Free Dance

Group A

Reporting by Lynn Rutherford

Talented sibling duo Maia & Alex Shibutani won the highly competitive Novice Free Dance A event with a clean and expressive performance to the haunting soundtrack of “Memoirs of a Geisha” (29.14 TES + 21.99 PCS = 51.13 points). The 2006 U.S. intermediate champs, who train in Colorado Springs under Patti Gottwein, took a major leap in maturity, handling Tom Dickson’s sophisticated choreography with confidence and aplomb.

Clad in stunning costumes designed by New York designer Tania Bass, the couple maintained their speed throughout solid footwork sequences, including four, then five, front and back twizzles. With a recent growth spurt, Alex can lift his diminutive sister with ease; highlights included a well-centered spin with Maia assaying the infamous “skate to head” position and a reverse rotational lift with three changes of position.

“To win is shocking. Everyone skated really well. Going from intermediate to novice is a huge jump and we were just hoping to skate our best and make the transition,” said 12 year-old Maia.

“We know everyone always says, ‘Oh, the Shibutanis are so cute,’ but we definitely don’t want our skating to be small. We really attempted to make ourselves grow as performers and fill the entire rink. The other skaters in Colorado Springs have been so supportive; it’s a great environment to learn and train in, and our coach and choreographer are fantastic,” added her 15 year-old brother.

The Shibutanis have also entered the Rocker Fox Trot, European Waltz and Paso CD events, and will compete next week at NACs in Vancouver .

Performing in lovely deep purple costumes to “Harem,” Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring’s free dance was highlighted by a series of lifts with unique positions, including a combination of a low straight-line lift sequing into a fast rotation lift and a difficult curve lift with Bailey resting in a “basket”-type position on Herring’s leg.

The couple showed good speed and expression throughout their final footwork sequence, finishing a scant tenth of a point behind the Shibutanis (29.57 TES + 21.46 PCS = 51.03).

“They’ve only been skating together for three months. They had a few mistakes but it’s early in the season. I’m so proud they put it all out there,” said former U.S. competitor Christie Moxley, who coaches the couple with her former partner Alexander Kirsanov in Delaware . The couple also choreographs for their students.

“This is our first big competition; we were going for all Level 4’s (on our elements), so we’ll have to wait for our (judges) critique to find out what we actually got. We’re very happy,” said Bailey.

Reigning Canadian pre-novice champs Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill took third place with a solid outing to unique “Rainforest” music, earning 47.64 points (27.93 TES + 19.71 PCS). The program, which included difficult hand holds and intricate footwork, was designed by one of their coaches, Carol Long Lane, who trains the couple with her husband, former British dance silver medalist (with Janet Sawbridge) Jon Lane, in Ontario.

“It was pretty good. We’re happy. We’ve been doing so many run-throughs at our rink (Scarboro) and it paid off,” said Hill, who has skated with his partner for four years. The team heads to Vancouver for NACs next week.

The charming Catherine St. Ogne & Alexander Browne of Montreal brought typical French Canadian sophistication to their free dance to African music, displaying deep edges and the most unusual lift of the event – a straight-line with St. Onge in a full upright split under Browne. They placed fourth with 42.94 points overall.

“We wanted our free dance to be different, so we used modern African music with chanting words and sounds instead of (straight) vocals. We are trying to create more of a theatrical experience,” said one of the couple’s coaches, former Canadian competitor Bruno Yvars. (Aime LaBlanc and Martine Patenaude also coach the couple.)

St. Onge & Browne, who have skated together for three years, will also compete at NACs.

For 18 year-old Alexander Lorello, who placed sixth with lovely blonde partner Genevieve Deutch (41.88 points), ice dance is very much a family affair. His 16 year-old brother, Ian, is competing here in Novice Group B with partner Isabella Cannuscio, and his 10 year-old twin brother and sister are in the juvenile dance division.

“I don’t like competing with my brother, but we knew it would happen someday so we prepared for it. I’m not really comfortable with it yet,” admitted Alex Lorello. (In Lake Placid , siblings are placed in different groups when possible, and Ian and partner Isabella Cannuscio are in Group B.)

