by Melanie Hoyt

After a successful show in February 2005 to benefit tsunami victims in southeast Asia, Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto scored another hit with Home for the Holidays: A Celebration on Ice. With two shows on December 22, 2007, Belbin & Agosto drew heavily from local Detroit talent to fill the ice, and are donating proceeds from the show to two local organizations: the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

In addition to an impressive line-up of Belbin & Agosto’s fellow ice dancers that train with them at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in nearby Canton, the show also featured performances from Oksana Baiul, Derrick Delmore, Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski, two synchronized skating teams, and members of a Cirque du Soleil ensemble. Despite a busy fall schedule that included a silver-medal-winning trip to the Grand Prix Final, Belbin & Agosto planned an entertaining show.

“It was a great experience,” Emily Samuelson, 2007 U.S. junior dance champion with partner Evan Bates, said about the show. “The show was extremely well put together; it was very organized, so it was a lot of fun.”

Ryan Devereaux, who placed fifth on the junior level behind Samuelson & Bates at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last year, agreed. “It was so nice working all the ice dancers in the area,” he said. “It really made the show go smoothly.”

His partner, Shannon Wingle, added, “We’re like a family, and we get along really well. It’s been a blast.”

The family aspect was evident in the opening number, set to a medley of traditional Christmas music. It began with eight dance teams on the ice at once, acting as friends greeting each other and exchanging gifts. Led by 2007 U.S. dance bronze medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White, the group of Canton-based skaters also included Alissandra Aronow & Aleksandras Pirogovas, Charlotte Lichtman & Nathan Truesdell, Lauren Senft & Augie Hill, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein, Maia & Alex Shibutani, Mimi Whetstone & Kevin O’Keefe, and Wingle & Devereaux. Following the dancers, some of the “stars” were introduced: Derrick Delmore and Oksana Baiul followed by Belbin & Agosto. Ekaterina Shpilband, coach Igor Shpilband’s daughter, also joined the skaters, opening a large box that contained an oversized teddy bear while Belbin & Agosto looked on. While the choreography was not too complicated, the number was well skated, and it gave a taste of what was to come in the rest of the show.

Ekaterina Shpilband’s solo to “Once Upon a December” from the movie Anastasia opened the first act. With a surprising amount of poise for a young girl, she carefully executed a couple of small jumps and good spins to the dainty music. While she did not engage in much eye contact with the audience, she appeared unaffected by the crowd and did not look at all nervous.

Samuelson & Bates, who train in Ann Arbor, skated a show program called “Bittersweet.” Full of interesting positions and intricate lifts, the impressive and polished program went over well with the audience. They took quite a tumble in a final hydroblade, but they recovered for the ending pose and appeared to laugh off the mistake.

Children from the Detroit Skating Club lent their talents to a lively, jazzy version of “Winter Wonderland” next. Four kids were dressed as snowmen, and threatened to steal the show with their adorable costumes. They even did layback spins in the snowman suits! The whole group was obviously very well rehearsed and looked excited to be skating in the show.

The next act was brought from Director Keith Andrews’ show in New York. Two Cirque du Soleil acrobats executed a series of tricks on hoops suspended over the ice. The act was a bit frightening, because there were not any nets or mats below them, and the audience gasped a few times, particularly when the acrobats hung from the hoops using only the backs of their heads. Despite a few nervous moments, the number was entertaining and a nice interlude during all of the skating.

Shannon Wingle & Ryan Devereaux and Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein were next with their duet to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” They performed their choreography with good unison, and they looked great together, because both teams achieve nice, extended lines. They did a few similar lifts and some brief partner switching.

The Crystallettes Senior International Team skated what looked like a free dance to “Anyway.” Their strong performance and polish seems to promise their continued success in competition this season.

Derrick Delmore’s high-energy program to “Cool Yule” generated a lot of applause as he completed several triple jumps and incorporated fun dance moves into his choreography. His high Russian split jumps were among the highlights of the program.

Many of the Canton-based dancers participated in a group number called “Christmas Waltz.” Seven dance teams skated in what looked a lot like a compulsory dance drill. The waltz steps were accented with dance lifts from each of the teams, and they skated with excellent unison. It was fascinating to see different teams, some of whom were skating together only for this show, performing a basic dance together.

