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Champions on Ice, 7/21, Oakland

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Yes, many of you are seeing and reporting on the Kirov in Balanchine, and here I am posting a review of an ice show. Well, some of us live near cities where the resident ballet company does maybe one performance in the summer and tootles off to Athens or wherever, instead of maybe favoring the locals with a few performances in a smaller venue, for example, not that I am complaining. And anyway, it's summer. I wasn't noting anything down, so what follows is from my always questionable memory.

SFB was actually performing at Stern Grove on this day, but these tickets were purchased way back, so off to the arena we went. I have not attended Champions on Ice, hereinafter referred to as COI, for awhile, but the prospect of Plushenko, Yagudin, and Kwan live and in color was irresistible, even at the stunning current ticket price of $65.00 (not counting "arena fees," etc.). Even after taking inflation into account, this is more than a little ridiculous, especially to see several routines that have already been flogged to death and weren't immortal works of art to begin with. It becomes more and more a question of: do I want to shell out more and more money to see skating that interests me less and less? How much punishment can I take in order to see the few skaters I really want to see? Well.

I'm beginning to think the ice show tour in its current state is the last outpost of vaudeville. All the acts do basically the same thing, insofar as everyone has skates on. Apart from that, it's anything goes, especially in COI, where group numbers are by definition limited. (This is fine with me, especially considering the "innovative choreography of Christopher Dean" as the announcer described it, on display in the most recent "Stars on Ice," which required, among other things, an estimable performer like Kurt Browning to push a vanity table thing around the ice prior to flinging himself upon it.) There was also a number involving multiple hula hoops, performed by with spirit by Irina Gregorian. The only act of this nature I found really offensive was the one involving acrobats in tutus. Announced as "the Bolshoi Ballet," they proceeded to do what was intended as a parody of "Swan Lake" but missed the mark totally. I don't blame the acrobats, who are only putting food on their family, as President Bush would say; Tom Collins, I'm looking at you. (And at the very least, since this is a skating show, they could have done some actual, um, skating.) Props and gimmicks abounded, and there was even a hand puppet, courtesy of Victor Petrenko. However, the audience loves them. All props, novelty acts, and backflips elicited huge applause. However, the genuine skating, as provided by Yagudin, Plushenko, et al., also was well received. I think the audience can recognize good stuff when they see it; they just don't see enough of it.

The audience. The makeup of the audience at an ice show isn't too far removed from the ballet in some respects: large numbers of women, often in groups, and at a matinee performance like this one the little old ladies are out in force. I glanced at the block of seats adjacent to ours. It looked like Bingo Night at the community center, and needless to say, business was slow at the wine and beer concession stand. Women of all ages were represented, but men over fifteen and under fifty were thin on the ground.

The whole thing was a little over two hours, with one fifteen minute intermission so the Zamboni could do its business. It started about fifteen minutes late, which is prompt for an ice show. No falls that stick in my head, except for Candeloro and Yagudin, although hands were put on the ice a few times -- it's been a long tour, a four month marathon across the country. The programs, except for changes in cast, do not vary, so every skater does pretty much the same thing every night. (In some cases, the routines have been recycled from previous tours; I have nothing against Dan Hollander and Rudy Galindo, but I do not want to see their current spots ever, ever again. I wasn't crazy about that Village People number the first time, either.) I'm not sure what can be done about this, and I'm sort of torn. The proper reaction would be to boo and throw things when these tired programs are performed over and over, but I'd hate to do that to the skaters, who frequently have no choice in the matter. Send threatening letters to Collins? I doubt he'd notice.

I found it all vaguely depressing, and not all that different from the Ice Capades I saw as a little girl, only there are no bubble machines, and the skating is trickier. Instead, we get strobe lights and bad group numbers. It's sad to see good skaters deteriorate. Nicole Bobek is looking increasingly Hollywood Boulevard. Galindo, no comment. I've always liked Michael Weiss. He has a good line, deep edges, the old fashioned virtues. Here, he was indistinguishable from Elvis Stojko; in fact, Elvis looked a lot better out there -- fine jumps, footwork faster and more inventive than I usually see from him. Both of them skated generic, Intensely Masculine programs to uninteresting a/o overfamiliar rock music. (Incidentally, there was plenty of the latter, used chiefly as a device to pump up the crowd in lieu of exciting skating that might have genuinely pumped up the crowd.) Suguri saved the first half of the show for me, Plushenko and Yagudin took up the flag in the second. Anissina and Peizerat were in good form and the hair for once was under control, but the dance kept starting and stopping and never built up any momentum. Kwan was fine in "Fields of Gold," but although it's impressive live, that didn't make as much of a difference as I thought it would. Needless to say, she got the biggest hand, and you should have seen the flashbulbs pop when she took the ice.

There was a cheesy Patriotic Finale, complete with fireworks; it seemed odd to see foreign skaters wearing the Stars and Stripes, but since they're pulling down big American bucks for this tour I guess it's appropriate, in a sense.

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Sigh. I was upset to learn I wouldn't have been able to attent because the day they came I would have been gone on vacation with my family. Reading your review now, I'm kind of glad I missed it. Plushenko, Anissina and Peizerat, and Kwan are my favorites. I agree with you on many points you made in your review about the skaters, like Nicole Bobek and Michael Weiss and Elvis Stojko. Finally, Weiss has been recognized! He isn't the most amazing or athletic, but there's something very balletic about him that I just love.

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Weiss had good figures, too. :)

You kind of have to weigh the pros and cons. It wasn't a total waste by any means, I guess it just depends on the state of your mind (and wallet).

I'm actually old enough to recall this tour in its early days -- it's twenty-five next year. This was the first tour I ever saw. They didn't slog through as many cities then, so you didn't get the if-it's-Tuesday-this-must-be-Peoria feeling from the performers that you sometimes do now. The skaters were thrilled to pieces to be there, and it showed. (In spite of the fact that they were paid peanuts. In those days Olympic-division skaters -- no pros on this tour back then -- were not allowed to make any money. I think the top-of-the-line skaters were paid as much as.....$200 a night!)

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