Stars on Ice
Kurt in SOI
Creative Team

Canadian Stars on Ice Review - Vancouver, BC - May 18, 2012

Written by Tina

Most of the time when I go to see a skating show, I am content to watch it and shoot it at the same time. I enjoy the process of capturing the skaters' actions, and feeling like I am to a certain extent interacting with their performances as I strive to track their movements and catch the best moments. However, with this year's Stars on Ice show, I often found myself really wishing I could just sit there and watch it, particularly during group numbers. I felt like I was missing stuff, and not getting the chance to truly appreciate the complexity and depth of the choreography. So when the opportunity arose to go to the last show in Vancouver, I decided to go for it, and go without my camera.

Seeing the last show in Vancouver was doubly interesting for me, since I had seen one of the earliest US shows in Seattle - in fact, the first true full-through of the show after it came back from its post-Lake Placid hiatus. I knew that this year's show was very much a work in progress, with Kurt Browning as co-director and choreographer constantly watching and tweaking and trying to improve it. It was already interesting to see the changes he'd made in bringing the tour to Canada. Now I'd get to see the show just about as polished as it would ever get, at the end of 22 shows (not counting Japan, where they didn't do the whole show) and 12 for this cast.

I was seated in the 13th row at center ice, which was a great perspective from which to see the lighting. The light patterns, colors, and effects were beautiful in the show, and were used quite effectively to complement the programs. In fact, I felt like the lights and screens were used more effectively than in years past to really add to the look and feel of the show. The only sour note in my show experience was unfortunately a rather obtrusive one - a really loud, really garrulous couple right behind me who would not stop talking throughout the entire show, and not about the show. It was annoying to the point of ruining the experience of the show for me. I should have said something, but didn't. I just did my best to ignore them. I don't understand people like that - if they wanted to spend the evening drinking beer and talking, why don't they just go to a bar and not ruin it for the rest of us? But I digress.


Opening - A Suite For Stars - Cast

I give the opening number points for trying something different, for introducing the theme of Love n' Life clearly, and through the skaters' own voices. It's a little odd for me in Canada because there were a lot of new skaters whose voices I don't know that well, so it wasn't always easy to tell who was saying what. I kind of liked the bit they introduced of Shawn being the outsider - he jumped in an opposite direction as the other three (Kurt, Jeremy, Jeff) and stood by himself when Jeremy said life was about "unity", but then declared that it was ok to be different when Jeremy said that sometimes it was hard to fit in. It's a bit of an obvious lesson for the kids in the audience, but it's true. It's especially true for kids who get teased for figure skating, and it was a nice little moment. There are some nice group skating moments as well. But overall, I still find it kind of cheesy. Ah well.

I'm Into Something Good - Kurt Browning

Kurt was really on in Vancouver. His jumps were clean and solid for the most part (more in the second number than the first), his footwork clean and crisp, with a sense of exuberance just emanating from him. I particularly enjoyed seeing his first number without shooting it. I don't feel this is one of his instant classic programs - it feels a bit too fluffy - but I had a greater appreciation for the nuances of his interpretation of the music. All the little steps, the unexpected stops and turns, the twists of his body and choreographic moments to highlight bits of the lyrics - it all made the program fun to watch. Not to mention that ability he has to just invite the audience to have as much as he's having.

Tightrope - Ashley Wagner

When I first saw the show, I felt like the first act had too many kind of beat-driven, dance-type numbers. However as I watched the show more, I got a finer appreciation for the different ways in which each skater interpreted their music, and the differences in the music itself. Ashley's program really played with the "tightrope" theme of the music. She incorporated cute moments like pretending to lose her balance, deliberately coming out of jumps awkwardly, looking like she was trying to balance as she took steps. She didn't take it over the line into excessive cutesiness though, just added a level of interpretation to her movement. I like that she's got this spunk and really engages with the audience with her eyes and facial expression, and that she makes unusual choices in her movement.

