NOVICE COMPULSORY DANCE
Report by Daphne Backman

Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth and Megan Evans & Nathan Truesdell, the only returning teams from the 2007 novice event, set the tone for the novice compulsory dance event on Sunday in Saint Paul.

[THE TOP FOUR AT-A-GLANCE]

Team

Tango
Score

Tango
Placement

Kilian
Score

Kilian
Placement

CD
Total

Placement

Chloe Wolf/Rhys Ainsworth

25.54

1

23.98

3

49.52

1

Megan Evans/Nathan Truesdell

23.65

3

25.79

1

49.44

2

Katie Wyble/Justin Morrow

23.13

4

25.67

2

48.80

3

Anastasia Olson/Jordan Cowan

25.25

2

22.37

5

47.62

4

 Eastern Sectional Champions Wolf & Ainsworth finished first in the Tango and third in the Kilian and were pleased with their outing today.

“I thought our tango went really well today. It felt good,” Wolf said. “The Kilian was a little shaky, but we got through it.”

A mistake in the Tango slotted Megan Evans & Nathan Truesdell into third after the first dance. Taking the ice in the second group for the second dance, the team set a score of 25.79 that stood up through the rest of the Kilian portion of the novice compulsory dance competition. Evans and Truesdell are just .08 behind the leaders.

“I think we could have done better, especially in the Tango, but I’m pleased with how we did in the Kilian and were able to pull up a place,” Evans said.

Evans is still relatively new to ice dance as this is only her second season in this discipline.

“This year it’s a lot more comfortable,” Evans said. “Last year, I was just learning the ropes and about the sport in itself. This year we feel more comfortable in the partnership and both contribute more.”

Truesdell’s goal heading into this event is a medal.

“I really wanted to medal, because I’m trying to become the second African American to medal at the U.S. Championships in ice dancing,” Truesdell said. “The only other time that it happened was 15 years ago and they got the bronze, so I’m hoping to at least match that.”

In third place after both dances sit Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow. After finishing fourth in the Tango, the duo skated a solid Kilian to finish second in that dance and pull up one spot. They were just .12 behind Evans & Truesdell in the Kilian.

Though he has competed at U.S. Junior Nationals, this is Morrow’s first trip to the U.S. Championships. Wyble, who missed last year’s Championships when she and her partner split after the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, is happy to be back.

“It actually feels really good,” Wyble said. “To be skating in the main arena [creates] anxiety. It’s so much fun being here.”

Up until this year, the novices normally had one or both events in a smaller, secondary arena. This is the first year that all of the events for all levels are held in one location.

Wyble and Morrow teamed up in June 2007 and entered only the compulsory dance events at the LPIDC, winning the gold medal in the final round championship. The team, who finished second at Eastern Sectionals, did so with a relatively new free dance. The program has seen many changes since its debut, in the hope of receiving higher levels.

“We’ve changed our last lift, a little bit of the first lift, and we also changed our spin and the structure a little bit,” Wyble said. “Basically, everything is still in the same spot, just alterations.”

Rounding out the top four are Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan. Both Olson and Cowan competed at the 2007 Championships with different partners–Olson with Patrick Mays and Cowan with Michaela Cook. This new partnership was formed in April 2007 and has given them instant success. They were second in the Tango and fifth in the Kilian. It was the latter that was the surprise for them.

“It was a pleasant surprise because Kilian is our better dance, we feel,” Olson said.

Overall, they were pleased with their skating.

“They felt pretty good,” Olson said. “I don’t think we could have done better. We felt really good through all of them.”

Though a few of the other dancers commented on the ice condition once other teams had skated the Kilian, Olson & Cowan skated first, so were unaffected by this. Cowan had his own opinion on this subject.

“It shouldn’t matter,” Cowan said. “Who knows what rinks we’re going to be skating on in the future. It’s all about being prepared, and we were prepared.”

A quartet of up-from-intermediate teams making their “Big Nationals” debut landed in spots five through eight. Una Donegan & Andrew Korda finished fifth in the Tango and fourth in the Kilian scoring a combined 44.60. Lauren Ely & Travis Mager, who placed seventh in both dances, wound up in sixth overall with a 43.43 combined score. Kate McDermott & Colin McManus are in seventh with 43.31 followed by Benjamin Nykiel & Liza Branella in eighth with 42.81.

