Skate Niagara Ice Show - St. Catharine's ON - Jan. 30, 2015
written by Tina
The Skate Niagara Ice Show, held at the new Meridian Centre in St. Catharine's, ON, was a show I was pretty excited about when it was announced. I loved Sandra Bezic's work on Stars on Ice, and the idea of a show directed by Sandra and starring Kurt was too much to resist. It turns out Sandra brought in some help from some others who had worked on Stars on Ice in its glory days, including Michael Seibert and Orin Isaacs (music director). The show didn't disappoint at all. The attention to detail in things like the skater intros (making sure there was some biographical context - I actually learned something about some of the skaters - and poetic wording) and transitions, and the smoothness of the opening and closing numbers (despite it being a one off show) were great. The cast was amazing, too.
Opening - Diamonds - Cast featuring Alfonso Campa
The opening number to the show wasn't really an ensemble number in that most of the skaters just skated out for their introductions, and most of the actual performance was done by NEXXICE and Alfonso Campa of Flying on Ice. It had a feel to it that really set the tone for the evening, though. The show began in darkness with colored laser lights sweeping back and forth while a narrator intoned about the majesty of the Niagara Falls (St. Catharine's is very close), the power of nature, the mystery of gold, silver, and bronze, and the nature of skating. As the words were spoken, the first few notes of "Diamonds" by Rihanna echoed through the arena, and the music slowly built, until finally the lights came up on NEXXICE. NEXXICE acted as a human frame, ringing the skaters as each came out for their introduction, and then, with a flourish, Alfonso Campa took to the silks to fly up in the air above the audience's head. The work with the silks was visually stunning and awe-inspiring in the strength it required, but also in the huge smile he had on his face no matter what he was doing. He looked completely in his element soaring above the ice, gliding over the ice, and smiling down at the audience. The number was capped with Alfonso being lifted really high up and wrapping the silks around himself, and then inducing gasps by tumbling down as the silks unwrapped, until he came to a sudden stop, still suspended high above the ground. It was a unique and captivating start to the show.
Rhapsody in Blue -NEXXICE
I have to confess that United Airlines has completely ruined the song Rhapsody in Blue for me - I can't hear it without immediately associating it with safety videos and
the United logo. It says something about NEXXICE, then, that they were
able to make me forget that association for a while. I haven't watched much synchronized skating, and I don't think I properly know how to appreciate it, but NEXXICE blew me away nevertheless. Each skater is clearly really talented, with great edge quality and precision to their skating, and I'm of the firm belief that synchronized skating must take nerves of steel. The skaters are in such close proximity, and then they pass so close together while turning so they can't even watch where they're going. It's pretty incredible to watch. I'm not surprised to find out that NEXXICE is one of the top synchro teams in the world.
Fireball - Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro
The last time I saw Kirsten Moore-Towers perform, she was still skating with Dylan Moscovich, so it was interesting seeing her with a new partner. Fireball is an appropriate song for them - she's definitely got a bit of the spitfire thing going on, and the partnership seems to be gelling fairly well. They played up the flirtatious side of things with this number, but also seemed to have fun with the lifts and throw jump.
Sinnerman - Nam Nguyen
What a natural performer Nam is! From the moment he took the ice, he was actively engaging the audience, grinning from ear to ear while making eye contact and really drawing us into his performance. It didn't surprise me at all to read in the program that Jeffrey Buttle did the choreography for this number - it had his signature all over it. In fact, Nam reminded me of Jeff performing this number, which shows how well he absorbed the lessons of his choreographer. I really enjoyed this.
Carmen Fantaisie - Ekaterina Gordeeva
I'm always happy to see Katia in the cast for a show. She's such a gorgeous skater, and it astonishes me what amazing shape she's in even after being a pro skater for over 20 years and even after having two kids. I've seen her Carmen a few times this year, and it's a great number with understated sass and a coy flirtatiousness to it. She uses the fan to great effect, and really knows how to play with the audience.
