Every time I am about to go on a trip, my life just explodes. I suddenly have three hundred things to finish, a to-do list that multiplies faster than I can cross off entries, and a gaping, empty suitcase on my living room floor that refuses to pack itself. Does this happen to anyone else? Anyway, I am going to Vancouver tomorrow, and my life has exploded this week, hence the delay in this entry. But I just got out of work early, so now I am ready to talk about ice dance.

Of course, I am always ready to talk about ice dance, usually at the expense of other to-do list items. Hence the empty suitcase on my floor right now.

Mackenzie & GarrettAnother Shot for Bent & MacKeen
Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen (pictured, right) did a fantastic job in their first JGP event, winning the bronze medal at Brasov Cup in Romania a few weeks ago. I don’t think Skate Canada expected this, as they already had plans for the rest of the JGP spots, but fortunately, they had at least listed Mackenzie & Garrett as substitutes for the final event, and they were able to shuffle a couple of assignments to send out the Scarborough-trained duo once more. Mackenzie & Garrett are one of two Canadian teams to medal on the JGP this season, so it would have been truly unfortunate if they had not been given a second assignment. For the record, I knew that they had a shot at the podium in Brasov, but I am so hesitant to project unnecessary expectations and pressure on JGP competitors, so I scaled back my prediction and called for a “strong debut.” Should have gone with my gut!

So here’s what my gut thinks about their chances in Tallinn, Estonia, this weekend: I think that they will end up between 3rd and 5th, as long as they skate well. Mackenzie & Garrett had strong, clean performances in the midst of an inexperienced field in Brasov, which helped them bring home a medal. The field in Tallinn will feature two exceptional teams, Kosigina & Moroshkin of Russia and Papadakis & Cizeron of France, who will probably take the gold and silver. Regardless of the result, this is a great opportunity for Mackenzie & Garrett to get out in front of international judges again, and to gain valuable competitive experience. I’ve seen them falter under pressure in the past couple of seasons, so I am pleased to see them skating so consistently this year, and I hope they have a great event in Tallinn.


 

Virtue & Moir Upset in Finland to Win!
I’m just kidding. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir didn’t upset anyone in their victory at Finlandia Trophy last weekend. They did delight the Finnish audience in their season debut and they did post some fantastic early-season scores. And they did look mostly ready, which is a thrill for all of their fans. I say “mostly” because we saw a couple of bobbles, from Scott on the twizzles in the short dance, and from Tessa on the circular footwork in the free dance. Both can be chalked up to early season insecurity and then quickly forgotten. And since I learned last week that people like reading about Tessa & Scott (my post got twice as many hits as any other post on this blog), let’s talk about each dance.

I admit, I expected a bit more recycled material in the short dance than we got, so that was a nice surprise. The music wasn’t just a shortened version of last year’s free dance—some parts had been mixed differently, too. I liked the dance pretty well, as far as Latin dances go, but I’m still not a fan of their rhumba section to “Temptation.” I love that song on its own, but I don’t really like it in this setting and I think that having three different pieces makes the whole program too hectic. And if they’’e going to insist on a fast-slow-fast-faster format, I want more heat in the rhumba. I think I’m in the minority, but I don’t like their lift (the same one done during the “Temptation” section in last year’s free dance, too). In Finland, it was a little sticky, and they only earned a level two. I’m sure they will make whatever adjustments that they need to make before Skate Canada. On the positive side of things, I thought that Tessa & Scott showed off some of the best fast Latin dancing that I’ve seen so far this season. They were so sharp and sassy, and super fast, but controlled. And on a completely superficial note, after years of photographing Tessa in girly pastels, I love the dark blue dress on her. Of course, now that I say this, I am almost positive that she’s going to wear a new dress that washes her out in a couple of weeks at Skate Canada. I do know one thing: I am going to have a fantastic time shooting this in Mississauga in a few weeks! Especially if she keeps the dress. Or wears anything else that is bright and fringey.

