Northern Lights #26: Summer Summary

2013-0905-1Well hello! Fair members of the Canadian ice dance family, it has been far too long. Long ago and far away, I had a plan to keep this blog fairly active during the off-season (maybe every other week), but that dream died a quick death. I have had a very busy year, beginning with trips to four (yes four!) championship events—Canadian Championships, U.S. Championships, World Junior Championships, and World Championships. It was my first time at all of those events besides Canadians of course, and while I had an amazing time, the schedule was overwhelming. My whole life has spiraled into an overwhelming schedule lately, so I apologize for being late with the intro Northern Lights post of the 2013-14 Olympic(!!) season.

Since I live and breathe by chronological order, I’m going to start with a summer recap, with plans to catch up with the JGP in an upcoming post. This is going to be really long and I’m not going to add as many video links as I usually do, but I’ll try to hit the highlights.

Whoa, new teams!
There are SO many new teams in Canada this year! I expect this type of shuffling in a post-Olympic year, but not the Olympic season. Granted, none of the new teams are planning on vying for an Olympic berth, so the point in the quadrennium is irrelevant to them, but it all just seems a bit out of the usual cycle. Exciting, though!

In case you need a list, or just like lists, here are the new teams:

Mélissande Dumas & Simon Proulx-Senécal (pictured, right)
Alexandra Welch & Steven Paslawsky
Rachel Kirkland & Matt Kleffman, who teamed up in 2012, but finally made their début after missing last season due to injury

Brianna Delmaestro & Timothy Lum
Caroline Falardeau & Benjamin Mulder
Tina Garabedian & Alexandre Laliberté
Andie-Lynn Gingrich & Dayton Stewart
Margo Huen & Matthew Webb
Jessica Jiang & Tyler Miller
Marie-Frédérique Julien & Simon Dazé
Jocelyn Leblanc & Jean-Luc Jackson
Alexa Linden & Eric Streichsbier
Whitney Miller & Shane Firus
Jade Robitaille & Philippe Granger
Courtney Royer & Addison Voldeng
Laura-Maude Verret & Simon Desrochers

Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Kaelan Dunker
Megan Koenig-Croft & Jake Richardson
Ceduna Magee & Lucas Kitteridge
Mira Samoisette & Alexander Seidel
Ashlynne Stairs & Bradley Keeping-Myra
Jazlyn Tabachniuk & Nikolas Wamsteeker

Welcome to all the new teams! Apologies if I’ve forgotten anyone, feel free to let me know and I’ll edit the post. And I’m honestly not confident enough with the pre-novice partnerships to make a list of new teams.

Kicking it off in Lake Placid
The Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships marked the beginning of the season for Canadian dance. This year, it was mainly teams from BC and QC that competed at LPIDC, with the Ontario teams opting instead for Minto Summer Skate, held the same weekend. The BC juniors and seniors once again blazed through the week and took on both LPIDC (Thurs & Fri) and Minto (Sat & Sun). They definitely get the most out of their trip across three time zones.

Seniors (results)
Mélissande Dumas & Simon Proulx-Senécal placed second in senior free dance group B with a score of 75.55. Their strong effort in their free dance to music by Ingrid Michaelson and Florence & the Machine resulted in Canada’s only medal at the senior level in Lake Placid, and they were very strong, especially for a new team. Canada’s top entry, Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, had a tough début of their “Love Never Dies” free dance with a fall on a lift, but the program showed a lot of promise in practice. Even with the fall, they still scored 73.14 in group A.

In the short dance, the Finnstep proved a formidable opponent, and no Canadian team broke 50 points. Orford & Williams had the highest score among Canadians, with 46.18, and they looked very smooth and polished.

Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois’ FD (74.02 in group A) enchanted the IDC crew. More on that further down the page.

Caelen Dalmer won the senior solo combined event with lovely performances. There’s a 6-foot-tall partner out there for her, right?!

