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Katherine Healy

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The irony is that Simon G's characterization of Healy as a dancer was that she was highly technical, but not a great artist, while the criticism of Healy as a skater by many was that she did not have the technique -- by which they meant jumps, because her spirals, spins, and edges were beautiful -- but was considered a great artist on ice.

Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?

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The irony is that Simon G's characterization of Healy as a dancer was that she was highly technical, but not a great artist, while the criticism of Healy as a skater by many was that she did not have the technique -- by which they meant jumps, because her spirals, spins, and edges were beautiful -- but was considered a great artist on ice.

Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?

I appreciate Simon's testimony, but would not be inclined to draw any conclusions about Healy as an artistic skater/technically accomplished dancer. As far as Healy's career at the Festival Ballet goes, "artistry" as a teenager may well still be developing, but--as noted already--Ashton thought highly enough of Healy to choose her for the "first cast" in the re-setting of his Romeo and Juliet--and I have read praise for that performance as Juliet elsewhere. I also once spoke to someone who saw her at a gala (somewhat later in her career) and found the quality of her movement very beautiful.

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Could one reason be that the term "artist" is thought of differently in each discipline, relative to the skills and difficulties?

In general, the bar for artistry is much lower in skating, which is either a competition, among the top skaters to be won or lost more often by technical difficulty, a gala by competitive skaters, or a professional show, which is almost always commercial. Even fans who adored the intensely creative Silvio Smalun, for example, wouldn't argue that he should have won a major competition. Or Lucinda Ruh, who is the greatest spinner in competitive skating history in her combination of speed, duration, and variety of positions, who couldn't buy a difficult jump. Ruh was lucky to come from Switzerland, where there is generally one significant Ladies' skater per generation and where she had little competition, ensuring her a spot at the major championships each year, and to have come of age when skating was being televised extensively. Otherwise, no one would have known her name. Healy, on the other hand, had she chosen an amateur skating career -- it was "amateur" in those days -- would have faced formidable competition in the US ranks, and her jump limitations would have made her a long-shot at best, even if she didn't have other serious interests and options, like ballet and Princeton. To have turned professional at age 11 means that her skating training was as least as formidable as her dance training -- SAB gets most intense a few years later, when students from outside the NY metro area swell the ranks -- and for Curry to have chosen her meant her basic skating was impeccable, but she had a much greater chance to be a ballet dancer than a competitive skater, based on her technical skills. I would love to say she had the best of both worlds, like Boston Ballet dancer Catherine Foulkes, who skated with Curry as well as dancing, but she always seemed to be torn, going back and forth, and there weren't many options to combine the two.

In the professional ranks, outside the Soviet Union, where there had been a long and deep tradition of ice theater that was serious and state-subsidized, and to an extent in Russia today, where the tradition continues in spite of commercial pressure, commercial meant that Toller Cranston performed in the same show as the baby chimpanzee, for audiences who had come to see the chimpanzee. Scott Hamilton's Stars on Ice was a reaction to this tradition: no one in his show was going to be a chorus person dressed as a fruit or vegetable. However, apart from an occasional skater or team, the number of skating artists in any season is low to none, however great the skating, and Christopher Dean's consistent and exceptional creativity for his shows with Jayne Torvill was an exception in just about every way.

However, there was a magic period of time where John Curry in his amateur career, even within the restrictions and expectations of competitive skating, showed that elusive artistry: his "Don Quixote" Long Program was masterful in the seamless transitions in music and movement, the posture, the glide the characterization, while Robin Cousins, who is an amazing skater, had musical cuts four years later that are un-listenable and his program has little coherence outside the requirements of competitive skating. Curry used the momentum of an Olympic victory to start a professional show to his standards, which were much closer to standards of the Royal Ballet, to which he aspired until his father put the kabosh on ballet lessons, than to Holiday on Ice, with an emphasis on ballet virtues and dance choreography. His performance of Maens' "Afternoon of a Faun" is exquisite; this excerpt is from a documentary about his company's rehearsals, in which the first 40 seconds is of him practicing the first part of Peter Martins' "Tango Tango", after which he speaks about his intentions with the piece:

While he had guest stars in his shows like Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill who did not have to be ambidextrous like members of his company, and he had numbers with razzamatazz, just as Balanchine did with "Western Symphony", "Stars and Stripes", and the Wrens from "Union Jack", he was aiming for something much higher to co-exist: the list of choreographers for the programs performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1984 -- several of the greatest performances I've seen in any genre -- includes Lar Lubovich, Eliot Feld, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Peter Martins, Laura Dean, and Twyla Tharp, although I think Maen's and Curry's work is generally superior. Healy wasn't the only ballet-trained or ballet professional in his company: Catherine Foulkes is the beautiful nymph in "Afternoon of a Faun" in the video above.

