intricacy and speed. And his personality just shines through, embracing the audience and offering himself to us. I think this might have been the program in which Kurt doubled his salchow and later threw in a triple salchow, saving himself a retake and gratifying his own need to keep his standards high and keep landing triples. The audience loved the number, and cheered for every revelation of "I'm Yours" as Kurt stripped off each layer of clothing that had it printed on it. Though, they might have just been cheering the fact that he was removing clothing ;).

Dorothy Hamill then came out to introduce Paul Wylie skating to David Archuleta performing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I will admit, I've never watched American Idol so while I knew who David Archuleta is by name, I've never really heard him sing before. I was pretty impressed - he's got a beautiful voice and tone which filled the arena with warmth. And it was just an utter treat to see Paul Wylie skate again. He hasn't lost his beautiful lines, stretched out spread eagles, fast scratch spin, or double axel at all. Plus, he just skates with such joy and serenity, sweeping his way around the arena with real warmth towards the audience. The number was just really heartwarming all around. Also, evidently three generations of Wylies were in the audience, which is really cool.

Scott came out to talk about Rena Inoue's successful fight with lung cancer, and how she's continued to compete and win with her partner and now husband John Baldwin. The two then came out on the ice to skate a romantic performance to "Come What May" from Moulin Rouge. I was really struck by their unison, which seemed to be the centerpiece of their choreography. I'm used to Sale & Pelletier and other pro pairs who fill their programs with flashy tricks, dancing, and intricate choreography. Inoue & Baldwin were almost refreshing in their relative simplicity of choreography, relying more on their speed, unison, and grace to interpret the music. I have to admit that I've found them dull in the past, watching them on TV, but I actually really enjoyed them in person.

Scott's intro to Surya Bonaly stated that she became a "rock star" at the 1998 Olympics by landing a backflip - *completely* illegal (emphasis Scott's) but on *one* foot (again, emphasis Scott, marveling over the feat). Surya's program was to "So This is Christmas", a flashy, quick number that played to her strengths - flexibility and a gymnast's strength. The audience completely ate it up, especially after she threw in her backflip (audiences LOVE backflips), and to my surprise, leapt to a partial standing O at the conclusion. I have to admit to being surprised at the extremely enthusiastic reception, because I found Surya's skating to not be entirely consistent. It was an odd blend to me of what looked like genuine bright smiles in some moments, which slipped to a more uncomfortable intent expression at other times, and of strong tricks and occasional moments of grace coupled with at times labored looking crossovers and transitions. You could see the transition between performer and skater, rather than a seamless blend. Then again, I was standing on the opposite side of the ice from the audience, so it's entirely possible they saw only the bright smiles, which she only let slip when she faced away from the audience.

Dorothy Hamill's intro to Sarah Hughes extolled both her success as a skater and her status as a Yale grad, who's really seen life "from both sides," an obvious transition to her program to "Both Sides Now." The last time I saw Sarah skate was in the 2005 Stars on Ice tour, when she admittedly didn't impress me all that much. This time around, I really noticed a contrast. She just seemed more mature, more settled, more confident in herself. Instead of the sometimes awkward girl coming into herself and struggling to balance her desire to be a student with the need to stay in shape as a skater, I saw a graceful woman in fine condition, who carried herself elegantly and confidently on the ice. The program was lovely and graceful, and I quite enjoyed it.

Scott spoke proudly of the next skater, Kimmie Meissner, who skated a charming and cute number to "Brown Eyed Girl." It was a bit of a contrast to the other female skaters in the show, Surya aside. Sarah, Sasha, and Joannie exude a more mature, polished performer air with more sophisticated-feeling choreography. Kimmie's number felt a bit more like a cute girl-next-door - charming and fun and nice to watch.

Dorothy's intro to Dave Koz performing "White Christmas" while Joannie Rochette skated was preceded by a bit of an extended delay while a crew member brought a large raised snowflake to center ice for Dave to stand on, and then Dave was carefully walked out across the ice to stand on it. This was a lyrical and lovely program, with Dave Koz soulfully wailing away on the saxophone whie Joannie skated with a sense of freedom and joy on the ice. I could almost see her dancing around in the snow, reveling in the white Christmas she was enjoying. Again, she landed what felt like more triples than the rest of the cast combined, while never losing the flow of the choreography. After the program concluded, the audience was amused as Joannie very carefully and slowly escorted Dave back across the ice, and cheered when he was finally safe on non-slippery land again.

At this point, there was a 20 minute intermission, during which they played videos about survivorship and I ran around trying to find a program. At the conclusion of the intermission, they spoke about Dorothy's partnership with Helzberg Diamonds, and said they were going to give away diamonds to three audience members, chosen by seat. The first two seats they called were successes - there were people in them who claimed their prize (though to my amusement, both winners were men), but they tried three different seats without success to give away the third diamond, finally deciding to try again later (which I'm not sure they ever did).

