Stars on Ice
Kurt in SOI
Creative Team

Canadian Stars on Ice Review - Hamilton & Toronto, ON - Apr 26 & 27, 2013

Written by Tina

Going to the Toronto and Hamilton Canadian Stars on Ice show has become a bit of an annual tradition for me. It's always fun to go to the TV taping with its retakes, and it's always fun to see the Canadian version of the show after seeing the US version.

I always shoot the shows, and this year I had the very best shooting location ever at the Toronto show - center ice, on ice. Luckily for me, I was sitting next to two avid skating fans who were familiar with my photos, so they didn't mind me clicking away with my big lens next to them. Luckily for them, many skaters love to mug for cameras, so we got some amusing facial expressions directed our way. In Hamilton, due to the TV cameras, I shot from my seat up in the 15th row, which was a much different perspective.


Opening - Somebody That I Used to Know - Cast

The show opens with a SNL-style opening video (complete with time-lapse city lights rushing by, and "music by...") which is cute, but honestly doesn't fit at all with the tone of the show that follows. In particular, it doesn't fit with the very quirky, stylized, and cool opening number. There have been complaints about the lighting for this number - it's very low for the whole first part - and as a photographer, I sympathize since it's very difficult to shoot. But as an audience member, I do think that the low lights and lone spots add a very interesting atmosphere to what is already offbeat choreography. Jeffrey Buttle and Renee Roca did an exceptional job with the group choreography of this year's show, IMO. There is interesting work with unusual body shapes and stylized movement, and the quirky costuming fits in well. There is also a lot going on with different groups of skaters on the ice - no matter where you look, something is happening, but it all fits together.

I Need a Dollar - Patrick Chan

The show wastes no time in bringing its newest star front and center - Patrick Chan, the three time World Champion who somehow has never skated in Stars on Ice before. The screens show "2011 World Champion. 2012 World Champion. 2013 World Champion" before the lights come up on a grinning Patrick Chan, who is warmly greeted by the audience. This number, a hip-hoppy props number that centers on a baseball cap, was choreographed by Christopher Dean, and it shows. By which I mean, Christopher Dean has now choreographed many numbers using a hat (for Kurt Browning, Ilia Kulik, etc) and there's a certain similarity to the choreography of all these numbers. Patrick is deft with the hat (except in Hamilton, where it got away from him a few times), and pulls off the choreography with charm, but I think I would have enjoyed the number more if I hadn't seen the previous Christopher Dean hat numbers. Patrick put together a smooth performance in Toronto, but had more mishaps in Hamilton with both the hat and jumps, and had to do retakes. It's a cute number that plays on the begging for a dollar (to put in his hat), though, and a nice way to start things off.

Vienna - Ashley Wagner

From the Canadian champ to the US champ - Ashley Wagner took the ice next for a soulful, pretty performance to "Vienna" by Billy Joel. Ashley has a wonderfully confident presence on the ice, and clearly enjoys performing in front of an audience. She connects well with the audience, and I like that there's something about her movement and style that isn't generic pretty female skater. She's got a bit of an edge to her, an apparent spark, even in a pretty number like this.

Mad World - Sinead & John Kerr

There was a small transition here, as the opening strains of "Mad World" played and Sinead and John skated onto the ice while Ashley skated off. Sinead and John did this program in the US as well, and it was as striking in Canada as in the US. They commit passionately to the melancholic feel and solemn wistfulness of the song, and the choreography is full of interesting little moments, like when Sinead lies down on the ice and John skates up to her, spraying her with ice. It's a gorgeous performance to beautiful music, and I enjoyed it very much.