The verdict on the Funny Face free dance has already been divided for weeks, ever since Tessa & Scott announced their music. With few exceptions, I think that the folks who expected to love it do indeed love it, and the folks who promised to hate it do, indeed, hate it. I suppose this means that they have lived up to expectations, which is not a bad place to be at the start of the season. The protocol reveals a few weaknesses, even aside from the mistake on footwork—level 2s on a lift and the spin—but just like the lift in the short dance, those are details that can be handled in the weeks before Skate Canada. The dance itself is half effervescence and half romance. Everyone knows that they can pull off the romance part, so I was most curious to see if they would give the program a Broadway feel. They do, in the first half, before the music changes to “S’wonderful,” and the dance gives way to what they do best. I was most impressed with the strength and precision of the energetic half, and aside from awkward stops where they pretend like they’re tap dancing, I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing them get into the character of the program and project equally to the audience and to each other. I actually wish that the program ended with a fun Broadway selection, instead of with the mushy ballad.

I think I’m reserving a final judgment on the program for Skate Canada, when I’ll see it live. It’s hard to gauge the first performance of the season, and even harder to gauge a Youtube video when so much of who Tessa & Scott are to me lies in the authenticity of their interpretation. Speaking of which, one thing I can comment on with certainty is that they did not deserve the 10.00 that they received for composition/choreography. I mean, I love them too, but really? It’s very good, but it’s not that good.

Another comment of certainty: girl needs colour. As a photographer, I almost always dislike white against the ice in general. Especially for this program, though, I think that the white costumes flattened the energy by a few notches. I love the style of the bodice, with the cap sleeves, but I want to see the dress in a fun vintage-y colour, like a coral-y pink or a mossy green or an orange-red. Unfortunately, Tessa doesn’t care what I think, so I hope that someone with power feels the same way about her dress. I was once asked to weigh in on her costumes—I gave the thumbs up to the strappy back of her black tango dress—but since they hit the big time, I’m sure they have a more professional, influential costume team.

JGP Milan Results
At the Trofeo W. Lombardi, the 6th stop on this year’s JGP Series, Canadians finished fifth and ninth in a tough field, and both teams had solid performances. Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa were fifth with a score of 118.45. Since I’m sort of a numbers geek, I’ve always wondered what the ISU does if you match your personal best at a competition. Does it go on your bio as a new personal best, or do you keep the old one? Thanks to Victoria & Connor, I know now. They scored a bit higher in the short dance in Milan, but a bit lower in the free dance, and they ended up with exactly the same score as they earned a few weeks ago in Gdansk. The score from Gdansk is still recorded as their personal best, which I suppose makes sense, since it was their best score when they earned it. Anyway, numbers aside, I thought that Victoria & Connor had a great short, but seemed a little nervous in the free dance. They hit level 4 on the last two lifts (something they had missed in Gdansk), but only earned a level 1 on the midline steps. I think that, overall, they still have some room to grow with this program, and I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus finished ninth in their international debut with a score of 102.38. They performed well, but ran into some issues with their levels in both dances, including getting hit with level 1 on all three of their footwork sequences. On the whole, I felt like they may have been scored on the low side in the short dance, where they scored 43.14. Level problem aside, I felt like they performed really well and their PCS could have been several notches higher. The free dance earned 59.24 points—and their PCS did go up a bit—but I don’t think that their skate last weekend was as strong as their beautiful effort at BC SummerSkate in August. In Milan, they seemed a bit more rushed and they had a couple of unsteady moments in the beginning, although they recovered well and finished strong.  Shane was fighting bronchitis during the event, and they had to switch assignments and compete a week earlier than they thought they would, so all things considered, this was a solid start for them on the international scene.

 

Twins are Twice as Nice!

I met Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe while they were still competing, when I started attending skating events with my friends. They were always willing to go out of their way to sit down and discuss the state of the world of ice dance with us, even though I wasn’t at all qualified to offer my opinions to people who were living it. I remember listening to them talk about moving back to Vancouver to coach, to fill the elite dance coach void that made them move to Montréal when they were young. Just from talking with them, I always knew that they would be amazing coaches, and I had a hunch that it wouldn’t take too long.

