2017 Lombardia Trophy Blog by Pogrebinsky & Benoit

September 12, 2017

Ciao from Bergamo, Italy and the 2017 Lombardia Trophy, which is in the opening week of the ISU Challenger Series.  This is Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit and we are thrilled to be blogging once again for ice-dance.com!  As you may recall from our previous blogs, since we write as a team and don’t want to confuse our readers, we refer to ourselves as “we,” “Ellie” or “Alex.”  We also work from a theme for the week to tie our blogs together and hopefully provide some local flavor for the readers. 

When we were researching Bergamo several weeks ago, we struggled to find a thread that we could weave throughout our blog.  On the surface, Bergamo is a picture-perfect European city — it features both an upper Medieval and a lower modern city, and was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site — but this didn’t resonate with us as a theme.  More research revealed that the city lent its name to the bergamask (a folk dance) referred to in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.  But seeing as the bergamask is a rather comedic dance, we didn’t feel a connection with that either. 

But when we realized that one of Bergamo’s largest corporations (Brembo – a leader in high performance automotive brake systems and in the automotive racing sector) is the same Brembo whose North American headquarters are only a few minutes from the Novi Ice Rink, a figurative checkered flag began waving.   Isn’t it interesting that our American Motor City can be connected across  4350 miles to an Italian “citta dei motori”?  And so we conceived of our motor-themed “Launching at Lombardia” title.  In an automotive sense, to launch is to bring a car through an extremely fast acceleration to its maximum speed, which is a great goal for us as we open our Challenger season.

We started our Lombardia experience with a Monday evening departure from Detroit, where we checked our suitcases and carried on our skate bags.  At our one hour layover in Paris,  the French airport security would not allow our skates through, and we were forced to exit the airport, wait in line at the counter to check our skate bags in, race through security again, and finally ride a transport out to our gate.  Adrienne, (our coach) and Ellie’s mom (Natasha) somehow managed to hold the plane from departing without us, as we sped our way through the process — neither of us speaking a word of French.  Thankfully, all the luggage and our skate bags made it through.  After a one hour shuttle ride to Bergamo from the Milan airport, we settled in to our hotel before grabbing a quick bite to eat at the pizzeria next door.  The entire Team USA group walked to the rink (about 25 minutes away) for accreditation, and then we Ubered with Adrienne and Ellie’s mom to a nice dinner in the historic upper city.  The medieval city center is filled with large white balloons, floating over a park-like open area, which is in direct contrast to the centuries-old surrounding buildings.  Following dinner, we grabbed a taxi for the ride back and experienced a crazy-fast drive similar to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, speeding through the narrow, winding roads linking the upper and lower cities.  While Alex enjoyed the thrill of the ride, Natasha white-knuckled the door handle and kept her eyes slammed shut!

We are off to sleep.  Tomorrow we begin practice and have the official draw.  Until then, Ciao from Bergamo!

~ Ellie & Alex

September 13, 2017

Ciao from Bergamo!

Wednesday was our first full day here and we were fortunate enough to take it pretty easy.  After sleeping in to reset our internal clocks from the jet lag, we enjoyed another pasta meal (yes — Alex ate carbonara for the second time in less than 24 hours), and toured the Citta Bassa (Bergamo’s lower city relative to its historic, walled hilltop center).

The lower city has commercial, as well as residential areas, with much of it being built in the 20th century.  Situated just south of the Bergamasque Alps, the city has stunning views of the mountains in the distance.  We also noticed that relative to American cities, Bergamo is swarming with Vespas and adventure bikes.  Not only were Vespas invented in Italy, but the first motorcycle ever patented was designed in Bergamo, by Giuseppe Murnigotti in 1879.  In addition to the Vespas, we saw some cool, old vehicles that we don’t see at home, and of course Alex captured them on his phone.

Our afternoon concluded with our first practice at the Bergamo Ice Lab.  The rink is bright, open and very modern.  However we are used to skating in an NHL-sized rink (85’x200′) and this is an Olympic rink (98’x197′).  In layman’s terms, it means that it’ll be an interesting challenge to fit our Rhumba pattern in, since we consistently fill the longer NHL rink end to end.  Our practice went well  — we focused on free dance for the first session here. We are wearing new FD costumes since Lake Placid, and Ellie is debuting a new hair color here too.  It is a sultry reddish hue, to complement our sultry, “Desire” free dance theme.

Following practice, we attended the official draw with the other Team USA skaters before heading home.  Tomorrow is another practice day for us, while the other disciplines start to compete.  Our SD is on Friday morning.

Thanks for reading our blog — check back tomorrow for another installment.  Ciao for now!

~ Ellie & Alex

September 14, 2017

Ciao from Bergamo! 

Thursday at Lombardia Trophy was highlighted by the short program events for the pairs, ladies and mens events, and our Team USA skaters did not disappoint.   Strong skates by Tim & Ashley, Jason, Jordan, Bradie and Amber mean that the long program events should be extremely exciting!

The ice dancers, however, spent the day at the practice arena, which required a 60 to 90 minute bus ride to travel there.  We decided to cut the travel time down by hiring a cab, and we were guaranteed a trip of only 30 minutes by the driver.  What he failed to tell us, was that the trip would cost €105!  Regardless, the drive was picturesque, if not a little rainy, and we even passed by the Brembo headquarters.  Unfortunately, we realized it too late to pull out our phones, so we will have to remember what it looked like as our costly cab sped by it.

