In Which Our Heroine Attends a Truly Fantastic Skating Choreography Competition

What do you mean, Sunday was the first day of Advent? It felt just like Christmas to me!

That’s because I got to attend the MK Young Artist Showcase 4 at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena. Choreographers from otherworldly locales such as Salt Lake City and Austria competed, plus there were exhibitions by local synchro skaters and also 2011 national champion Ryan Bradley, seen here in his “Doublet Your Pleasure, Doublet Your Fun” program and here in his winning short program.

I really had no idea what to expect. We started with the “grassroots” competition, between two young choreographers, Izzi Gorowsky and Allison Merges. (We didn’t know who’d choreographed what.) First we saw a program for two skaters, a meet-cute piece with a light, elegant touch–a poodle skirt of a program, very fun. I enjoyed it immensely. Then we saw a different choreographer’s program for the same skaters, to the same music. Interestingly, the story/characterization of the piece was more or less the same–both choreographers really drew out the guy’s floundering attempts to win the girl’s heart. The second piece was much more slapsticky and overall more extreme. (Argh, I wish I’d taken notes! I’d love to tell you more about these pieces. There should be video soon though.) I liked this second, brasher program even better than the first!

After each program we heard from three judges. The judging was as fascinating as the skating itself for me. The judges assessed whether the programs expressed the music well, whether they incorporated enough skating elements (like lifts, jumps etc), and also whether the footwork was difficult or just kind of skating around.

The second part of the competition was the “champions” division, between Eliot Halvorsen and Zabato Bebe. Again, we didn’t know who’d done which program. These programs were for a group of skaters, three women and a man.

So okay, it seems really hard to choreograph for a group of skaters without a) leaving some of them just standing around on the ice for a while or b) looking like modern dance, like, why is this on ice? What does the ice add? There are some amazing group programs I love, but it’s really hard to manage the audience’s focus on different parts of the rink, so many different people and points of interest. I’m not sure either choreographer handled that task terrifically, although both programs were thoughtful and definitely expressed the music.

The first program had the man bringing the women to life, I think, and ultimately they turn on him to (maybe? I WISH I’D TAKEN NOTES) gain their freedom. The storyline was really clear but it did mean that all or most of the women spent more time than I’d like just standing in a pose rather than skating. The second program did a bit more to intertwine the skaters’ bodies and was more melodramatic in its choreography. I personally preferred the first program as a thing to watch, but I can see where there was more use of the group and of skating as an art form in the second one.

Then we had the awesome judges again. Loved them. Clear, and upbeat without being sugar-coated.

I think the audience then voted, and after we’d picked our favorites, we got to find out who’d choreographed what. The charming first grassroots program was by Merges, and the more vaudeville one by Gorowsky. The first champions program was by Halverson and the second by Bebe.

Intermission and stuff. Exhibitions.

Final part of competition: Each choreographer performs their own work! This was ridiculously fun. You really saw how the programs we’d already seen were expressions of the choreographers’ personalities. This time they got to pick their own music and just go all-out.

Merges was again totally charming (she’s fourteen, I was barely functional at fourteen) with a Fosse-esque program to “All That Jazz,” and she did a develope’ spiral with a hat on her foot! Cute, fun, pleasing. Gorowsky, who is twelve (!!), went for megadrama. Angular pulling and curving body postures, carving up the air, just yanking meaning up out from the music in handfuls. Fantastic timing, and while yeah, “that’s a lot of look” as Tim Gunn says, if you can’t be melodramatic when you’re a twelve-year-old figure skater, when on earth can you? Loved it.

Halverson did an appropriately hunchy and spooky program to “I Put a Spell on You,” although I agreed with the judges that we didn’t get enough spookiness, enough connection to the music; it just needed to be bigger. Bebe (skating with his shirt all unbuttoned, as hearts around the rink went pit-a-pat) did this giant, grabby program, just wringing the music for all it was worth, every beat super-emphasized. I admit it was a little much for me, but again, if you can’t go OTT on Ice where can you?

So yes: Gorowsky and Bebe won their divisions. Sorry for the lack of technical content here–this is, again, where notes would really help me, and also not waiting two days to write up the event–but this was a gloriously fun show. Exceeded my already-high expectations.

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