We Speak No Americano - Shawn Sawyer

I don't know if it's because I was sitting further back, or because I've just gotten used to this program, but I no longer see as strong similarities to parts of Kurt's Raggy clown number in this program. There are pieces of choreography that definitely seem to be callbacks, but on the whole, Shawn does different things with them. This is a great, crowd-pleasing program, a great piece of entertainment. Shawn takes engagement with the audience to another level - it's not Kurt's affability and warmth and sense of personal relationship with the audience, but rather a more intense puppy-doggish desire to entertain and be seen. He's out there going "look at me look at me!" but he's doing it by giving the audience a whole lot to look at. I think he's really found his niche as a professional performer, and he's done it while still keeping up his jumps and beautiful spins, while adding a host of things only he can do.

Transition - The Four Stops

I love how the "Four Stops" are introduced, with the video screens showing each guy's face and name as the cheesy announcer says it - Harry (Jeff), Barry (Jeremy), Larry (Scott) and (with a slightly less enthused tone) Les (Kurt with a hapless look on his face). The song for this bit is also really appropriate - "One Bad Apple". In this transition, Kurt is supposed to be distracted by the ridiculously large flower boutinniere he's wearing (while the other guys have normal sized ones), but it was a bit different than the last few times I've seen it, and I'm not sure it worked as well. Instead of getting distracted and getting out of line going the wrong way, only to have one of the other guys catch him and reel him back, Kurt just went the wrong way and ended up on the other side of the ice while the other guys I guess just ignored him? And I got less of a sense that he realized he was doing the wrong thing. At the end, he waves with an expression of stupid adoration at Cynthia for a really long time until Scott comes and pulls him back. I don't know how much the changes were due to last show hijinks (they always try to pull a few inside joke pranks) and how many were just differences.

Let Me Think About It - Cynthia Phaneuf

Of all the beat-driven dance type programs in the first act, I think Cynthia's is the least memorable because it's the least different, interpretation-wise. She moves well, she has the attitude, the shoulder shimmying, the kind of confidently sexy facial expressions, but the program just doesn't stand out. It's fine though, and she skates it well.

Transition - The Four Stops

This is the transition where Kurt is standing a bit too close to Jeff and keeps finding himself on the receiving end of Jeff's fist as they go through the choreography (hence the music: "Can't Get Next To You"). I realized it helps to be on the side of the audience which can see Kurt's face as he's getting accidentally punched by Jeff. The body language is funny, but the face is even funnier. This transition also was somewhat different, IMO to its detriment humor-wise, in Vancouver. At the end, when Kurt's been knocked to the ground by the punch he failed to duck, in Toronto/Hamilton, as the other three guys thrust their arms up for bows in turn, Kurt's arms also went up perfectly in time as he lay there on the ice. In Vancouver, there was quite a lag between the 3 guys and Kurt sticking his arms up, which I guess implied he was quite dazed, but which I didn't find as funny. It's still a funny transition, but the laughs they got in Toronto and Hamilton were bigger, IMO.

Shake It Out - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

It's hard for me to talk about Kaitlyn and Andrew without also talking about Tessa and Scott, because to me, they represent such different schools of ice dance. I'm not an ice dance expert, by any means, but I feel like there are a lot of ice dancers who are super dramatic in their choreography and expressions, whose costumes are all flowing raggedy drama, whose hair even reflects the drama by being all long and flowy. And to a certain extent, Kaitlyn & Andrew kind of fit into that school for me - both programs were lots of drama and passion and super-committed movements that at times were almost flailing with emotion. Whereas Tessa and Scott's movement seems to stem more from simplicity and purity of movement, from a sense of sweetness and affection and romance. It's an interesting contrast.

At any rate, I did like both of W&P's programs. Shake It Out was compellingly propulsive, dramatic and triumphant and continuously moving, and it was interesting to watch.