The practice rink was one of the coldest rinks we have skated in, but it had some really interesting wooden trusses.  We skated in our SD draw groups, and had a wonderful practice.  We cannot wait to compete our short dance tomorrow!  In the past six weeks, we have replaced our opening Pitbull song with a more traditional samba sound to kick off the program and to highlight our pattern dance.  This change along with extensive coaching from Latin ballroom champion Oksana Zolotarevskaya, has served to clarify the authenticity of our movements and the flavor of the dance.  We’re excited to share what we’ve been working on, with the audience and officials!

For the return trip to our hotel, Team Novi training mates Max Nikitin and Sasha Nazarova were kind enough to share their rental car with us.  However, just like every other ride so far, this one was not without incident.  Apparently, Max’s car was a red light magnet, as we hit 20+ stoplights on the trip back.   That, combined with a kludgy gps signal from our phones and one accidental wrong turn meant that by the time we got back to the hotel, we were stressed enough to require the calming influence of……………… another serving of great carbonara!  We can justify it as carb-loading for tomorrow’s event, but truth be told, Alex is simply craving pasta and pizza from the awesome restaurants by us!

Looking forward to tomorrow — go Team USA!


~ Ellie & Alex

September 15, 2017

Ciao from Bergamo on Short Dance Day! Friday was an exciting day — we started with an early morning practice at the main arena. Since the competition was during the mid-morning, we just stayed at the rink following practice. We were concerned about getting stuck in morning traffic and not making it back in time to feel our best for the event.

However, we had the opportunity to visit with some journalists and fans during this time, which made the wait very enjoyable. We skated 12th out of 13 teams and had a very strong outing. Both of us wore updated costumes from the summer, and the response has been good. This was also the first competition where we used our new Samba music, and we thought it really helped to pop the Latin feel to the program.

The audience was not huge, since the event was earlier in the morning, but they were appreciative of the skaters, and we got off the ice very happy with our skate! Our scores were not what we had anticipated, given our skate, and we are pouring over the video to determine where the differences could be.

In any case, we currently sit in 3rd place with an extremely tight grouping from 2nd through 4th. It is anyone’s guess who will stand on the podium tomorrow, but we are so determined and excited to skate our Desire free dance for the audience both in Italy and online!

Our free dance story revolves around Alex putting a spell on Ellie. Watch as he encircles her first with desire and then with passion. We’ve worked a lot with Rohene Ward recently, to clarify many of the movements and to add depth and complexity to the transitions. Peppered throughout the choreography are smaller vignettes that develop the story from the initial desire through the decision to act to the passionate conclusion. It is a dynamic story that has continued to evolve from Lake Placid to Champs Camp to our private monitoring sessions in Novi, and we thoroughly enjoy what each of us can add to the story on any given day.

That’s it for now. Off to bed to prepare for tomorrow. Ciao!

~ Ellie & Alex

September 16, 2017

Ciao from Bergamo and our final blog.

Today was our free dance event and the weather decided to play tricks with us.  The morning was overcast and rainy, the midday became sunny and by evening, there was heavy rain along with hail. 

We started the day very early with our official warm up.  Since the men’s event was the first event of the day, there was plenty of time to go back to the hotel.   Both of us took advantage of the time to take excellent naps, knowing that when we get back to Novi, our schedules will be intense again!

In our first blog of the week, we introduced the theme of automobiles and racing, as Bergamo has an interesting connection to the Detroit area.  So we will continue the rest of this blog by steering towards that theme.

Our event was in the late afternoon, and the crowd was geared up for some great dance after a strong men’s FS event.  The ice dancers did not disappoint — there were all makes and models of free dances today, from Barbra Streisand, Pirates, and West Side Story to Exogenesis, tango , and Cabaret.  By the time our group took the ice, we were mentally and physically prepared to put the pedal to the metal and show our stuff.  Our FD theme was the sole rock blues of the event, set to Annie Lennox’s version of “I Put A Spell On You” along with a custom rock piece that was composed for us.  It shows the journey of Ellie as Alex captures her attention, convinces her to take a test drive, and ultimately to make a long term commitment to her shiny new obsession.  And yes — this is exactly the feeling that every car salesman wants you to experience when you walk into the showroom!

We skated our free dance past our expectations in terms of commitment, expression, stability and fluidity of movement.  As is our goal in every event, we strove to avoid the potential potholes of errors and negative GOEs, and we successfully navigated that.  We got off the ice, completely satisfied with our journey and our coach was thrilled for us.  Unfortunately, we hit a major traffic jam in terms of scoring, with some teams finding a viable detour, while we got stuck in the bumper to bumper traffic.  We ended up mathematically just off the podium, which was frustrating to say the least.  Next time, we will remember to consult Googlemaps before we start the ignition.

Following the event, we got to spend an enjoyable few minutes with Francesca, who was shooting for ice-dance.com and FSEvolution.  She had us laughing as we were brainstorming on new lifts!  We leave Bergamo tomorrow morning and we’ll be back on the ice in Novi on Wednesday.  In the meantime, Ellie is spending a day in Milan while Alex returns to the stage in his university production of “Bullets Over Broadway.”

Thank you for taking this Italian journey with us.  We hope you got some insight into what a competition week is like for Team USA skaters.  Ciao for now!

~ Ellie and Alex