by Daphne Backman

Most trips that I take to Boston start fine and end with me getting lost by taking the wrong exit off Storrow Drive. Fortunately, this trip was an exception to the rule. My sister, Gretchen, lives in New Hampshire so I invited her to attend Friday’s Evening With Champions show. I also invited her to be the driver, leaving me to navigate. It is to this choice that I attribute the smooth trip in and out of Boston.


I met Gretchen for an early dinner at Applebee’s in Newington, NH. We decided on appetizers while watching a young couple be escorted to their seats. As the hostess leaves, his expression was priceless, as he obviously wanted to share the booth with his girlfriend sitting side-by-side. Unfortunately for him, they had been escorted to a single seat booth that made his prior plan impossible. I chuckled. Gretchen encouraged them to take the booth across from their present one, which they contemplated and then did. While we enjoyed our food, Gretchen selected some items to purchase from the Ferret Rescue of Maine’s classic cookie fundraiser catalog.


While Gretchen isn’t a stranger to ice shows – she’s attended many with me, including EWC on several occasions – she’s more of a casual fan who is not as familiar with the up-and-coming talent. The only skaters on the roster she was familiar with were the Protopopovs, Matt Savoie, and Morgan Matthews from when she was partnered with Max Zavozin.


Knowing my previous luck with travel in Boston, I advised that leaving sooner rather than later would mean we would have more time to navigate when if we get lost this time. We paid our check and then were on our way. While in route, IDC photographer Alexandra Sherman sent a text message that she was taking photographs of practices.


We made great time and arrived on North Harvard Street approximately an hour after leaving Applebee’s. Parking was a challenge as the Business School lot, which normally served as parking for the show, was closed due to a private function. We were then directed to an adjacent parking garage.


We took a scenic walk through the campus and were intrigued by several sights–including two students wearing sashes with “Miss Trial” and “Miss Creant.” Closer to the arena, we saw a trio of male students dressed as cheerleaders as well as others dressed in various costumes. While we’re sure they didn’t attend Evening with Champions, we’re not certain where they were going.


While heading to pick up our tickets, we witnessed an unofficial greeter hanging out by Will Call – a small brown bunny. Gretchen tried to take a photo, but he scampered off before she could. After picking up our tickets, we entered the arena to watch the remainder of practice.


I’ve attended EWC several times prior to this year and noticed when purchasing the program that it had a different look with most pages in black and white, but flicks of color within the photographs and as bio backgrounds; a photo of Adam Rippon adorned the cover. Unfortunately, I think that the programs were printed prior to the roster changes. Miki Ando, Ashley Wagner, and Nora Hoffman & Max Zavozin were all in the program, but did not perform. The 8 p.m. start time came and went, and it was closer to 8:20 before the show got underway. Gretchen and I were puzzled that the refreshment booth was not open, as the EWC notoriously runs 2 ½ to 3 hours.


The opening featured Katrina Hacker and Brittney Rizo as well as ice dancers Anna Zadorozhniuk & Sergei Verbillo, Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles, and Morgan Matthews & Leif Gislason. They were introduced, and then made way for the remainder of the stars in the line-up to have their moment in the spotlight. As he was announced, Paul Wylie did a spread eagle to the roar of the crowd and then took over emcee duties. He explained that over the past 39 years, EWC, founded by John Powers and John Misha Petkevich, has raised over $2.4 million for the Jimmy Fund. 2008 marks the 24th time that Wylie has either hosted or performed (or both) in EWC.


Gretchen asked me why Emily Hughes wasn’t on the show’s roster. I explained to her that even though Emily is an Olympian, she did not have a bye through regionals, so she was in Jamestown, N.Y. for North Atlantics. It really was a shame since Emily is a student at Harvard and it would have been a draw to have her at the show. Later, I found out that Loren Galler-Rabinowitz, also a student at Harvard, was not involved in the show’s production this year.


Rather than write a report of each performance, below are some of the highlights of the evening.


Annabelle Morozov, the seven-year-old daughter of coach/choreographer Nikolai Morozov, opened the show skating to Jacques Offenbach’s “Can-Can.” During the introduction, it was revealed that she trains 15 hours per week on ice in addition to extensive ballet training off ice.


Local skater Yasmin Siraj, who won the novice silver medal at the 2009 New England Regional Championships last week, skated to “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” landing a double Axel and double loop.


2008 U.S. intermediate ice dance silver medalists, Susan Enright & Michael Bramante, presented their tango free dance. Though they had a problem on the timing of their twizzles, the curve-to-rotational lift was solid, and the team’s expression has grown to better match the seriousness of the tango.


Massachusetts seems to be a mecca of synchronized skating based on the success of two programs (Acton and Lexington). The junior Colonials of Acton skated a lively program to “Suddenly I See.” The 17-time U.S. synchro champions, the Haydenettes of Lexington, Massachusetts, started off the second half skating to an oriental piece of music. Having seen both teams perform in previous shows, it’s exciting to see how they continue to develop and come up with fresh ideas each season. Both should be competing in my home state of Maine at the 2009 U.S. Synchro Nationals in Portland.