Curry's venues were different, often, although not exclusively, high-brow, like the Met, compared to Radio City Music Hall, or in smaller arenas, compared to the much larger arenas in Europe and North America. His expectations and standards were higher. Of his company's Met Opera appearances, Jennifer Dunning wrote, "And while the simple, inbeauty of skating was seldom betrayed, this was a dream of dancing." Anna Kisselgoff wrote:

But it was Mr. Curry's own tribute to Sir Frederick Ashton, England's great choreographer, that the audience cheered most.

That audience, judging from overheard remarks, seemed divided into those familiar with Mr. Curry's attempt to fuse a high level of dance choreography with skating and those who were taken by surprise. The latter expect the usual flashy ice show, but when confronted with Mr. Curry's gentler, more esthetic bias, are just as delighted by a new kind of skating.

Healy was mentored by Curry and met his expectations. By today's standards, Healy, Yu Na Kim, the reigning Olympic champion, and Mao Asada, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, would be considered "artists"; by Curry's standards, only Healy would have been the perfectly baked Parisian baguette.

Simon mentioned that, of the 3 young dancers brought to ENB by Schaufuss, including Healy, only Trinidad was an "interesting and real ballerina." I recall several long disputations on Ballet Alert about what that concept, "ballerina," actually means. Does the same hold true of terms like "artist" and "artistry" in skating?

It depends on whom you are asking: to the average figure skating fan, the word "artist" would be applied to a wide range of skaters who s/he finds interesting. To the average ballet fan, there are plenty of dancers with flash and technique s/he would call "ballerina". Which ties to the topic raised in the NYT about technical virtuosity among pianists, which Mme Hermine posted here.

For me, Healy was one of the few female solo artists on ice. Janet Lynn was another. Today I think that Laura Lepisto comes closest, because of her beautiful edges and musicality. There were more among the female ice dancers, like Maia Usova and Marina Klimova. There are more among the men, but I think that's because they don't have to fit the "ice princess" mold.

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I appreciate Simon's testimony, but would not be inclined to draw any conclusions about Healy as an artistic skater/technically accomplished dancer. As far as Healy's career at the Festival Ballet goes, "artistry" as a teenager may well still be developing, but--as noted already--Ashton thought highly enough of Healy to choose her for the "first cast" in the re-setting of his Romeo and Juliet--and I have read praise for that performance as Juliet elsewhere. I also once spoke to someone who saw her at a gala (somewhat later in her career) and found the quality of her movement very beautiful.

Drew,

I'm sorry you feel that I was denigrating Healy as a dancer, the fact is she was very very young at LFB & only stayed there a very short time before deciding to give up dance and return to college.

Schaufuss went on record as saying that when he took the helm of LFB now ENB the company was cash strapped and he didn't have the money to hire stars, so he decided to create a furore of his own with very young prodigies. Healy & Sevillano being 16 & 15 respectively when he took them into the company and elevated them to principal status. Of the two Healy was the ostensible "perfect ballerina body type" she was also a phenomenal virtuoso and was given roles which showcased those abilities. Ashton did indeed choose her over the experienced ballerinas to be his first cast for R&J, though it's also worth noting that not long after that career-defining experience she decided to quit dance to return to college.

If you look at videos of Healy from that time the stunts she was pulling off are incredible, but for whatever reason she decided to call time on her career at precisely the point when technical virtuosity was deepening into artistic ability and developing her voice as an artist - like I said she strikes me as being a very intelligent woman and therefore it's probably not surprising that she decided to explore her intellectual life away from the ballet world. When she did decide to go back to ballet at Vienna, it would seem that her moment for stardom in ballet had passed, whether she would have gone on to capitalise on her R&J success and her position at LFB is moot, we'll never know.