Carmina Burana - Shawn Sawyer

If the Kerrs' program was a lovely, serious, solemn performance, Shawn's was a showcase of how to push that seriousness a degree too far into absurdity, making a comic program out of an ostensibly serious piece of music. Admittedly, the costuming made it rather obvious that Shawn wasn't going for a serious-minded interpretation - he starts off in a fuzzy caterpillar suit, inching his way across the ice and occasionally wiggling his antenna, before shedding the caterpillar to morph into a butterfly with full colorful butterfly wings attached to his black costume. At the same time, even without the visual effect of the costume, his manner perfectly balances at that level of self-seriousness that is just a notch too extreme and is therefore hilarious. The visual effect worked well with Shawn's flexibility though, adding flair to his already impressive spins and spirals. Shawn is clearly a born entertainer, and the audience adored him.

Piano Guys - Joannie Rochette & Jeffrey Buttle

It would appear that both of the musicians whose music is used in this number passed away this year - before the number started, the screens showed birth/death stats for both Dave Brubeck and Van Cliburn. This number was a cute, lighthearted, and light-footed tribute to those jazzy pianists. It started with Joannie skating alone, taking a more balletic approach to a smooth piano number, before Jeff zipped out to join her with a more aggressive, footwork-filled style to a jazzier number. The two then skated together, at times alternating in counterpoint, at times skating together. They, especially Jeffrey, looked like they were having a wonderful time skating together, which added to the sense of fun. It does seem that some audience members in Hamilton were confused though - I heard someone say "I don't know who this pair is!" I have to say, they did not at all look like a pair team to me - they skated too far apart and not quite in unison - but they did look like a pair of friends having a great time.

Kurt's Song - Kurt Browning

Before Kurt comes out for his number, a screen comes up listing all the numbers he's skated to over the years in Stars on Ice, along with images of many of his previous programs. It's a nice little walk down memory lane and a showcase of some of the classic numbers he's done for Stars on Ice. As the lights come up on Kurt standing alone on the ice, the audience is thus already primed to receive him warmly and enthusiastically, and he does not disappoint. In both Toronto and Hamilton, he pulled off clean, beautiful performances of this number, self-choreographed to a song the Tragically Hip wrote for him. Many may recall Antares, the previous song the Tragically Hip wrote especially for him, but this number has a very different feel. It's much more of a pretty piano piece, with strings and lovely instrumentals than the more spacey, spare-feeling Antares. Choreographically, IMO it recalls "Downstream" and maybe "Triptico" (which he never did in SOI) more than Antares as well. It's just a beautiful piece of skating - edgework, footwork, quick changes of direction in response to the music. Nothing flashy or comedic, just nice, pure skating which the audience responded really well to. In fact, I seem to recall in Toronto he got a partial standing O for it.

Stay - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

This number opens sensually, with Tessa and Scott lying side by side on the ice, before Tessa rolls over on top of Scott, and then Scott rolls over on top of Tessa. These two do passion very, very well - it's in their faces, their body lines, their energy together. They also do incredible, intricate lifts that somehow still hold all the passion and character of the number. It's amazing to me that even in the transitions between lifts (and they go through a whole series) they never look awkward or out of place. Their skating is absolutely gorgeous and spellbinding.

Just in Time - Jeffrey Buttle

Jeff Buttle seems to be on a jazz kick this year. Between the him & Joannie number and this one, it seems like he spent some time in that section of the record shop (how archaic! of iTunes?). It seems to suit him as well - the grin on his face, the cocky angle to his hat, and the joyous body language just speaks to his having fun with this number. It's a nice, upbeat number - a fun change of pace for both Jeff and the audience.

Is It a Crime - Joannie Rochette

Joannie is a fantastic skater who's kept up her technical side while really developing as a performer, so it seems wrong to talk about her hair. But I have to say, she has the best hair for a sultry sexy number like this Sade number. Those flowing blonde locks are perfect for accentuating the angsty sensual feel of this number. Coupled with her committed performance, lovely lines, and spot on jumps and spins, she created a great interpretation of this song.