La Virgen de la Macarena - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje
It may be fairly apparent that I don't really follow eligible skating, so I'm not familiar with what the short dance is a given year, or what the skaters are competing with. I'm also not particularly knowledgeable about ballroom dancing, aside from what I've picked up watching YouTube videos of skaters on Dancing with the Stars. And yet, I figured out fairly quickly that Kaitlyn & Andrew were doing a paso doble because they really evoked the feeling (and look) of a bullfighter and his (very intense) cape. I loved their costumes, and the two of them never let up the intensity or fierceness for a second.
Chandelier - Flying on Ice
Flying on Ice's first number with both performers (Mery Acevedo and Alfonso Campa) featured the two of them and a large suspended hoop from which they hung and created a whole bunch of different shapes. I have to admit to finding the song and lyrics "I want to swing from a chandelier" a little too on the nose, but at the same time it *did* fit the number! This number definitely had a number of gasp-inspiring moments, especially when Alfonso dangled upside down, only supported by his foot clamped between Mery's legs, and when he held her only by a belt around her waist as he hung from the ring. It's also obvious that Flying on Ice are conscious of not just doing crazy tricks, but also of the visual picture they create as they fly above the ice. The transitions between poses can be a little awkward, but I'd rather awkward than splatted on the ice! Really fun to watch.
Big Spender - Kurt Browning with NEXXICE
As a big Kurt fan, one of my favorite things about this show was the amount of Kurt content. Aside from his solo in the first act, he also did this cute number with NEXXICE. Wearing his hockey skates, he basically skated around flirting with the girls, who didn't have the time of day for him. It was particularly fun since he had to cut in and out of their lines and not get run over while they didn't blink an eye. After essentially being ignored even as he waved in their faces, flirted, and skated around them, he eventually got to join in as the center of the big pinwheel.
Luck Be a Lady - Kurt Browning
This transitioned into "Luck Be a Lady" - his Battle of the Blades turned Stars on Ice program from a few years back where he wears hockey skates. He was really on. It never fails to amaze me how nimble he is in those hockey skates, even landing a couple jumps (though with an occasional hand down). I always wonder how long it takes him to get comfortable again with doing all that footwork and jumping in hockey skates, given the very different nature of the blade, and given how very smooth he is doing the number. This was a great performance of this program, and I loved every second of it. It ended with Kurt being beckoned back to the tunnel by the NEXXICE skaters, who stood there throughout his entire number, and falling backwards into their arms as the lights went down.
How Will I Know - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
As a skating photographer, one of the things that always impresses me about Virtue & Moir is how infrequently they hit a bad pose. Even their transitions between lifts and moves are usually quite pretty. They never lose the character of the piece. This version of How Will I Know is really yearning, slightly melancholic, and Tessa and Scott really capture the feel of the music. You can feel the longing in their every movement. This was a beautiful romantic number, with a certain spare romanticism - not overdone or overdramatic.