Scott and Dorothy kicked off the second half of the show talking more about survivorship and how it'd brought them closer together. They also attempted to redo their initial intro of Johnny Weir four times, with messups from both of them and the production crew. Plenty of opportunities for Scott to amuse the crowd.

Sasha Cohen once again went first, skating to "Nobody Knows", a somewhat dramatic, passionate program. To me, Sasha is a bit reserved on the ice - beautiful, super-flexible, and a great performer, but just a little removed. It makes her passionate programs somewhat less passionate than they could be in a less reserved skater's hands, but still great to watch.

Both David's were given the opportunity to perform a song without a skater on the ice, and David Archuleta's song was next. Scott talked about how he was now a bona fide star with web sites, fan clubs, bestselling albums, and a 20th birthday coming up really soon. David sang "Falling Stars", which was absolutely gorgeous and heartfelt. His voice just filled the arena, and he can definitely emote while singing. Unfortunately, right at the end, his voice cracked badly, leaving me wondering what they were going to do about it.

Surya Bonaly's second program was next, to "Ballroom Blitz." To me, this program suited her even more - it was upbeat and super fast, calling for fast skating but not much grace, and she seemed to get into it. At times it seemed like the song was almost *too* frantic and was going to get away from her, but she never lost the plot. Energetic and entertaining, complete with backflip - overall just a fun program.

It was time to bring things to a bit more of a subdued note. Dorothy introduced Kurt again, explaining that the song was a tribute to his dad, from their "Canadian cowboy." This was Kurt's "Christmas for Cowboys" by John Denver, the number he originally skated in Holiday Festival on Ice in 2008, just a few weeks after his father Dewey passed away from cancer. I don't know if those who are unfamiliar with Kurt's father fully appreciate the ways in which it is a tribute to his dad, who was a trail guide and rancher who lived an Albertan cowboy lifestyle that is all but gone now. Kurt's program is a wistful tribute to his father and his father's life, and for his costume, he wears some of his dad's old clothing that he found after his dad passed away. On a skating note, the program is lovely and slow, with choreography that evokes the lyrics at times, from warming his hands by the campfire to rounding up the cattle. There is less of Kurt's typical intricate footwork, but there is more edgework and effective use of stops and pauses to evoke the atmosphere. I was glad to have had the opportunity to see it live.

The one pair of the show, Inoue & Baldwin, were back with their "Grown-Up Christmas List". This was a slow, kind of yearning program, not so much romantic as just reaching for something elusive. Once again, the choreography was relatively simple but effective, with some nice lifts and throw jump combined by a lot of side by side skating. It was kind of just elegant, pure skating.

The second music-only performance of the night came next - as Dorothy said, "The Saxman Sings!" Dave Koz came out - on stage this time - to sing (and play) "This Guy's In Love With You." He has a great voice - not quite the melting pure smoothness of David Archuleta, but more of a jazzy mature smoothness that brought a nice touch of lightheartedness to the song. And when he wasn't singing, he was accompanying himself in his sax.

After the smooth music, it was time to get entertained again by Vladimir Besedin & Oleksiy Polishchuk. In complete contrast to their downcast demeanors and super-slow movements of their first number, the two came out dressed colorfully in striped clothes with patches on the butt and bright wigs and proceeded to rip around the ice, with Vladimir launching Oleksiy rapidly into backflips and lifting and dropping him in a heartbeat. I'm still a bit baffled about how they are managing these planned drops, where Oleksiy goes from a handstand above Vladimir's head, and then suddenly drops probably 9 feet to the ice, with minimal apparent braking provided by Vladimir. In between the tricks, the two played up their goofy clown-like personas, and utilized quirky bits of the music to amusing effect. Really fun.

Sasha Cohen came out to introduce her "one-of-a-kind" teammate, Johnny Weir. I've heard for some time about Johnny Weir and Lady Gaga. People make a big deal out of his Gaga performances. I watched "Just Dance" on Battle of the Blades (albeit through YouTube) and couldn't figure out what the fuss was about. He was just wearing a wild costume but I didn't think the choreography was particularly interesting. But then, in Kaleidoscope, I saw "Bad Romance" and I got it. Johnny embodies the attitude, the body language, the utter commitment to the out-there compelling power of the song. If he wasn't so committed, it might not work, but he really pulls off the Gaga. And what a performer he is, which I guess is part and parcel of really pulling off Gaga. Great stuff!

As Scott said, what Christmas show is complete without the classic Christmas song, "Jingle Bells"? And who better to perform it than "one of the nicest skaters (Scott) knows"? Paul Wylie seemed to pick a particularly fast, upbeat version of Jingle Bells, and as such, his number was frantic, fast, and fun. There's a reason why Paul was the third member of the "Five Minutes for Icing" triumvirate in the US, along with Kurt and Scott, and his years off the performance ice hasn't slowed his feet much. The program was a nice contrast to the slower, more lyrical "I'll Be Home For Christmas", and it was fun seeing those neat feet fly again.