Oksana Baiul performed elegantly to “Swan Lake,” which is based on the program she skated on her way to an Olympic title in 1994 to “The Swan” by Saint-Saëns. The program begins with delicate steps on her toes, and she also did a double Axel, as well a triple toe loop with a slightly two-footed landing.

The final performers in the first act were Belbin & Agosto, the show’s stars and hosts. Agosto was introduced first – with his guitar. It had a wireless pickup on it, so he skated around while he played some of Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” After he handed off his guitar, Belbin joined him on the ice and they skated their popular show program to Justin Timberlake music. Skating with a lot of energy and executing daring lifts, they engaged the crowd and were a perfect way to send the show into a brief intermission.

After intermission, Dr. Roland Chu spoke to acknowledge the show’s effort to raise money for cancer treatment and for the children’s hospital. Belbin has lost two grandparents to cancer in the past couple of years, and the disease has impacted many others in the show as well.

The second act opened with a group from the Arctic Figure Skating Club performing a program called “It’s Christmas Eve on Woodward Avenue.” The kids in the number did a great job, landing several sets of single jumps.

Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski, the 2007 U.S. pairs champions who also train at Arctic Edge, skated their short program, “L’Arena.” Showing no signs of the injury that kept them out of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, Castile & Okolski delighted their audience with a throw jump and a spectacular double twist. The pair also attempted side-by-side triple toe loops, but Okolski doubled his.

Another synchro team took the ice next. This time, the Evolution Synchronized Novice Team skated their “Afrika-Cirque du Soleil Mix” program. Wearing bold orange dresses, the team interpreted their ethnic music well and skated with good unison.

The dancers from Arctic Edge took the ice again for another group number. This time, they skated to a jazzy version of “Jingle Bells.” This was the most entertaining and well-skated group number. All seven couples performed with a lot of energy, and they looked like they were having a fabulous time. They did some partner switching in the middle that was fun to watch, and they all did a dance lift at the end of the program.

Following the group number, Baiul was introduced for her second solo. She played up her silly side, using exuberant facial expressions to get the crowd behind her. Although she singled an Axel, she did a triple toe loop, although it was slightly two-footed.

The acrobats performed another high-flying act, this time with long sheets of fabric. High above the ice, they twisted themselves in and around the fabric, showing off their flexibility and their strength. One move where they appeared to free-fall scared some of the audience members, only for the twisted fabric to stop them before they fell too close to the ice.

Davis & White were then given an opportunity to perform a solo, and they chose to skate this year’s original dance, “Kalinka.” With more energy and attack than was seen on the Grand Prix Series, they dazzled the crowd with their fast, technical skating. The twizzles in their straightline footwork were zippy and spot-on, despite a bit of traveling from White. Although this program was criticized at its debut a few months ago, they have grown into it and it looks ready for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships next month.

A group number to “Sleigh Ride” was next. Donning appropriate winter clothing, the girls in the ensemble skated to excellent choreography, while two guys, including 2008 Midwest Sectional junior silver medalist Grant Hochstein, had a snowball fight around them. It was a cute concept and an entertaining number. The skaters all completed double jumps and single Axels.

Belbin & Agosto came out once again to announce a special guest. Santa Claus took the ice, skated around ice a couple of times, and waved to the kids in the audience. Because there were many young children present, his identity was not revealed, and Belbin & Agosto wished him luck with the final preparations for Christmas at the North Pole.

Evan Lysacek was then introduced, and he skated to “Ave Maria.” The program featured lyrical skating and several spread eagles, along with an Ina Bauer. He skated a clean program and looks very confident after winning the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final a week prior to the show. Along with Belbin & Agosto, Lysacek received some of the biggest applause of the night.

The hosts returned to the ice once again to close the show with their program to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Belbin & Agosto’s Christmas program was soft and flowing, reminiscent of this season’s free dance. In fact, their show program had a circular step sequence in it that looked as though it had been taken from their competitive program. The program ended with several lifts, including the fast split rotational lift that has become one of their trademarks.

Belbin & Agosto remained on the ice and began the closing number to “All I Want for Christmas is You” and were soon joined by the rest of the cast. The number was a typical closing, with simple group choreography and step-outs for the featured soloists. The show ended with individual scratch spins from the skaters, something not expected from a cast featuring so many ice dancers!

An appreciative crowd applauded the skaters as they took a victory lap around the ice, and the announcer said that they would see us next year. It would certainly be a treat if this could become an annual occurrence!