Workin' Man Blues - Kurt Browning and Nam Nguyen
The second act opened with Nam Nguyen coming out to warm up, skating around until Kurt came out with a microphone in a big poofy jacket with a huge furry hood. He offered to act as Nam's coach for the session since "I don't see Mr. Orser anywhere" and "I can give you some pointers, I've been around for a while" and "I'm wearing the right coat for the job." He then proceeded to more or less commentate as he put Nam through all the jumps, from 2-axel all the way up to quad sal. Kurt got some great jokes in. Nam apparently slipped up and called him "Mr. Orser" early on and Kurt was like "What did you call me? Mr. Orser? Boy's running on auto-pilot!" (or force of habit, or something like that) When Nam returned from one jump still holding a nice pose - on one foot, the other tucked up by his knee, one arm outstretched - Kurt was like, "Wow, that's so nice, I never did that coming back to my coach! More like "(bent over, panting). Later, when Nam asked to do a triple sal to warm up for the quad, Kurt said "you want to do more? You're not getting paid for this, you're paying me by the hour, remember?" After one of the triples, he got down on his hands and knees to examine the jump tracings (and the hood fell down over his head). He was also teasing Elvis Stojko, who was sitting on ice, saying "you really look like Elvis Stojko." "You're chubbier than Elvis". "You're better looking than Elvis." "Hey, want to go get a drink after the show?" and then at the end after the lights went down, he skated out and gave Elvis a big hug. It was cute. Elvis seemed really amused (After Kurt and Nam had gone backstage, you heard their voices over the speakers - "So Kurt, who *is* this Elvis guy anyway?" "Loooong story"). When talking about/to Nam, he commented how "it might be because you don't weigh any more than the steak I ate last night" but his jumps were so light and airy, that "you land so softly you will never lose your hair...I mean your knees will never give out. Freudian slip." Nam unfortunately doubled his first quad attempt, but Kurt quickly covered for him by pretending he hadn't seen it because he was busy asking Elvis out for a drink after the show, and then saying that Nam did it on purpose to let him make that joke. After the second successful attempt at the quad, Kurt was like "this is great! It's like having my very own remote controlled toy I can tell to do jumps!" Later, Nam asked to use the microphone, he was like "what, you want to use *my* microphone?" Nam said "Enough about me, Mr. Browning. Let's see what *you* can do". His response: "I thought you'd never ask" before starting to shed his big coat. As he was taking off the coat, a woman shouted something at him and he said "what's that? do some of my fancy footwork? young lady, that's *all* I have left!"
The actual pairing was cute, and Kurt did land I think a double axel and triple toe side by side with Nam, so it's not pure footwork yet for him. Nam keeps up with Kurt's fancy footwork pretty darn well, I have to say! Kurt started off going down the ice doing footwork, and spraying Nam with ice, and then the two of them traded off and then went side by side before ending up in a belly slide on the ice. Kurt stood back and let Nam take the bows himself, but then when Nam skated back to him, acted impatient, pointing at his wrist and ushering him off the ice like his coach.
Feelin' Good - Ekaterina Gordeeva
I love this program of Katia's - I think she pulls off the sultry choreography and deliberate movements really well. I like it because it doesn't have the usual overt "look at me trying to be sexy" that a lot of ladies' exhibitions have, and it's not just a Generic Female Ballad pretty number. There's a subtlety and maturity running throughout, and Katia performs it beautifully. I liked this program when it was paired with Kurt's Feeling Good in Stars on Ice a few years ago, and I like it on its own.
It's a Man's World - Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro
Continuing that bluesy, slower, sultry type theme, Kirsten and Michael skated to "It's a Man's World". The choreography was both slightly adverserial - kind of Kirsten asserting herself from Michael - and challengingly flirtatious at the same time. Lots of smoldering into each others' eyes between the lifts. I don't feel like all of their lifts are 100% confident yet, but they're getting there.
Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is - Nam Nguyen
As Kurt says, Nam doesn't look like he weighs any more than the steak
he ate last night, but when he wants to, boy does he command the
ice. Big confident grin, winks into the audience, and just a strong
sense of having fun throughout. And he slips those jumps in there like
they're nothing. This was a high energy number, and Nam played it right up.
Come What May - Flying on Ice - Mery Acevedo & Alfonso Campa
This was my favorite of the two Flying on Ice numbers, featuring the two of them using straps to fly through the air. They wove a bit of performance into it - the program started with Alfonso skating and flying alone, twisting and turning in the air and dangling upside down in various poses. He was then joined by Mery, doing a pairs lift on the ice before lifting her as he was pulled into the air. She must have a lot of confidence in him and her own grip, since her only support as she flew high above the ground was either his arms or her grip on his neck. And I marvel at how he maintains that lovely smile since their next trick was for him to put a strap in his mouth and support her entire weight that way while he hung upside down or pulled himself parallel to the ground from the straps. That must do a number on your teeth! It was definitely gasp-inducing to watch. Finally, as the song soared into more of a duet, the two of them flew high above the ice, flying apart and then coming together in various configurations. It was all quite thrilling and beautifully integrated with the music.