I Won't Give Up - Jeremy Abbott

Jeremy does some wonderful things with the tempo and feel of this number. He doesn't stuff it too full of choreography and movement, but at the same time the program isn't empty, either. He's not just gliding and dramatically pointing into the air as some people would interpret this kind of music. I thikn he's good at doing the build and speed at the right parts of the music, before subsiding into stillness at other parts. I feel like he took his time, there was space in the program, and that's what the music called for. And he captured that sense of melancholy yearning beautifully.

Indestructible - Joannie Rochette

Musically, I think this was one of the more interesting choices by the ladies skaters in the show. It could be loosely classified (by me, at least) as just a kind of dance number with a beat, but the music isn't that simple. It has the string section, it's got variations in tempo and rhythm and mood, and she interprets it really well. Honestly, though, this program felt more tentative and off in Vancouver than I'm used to seeing from her. I was actually wondering if there was something odd about the ice, because I noticed both her and Jeff and possibly some of the other skaters just didn't seem to get the lift on their jumps, and their steps were more tentative. It was still a good program, with different kinds of movement to it, but she's definitely performed it better in the past.

Hallelujah - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

I really like the intro bars into the song - there's something hauntingly just slightly discordant about it, something that feels a little off, that creates a tension that would have been really interesting to see explored through the song. However, the song soon becomes the Hallelujah everyone is familiar with - haunting, plaintive, melancholy, but without that same odd tension as the beginning. While I would have loved to see Tessa & Scott try to something more along the lines of the beginning of the song, I still liked their performance and interpretation of Hallelujah. There's something just very lovely and clean and pure about their skating, and how they relate to each other on the ice.

Big Love - Jeffrey Buttle

It's slightly odd to me - in Hamilton I felt without a doubt that Big Love was one of the absolute highlights of the show. I like it when skaters move differently, when they use their bodies in different ways and to create interesting shapes and to drive their movement differently, and Jeffrey Buttle absolutely does that in this number. I also like the music - it's not typical skating music and there's something driving and raw and powerful about it. However, in Vancouver Jeffrey's performance of it felt more tentative and didn't have the absolute commitment that made it so compelling in Toronto. Plus, he had a few wonky jumps, including a 2-axel that ended up almost in a split, which was ironically perfectly timed to the singer letting out some raw "ooh! ahh!"s which is kind of what that split looked like. It's too bad he ended the tour with a weaker performance of what I still think is a pretty phenomenal program.

Rolling in the Deep - Cast

Speaking of a pretty phenomenal program...Rolling in the Deep remains one of my favorite Stars group numbers in recent years (and possibly longer), and one that hits on so many levels unusual for a Stars on Ice group number. The opening is fun in its character/comedic levels, but in a subtle way, while at the same time mining the unique sound of skate blades on ice while calling back to the "Five Minutes for Icing" number of yore. In Vancouver, there was a definite minor prank here - usually all three guys end up balancing on one foot for a long time, while Jeremy tries to mess Shawn up, etc. However, in Vancouver Jeremy and Shawn kept nonchalantly dancing in place and left Kurt hanging alone on one foot for a very long time.

Then I love the definite shift/transition that takes place as the three guys move down the ice, carving out sound and motion with their blades, and then throw things back down the ice with a very definitive movement to transfer the attention to the 3 girls who have appeared. And then there's another shift to a more focused power, strong movements, confrontational body language and choreography, before the music and choreography shift again to the dance teams swooping in and up into a lift. Then having the singles skaters do lifts as well - it's a cool image, and a unifying one after having them mime "fighting" each other. Loved the bit where they're skating down the ice in a straight line but the mikes are back on and it's not just a simple everyone skating in a line, people are turning and carving their blades on the ice in counterpoint, while still moving as a group. And then the way things go still while the five women break out in their really slow held glides, before the guys run out and fling them back into action again.. There are just so many cool moments and such great complex footwork and choreography, it's hard to catch it all, but it makes the number rewarding in new ways each and every time I see it. And such a great song!

