15SAPreviewCB-RR-6853by Melanie Hoyt | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The new Grand Prix Series will kick off this weekend in Milwaukee with 2015 Progressive Skate America. This marks the third consecutive year that Skate America has been held in the Midwest, after events in Detroit (2013) and Hoffman Estates, Ill. (2014). A full roster of eight teams will represent five countries.

The home team’s headliners are Madison Chock & Evan Bates, reigning U.S. champions and world silver medalists. They began this season at Nebelhorn Trophy last month, where they won the gold medal with a score of 169.50. The effort was well off their personal best, but respectable for the debut of their new programs, a short dance to “Dark Eyes” and a free dance to the skating warhorse, Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. Chock & Bates, coached by Igor Shpilband, will be aiming to repeat their Skate America title from last year and are certainly the favorites for gold once again.

Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier will likely be the top challengers. They began their season with a couple of small summer competitions, and then came out on top at Ondrej Nepela Trophy earlier this month. They placed third in the short but won the free dance en route to a score of 159.14. Gilles & Poirier put their trademark quirkiness on display in their short dance that mixes “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” with a traditional classical music by Mozart and Rameau. The only Canadian entry in the dance event will have their eyes on a top-two finish, which would set them up well for a chance to qualify for a trip back to the Grand Prix Final.

Both Russian teams could be in contention for the podium. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov enter their sophomore season with hopes of making a bigger mark this year and contending for the world team. They have not yet competed internationally this year, although they have tested their programs at home in Russia. The only Canton-based team on the roster has a short dance set to selections from “Swan Lake” and a free dance to “Io Ci Saro” by Andrea Bocelli and Lang Lang.

Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov have a longer partnership than their Russian teammates, but have the tough task of making their senior international debut on the Grand Prix. With the exception of the World Junior Championships in 2013, where they were defeated by Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, Yanovskaya & Mozgov dominated the international junior scene for two full seasons. Yanovskaya & Mozgov have also chosen a traditional waltz, “My Sweet and Tender Beast,” for their short dance, and will have some fun in their “Gatsby”-themed free dance.

Americans Hawayek & Baker should also contend for the podium against their old junior rivals. The 2013 world junior champions already have a medal from the senior Grand Prix to their credit; they won a surprise bronze medal at NHK Trophy last year. They faced a rough beginning to their season at Finlandia Trophy a couple of weeks ago, when falls kept them in fourth place. They are using music from “The Nutcracker” in the short dance and selections from “The Theory of Everything” soundtrack in the free dance.

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus round out the Team USA dance contingent and could be poised to have a breakthrough season with their strong programs to Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” for the short dance and selections by Beethoven for the free dance. They set a new ISU personal best of 137.38 at Nebelhorn Trophy last month, where they won bronze, and if they can elevate their technical levels, their scores could continue the upward trend.

After two seasons of competing in Junior Grand Prix events and senior international events alike, Ukrainians Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin are finally focusing solely on senior-level competition. Their Senior Grand Prix debut comes one month after a fourth-place finish at the U.S. International Classic. Like Cannuscio & McManus, they have chosen traditional classical music for both programs. Nazarova & Nikitin will skate to “The Blue Danube” and “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss in the short dance and to Mozart’s “Fantasia No. 3” in the free dance.

The Chinese team of Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu rounds out the roster. They are the only team that has chosen a mix of popular music for the short dance; they will skate to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Michael Bublé’s “Fever.” In the free dance, they have turned to music more representative of their country, the soundtrack from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Wang & Liu began their season with the Lake Placid Ice Dance International, where they finished sixth.

In a discipline that has recently felt like it has been dominated by the coaches in a single region, it is interesting to note that all eight entries represent different coaching teams. Only three teams train year-round in Michigan, while two train in Moscow.

The short dance is scheduled for Friday night and the free dance will be contested on Saturday night.