Wonder - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Kurt Browning, Jeffrey Buttle, Patrick Chan

With so many great world champions in the cast, it was almost inevitable that the show would have a number highlighting them. The opening spots and introductions highlighted them individually - "World Champion Kurt Browning. "World Champion Jeffrey Buttle"...etc. But the number brought them together wonderfully, highlighting how charismastic each of the skaters are, and how well they dance, but also showcasing their ability to skate so well together. The number showcased Tessa to a certain extent, placing her in the center of the group, being lifted by 2-4 of the guys. However, it also took turns putting other skaters at the center as their friends skated around them. At the end, all four guy skaters lifted Tessa to an umbrella suspended above, and turned slowly so they faced everyone, which was both a cool image and a nice tie-in to the ongoing umbrella theme in the show.

The first act ended with a video making an appeal for World Vision, and then Jeff Buttle coming out to ask people to contribute. This went a bit better than past appeals, since Jeff didn't tell people to take a child home with them ;).


The second act opened with Tessa and Scott coming out to shill for Lindt. I actually kind of love that Lindt is a sponsor of Stars on Ice, not least because they handed out free chocolate at the end of Tessa and Scott's bit in Hamilton.

Come Together - Cast

The group numbers of this year's show were wonderful, and this number is no exception. Come Together's got a kind of cool rolling vibe to it, and the choreography really taps into that.The skaters really seem to get into it as well, especially the guys, looking all cool with their hands on their belts. The number separates out the guys and girls at first, and then brings them together in fun pairings. It also has a bit of audience interaction, breaking with Stars on Ice tradition of only having the skaters break out at the end of the finale to shake hands with the audience. At one point in this number, the skaters all break out to slap hands with the on-ice audience. Overall, it's just a fun, cool group number, and a great way to start the second act.

Seven Nation Army - Shawn Sawyer

I was a bit puzzled by Shawn's costume for this number - was it meant to be a literal interpretation of band name? (White Stripes) A kind of virtual straight jacket holding him in? He used it quite effectively, though, along with his crazy eye makeup and slightly insane intense glare. Shawn's got that degree of crazy insanity required to pull off a White Stripes figure skating number the way it needs to be pulled off. Shawn is *there* on the ice in a way very few skaters are - amazing presence and performance quality.

Aerobics Class - Javier Fernandez (special guest performance in Toronto)

In Toronto, the audience had a special treat in the form of World bronze medalist Javier Fernandez, performing the exhibition number Kurt Browning choreographed for him. The number is a comedic gem - Javier plays an 1980's style aerobics instructor, complete with sweats, boombox, and gym bag. The program heavily features Javier in voiceover, teaching his class over a mix of 80s classics that are often used in gym classes. The instructor is obviously very full of himself, eventually stripping off his sweats to reveal a "Super Javi" costume, complete with "J" on his chest and a red cape. He flirts with various members of the audience, even going so far as to doing one-footed pushup and dancing around. Eventually, he collapses from exhaustion, only to have Kurt come out with a bucket of water and douse him to get him going again. Javier fully commits to the character, and he pulls it off beautifully. He had the audience fully along for the ride - I haven't heard that much laughter from an audience in a while at a skating performance.

True Colors - Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford

The only pairs team in the cast were the two-time Canadian champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They brought a sense of excitement with their lifts and throws, as well as a heartfelt performance of "True Colors" that effectively used a flowing scarf to accentuate their moves. That scarf was passed off from Eric to Meagan and back again, wrapping around Meagan while she spun, or flowing out of Eric's hand during a death spiral. Duhamel and Radford draw from the vast bag of Canadian pairs tricks, evoking Brasseur & Eisler, Sale & Pelletier, and others at various points. It's nice to see.

Sweet Dreams - Ashley Wagner

While Joannie Rochette evoked angsty sensuality in her Sade number, Ashley Wagner goes for a more aggressively sexy and in-your-face approach with "Sweet Dreams". She does it well - the girl is not shy, at least not on the ice, and her facial expressions are challenging and intense. And she can move - she shimmies her entire body, getting the whole thing into the choreography. I loved the choice of music and thought she did a great job interpreting it.