In the Lindt promotion (which I still find terribly cheesy partly b/c Tessa is sweet but not that great at convincingly delivering lines), Scott pointed out just how meaningful Vancouver was to them, what with the Olympics and winning their first national title there. Tessa said she remembered having a Lindt before their long(?) program at the Olympics, and apologized to Scott for the chocolate breath. I missed the World Vision promo b/c I realized that it was the perfect time to hit the restroom before a line formed, so I don't know if Jeff said or did anything unusual.


A Life Loved - Cast

It's been really interesting to see how this number has developed from early in the US tour through the end of the Canadian tour. It's definitely the number that's been tweaked the most, all to its benefit. If you don't know the number, check out my Toronto/Hamilton review for the details. Of all the numbers in this show, "A Life Loved" definitely best embodies the "Love 'n Life" theme. It depicts both the evolution of a love story and relationship, and just the evolution of a life through time. The love story hits the big milestones of proposal, pregnancy, and death (though the latter is subtly hinted at), as well as the cycle from the man (briefly) alone finding love, and eventually finding himself alone again. The life story sees the same man/couple from the exuberance of youth through the stability and relative calmness of not-yet-middle-age, to the relative slowness of age. It also speaks to the strength of memory and nostalgia, and how love transcends death. It's just a lovely number from start to finish.

Sing, Sing, Sing - Jeremy Abbott

Having only seen this number when it immediately followed guest skaters Meryl Davis & Charlie White in Toronto and Hamilton, I have no idea if Jeremy's intro to it in Vancouver was typical, or Vancouver-only. He spent a good amount of time just playing with the audience, encouraging cheers and setting one side of the audience against the other. When he finally settled into performing his program, the audience was warmed up, and so was he. He landed a beautiful 3-2 (I think) combination, as well as a triple axel, which was really fun to see. He likes to pull on his suspenders a little much for my taste, but he really interacts with the audience and looks like he's having a great time. It's a fun program with lots of quick steps and great jumps.

Je l'aime a Mourir - Cynthia Phaneuf

Cynthia's second number was nice enough - the music was pensive and melancholy, and her body language and performance matched. To me, though, even though the song isn't musically a "Generic Female Ballad", somehow the interpretation kind of feels that generic to me. I feel like I've seen Cynthia do this program many times before. It was good, but among this group of creative skaters, it didn't stand out.

Je Suis Malade - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

While "Shake It Out" was dramatic in a triumphant, propulsive way, "Je Suis Malade" was dramatic in trying to tell a story of the relationship between these two passionate people. Kaitlyn and Andrew really commit themselves to the expressions, body language, and choreography, and paint a beautiful picture out on the ice. There's that sense of longing, of unfulfilled or unrequited passion which plays itself out beautifully.

Alegria - Shawn Sawyer

Again, I don't know if the changes to the Four (well, Three) Stops transition here was due to it being the final show, or a change they made after Toronto. However, this time around as Jeremy and Scott carried Shawn out onto the ice, Jeffrey was making loud "beep beep" noises as he directed them with his airport runway worker lights. He then danced exuberantly in place until the other two, looking desperate, got him back on task so they could put Shawn down. When they set Shawn down and started skating away, Shawn cleared his throat loudly while extending his foot up into the air so Jeffrey could clean his skate blade. And as Jeffrey finished, he made a very pointed "*thank* you!". It was all quite funny.

Shawn's Alegria number is something that I honestly think only he could do, and that he does amazingly well. Sasha Cohen is flexible like Shawn, and does many similar moves, but Shawn has this level of intensity and passionate commitment to his skating that Sasha lacks, and it fits Cirque du Soleil really well. He inhabits that Cirque creature fully, all the while exhibiting amazing body control and flexibility. It's a much less "look at me! look at me!" performance than his first, but as a consequence it's almost more compelling to watch. Not to mention, he's still landing beautiful jumps in between the backflips and flexible moves. One of the highlight solo numbers of the evening for me.