Nor was I intending to compare her to Sevillano & Susan Hogard, the other very young ballerina pushed by Schaufuss; they were all such very different dancers with different strengths and weaknesses, to compare is invidious. But the fact remains that it was Sevillano who proved the one who people connected with and who people came to see, who was given guesting roles and opportunities outside of her mother company and was the one the press, critics, audiences and ballet world decided was the one destined for stardom.

When Sevillano left ENB Schaufuss decided to push Hogard in earnest but even though he then gave her every opportunity that Sevillano & Healy had, including using her to guest at the Kirov, she never took off nor was accepted as a legitimate ballerina.

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"Artistry" was once an term actually used within figure skating competitions, although certain notions of artistry may cause a snicker or two if you're not a fan. They've called it a variety of other things during the years. Curry was a great innovator but the shift towards raising the entertainment and performance level of skating gained widespread impetus with the rising influence of television, the rising level of competition and bigger talent pool, and the concomitant de-emphasis of those aspects of the competition that didn't make for entertaining television. Curry was a frustrated dancer who tried to create a sort of ballet company on ice, nor did he like anything about the sugary skating shows of the time. His troupes did some interesting work but didn't last as a template for professional skating for personal and other reasons and also because the methods and structure of a ballet company don't mesh well with the way professional skaters are produced and also it just wasn't the way the wind was blowing.

The "Afternoon of a Faun" is lovely if a tad literal, with that special grace and refinement that was only his.

Healy,

on the other hand, had she chosen an amateur skating career -- it was "amateur" in those days -- would have faced formidable competition in the US ranks, and her jump limitations would have made her a long-shot at best, even if she didn't have other serious interests and options, like ballet and Princeton. To have turned professional at age 11 means that her skating training was as least as formidable as her dance training

She does not appear to have been making the same degree of progress in both fields.

John Curry in his amateur career, even within the restrictions and expectations of competitive skating, showed that elusive artistry: his "Don Quixote" Long Program was masterful in the seamless transitions in music and movement, the posture, the glide the characterization, while Robin Cousins, who is an amazing skater, had musical cuts four years later that are un-listenable and his program has little coherence outside the requirements of competitive skating.

The musical cuts were customary at the time and continued to be so for some time. Curry had cuts in his beautiful and masterly (if dated in some respects) program, although he used the same piece of music (which can be quite as jarring, although Curry handled it better than others. Cousins, like Curry, selected and edited his own music with a view to offending the ear to the minimum and he was and is quite musical.

You could choose almost any other LP of the era as your HE, but I should suggest Dorothy Hamill's LP from the same year. It's by no means horrible and neither is the music choice, and America's Sweetheart is just fine, but it's lacking in structure and choreography; it just goes on and on until it stops. As Buttons rhapsodized in this commentary, Curry's program "has a beginning, a middle, and an end!"

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My main problem a great deal of artistic skating is that the skaters don't seem to be able (or willing?) to hide the effort, both preparation and muscle power, behind what they do. Curry avoids this almost all the time. His jumps and turns seem to come out of nowhere. He pays attention to port de bras (those long slender arms help) and the positioning of head and shoulders.

In the Faun video, I love most of all Curry's willingness actually to move slowly to the slow music and the way he creates the illusion that this is easy. This cannot be easy. But he sustains the adagio feeling even in jumps and turns. There is that moment in the video (7:35 or so) when he h-o-l-d-s a first arabesque balance.. Then he performs a slight fondu (to get push, I assume) and slowly glides backwards. It's both original and, somehow, very moving.

Dancers can do some of this as well. But ... they are not balancing on a single skate blade. :tiphat:

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What does it mean to turn pro at age 9 or 11 as a skater? I did not know young skaters performed in professional ice shows.

What would you consider Oksana's gold medal Olympic performance?

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What does it mean to turn pro at age 9 or 11 as a skater? I did not know young skaters performed in professional ice shows.

In her time, it meant getting paid to skate and/or for endorsements. Now it means to perform in a show, tour, production, etc. that is not sanctioned by or without permission from the skater's national federation and/or by the International Skating Union, which means a skater loses eligibility to compete in ISU events and the Olympics, for which the ISU is recognized as the governing body. (Skaters are now called "eligible" rather than "amateur".) During the TV heydey for figure skating, the ISU loosened its regulations to allow skaters to compete in Pro-Ams and shows like "Champions on Ice", where they could earn enough to pay for their training, in order to prevent well-known skaters from going pro and not showing up on TV for what is now the ISU Grand Prix and the ISU championships, which was one of the reasons for the demise of professional skating.

