by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The 2016 ISU Grand Prix Series moved to Asia for its fifth event – the Audi Cup of China hosted by Beijing from November 18-20. Ten ice dance teams representing five countries competed for prize money and points toward the Final to be held in Marseille, France from December 8-11.

Short Dance

After the short dance, the top three teams were separated by a narrow 1.68 margin. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (USA) danced first and held the lead until Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) slipped past them with .55 more points and snagged first place. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS) were third.

Weaver & Poje danced to Michael Jackson for midnight blues, “The Way You Make Me Feel” and hip-hop, “Dangerous” and “Jam”. The pattern and curve lift were level 4; the twizzles and both step sequences were level 3. Poje had a stumble on the twizzle, which lowered its base value and GOE mark. The program received a 73.78 personal best score. The Canadians, who have been training in Novogorsk, Russia with Nikolai Morozov, debuted the program two weeks prior at the Rostelecom Cup and earned 69.81 points. They thought while it still had some bugs to work through, it had built some momentum.

Maia & Alex Shibutani danced to “That’s Life”. The program opened with a blues solo by Frank Sinatra and then drifted into a blend of Sinatra and JayZ for the hip hop section. The pattern and twizzles earned level 4; the rotational lift and not touching footwork were level 3; and the partial step sequence received level 2. The 73.78 score was a season best. The siblings were pleased with their performance and felt it was stronger than Skate America.

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin also chose hip-hop as their second rhythm to the blues pattern. The music included “At Last” and “I Got Bills”. Both footwork elements earned level 3 while the pattern, straight-line lift, and twizzles received level 4. Their technical element score of 37.64 was the highest of the nine teams, and the 72.09 score was a personal best. The 2013 European bronze medalists were all smiles and laughter in the Kiss ‘n Cry as they celebrated their first +70 short dance score.

Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) finished fourth in their season debut with a 70.24 score. Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev (POL) were fifth with 60.13. Spodyriev skated with two bandaged fingers after a recent on-ice accident. Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam (CAN) withdrew after the warm up. She sprained the MCL in her right knee in a morning practice fall.

Free Dance

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (USA) won gold, while the short dance winners, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) slipped to silver. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin tangoed off with the bronze.

Every movement had an assigned purpose in Maia and Alex Shibutani’s elegant performance to their theme of Evolution. The program opened with a steady beat of piano chords as a backdrop to Anne Akiko Meyer’s violin for “Spiegel im Spiegel” (Mirror in Mirror). The pulse accelerated to accent the twizzles, and then closed with a musical selection performed by the San Francisco Symphony and co-arranged with Alex Shibutani.

The spin, lifts, and twizzles earned level 4; the serpentine and diagonal footwork were levels 2 and 3. The program scored 111.90 points and totaled 185.13. The siblings returned to Michigan to receive feedback and work on improving their programs for the Final, for which they qualified with their second GP gold medal.

Weaver & Poje scored 107.76 points for their dance to Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s, Concierto de Aranjuez. The Canadians opened with a unique level 4 stationary lift that garnered seven +3 GOE marks. The other lifts, twizzles and combination spin were also level 4. The diagonal footwork earned level 2. The team was docked -1.00 for the extended straight-line lift. The silver medal performance earned a season best 181.54 points.

The two-time GP Final champions will not defend their title in Marseilles, France. Instead, they headed back to Russia to review their results and work on details to improve. They next compete at Canadian Nationals in January where they will face World and Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir who came out of a two-year retirement in 2016.

Stepanova and Bukin danced to a tango medley by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

The lifts, twizzles, and combination spin earned level 4; the footwork received level 3. However, they did get a -1.00 deduction for the extended curve lift. The base value of the executed elements was the highest of the top three medalists (41.30). The program (105.32) and total (177.41) were personal best scores.

For the second straight day, the 2013 World Junior Champions were dancing with joy after receiving their first ever +100 points in a free dance. It was also their third GP bronze medal.

Russians Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov claimed fourth place with 171.94 points followed in fifth place by the Polish team of Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev with 150.78 points.