Your Song - Ashley Wagner

This song is perhaps the most "generic female ballad" in style of all the songs in the show, but Ashley turns it into something else. She is super graceful and fluid, and just flows through the number like silk, but her movement didn't feel like a typical pretty ladies program to me. She really captured the plaintive longing mood of the song, and her jumps were beautiful and flowed right out of the music.

Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Jeremy Abbott, Jeffrey Buttle, Scott Moir, Andrew Poje

I have to say, I think that this is one of the best group numbers, artistically, that Stars on Ice has ever done. The concept, the music, the execution - it's so different and so beautiful, just a wonderful fusion of dance and skating, and the kind of thing that can only really be done in a show like Stars on Ice. I love how it uses the lights so effectively to create a visual picture, and yet at the same time isn't just a gimmicky lighting program. That choreography to that music would still stand up beautifully even without the play of shadow and light. It's an all-guys' number, which Stars on Ice has done so many of, putting the guys in white tank tops, and yet not being at all about guys just being eye candy for the women in the audience. There's a simplicity and elegance to the number that nonetheless contains within it bursts of passion and raw emotion. It's just gorgeous, and I could watch it over and over.

Formidable - Joannie Rochette

Of course, breaking up the mood very effectively, is a very very cheesy and hilarious Kurt coming out with a fake center-parted little toupee plastered on his head, chocolate and flowers in hand, and an overweening sense of confidence in his own sexiness. The song is, of course, Love Machine. Kurt plays this part to the hilt, eliciting gales of laughter with his preening "ladies' man". His character is *so* self-confident that when Joannie blows right by him, his response is a haughty "I'm too much of a man for her anyway" and a decision not to put his "delicious smooth Lindt chocolates" to waste. Which, IMO, is a much more effective Lindt promo than the super blatant one at the end of Act I.

Having established her standards by blowing off "Love Machine" Kurt, Joannie went on to skate a whimsical and free-spirited ode to her "formidable" love (keeping in mind formidable means "great" in French, not "inspiring fear" as in English). She brings a great sense of relaxed joy and gently flirty choreography to this program, combined with some lovely solid jumps and beautiful spins. I'm rather fond of her sudden swoops into spread eagles as well. It was rather amusing in Vancouver because the boy she picked out to put her scarf around was clearly not at all happy to be picked, and just sat there like a sullenly embarrassed rock even after she moved away.

Both Sides Now - Jeffrey Buttle

When I watched the show previously, I thought "Big Love" was an absolute highlight while "Both Sides Now" was a good program, and pretty, but I was distracted by comparisons to the Kristi Yamaguchi/Jenni Meno/Denis Petrov program they did 10 years ago. However, in Vancouver, "Big Love" was weaker while I was captivated by Jeffrey's performance to "Both Sides Now". The program is gorgeous - smooth, flowing, gliding edges, quiet moments of reflection, moments of regret, wistfully melancholy, yet infused with joy as well. I really got a sense of that "both sides" theme - happiness and sorry, regret and hope. It just lovely.

Good Feeling - Cynthia Phaneuf, Joannie Rochette, Tessa Virtue, Ashley Wagner, Kaitlyn Weaver

I was interested to see if this new girls' group number would look more polished with more shows under their belts, and to a certain extent, it does. There's more assurance in the girls' steps, less sidelong looks to catch what the others are doing. The number itself is fun, upbeat, and dancey, and makes effective use of lighting to bring up the visual impact. It still is the least polished looking number in the show, but it's a lot of fun, and Tessa Virtue in particular is enjoyable to watch. This was the number which had the most obvious last-show prank in it. Partway through the number, Shawn suddenly came running out in high heels, a yellow bikini, and a small blue flotation tube around his waist. He called out "Helllooooooo" and then continue to teeter with little mincing steps and fluttering arms down the entire length of the on-ice seats before finally making it to the tunnel. Kind of left the audience going "did I really just see that?"