2013-0905-2Juniors (results)
The juniors fared much better in Placid, in terms of placements. Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang (pictured, left) won SD group C (48.09) and FD group B (72.49) in their confident season début. They looked poised to take on the best juniors in the world on the JGP circuit. Brianna Delmaestro & Timothy Lum won the bronze medal in SD group B (44.78). Courtney Royer & Addison Voldeng were the surprise bronze medalists in FD group A (60.45) with a circus-themed dance that showed off their strong lifts. In addition to the medals, Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng, Carolane Soucisse & Simon Tanguay, Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo, and Whitney Miller & Shane Firus all picked up at least one fourth- or fifth-place finish.

While Lake Placid is not directly used to assign JGP events, the top junior teams all began making their cases for JGP assignments. I think it’s a great idea to get out early and get out often with new programs, and I love seeing as many Canadian teams as possible in Lake Placid. In past years, the judging panel at LPIDC has featured several international judges. This year, it seemed like it was mostly Americans, so it didn’t have the same advantage, and perhaps that’s why Skate Canada doesn’t use it as an official monitoring assignment. I think it’s still a great opportunity, though!

Standout programs for me included Edwards & Pang’s SD, Meng & Meng’s FD (though they had several mistakes and did not score well, I thought their “Kill Bill” program suited them very well), Royer & Voldeng’s FD, Wu & Soo’s FD, and Miller & Firus’ FD. Soucisse & Tanguay have the same FD as last year, and it has some great moments in it. While I like most of the short dances in general, 30+ quicksteps in a row meant that most of them blended together for me! It’s no fault of the competitors, and I look forward to getting to know the programs better as the season progresses.

Since the U.S. novices don’t have the same pattern dances or free dance requirements/scoring as the Canadian novices, novice participation from Canadians at Lake Placid is always sparse. This year, I think the only novice team from Canada was Valérie Taillefer & Jason Chan, but it’s worth noting their effort, because they blew away the field in the novice free dance. I spoke to their moms the following week in Boisbriand, and they said that they only wanted to go to Lake Placid for the experience and weren’t expecting such a strong result. What a great boost to the start of the season!

Monitoring at Minto (results)
Minto Summer Skate this year featured on-ice monitoring sessions for the dancers. I believe they did this last year, but it seemed to be organized differently (and at another rink) this year. I did not go to Minto at all this year and I didn’t hear anything about the sessions, so I hope it went well and they plan to continue offering the Canadian dancers an opportunity for on-ice feedback. This has been a mainstay of LPIDC for American dancers for as long as I can remember.

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill made their season début here, skating only the short dance, which they won over Orford & Williams, 55.82 to 52.12. Minto is not streamed online, so I have not seen their SD yet. Orford & Williams then won the FD with a strong mark of 84.10. I heard that they skated much better than in Lake Placid and with big gains in both dances, they increased their overall score by almost 17 points.

With JGP assignments on the line, the juniors were the big story at Minto. I was anxious to hear about Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen’s season début. They won the short dance easily, scoring 57.65, a huge score for early in the season. Given their usual success with patterns, I was happy to see such a great mark, but not surprised. Edwards & Pang had not planned to skate the short dance, so of course I was eager to see the top two juniors face off in the free dance. Unfortunately, Bent & MacKeen had a bad fall from a lift in practice, when they nearly collided with Edwards & Pang, who were mid-spin. Mackenzie hit her head and they withdrew from the competition as a precaution. Fortunately, she was okay and they were able to compete their FD at Thornhill two weeks later. Edwards & Pang easily secured the victory, scoring 75.30 with their “Les Mis” free.

The BC juniors had a great outing at Minto, taking the top five spots in the FD. Delmaestro & Lum had 69.76 points, Miller & Firus scored 67.59, and Wu & Soo narrowly missed the podium with 66.68 points. Jiang & Miller were 5th with 60.23.

In Ontario news, Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour’s third-place short dance (45.74) paved the way for their first JGP assignment. They were seventh in the free with 56.51 points. Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs had already been given the JGP Mexico assignment when they arrived at Minto. They struggled in the short dance, earning only 36.20 points and finishing eighth, with level 1 on both Quickstep patterns and the midline. They fared better in the free, placing sixth.