All of the Lorellos train at the University of Delaware .

Lorello & Deutch, performing to Beethoven as interpreted by the pop-Opera group Amici, showed great elegance but struggled a bit with Linichuk’s difficult choreography. Deutch took a face-first fall out of a low lift, but recovered quickly to execute a straight-line lift in a skate-to-head position. They sustained two points in deductions, dropping them to fifth place overall with 41.88 points.

“Alex and Genni could be at least 60% better than they are now. They have great potential,” said Karponosov, who is here in Lake Placid with his students while Linichuk remains in Delaware putting the final touches on Denkova & Staviski’s free dance, to be debuted at Skate America.

Sixth place went to Canadians Olivia Martins & Alvin Chau (41.70 points). Performing a stylish tango choreographed by Elena Garanina, Anastasia Cannuscio & Dean Copeley placed seventh with 38.14 points. Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth were eighth with 38.03 points.

Patricia Stuckey & Eric Field , who are coached by longtime U.S. competitor Brandon Forsyth, placed ninth with 35.50 points.

“(Coaching) is different. There’s definitely more stress; you’re not out there so you have no control,” said Forsyth, who trains his pupils on Igor Shpilband’s ice in Canton , Michigan .

“To have even a small fraction of Igor’s success would be great. ( Canton ) is a supportive and nurturing environment to train in with a lot of teams for Pat and Eric to look up to.”

Group B

Reporting by Lynn Rutherford

Madison Chock & Greg Zuelein, who train in Canton under Shpilband, won Novice Group B with a smooth and fluid free dance marked by smooth entries and exits into difficult lifts, including a superb combination lift of a straight-line to a rotational. Their closing one-arm rotational lift featured a lovely layback position by Chock and an elegant set down by Zuelein.

“They have only been skating together a short time. She’s a lovely dancer, a very beautiful girl. Hopefully this (win) will help them get another assignment from U.S. Skating,” said Shpilband.

The couple earned 46.86 points (26.16 TES + 20.70 PCS).

Ilana Morse & Justin Morrow took second place (23.74 TES + 21.24 PCS = 43.98 points) with a spicy Latin American free dance (including a jazzy South American version of Gershwin’s “Summertime”) that showed good speed and intricate footwork, including a series of four front and back twizzles, as well as an impressive straight line to rotational combination lift.

The couple, who have been skating together for eight months, are trained by four-time Latvian ice dance champion Inese Bucevicasa in Monsey, New York.

“I think it went pretty well. There were definitely some parts in the footwork that could have been better; we fell apart a little. But the lifts were good and we’re very happy,” said Morse.

Third place went to Elyse Matsumoto & S. Andrew Skillington with43.94 points (26.20 TES + 18.74 PCS). Clad in unique green and lime costumes, the couple performed to a piano piece, “Eternal” by William Joseph. They opened with a lovely spin followed by a smooth and difficult combination lift and a strong circular footwork sequence.

While the two lacked unison in their later footwork sequence and fell out of sync on their twizzles, they skated with good expression throughout.

“They’ve only been skated together about six months. One of their strengths is performing in front of a crowd, so we’re all pretty pleased with the result,” said the couples’ coach, Diana Goolsbey.

Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello, who train under Linichuk and Karponosov in Delaware, placed fourth with 43 points (26 TES + 17 PCS). Skating to music from the soundtrack of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the couple had good positions on their lifts (including a solid opening combination lift) but lacked unison on several of their footwork passages. Their performance was especially impressive considering that Lorello, who suffered a stress fracture in his back, was skating in a brace up until two weeks ago.

Kaylan Patitucci & Zachary Donohue were fifth with 41.44 points (24.07 TES + 19.37 PCS) despite suffering two penalty points for miscues on lifts.

Anastasia Olsen & Patrick Mays took sixth place (37.28 points) with good lifts, although they lost speed on their footwork sequences and Olsen fell. The couple also got tangled up in the rotational portion of their combination lift, but recovered with a good (single) rotational lift. Mays showed extreme flexibility in their spin by executing a near full-split spiral position.