The technical demands for professional skating are much less than for eligible skating. Healy was a technically enough proficient skater to turn pro at an age where, depending on the school, she might not even have begun pointe work, or where she might be just beginning pointe work. A competitive skater that age would already have a number of jumps, spins, edges from school figures (which have been eliminated and are now a cult event), and years of semi-private and private coaching sessions. Whether she realized she would not have the full competitive arsenal of jumps and decided to go pro -- her wrap would have made it very difficult -- or it was an opportunity she didn't want to pass up because she had so many interests, we won't know unless she speaks about it.

What would you consider Oksana's gold medal Olympic performance?

Compared to Curry's Olympic program, in terms of construction, coherency, and performance, I don't think there is another that matches it in singles, although Boitano's was very, very well constructed and skated and Kulik's and Arakawa's solid programs that were very well skated. By 1988, the skaters were doing all of the triples and triple/triple combinations, and Kulik added the quad; it wasn't until Patrick Chan's programs over the last few years -- by Curry alumna Lori Nichols -- that long, telegraphed entrances into difficult jumps that were considered necessary for several decades were replaced by footwork and changing edges into them for nearly every jump. (Chan still lacks them going into his nemesis jump, the triple axel.)

Baiul's programs were neither that well skated nor well constructed, although her SP was better than her LP: flapping one's arms while one one's toe-picks does not an artist make, and her long program was an incoherent mix of brash show music. As far as elegance, any attempt was blown away by the way she roller-bladed down the ice to prepare for her jumps. It always reminds me of the male strippers on the Robyn Byrd show, who would be in their "Hey, baby" persona, until it was time to wriggle awkwardly out of their bike shorts.

The second mark in the 6.0, ordinals, and OBO ("Or best ordinal") systems was called the "Artistic Mark". However, by the rules of figure skating, this was not a personal take on artistry, even if it was often used that way. There were about ten specific criteria, all of which are now covered in the new judging system in the five "Presentation Component Scores" (PCS), although the new system has more explicit sub-criteria for each of the components. They included glide, flow, unison, choreographic composition of the program, interpretation, and multi-directional skating. I've lost my link to the actual wording of the old "Artistic" mark.

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1. What did you think about Nancy K. that same year?

2. Why on earth did you have to remind us of the Robyn Byrd show and the awful things seen while changing channels in those days???? I will now have nightmares.

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1. Nancy Kerrigan had a typical competitive program of her era. I've never heard her called an artist, and I don't think she was or that she tried to be, as either a competitive skater or a professional.

2. I loved the Robyn Byrd show. It was like watching The Tonight Show for strippers -- they'd sit in their robes and discuss their films like the actors who appear with Jay Leno, except the robe was usually more clothing than most actresses wear on Leno, and he never molests his guests at the end of the show.

I always wished someone would teach the men how to take off their clothes so that it was part of their dance. The women figured it out.

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puppytreats, there are a number of good figure skating forums, where you'll encounter a variety of strongly contrasting views, to put it mildly, some quite different from what you're reading here. It'll take you awhile to get your feet wet, but it'll pay off if you're genuinely interested.

Healy didn't have the jumps. Not really that complicated nor particulary mysterious, IMO.

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--Ashton thought highly enough of Healy to choose her for the "first cast" in the re-setting of his Romeo and Juliet--and I have read praise for that performance as Juliet elsewhere. I also once spoke to someone who saw her at a gala (somewhat later in her career) and found the quality of her movement very beautiful

If I can add a detail (rather belatedly) to this account, at the time Ashton was working on his reconstructed Romeo and Juliet I spoke to him after one rehearsal and he said "I think it has to be the little whiz(his name for Healy). All the others have their own ideas about the role and she will be my Juliet".

Several other dancers were learning the part and subsequently performed it. Sevillano had not yet joined the company. But there's no doubt that Healy was an accomplished dancer, Ashton clearly enjoyed pushing her and incorporated some aspects of her skating technique into at least one scene.

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Thank you, Alymer!

Healy didn't have the jumps. Not really that complicated nor particulary mysterious, IMO.