In This Shirt - Jeffrey Buttle

I have to confess that when I saw this program, I thought "Jeff Buttle does a great job with programs like this but they're a little bit too similar". Imagine how stupid I felt when I realized I *had* seen this program before, it wasn't just another similarly-styled program. Oops. It is a style that suits Jeff particularly well, though. The long lines, interesting body shapes, uniquely felt musicality, and well-placed jumps and spins - it's no wonder Jeff won the Medal Winners Open with this number.

Coronach - Sinead & John Kerr

I guess as the Scottish members of the cast, the Kerrs are uniquely suited to perform such a Scottish number as this, but I have to say, they not only pulled it off, they took it over the top. The sheer energy level and nonstop movement was both exhausting and energizing to watch. It blows me away how they can keep moving like that and yet not fall out of sync with each other or forget to engage with the audience. Programs like this really show why the Kerrs are such great cast members in Stars on Ice - they bring a unique, audience-engaging, entertaining energy all their own. John in a kilt is not such a bad thing either.

That Man - Joannie Rochette

Stars on Ice is a great chance for skaters to show their versatility, and it's definitely been a great showcase for Joannie Rochette. "That Man" has an entirely different feel from "Is It a Crime" or other programs that Joannie has done in recent years. It's a more stylized, kind of older vaudeville-ish (?) style, and she pulls it off well. When I first saw this number in the US tour, I thought Joannie seemed to take a page out of Shawn's book, from his "We Speak No Americano" number. There's a bit of that, but she does make it her own. It's a very cute number.

Mannish Boy - Patrick Chan

The transition to Patrick's number worked a bit better in Canada than it did with Ilia Kulik in the US. Joannie throws herself into Patrick/Ilia's arms and tries to get him to dip her, but he just drops her on the ice. In the US, Ilia just looked confused, and it was kind of weird. Patrick's got this wide-eyed oblivious look and big grin that kind of just works. He's ready to come out and skate his number, and he's not really taking notice of this random girl who's trying to ingratiate herself with him. I liked this number for Patrick - it's got a loose feel to it, echoed in the simple white t-shirt he wears, which he pulled off quite well. He seemed to really enjoy engaging with and flirting with the audience, and the audience fully gave the love back.

Carmen - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

I just saw Carmen at the Sydney opera, so it was particularly interesting to watch Tessa and Scott's performance to music from Carmen. All I can say is wow, just wow. Tessa really embodied the tempestuous, passionate Carmen with all her inconsistencies and shifting emotions. Pushing Scott away, passionately embracing him, pulling him along, and everything in between - she just really captured the character. And Scott matched her in the passion and movement, really helping to bring the level of performance up even more.

Singing in the Rain - Kurt Browning

In Canada, Ashley Wagner played the blonde girl whose kiss on the cheek sets Kurt joyfully Singing in the Rain. Singing in the Rain is a special program to begin with, and Kurt performs it awesomely, of course (he has gotten particularly deft at handling that umbrella). But there's a particularly special feeling to be in an arena with an audience that recognizes the magic and is caught up in the performance. There's just this feeling of excitement and love in the air that's awesome. In Hamilton, this was particularly palpable when Kurt's legs more or less gave out on him partway through. As a Kurt fan, it was rather painful to watch as he fell and struggled to keep going. Then there was the moment of realization that he couldn't finish the program with the mistakes intact - at the end of the program, rain falls from the rafters, and Kurt gets rather thoroughly wet. If they had gone through with that part, then retakes would have rather bad continuity errors with his wet suit and the wet ice. However, since this is the last program of the evening before the finale, and the rain falls into the beginning of the finale, Kurt had no opportunity to rest - he had to immediately try to retake the program with his tired legs. This took several tries and several stops and starts, but the audience was with him the entire time. And Kurt being Kurt, despite being tired and frustrated, he was still very charming and funny and self-deprecating about it all.