At the novice level, teams from Mariposa swept the medals. Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Kaelan Dunker won the pattern dances, while Ceduna Magee & Lucas Kitteridge won the free dance. Magee has skated at the national level in singles and is new to dance. Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham, last year’s pre-novice Canadian champions, picked up a pair of silver medals. Magee & Kitteridge won the bronze in the pattern dances and the new team of Ashlynne Stairs & Bradley Keeping-Myra (representing NS, but training in Barrie) won bronze in the free dance.

The local entry, Vanessa Chartrand & Christian Reekie, was fourth in both dances.

Scores were low across the board for the first pattern dance, the Cha Cha Congelado. This is because the novice teams only skate one pattern of the Cha Cha, but two of the Starlight Waltz, which was the second dance.

The pre-novices skated the Harris Tango and the Starlight Waltz for their patterns, but their patterns are not called with levels, like the novices. Ellie Fisher & Parker Brown of Mariposa won the pattern dances, with Cassidy McFarlane & Kyle Cayouette, a new team from the Montréal area, in second and Eastern Ontario’s Talia Rancourt & Alex Gunther in third.

In the free dance, Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha took top honours. This team was fourth in Québec last year at the pre-novice level, but did not skate at Challenge, so it is great to see them doing well again this season. Rancourt & Gunther were second in the free and Western Ontario’s Felicia Bonitatibus & Matthew Korkoian were third.

Dancers Take Boisbriand (results)
The Québec Summer Championships were held in Boisbriand, QC, from August 8-11, and I’m happy to report that was well represented there! I had attended this event a few times before as a spectator, though not in a few years, but this time, I was the official photographer at one of the rinks. IDC administrator Daphne Backman came up to help me shoot the Saturday, which had two ice surfaces all day. We had a great time and although I didn’t have much free time between events, it was great to catch up with as many people as time allowed. Daphne had more time on Sunday while she kept an eye on my table for a while in the afternoon, and I was happy to introduce her to many of the Canadian skaters and their families, since she’s usually busy covering American events and doesn’t often make it north of the border.

This event was another monitoring competition, with closed-door critiques for the teams after they skated. I kept running past the line of dancers in the hallway when I would zip back to the table on each warmup group to download photos. I think Victoria & Connor Hasegawa were among the last teams to go in for their critique and at one point, towards the end of the ladies free, I remember saying to them, “You’re STILL here?!” I’m glad that the critiques were thorough, though!

The big story, of course, was Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir’s début of their short dance. They won the short dance. Obviously. With a score of 76.51 and a picture-perfect dance to music by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong, Tessa & Scott’s appearance gave the event a huge boost on Saturday. The stands were packed, the noisemakers were boisterous, the little girls squealed when Scott said hi to them…it was a great day. Thanks for coming out, Tessa & Scott (by the way, that’s them on the right)! I love the program so much. It might be my favorite of their OD/SDs. What a great start to the season.

Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen, who train in Montréal but represent Denmark, won the silver medal in the short dance with 54.11 points. Their training mates, Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette, were closed behind with a score of 53.94. The two teams presented very different programs – Fournier Beaudry & Sorensen’s is light and elegant, while Paradis & Ouellette’s is a blast of energy that uses “Ballroom Blitz” for the Quickstep, but I really like both programs and it was great to see them both do so well.

In the free dance, Fournier Beaudry & Sorensen and Paradis & Ouellette took the top two spots and kept things close again, scoring 86.42 and 84.65, respectively. Americans Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker edged out Mélissande Dumas & Simon Proulx-Senécal for the bronze, 76.84 to 76.27.

The Mengs won the short dance with a solid score of 47.77. I’d love to see them break 50, and they are on their way. Marie-Jade Lauriault & Pierre-Richard Chiasson were surprise silver medalists at this event, scoring 42.49. Together for quite a few years, this was their junior-level début. Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Dominic Barthe rounded out the podium with 40.13, and Collins & Seymour were close behind with 40.01.