Elyse Matsumoto & Patrick Mays finished ninth in the Tango and eighth in the Kilian and are in ninth with 41.39.

Grace Lee Sells & Robert Cuthbertson of Texas are in 10th after finishing tenth in both dances, while Hayley Soohoo and Brett Ryan of California are in 11th. Both teams are skating at their first U.S. Championships.

 

NOVICE FREE DANCE
Report by Karen Frank

Saturday afternoon during the novice free dance practice, one of the coaches was using a stopwatch to follow her team’s combination lift. Avoiding an extended lift deduction is just one component of ice dance choreography these days. To be successful, teams are not only required to perform their elements at high levels, they must also then, on the night of the competition, go beyond the stopwatches to perform dances that look like a unified whole. The mission: do the twizzles and dance spins and combination lifts, but do them fluently, as if performing the dance elements was like speaking a foreign language without the mental stutter step the non-native speaker needs to translate in their head.

During the novice competition tonight, all 11 teams had moments of fluency, when their performances took them beyond the vocabulary of elements. At other times, there were moments when it seems the pressure of performing in the big arena was too much, causing lapsed concentration. But taken as a whole, the audience was treated to a night of appealing dances and intense competition.

Grace Lee Sells & Robert Cuthbertson got the evening started by skating to a medley of songs from “West Side Story.” This dance didn’t have the complexity of some of the later programs, as it featured a good deal of open holds and side by side skating. But what they did, they did well, especially with solid unison on their footwork, and smoothness in their lifts. They finished the competition in tenth place.

One might think from the title that music from “The Corpse Bride” would be rather funereal, but Hayley SooHoo & Brett Ryan’s free dance music is actually jazzy and perky. They both did a great job selling the music, with bouncy footwork and big smiles. Their problems occurred with a couple of the elements that were scored with negative GOE, including a twizzle series that got badly out of synchronization on the second half and a dance spin that slowed to a near halt. In spite of their difficulties, they kept their energy level high, and finished the competition in 11 th place.

An Indian themed program performed to Magnus Fiennes’ piece “Shine” vaulted Elyse Matsumoto & Patrick Mays from ninth to seventh place. The dance, which the judges placed fifth in this portion of the competition, was a lovely piece of choreography, with the dance elements perfectly integrated into the whole. Each part of the dance flowed into the next, with lots of attention paid to the details of matching body positions, from fingertips to toes. Near the beginning of the program, a stunning straight line lift, with Matsumoto positioned in full split across Mays, drew not only a level 4 from the technical team, but also spontaneous applause from the audience.

Lauren Ely & Travis Mager’s Bobby Darin medley started off strongly, with a sequence of fast and musical steps across the ice. This was followed by a difficult-looking straight line lift, which began when Ely kicked her leg around the back of Mager’s neck, and then hit a layback pose, while he glided forward on one foot. This was immediately followed by a fast rotational lift. These first two lifts were difficult but well executed, performed smoothly and with good speed, and they were rewarded with level 4s and positive GOE. Unfortunately things got off track in the middle with a shaky twizzle sequence. They picked it back up in the end, and finished the program with a lot of musical flair. The judges placed their free dance in eighth, and they ended up eighth overall.

Set to “Canned Heat” and “Cosmic Girl” by Jamiroquai, Kate McDermott & Colin McManus’ program is all about attitude. As soon as the music began, they danced right toward the judges with jazzy side-by-side footwork and continued to interpret the music with dance floor moves. This program contained a combination of mostly open, hand-in-hand or waltz holds, punctuated by a majority of level four elements. With a little more complexity they might have been able to score even higher, as the overall impression was that this was a dance, and not a random collection of elements strung together with music. The judges scored them sixth, which moved them up one place to sixth in the final standings.

Una Donegan & Andrew Korda began the evening in fifth place, but their second place free dance to “Anytime, Anywhere” moved them onto podium, where they were given bronze medals in the ceremony held after the event. While choreography credit goes to their coaches Justin Pekarek and Hilary Gibbons, the fact that they were able to execute their elements (all but one was called level 4) with mostly positive GOEs certainly helped them make that jump in the standings. Donegan & Korda have beautiful flow across the ice, and they moved with the music. The audience especially appreciated their lifts, including rotational lift that had Donega flipping her position halfway through, and powerful one-handed combination lift.