Finale - Marching On - Cast

The TV broadcast of the finale is going to look a bit different than what most cities see - most of the time Kurt stays on the ice as the finale begins, the skaters skate around him, and at some point he peels off and goes backstage. When he finally got all the way through "Singing in the Rain" in Hamilton, he just left the ice after his bows. Either way, this is a thoroughly enjoyable finale that uses the umbrella theme (put in place in honor of Singing in the Rain) really effectively. The skaters essentially use the umbrellas as marching batons half the time, marching in rhythm and spinning them around. The number really utilizes the ensemble part of an ensemble number, creating nice patterns and images of the entire group moving together in unison down the ice. There are great breakout moments too, such as Scott and Tessa doing their signature goose lift, with umbrellas open, and Kurt breaking out from nowhere to do some fast and furious footwork down the ice. Overall, it's just a wonderful finale, and a great way to end the show.

Retakes - Cast

Typically, the skaters take their bows, wave a lot, and leave the ice. In Hamilton, of course, they had to do retakes of any mistakes for the TV broadcast. In order to ensure that the audience sticks around while the skaters get ready, they usually send one of them out with a microphone. Most Kurt fans hope for Kurt, of course, since he's usually reliably funny and engaging. And we weren't disappointed - to his own dismay (he looked like he'd rather be resting backstage), Kurt was handed the microphone and sent back out to talk to the audience. He talked about Singing in the Rain, saying how he'd waited 20 years to do that program live, but forgot to tell his legs. The sound engineer played a clip of Brickhouse, to his surprise, so he tried to remember some of the choreography. He searched for ways to kill time, complaining humorously that "it's just a zipper - it goes up and down. How hard is it??" when the first skater took a long time to emerge. When Jeff Buttle finally emerged (for "Just in Time", aptly enough), Kurt seized the opportunity and disappeared immediately. The subsequent retakes (Jeff, Patrick, Ashley, and Joannie) went smoothly enough. But then, it was time to retake the "Wonder" five world champons group number, since Patrick had randomly fallen during the number. There was a great deal of ribbing of Patrick as the skaters took the ice, with Patrick making fun of his own stumble. When Kurt finally dragged himself on the ice, hunched over, and slowly pretending to use a cane to get into place, he took his place and yelled "Come on, Patrick!", and then straightened himself up. Retaking group numbers is always interesting, since there are so many opportunities for problems, and of course things didn't go smoothly here. First, Tessa messed up and stopped dead, looking sheepish. Kurt immediately made a beeline for some empty on-ice seats nearby, lying down and putting his head in an audience member's lap, who pet his head. Then, they started over and *Kurt* messed up, stepping right instead of left, and immediately put his head down and headed off the ice, stepping behind the camera like "ok, I'll do this job instead." By this time, the skaters were barely holding it together. The previous retakes had started with the individual skater introductions, but this time around, they just jumped into "Tessa Virtue" and then started the music. This startled Tessa, who had to quickly compose herself and get into place. Luckily, this run through went without incident, and the skaters were able to finish the retake (to Kurt's relief). This time around, Kurt refused to take the microphone, handing it to Patrick and kicking him out there, and then chucking ice balls at his head as he ducked. Patrick chose the simple route, saying that clearly they were all human, and thanking the audience for their support. He also said that he, Tessa, and Scott were looking forward to representing their country in Sochi in 2014, and then wished everyone a safe drive home and said goodnight.

With that, another year of Canadian Stars on Ice was over for me. I really enjoyed the show this year - the group choreography, as I already mentioned, was stellar - very unique and different. The individual skater performances were also wonderful, and overall it was just a great show with a very high level of skating. I'm looking forward to seeing what next year has to offer, and highly recommend people to catch this year's show if they can!