In the free dance, Soucisse & Tanguay won the event, scoring 71.34. They skated beautifully and were the class of the field. Their effort earned them their first JGP assignment. The Mengs, while skating quite a bit better than Lake Placid, still weren’t completely solid, and scored 61.71 to finish second. Croteau-Villeneuve & Barthe turned in another bronze medal performance with a lovely skate, scoring 58.15. The new pairing of Tina Garabedian & Alexandre Laliberté delivered a strong FD to finish fourth, missing the podium by just .08. It’s interesting to note that Laliberté has skated at Canadians at both the novice and senior levels, but I believe this was his first junior-level competition.

Taillefer & Chan capitalized on their momentum from Lake Placid, winning both the pattern dance and free dance by large margins. Sabrina Bédard & Zoé Duval-Yergeau, last year’s Canadian pre-novice silver medalists, also picked up a pair of medals—silver in the free dance and bronze in the pattern dance. Alycia O’Leary & Oliver Grutter won silver in the pattern dance, and Mira Samoisette & Alexander Seidel won silver in the free dance.

In Patinage Québec events, novice and pre-novice dancers sometimes only skate one pattern dance. At this event, the novice teams skated only the Argentine Tango.

Lajoie & Lagha and McFarlane & Cayouette medaled in both of their dances here, a week after both teams were successful at Minto. Lajoie & Lagha won the pattern dance (Starlight Waltz) and were second in the free. McFarlane & Cayouette won the free dance and were third in the Starlight. The remaining two medals were split by Rachel Fortin & Édouard Tremblay, who took second in the Starlight, and Brittany Pham & Édouard Rheault, who were third in the free.

Juvenile & Pre-Juvenile
Their pattern dances were skated at the other arena, but I was fortunate to see (and shoot!) the free dances from these levels. I love shooting juvenile free dance every year in Lake Placid, and these kids from Québec made my heart soar at the end of a long day at the boards! As a bonus, Québec Summer Championships is the only summer competition with a pre-juvenile free dance, which one team entered. Love seeing the dancers of the future develop!

Overall, I had a great time in Boisbriand and I am still catching up with photos. I’ll post a gallery on IDC eventually. Last year, I felt that the scores at this competition were extremely high, but this year, I think they were more reasonable. Some scores were probably a bit higher than the teams will expect to get internationally, but a bit of domestic inflation is expected.

Small Fields at Thornhill (results)
Thornhill used to be one of the bigger dance competitions—I saw Tessa & Scott début several of their programs at Thornhill back in the day—but this year, the senior and junior levels had very small rosters. At the senior level, only Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam competed in both dances. They did a beautiful job, especially considering that performing a competitive exhibition is a different mental game from an event with more competitors. They scored 61.11 in the short dance and 88.88 in the free dance. The SD is perfect for them and I like their free dance quite well, too. I’m happy to see them in fighting form early in the season; it’s going to be a great year for Canadian seniors.

Ralph & Hill débuted their free dance at Thornhill, finishing second to Paul & Islam with a score of 85.48. Their FD uses music that was prevalent in ice dance a few years ago for the Latin SD—“Ritmo de Bom Bom” and “Malagenha.” I think the program suits them much better than last year’s free dance and they performed it well.

After a few withdrawals, only four teams were in the junior events. Bent & MacKeen won both dances. For the short dance, I thought that while their skating looked excellent, the program was very similar to last year’s, but without the characters that really made last year’s program. They are even using music from the “Smash” soundtrack again. 

Desveaux & Razgulajevs upped their game from Minto and earned solid marks—45.46 in the short and 64.32 in the free.

Carina Glastris & Nicholas Lettner, who represent Greece internationally but train with Bent & MacKeen and Desveaux & Razgulajevs, were third in the free and fourth in the short. They flip-flopped placements in the two dances with Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough.

Mariposa teams did very well here, winning five of the six medals. Whitley & Graham won the pattern dances, which were the same as at Minto. Magee & Kitteridge won the free dance and were second in the pattern dances. Fedyushchenko & Dunker picked up a silver in the free and a bronze in the patterns. The only non-Mariposa team to medal was Megan Koenig-Croft & Jake Richardson from the Scarboro group, who were third in the free dance.

Overall, the free dance scores were quite close. All seven teams scored over 40, and only about seven points separated first from seventh.

