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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Balancing act

Features for step sequence levels, from ISU Communication 1724:

1) Simple variety (Level 2), variety (Level 3), complexity (Level 4) of turns and steps throughout (compulsory)
2) Rotations (turns, steps) in either direction (left and right) with full body rotation covering at least 1/3 of the pattern in total for each rotational direction
3) Use of upper body movements for at least 1/3 of the pattern
4) Two different combinations of 3 difficult turns (rockers, counters, brackets, twizzles, loops) quickly executed within the sequence

Use of upper body movements means the visible use for a combined total of at least 1/3 (instead of 1/2) of the pattern of the step sequence any movements of the arms, head and torso that have an effect on the balance of the main body core.

The IJS has done a lot of good in developing more stringent requirements for step sequences and spins. Where once skaters could get away with treating these elements as an afterthought, now you do so at your own peril; nobody wants to see a column of level 1s and 2s in under their name. As a result, step sequences are now more difficult and more demanding of the skaters. This is good; interesting steps and spins can add a lot to a program. 

Not so good: with upper body movement an important feature of the high-level step sequence, we are now subject to much flailing, leaning, and otherwise overly enthusiastic movements. However, some skaters and choreographers appear to have followed Tim Gunn's approach and have tried to make it work - not only technically, but also as part of the concept of the program. Did they succeed?

2008: A Black Swan

Daisuke Takahashi and Nikolai Morozov brought a hip-hop twist to the familiar Swan Lake, allowing Takahashi to incorporate a variety of steps and body movement into his short program and its step sequences. The result: wild acclaim. My take: I can see that it's difficult, but the steps sequences have always felt disjointed to me. Give me the Bachelorette exhibition over this any day.

2010: I'm like a bird

Evan Lysacek turned to Lori Nichol to choreograph his Olympic season programs, and Firebird was the chosen SP music. Lysacek and Nichol studied birds and tried to mimic their movement in the program. The result: Olympic gold. My take: the inspiration seemed to come from the rulebook more than from the birds.

2010: What shall we do with a drunken pirate?

Nikolai Morozov was the choreographer for Javier Fernandez's Pirates of the Caribbean LP, in which Fernandez portrayed a drunken Jack Sparrow (I assume), giving him license to flail about, off balance and seemingly tipsy, throughout the program. The result: Fernandez received his first level 4 at the 2010 World Championships. My take: it might not be high art, but at least it's a good excuse for all that flailing and staggering about.

Inspired by this effort, I recently discussed with several fellow skating fans what other program concepts might give sufficient artistic license to engage in a lot of upper body movement, in addition to the standard technical license to do so because it's difficult. The following possibilities were suggested: 
  • Don Quixote and the windmills.
  • Fighting with monsters, zombies etc.
  • Battles with flies, mosquitoes, or other airborne insects (like this, except more difficult); just imagine if Lysacek had skated to Hitchcock's The Birds - the possibilities!
  • Portrayal of various hysterical characters.
  • The usual standby: a dramatic sword fight.

Did we miss any other interesting ideas? 

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