Even though the program looked seamless, Korda didn’t feel that way.

“There was a general feeling of unease throughout the program,” he said. “There were a couple of little things here and there that weren’t like everyday. It wasn’t quite as smooth as we do when we train it. … When we got off (the ice), we were like well, that was good, we got through it. But we didn’t feel like it was our best.”

The final skaters before the mid-event ice make, Liza Branella & Benjamin Nykiel, pumped up the volume with a fast Latin rhythm program. Skating to “Historia De Un Amor” and “Mujer Latina” by Thalia, the team zipped across the ice to the samba without losing a beat. Although they lost some of that great energy by the end of the program, they kept projecting a sense of fun through the entire program. A few times in the program it looked like they were not quite positioned close enough together to easily reach each other’s hands when they changed holds, which caused a couple of balance checks throughout the performance. Their steps and twizzles were judged at level 1 (with negative GOE), which hurt them in the final standings. They finished ninth in the free dance and overall.

With less than a point difference between the top three teams after the CD, the final group went onto the ice in a virtual tie. Katie Wyble & Justin Morrow, who began the event in third place, skated a fast-paced Eastern European folk dance to “Valse Triste” by Sandor Deki Lakatos, “Road to Vladivostok,” and “Two Guitars” by Martin Lass. Wyble & Morrow interpreted this program’s character with staccato movements and big facial expressions, bringing a sense of fun drama to the program. Unfortunately, about midway through the program, Wyble’s headband started to slip off, and she was forced to grab it and hold it in her hand through the rest of the dance or suffer a costume deduction. The surprise prop made holds difficult, as Morrow was forced to grab her wrist or arm instead of her hand. This caused a few balance checks, and they skated the remainder of the program with less sureness. Most of their elements were lowered to level two or three, and their seventh place free dance dropped them to fifth place overall.

Megan Evans & Nathan Truesdell’s program to music from “Little Miss Sunshine” flows beautifully from one element to the next. Both are tall skaters and used their arms and bodies to create lovely sweeping patterns across the ice. They started strongly, with excellent twizzles (level 4 with positive GOE), followed up by a no-hands curve lift that had Evans balanced carefully across Truesdell’s thighs. They seemed to lose a little energy at the end, though, and it seemed that they lost points by not having enough difficult turns in the diagonal steps and linking footwork. They finished third in the free dance and second overall.

“We were really pleased with how it went,” Evans said. “We just enjoyed ourselves.

We had one mistake at the end – well, two. The lift was over time. … In the rotational lift I didn’t grab my foot in time so we had to do some extra rotations.”

The audience was then treated to another quick stepping gypsy number, as Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan performed to “Gypsy Medley” by V. Ponomareva. Like many of the teams in this warm-up group, they got an aggressive start to the program with fierce character work and fast transitional footwork that had the audience clapping along. Their first element, a combination lift, featured Olson in a half-Biellmann position, while Cowan skated forward on one foot. They securely changed positions into a rotational lift, and the judges rewarded them with +1s and +2s. Unfortunately, they seemed to lose concentration near the end of the program, having unison and balance issues with the twizzles and a near-fall in the rotational lift. Fourth place was their free dance and final placement.

Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth, whose seven-year partnership is one of the longest in the U.S., solidified their slight lead after the compulsories with a strong interpretation of “Les Miserables.” They skated confidently, with passion and aggression, and were given positive GOEs for all of their elements except the opening twizzles. Their skating is characterized by secure edges and great speed, and they did not let up their concentration for a moment. They won the free dance, and the competition overall.

Wolf & Ainsworth showed the judges that the best had been saved for last.

“It was nice to be done and see the scores go up and know where you are and not have to wait around and see how everyone else does,” Wolf said. “We knew we controlled our own destiny in a way, so we just went out there and had a good time.”

The duo from Maine have spent the better part of this decade skating together, something they attribute to helping with their successes.

“I know that she’s going to be there,” Ainsworth said. “When she’s on the ice, she’s going to get right back up, and I know where she’s going to be. We’re really comfortable with each other and how we skate.”

“It’s nice to have continuity with your partner,” Wolf added “and it’s gotten to the point where we know each other really well and we know each other’s skating really well, so it definitely helps.”