2013-0905-4SummerSkate in BC (results)
The BC Centre of Excellent hosted SummerSkate the same weekend as Thornhill. They are always the leading section in video content, and all of the performances are archived, which is much appreciated! This is the first competition of the year in which the dance events are combined.

Orford & Williams (pictured, left) easily won the event, as expected, with a score of 140.00. This is up a few points from Minto and higher than they scored at this event last year, so I think that they’re in a great place this season. Last year, they had a lot of time in between their summer events and their first international, but this year, they are slated for the U.S. International Classic in mid-September. Seems like they are ready! Their short dance is a gem, and I’m glad they’ve put a jacket on Thomas, but I’m not sure the cut to Ted Barton in the middle really fit the choreography (ha!).

Pilar Maekawa & Leonardo Maekawa, Victoria residents who represent Mexico, were second. Nana Sugiki & Hiroichi Noguchi were third. They are a Japanese team that was training in Burnaby for the summer.

Sophie Knippel & Malcolm Rohon O’Halloran were registered, but withdrew. They have been coaching together in Victoria. I believe that both skaters last competed in 2010, so this would have been an interesting comeback skate. Rohon O’Halloran was Nicole Orford’s first partner.

Edwards & Pang had the easy victory at the junior level, earning 131.78 points, the highest Canadian total so far this year. They skated beautifully (check out the short dance since the free didn’t archive), but still did not maximize their levels, so it was probably a good strategy for them to compete again before the JGP.

The seven teams that train at the Centre of Excellence took the seven top spots. Wu & Soo won silver with 121.58 points, opening a six-point gap between themselves and the bronze medalists, Delmaestro & Lum. Wu & Soo had looked promising but a bit rough in Lake Placid, but I thought that things were really starting to come together for them, based on the video from SummerSkate.

Miller & Firus were fourth with 108.55 and Jiang & Miller were right behind them with 107.25. Royer & Voldeng were sixth and Linden & Streichsbier were seventh in their début as a team.

Delmaestro & Lum, Wu & Soo, and Jiang & Miller all picked up JGP assignments based on their efforts at both Minto and BC SummerSkate. Miller & Firus likely would have earned one, but U.S. Figure Skating is holding Whitney, since she competed for the USA once on the JGP last year.

Overall, it was great to see nine teams competing at the junior level, but it’s a little worrisome that the rosters at the lower levels were so small. With so much talent coming out of BC, I’d love to see younger skaters in the pipeline, too.

In Summary
Wow, how to summarize all of that?! Props if you are still with me!

I think the juniors look to be in good shape for the JGP. We might not win five medals this year (or we might), but I am definitely expecting to get some golds and silvers this time around, instead of straight bronze! The Mengs aren’t quite as sharp as I expected from them, but their free dance is probably the best program they have had yet, so I’m encouraged by their progress.

Skate Canada doesn’t appear to be as strict about the 115-point benchmark this year, and I’m fine with that, too. There’s plenty of talent, and it’s important to develop it and give these teams opportunities. I hate seeing spots wasted more than anything.

Speaking of development, at the senior level, I think that Paradis & Ouellette have done enough to earn an assignment. If I were in charge, they would be going somewhere. I’m still hoping that something will be added to Skate Canada’s schedule of international events. 

If everyone skates their best come January and is marked accordingly, the third spot for the Olympics could be quite close. It’s evident that the contenders are bringing their A-game early in the season. Gilles & Poirier are still sidelined while Poirier recovers from an injury sustained in May, and I am anxious to see how their programs look once they’re back.

Watch This!
This is a new segment that I’d like to implement in my blog. I plan to share a video each in each entry. It might not be the most technically-proficient or highest-scoring dance of the week (or it might be!), and it might not even be current. It will just be a video that I think is worth watching and that I want to share.

This week’s selection is the new free dance Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois, set to a Gospel version of “Let It Be” and “Love Today” by Mika. It’s unlike anything I ever remember seeing in ice dance, and something about it just grabs me. I can’t help but smile while watching it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Congratulations to Shae Zukiwsky for crafting such a terrific program, and of course to Mariève & Ben for skating it with conviction.

I can’t get the embed code to work on IDC’s site, so click here to watch

Until next time!

– Mel


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