by Anne Calder | Photo by Daphne Backman


Short Dance

Thursday night at the Sprint Center, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue faced off for the second time in six weeks.

The 2016 US Nationals’ medalists competed against each other at the Grand Prix Final in Marseilles, France back in December.

The Shibutanis opened with the blues to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”, before drifting into a remix of the same melody created by Quest Crew that combined Jay Z’s rap and Sinatra’s voice for their hip hop rhythm.

Maia commented on the evolution of the program.

“At the beginning of season when hip hop was introduced as a potential rhythm we knew that we really wanted to approach it as authentically as possible, so we’ve been working with Hakuto Kaneshi and Ryanna May from Quest Crew. In addition to our great coaches at home, we’ve been lucky to work with great people that we find to be very inspiring. So for our short dance we’re thrilled with our concept, and we know that it still has a long way to go.”

The team missed one key element in the blues pattern for a Level 3, but the partial step, rotational lift, twizzles and not touching midline step sequence were Level 4. The program earned 82.42 points – a record score for the US Championships.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates chose George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” for the blues pattern and “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars) for the hip hop piece and their performance earned 79.96 points.

The team adjusted some of their elements after the GPF.

“We made some big changes since Marseilles,” Bates explained.  “We changed our twizzles. We were trying to do a difficult entrance with the twizzles that was not going great for the season and not getting rewarded, so we switched it. I think it was a good change for us because our consistency has improved. We also changed our not-touch step sequence.”

The program earned Level 4 for the opening curve lift, the pattern, partial step sequence and twizzles. The changed footwork was Level 3.

“We didn’t have a huge window of time to really master all those new pieces,” Bates said.  “I think considering everything we were really happy with our performance.”

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue scored 79.72, only .24 points out of third place for their blues “Feeling Good” performed by Nina Simone and hip-hop medley. The program has had many music changes made since its debut at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City back in September.

This program has progressed through the season and kind of changed at each event just a little bit,” Hubbell said.  “We started with a huge goal of mashing up these nine different songs and really making it like a hip-hop competition piece, and it took a while to really get into it because we did want to do something very authentic.”

“We’re feeling more and more comfortable with the selections we’ve made,” Hubbell added.  “We took out one of the cuts of our music and really focused on the retro feeling, and so far we’ve gotten a great response.”

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker sat in fourth place with a 72.60 score to Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good” for the blues and a remix of “How I feel” by Flo Rida for the hip hop. Four of the five elements earned Level 4; the not-touching diagonal step sequence was Level 3.  The 2014 World Junior Champions commented on their high-powered attack on the dance.

“We tried to really put 100% of our energy into that performance. Something that we really worked on this year was not holding back and really performing from the very beginning of the program. There were definitely things that could have been better, but I think in general we’re really pleased with the performance we put out.”

In fifth place, Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit used Elvis Presley’s “Trouble” for both rhythms. Donning a ‘look-a-like’ costume, Benoit brought the King back to life as he and Pogrebinsky danced Presley’s rock ‘n’ roll swagger and strut moves. The program scored 67.17 and earned Level 4 for the curve lift, pattern and twizzles; the footwork was Level 3.  

Free Dance

When Meryl Davis & Charlie White left the sport as competitors after the 2014 Sochi Olympics, a vacuum was created at the top of the US ice dance leader board. The next season, Madison Chock & Evan Bates stepped up and claimed the 2015 title, followed by Maia & Alex Shibutani’s win in 2016. Thus, the stage was set for a tiebreaker rematch at the 2017 US Championships.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani won the title, but Madison Chock & Evan Bates won the free dance.  Each brought different dance styles to the event. The Shibutanis’ “Evolution” program was light and ethereal; Chock & Bates’ “Under Pressure” was frenetic and energetic. The audience gave both teams loud cheers and standing ovations.

The reigning World silver and bronze medalists earned Level 4 for all their elements except the Serpentine step sequence, which was Level 3. The Shibutanis received a one-point deduction for an extended lift. Both sets of component scores averaged over 9.50.

The Shibutanis received a 117.73 segment score. When added to their 2.46 short dance advantage it was enough to total 200.05 and outscore Chock & Bates who earned 119.08 for the free dance and a 199.04 total score.

The siblings spoke about their performance and preparation for the second half of the season.

“We were very happy with our skating this week,” Maia said. “It’s really exciting for us to head into the second half of the season, and as national champions we’re looking forward to it.

“Obviously we have some time between now and Four Continents and the World Championships,” Alex added.  “Those are key competitions. Those are competitions where we really want to be at our absolute best. We know that there’s a lot that we can do with our coaches at home so that our performances at those two competitions are the strongest of our season.”

Bates reflected on his and Chock’s performance.

“We would’ve loved to have recaptured our national title, but it didn’t happen for us. We’re still very proud of the performances we put out this week; we’ll be back next year.”

He then spoke about this year’s World Championships in Helsinki.

“We have a history of peaking in the second half of the season, especially last year we had a great World Championship and Four Continents as well, and we plan to do the same this season.”

The silver medalist continued with a shout out to the team’s choreographers.

“We’re going to bring Rohene [Ward] to Michigan again. He’s really been a huge part of our choreography this season. He and Christopher Dean have helped us to come out with a fresh look this season and try just to expand our horizon as far as music selection, choreography, outfit selection, everything.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue captured their third straight U.S. Championships bronze medal. They danced to a love medley that included opening and closing Bootstrap selections that anchored the core theme of the performance Ingrid Michaelson’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

The Montreal-trained couple earned Level 4 for their lifts, twizzles and diagonal step sequence; the combination spin and circular step sequence were Level 3. An unfortunate fall on a non-element resulted in a one-point deduction and a lower component skating skills score.

“It wasn’t our day – my day in particular – just a funny fluke moment,” Hubbell said.  “My blade caught the toe pick. I was pretty surprised. One second I was up and the next I was down. I just tried to keep going and do like we had trained at home.”

“I just want to say thanks to Zach for being a fabulous partner,” Hubbell continued.  “I think we were able to finish strong.”

Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit skated their Persian-themed program, “Layla’s Temptation of Majnun”, performed to “Sadko” by Rimski-Korsakov and Peter Gabriel’s, “The Feeling Begins”.  The highlight was their “Fountain” curve lift, which showed off Pogrebinsky’ flexibility as Benoit moved in a spread eagle position.

The performance earned Level 4 for six elements; the serpentine step sequence was Level 3. The 103.12 segment score and 170.29 total were both personal bests and the team finished fourth in the free dance and overall, winning the pewter medal.

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker danced to the passionately dramatic piano chords of Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum. Several unfortunate mishaps blemished the performance and moved them down to fifth place with an 87.46 segment score and 160.06 total.

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, the 2016 U.S. pewter medalists, had finished eighth in the short dance after receiving no credit for their rotational lift as well as a 1 point deduction for an extra element.  They finished fifth in the free dance, pulling up to sixth overall.