Mud - NEXXICE
NEXXICE's second number was a more country-western feeling program, which
featured a fair amount of simultaneous claps to the beat. The
choreography felt very different from the Rhapsody in Blue number -
less flowing and more dancing and turning as a group. The pace was
entirely different and the skaters looked like they were enjoying
themselves a lot. I continued to marvel at their synchronicity, edge
quality, and nerves, while enjoying the fun performance.
A Song For You - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje
I feel like exhibition ice dancing is often about the drama, the
longing looks, stretching yearning lines, and agonized facial
expressions, and no one does it better than Weaver & Poje. They throw
themselves around the ice with controlled abandon, and simulate
passion and intimacy with great commitment. This was a lovely program
which I enjoyed when they performed it in Stars on Ice, and again at
La Da Dee - Kurt Browning
The introduction to Kurt's second program was a prolonged audio compilation of highlights from his eligible career, as voiced primarily through Scott Hamilton's commentary at those events. It went from his first quad through each of his four world championships to his string of perfect 10's at the Canadian Pros. I found it a bit of an odd intro for a random program, since the intro kind of felt to me like it was building towards the introduction of one of Kurt's "classic" numbers. It was still nicely highlighted his illustrious career, though. Kurt's second number was a program he performed at the Skating and Gymnastics Spectacular to Cody Simpson singing live. However, the version he did at the Skate Niagara show was to a slower, more relaxed version of the song, and I think was a better program as a result. I quite enjoy this number - it features a lot of intricate quick footwork in time to the music, and has a relaxed, happy vibe.
Good Kisser - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
I really really liked Tessa and Scott's Good Kisser number. It had a totally different feel from their first romantic number, and boy did they work it. The program started with Tessa coming out alone and laying down some serious attitude and moves, before being joined by Scott. Those two can really dance, and really committed to an entirely different kind of movement and attitude, and pulled it off really well. It was all crisp movements, upper body contortions, and a whole lot of in-your-face attitude. Not your typical figure skating program at all! I really loved that number.
Finale - God Only Knows - Cast
Tessa and Scott stayed out on the ice for the finale after their bows, leading things off before being joined by Katia. Katia took a few spins with Scott, and then had some solo highlights, before she joined Scott and Tessa skating together. There was a bit of a repetitive motif going on with one guy spinning around two ladies and then them skating out behind him (can't really describe it) which they did with Scott/Tessa/Katia, and then with Michael/Kirsten/Katia. The choice of the finale song was interesting, because I think it was either two or three different versions of "God Only Knows" melded together, which let the feeling of the song build from simple to more complex, as more and more skaters came out. It also allows the rhythm and mood to shift throughout the number, rather than jut being one song with one feel to it. It definitely reminded me of some of the old school Stars on Ice ensembles - not quite the complexity or length of the multi-song finales, but more layered in its musical feel. I'm guessing that was Orin Isaacs' work! Eventually each skater came out and joined the group, and the whole huge lot of them - NEXXICE, Flying on Ice, the cast, made their way down the ice together. I was a bit amused (or projecting) because it seemed to me that some of the skaters were a bit more careful than usual, trying to maintain their spot in such a huge group, but they did a really good job. As the number built to a close, Flying on Ice took to the straps to present a final image of them suspended high above the ice while the skaters below stood with their hands raised.
After the bows, the skaters broke out to shake hands with the on-ice seats, and Kurt decided to steal some children. He picked up one little girl and spun her around on the ice, to her delight, before posing for a photo with her and then giving her back. Then, I think another little boy wanted a turn, so he picked him up and gave him a little ride as well. He almost didn't make it back to join the cast by the tunnel for final waves and bows. It was super cute.
The post-show meet and greet included the entire on-ice section, and was the longest line I ever saw - they said 400-500 people. The skaters were all super gracious, and handled it really well.
Overall, as I said, the show was really fantastic, and I thoroughly
enjoyed it. I really hope they put on shows like this more in the
future, and that Sandra Bezic does more work with them. It's really too bad this show wasn't televised!