It only took four years for their teams to take the junior, novice, and pre-novice titles—all in the same year—while their senior team accomplished their major goal of making the National Team. All in four years! Skate Canada recognized their accomplishment by awarding them the Skate Canada Competitive Coach(es) of the Year award at the Annual General Meeting in May. This season, they had five teams compete on the JGP, accounting for 45% of Canada’s assignments (and 100% of Finland’s). Their most experienced team, Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon, competed at Nebelhorn Trophy last month and will compete at Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix, in a couple of weeks. Overall, between two summer competitions, their teams won 17 medals this year, including 11 golds. And they did all of this while Megan was pregnant with their twins!

A week ago, on October 6, Keauna Auburn & Tayson Pierce were born, healthy and beautiful. I know that twins can be overwhelming and hectic, but they are also twice the beauty and twice the joy. And you know, based on what Megan & Aaron have juggled so far this year, I have a feeling that they can handle this new set of challenges. Keauna & Tayson, you’re a couple of lucky kids. Welcome to the world!

Exciting Season Debuts at Octoberfest
I’m never sorry to be heading to Vancouver, but after taking a look at the updated Octoberfest roster earlier this week, I kind of wish that I’d taken my trip to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and that I could be heading east tomorrow for a Toronto/Barrie weekend. In addition to the expected competitive debut of the new pairing of Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (free dance only), a talented American team, Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, will be making their delayed season debut in Barrie. And(!) rosters have been updated recently, but Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam are still listed, which I’d like to take as a sign that they will actually skate, after having withdrawn from Thornhill in August and Isabella Henderson a few weeks ago. Alex & Mitch reportedly skipped the on-ice portions of High Performance Camp for the national team in mid-September, but they are definitely on the ice now. They skated at simulations at the rink in Waterloo last weekend, and here’s the photo to prove it.

Elisabeth & FrancoisIf all three teams compete, the senior free dance is going to be spectacular. I am also interested to see how Sarah Arnold & Justin Trojek do. I saw them at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in July, where they had a fairly good season debut, but they have not competed since then—they withdrew from Autumn Skate in September.

The junior level will feature reasonably local teams from the Ontario sections, as well as a few teams from Québec. JGP competitors Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton will face off against JGP alternates Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette (pictured, left). One American team, Amanda Bertsch & Sam Kaplun, has also registered and could challenge the top Canadians. Bertsch & Kaplun technically earned a JGP spot from U.S. Figure Skating, but were unable to compete due to Kaplun’s paperwork—he has competed in the past for Ukraine.

On the novice level, I expect to see Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs lead the field. Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng, who moved this year to train full-time in Montréal, should also do well, although they have struggled with inconsistency in the past.

See the rest of the entries here, where you can also follow along with results this weekend. COS is probably the best section for uploading timely results. Thanks, COS!

Sask Skate
I don’t think of ice dance when I think of Saskatchewan—I think of ticks, actually, since I picked up a few while wading through tall grasses outside of Moose Jaw last year—but Sask Skate usually holds dance events at the levels below novice. At 2011 Sask Skate, which took place last weekend in Saskatoon, the medalists were as follows:

Novice:
Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert (AB/NT/NU), 74.95
Nevada Smith & Addison Voldeng (SK), 70.82
Elise Von Holwede & Eric Streichsbier (BC/YT), 63.23

Pre-Novice:
Andie Gingrich & Liam Kinrade (AB/NT/NU), 60.94 (competitive debut)
Kirsten McDougall & Scott Voldeng (SK), 54.16
Jocelyn LeBlanc & Wyatt Cowell (SK), 51.68

Pre-Juvenile:
Madison Tocher & Marty Haubrich (SK), 18.49
Tori Shmon & Alexander Hopkins (SK), 17.18
Emilie Kirchgesner & Luke Kirchgesner (SK), 16.85

Penkov & Mostert now have the sixth-highest Canadian novice score this year, while Gingrich & Kinrad’s is second-best on the pre-novice level. Usual disclaimer: scores cannot be directly compared across competitions, but they can still give a reasonable indication of how teams might stack up once they get to Challenge. 

 

Check out the rest of the results here (scroll down).


Looking Ahead

Next week, the Junior Grand Prix Series will be over, and I’ll post a wrap-up of the Canadian dancers’ accomplishments. The Senior Grand Prix also begins, so I’ll also preview what’s to come for the seniors.  And on the homefront, teams across the country are gearing up for sectionals.  Do you have news that I’ve missed?  Comments or suggestions?  Email me at [email protected]