Brittney Rizo was a nice addition to the cast. Not listed in the program, Brittney skated to “I Am Changing” by Jennifer Hudson from the Dreamgirls soundtrack. She is developing into a show skater presentation-wise, and the performance featured a triple toe loop, beautiful spiral, and speedy final spin.


Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles, who train in Colorado Springs, Colorado, received great applause from the audience for their Christopher Dean-choreographed program to “Do it again” by The Chemical Brothers. Dressed in matching goggles, black pants, and white shirts, Jane and Todd’s lifts were acrobatic and the performance was exciting to watch.


The pre-intermission performers were the adagio team of Melanie Lambert and Fred Palascak. This was Lambert & Palascak’s second straight performance at EWC. Lambert & Palascak have skated on two cruise ships as well as Torvill & Dean’s Dancing on Ice. They performed to “Candy Man” by Christina Aguilera and had the audience on the edge of their seats with their adagio moves. At one point, the person beside me grabbed my arm in fright.


Intermission was at 9:05 and there was no sign of the refreshment booth being opened.


Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, the 1964 and 1968 Olympic gold medalists, graced the ice at Bright Arena for the 20th consecutive year. Skating to “I Met You,” their skating was exquisite. Prior to their encore, Paul Wylie announced that the Protopopovs have pledged to continue to skate at EWC until a cure for cancer is found and that the duo has been skating together for 50 years. Oleg emphasized to Wylie, “Fifty, not fifteen.” During their encore, more dramatic music was played while they showcased another beautiful death spiral.


Paul Wylie introduced John Misha Petkevich and John Powers to the audience. Powers explained that he once had Wylie’s job and that Wylie still has it since he can still fit into his (Wylie’s own) tux and skates. While this was going on, Gretchen left in search of something to drink. She returned with a bottled water and told me that there was a vending machine downstairs. I wish we’d looked for it sooner.


Dan Hollander has carved a niche for himself with his fun routines. My sister was excited when she heard the opening bars to “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz, as it’s a favorite song of hers. The program started with Hollander, dressed as a hobo, trying to impress a girl sitting on a bench with him. I think the girl was one of the Haydenettes. Several times, the girl reappears and Hollander tries to attract her attention, but she rebuffs his advances. At the end, Brittney Rizo (dressed in a colorful ensemble) appears, and it seems our hobo has found his match. It was an entertaining program.

Morgan Matthews & Leif Gislason took the ice and skated their 2008-09 free dance to music by Muse. The program had creative lifts and the team appears to be a good match. Morgan & Leif have only performed in one other show prior to EWC and with more performances under their belts the partnership and the program should improve. They will make their competitive debut in a month at the Eastern Sectional Championships back here in Boston.

When Paul Wylie introduced Katrina Hacker, he announced she has been accepted to Princeton University. Probably much to the dismay of the Harvard students in attendance, Hacker plans on wearing Tiger orange instead of crimson. For tonight’s performance, she skated her short program to music from On Golden Pond.

The new team of Jessica Rose Paetsch & Drew Meekins skated to Phantom of the Opera, complete with a white masked painted on Meekins’ face. I like the look of this new pairing. Though they had a few problems in the performance, I think they’re going to look really good once they get the kinks out of the new partnership.

It is always a treat to see Matt Savoie skate. Since he retired from competitive skating after the 2006 World Championships, Savoie has been attending Cornell Law School. According to his introduction, Savoie already has a job lined up after he graduates. He skated to “Caravan.” The quality of his skating is marvelous and he effortlessly performed one of his specialties – a shoot-the-duck to double Axel. I spent time explaining to Gretchen what a shoot-the-duck is and how the difficulty of the entrance means higher points in the new judging system.


Anna Zadorozhniuk & Sergei Verbillo of Ukraine presented their original dance to “All That Jazz” and “Razzle Dazzle” from Chicago. I hadn’t seen them skate before in person, so it was great to see.

Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig were a highlight of the show with their performance to “Your Song” by Elton John. With the exception of one lift that seemed a little labored, everything was solid, especially their first lift with a twist dismount.


I think Adam Rippon has grown a few inches since Nationals last January. Friday night, he closed the show skating his short program to “Storm” and “Air on a G String” by Vanessa Mae. His artistry continues to grow and though he had problems on the opening triple Axel, the program has potential. I learned from his mom that he’ll skate his free program in Saturday night’s show.


On our way out of Bright Arena, I was able to catch up with Jane and Todd and introduce them to Gretchen, who was happy to meet them considering they were one of her favorite performers of the evening. They’re both looking forward to their Skate America assignment next month. On the walk back to the car, we didn’t run into any costumed Harvard students, so we assumed they were in for the night.


Gretchen and I always enjoy going to show together and for me it’s fun going to a show with someone who doesn’t get to go often, because they often have observations that those who attend shows more regularly would miss.