Considering that she turned professional at 11, an age at and after which she'd be expected to get the harder jumps that require more upper body strength, and that many skaters much older have re-tooled their jump technique to gain additional revolutions, it isn't certain that she'd never have rid herself of the wrap and gotten the harder jumps.

She clearly made a decision that skating competitively wasn't in her future, and as a professional, she didn't need the jumps, especially skating for Curry, who had already eliminated from his own skating the jumps she couldn't do. In his "Faun" for example, he did two split jumps -- may have been falling leaves -- and two single axels, which she could do with ease after not having skated for seven years.

I think it's fascinating that Ashton capitalized on some of her skating technique, because Curry clearly capitalized on her ballet training.

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1. What did you think about Nancy K. that same year?

I agree with what Helene said, but I would have given the gold medal to Kerrigan that year. She had a triple-triple, triple lutz late into the program (for Baiul it was her first jump), and while both women had issues with the triple flip--Kerrigan doubled it and Baiul heavily two-footed the landing--Kerrigan's error was more forgivable for me (athough the current skating judging system wouldn't see it that way). Baiul's program I liked more than Kerrigan's--but not a whole lot--and even though the artistic mark was the tiebreaker, Kerrigan was superior technically to the point of convincing me that she was robbed.

Someone mentioned skating forums, I can give links to a couple:

Figure Skating Universe: http://www.fsuniverse.net/

Golden Skate: http://www.goldenskate.com/forum/

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1. What did you think about Nancy K. that same year?

I agree with what Helene said, but I would have given the gold medal to Kerrigan that year. She had a triple-triple, triple lutz late into the program (for Baiul it was her first jump), and while both women had issues with the triple flip--Kerrigan doubled it and Baiul heavily two-footed the landing--Kerrigan's error was more forgivable for me (athough the current skating judging system wouldn't see it that way). Baiul's program I liked more than Kerrigan's--but not a whole lot--and even though the artistic mark was the tiebreaker, Kerrigan was superior technically to the point of convincing me that she was robbed.

Someone mentioned skating forums, I can give links to a couple:

Figure Skating Universe: http://www.fsuniverse.net/

Golden Skate: http://www.goldenskate.com/forum/

MRR, Weren't you a baby at the time, or am I mixing you up with someone else? My impression was that Nancy thought she was (a) superior artistically and (b) superior technically, because of her spiral, which did not impress, and © entitled, well, because of what happened.

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1. What did you think about Nancy K. that same year?

I agree with what Helene said, but I would have given the gold medal to Kerrigan that year. She had a triple-triple, triple lutz late into the program (for Baiul it was her first jump), and while both women had issues with the triple flip--Kerrigan doubled it and Baiul heavily two-footed the landing--Kerrigan's error was more forgivable for me (athough the current skating judging system wouldn't see it that way). Baiul's program I liked more than Kerrigan's--but not a whole lot--and even though the artistic mark was the tiebreaker, Kerrigan was superior technically to the point of convincing me that she was robbed.

Someone mentioned skating forums, I can give links to a couple:

Figure Skating Universe: http://www.fsuniverse.net/

Golden Skate: http://www.goldenskate.com/forum/

MRR, Weren't you a baby at the time, or am I mixing you up with someone else? My impression was that Nancy thought she was (a) superior artistically and (b) superior technically, because of her spiral, which did not impress, and © entitled, well, because of what happened.

Yes, I was one year old in 1994 :) I do follow skating regularly though and have familiarized myself with a lot of old competitions (although I have never skated before).

I agree that Kerrigan seemed entitled, but what I will say about her (in the 1993/1994 season) is that she came to competitions prepared, trained, fit, et al. She got some very lucky results early in her career--the 1991 Worlds bronze and (especially) her 1992 Olympics bronze--but her inconsistency in training earlier in her career caught up to her at the 1993 Worlds, where she finished 5th because of a disastrous free skate. The result motivated her and she was really in the condition of her life at the 1994 Olympics even coming back from that crazy incident.

I don't think anyone really great spiral sequence extensions in those days, but Nancy's was one of the nicer ones IMO even though she supported her leg with her arm. It wasn't until Nicole Bobek (and then Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen) when the standards were set at a much higher level.

Anyway, sorry that I've hijacked the thread with this discussion!

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