The last solo performance of the evening was, as Dorothy introduced it, one of the most beloved Christmas carols ("Do You Hear What I Hear") by two beloved ladies, Kimmie Meissner and Gloria Gaynor. I have to admit that I'm not actually overly familiar with Gloria Gaynor beyond "I Will Survive", that empowered anthem of freedom and independence. It was therefore a nice surprise to hear her lovely rendition of "Do You Hear What I Hear". Also nice was Kimmie's performance, with a flowing blue scarf, to the music. "Brown-Eyed Girl" was cute and lighthearted - "Do You Hear What I Hear" was more graceful and mature, and Kimmie skated it nicely.

To say goodnight, Scott and Dorothy actually took to the ice to get to the stage, pretending to waver awkwardly around before proclaiming "we've still got it!" They heavily suggested that Kaleidoscope would not only be back again next year, but that it might be back in San Antonio again, before wishing everyone happy holidays and a good night. I think it was around this time when they were setting up for the finale that Dorothy and Scott were joking around. Dorothy straightened out his tie and he was all "I need assistance". She said that no, his tie just wasn't perfect and now he was perfect. But Scott decided to play it for all his worth, putting on a dejected face and body language, to evoke an "awww" from the crowd. He then showed off his ability to get these "awws" from the crowd, to everyone's (including his own) amusement, and then said it worked on his 2(3?) year old too.

The show closed out with the cast coming out to "Let It Snow", which was pretty much a semi-organized playful romp, with Kurt kind of leading the way, spraying Scott and Dorothy with snow, getting into a snowball fight with Paul, grabbing various girls to take a spin with them (including picking up Dorothy, leading her to very audibly yell "oh my God!" in what sounded like genuine nervousness), leading Scott and Dorothy speed skating around, and sliding on his belly on the ice. The rest of the skaters also played around with each other, and Joannie and Sarah went to help Dave Koz out on the ice. Dave Koz and David Archuleta both took to the ice in bright blue boots. David Archuleta was noticeably more comfortable on the ice, even trying a little 360 degree turn at one point, and skating unassisted around waving at the audience with the other skaters. Dave Koz had to be very slowly and carefully escorted around the ice, leading Scott to joke that he'd make it back "eventually" as the number came to a close and he was still very gingerly making his way from halfway across the ice (and Kurt was directing them like an airplane runway guy). The number ended with the skaters taking a turn around the ice waving, and then assembling at center ice to bow towards the end. There was a bit of a game of one-upmanship at the end, since Scott was at the end and turned to bow to the crowd, and then Kurt popped out in front of him to wave in his place, so Scott zipped around Kurt, leaving Kurt to rub Scott's bald head. Then Dorothy tried to get in on it and almost tripped headlong into the ice. When they turned towards the side to bow, Johnny and Sasha broke off and skated back to the tunnel, apparently not noticing that another bow was forming. Kurt started to call out towards them, and then gave up when they didn't pay any attention.

Scott took to the mike as the skaters left the ice, and started to thank the audience and was about to ask them to stick around when a lady from the production crew came out and tried to take the mike from him. He was all "don't take my mike. you're not taking my mike! what, you don't like me in stereo?" (I think he was holding two mikes - his back was to me so I wasn't clear). She finally started to talk into the mike she managed to wrest from his hand to ask the audience to stick around since they had retakes. Scott was all "I was going to tell them that! That was *my* job!". The girl was embarrassed and apologized, and then Kurt suddenly appeared to "help" by taking her arm and escorting her off the ice. As he went, though, he said into her microphone "Scott doesn't get *all* the girls" with a pert look over his shoulder at Scott. Scott then went on to say how they'd ask him before the show to say, but clearly they forgot, but *he* didn't forget, and he was going to say...to please stay for a bit longer for retakes so they can look perfect on TV, and we'd get some extra show.

As Scott joked with the crowd, Johnny Weir came back out to take the mike and thank everyone for all their support and for staying and watching and being such a great crowd, which was a nice gesture on his part.

The retakes ended up being Surya Bonaly, who re-did her entire "Ballroom Blitz" number (which I didn't understand but later someone said they'd heard she had to do it b/c her hair fell out partway through), and Kimmie Meissner, who re-did parts of "Brown-Eyed Girl" where she'd fallen or singled a couple jumps. The retakes closed with David Archuleta singing "Falling Stars" again, giving him the opportunity to also sound perfect on TV, and giving the audience a nice bonus performance.

With entertaining and lively hosting by Dorothy Hamill and (especially) Scott Hamilton, and some wonderful performances from a crop of skaters you don't get to see every day, I would say it is definitely worth tuning into Kaleidoscope when it airs on Fox on Dec. 19, from 4:30-6PM ET. It's a great show for a great cause - check it out!