Feeling Good - Kurt Browning

WOW. This number just keeps getting better and better. Kurt's ease in performing it, the smoothness, the aggressiveness and self-assuredness...and those jumps! His double axel right off the top was gorgeous and high and perfectly timed to the music. Beautiful solid triple toe, slightly wonky 2-axel followed by a much more solid 2-axel. An oddly-landed but beautifully jumped straight-into-choreography 3-toe at the end... There were shows on the US tour where Kurt was clearly tired and the jumps weren't as solid, but here, at the end of a long season, he was just completely on. I love the choreography of this program - it's so interesting, with intricate little steps, shifts in intensity and speed, and interesting body movement. Kurt possesses a total command of the audience, and utter commitment to the movements when performing it, and the whole package is just wonderful. I keep wanting to say it's one of his best programs in years, but his programs last year were pretty stellar as well.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

I marvel at how even in a high-energy, fun, extrovertedly dancing program like this one, Tessa and Scott still find the time to include little intimate moments of romanticism. It's like they're trying to encourage their audiences to see them as a romantic couple. At any rate, this number is just sheer fun, from the blindingly blingy dress Tessa wears, to the big grins on both Tessa and Scott's faces as they dance up a storm. There are some fun lifts, including the infamous "Goose" move (I always marvel at Tessa's dismount more than the lift itself), and lots of fun steps. It's a great program to get the audience charged up for the finale.

Dog Days Are Over - Cast

It's interesting to me to have watched Dog Days Are Over in many incarnations, from the early days filmed in Lake Placid and Japan, through the early part of the US tour, and now to the end of the Canadian tour. It's a wonderful finale, full of intricate footwork and movement, and it really struck me while watching it in Vancouver how much it hangs on the skaters being in sync. When they are in sync, as they were in Vancouver, there's this great sense of the group moving together as one entity, as part of a greater whole, and the number just looks super cool. When they're not, like earlier in the US tour, it can be jarring and messy, and the number just doesn't work as well. I give kudos to Kurt and Jeffrey for challenging the skaters with a number that really relies on them being on top of their game to make it truly effective. And I give kudos to the Canadian cast for bringing their A-game and really digging into the choreography and performance. It was just a wonderful end to a wonderful show.

The finale/bows were also a bit different this year in that they were really well coordinated to the final song, "Love Will Keep Us Together". The whole audience greeting/shaking hands part is choreographed - the skaters split up to go down the two halves of the ice, but then at some predetermined time, the skaters on each side skate out to the middle and trade sides. Usually, when they do this trade, the guy and girl on opposite sides meet in the middle and do a little something together. In Vancouver, Kurt grabbed Cynthia by the face and planted a big kiss on her lips, leaving her looking rather dazed and fanning herself after. Later, Ashley and Shawn went down the ice and did side-by-side jumps perfectly in sync. At the very end as the skaters retreated into the tunnel, Ashley and Jeremy stood by the tunnel with their arms around each other waving and smiling at the audience until Kurt came back out and pushed them back in. Even then, Jeremy tried to break away and come back out to wave some more. It was really cute and really gave the sense of just how much these skaters enjoyed performing the show and performing for the audience.

Overall, I think this year's Stars on Ice tour is one of the best they've done in many years. Usually, when Stars on Ice tries to have a theme, I complain about how it isn't maintained consistently, and that they drop the ball frequently in remembering they even have a theme. This year, I think the show was extremely cohesive and extremely thematically coherent. Every group number not only fit the theme, but in many cases really explored it, often in very creative and artistic ways. The solos were well-integrated, the transitions were humorous and kept things going, and the whole show just flowed really well from start to finish. I realize that as a dedicated Kurt fan, I am biased to begin with, but I honestly think that Kurt Browning has done an exceptional job in his first outing as co-director and principal choreographer, and put together an extremely memorable show. I'm sad that the 2012 tour is over and that I won't get to see these numbers again, but grateful I had the chance to watch it enough to really enjoy it and see it develop over the course of the season.