Champions On Ice Winter Tour 2002/2003

 
These photos copyright to Andrea "Hoo" Chempinski

Pittsburgh, PA, Columbia, SC, and Manchester, NH

This review combines and compares observations from three tour stops--Pittsburgh, PA, on the Sunday afternoon of December 22, 2002, Columbia, SC, on another Sunday afternoon (January 5), and Manchester, NH, on a Saturday afternoon, January 11.

A Dick Button recording introduced all of the shows basically calling attention to the fact that this is the 25th anniversary of Champions On Ice, etc. You could almost see the audiences looking around for the familiar bald head when the recording was playing.

Pittsburgh was the show's second performance after it's Green Bay, WI, opening two days previously, and it went quite smoothly. The Mellon Center was only a little over half full three days before Christmas, and the crowd was somewhat subdued. Audiences in Columbia and Manchester were what COI must hope for on this very pleasant, all professional tour on which most of the skaters perform two programs each. The latter two venues were very nearly filled with exceptionally enthusiastic crowds that apparently loved all of the performances. For both of these cities, COI seemed to be a very special attraction. Several pre- and post-show feature articles appeared in the local newspapers.

Nancy Kerrigan wasn't in Pittsburgh. Bad weather prevented Philippe Candeloro from making the Columbia show. Brasseur and Eisler also couldn't skate there due to Lloyd's skates not arriving in time.

The Pittsburgh show seemed to be a tryout place for some of the skaters, and it featured programs that were not in the subsequent two shows. (Rudy, Dan Hollander, Besedin & Polishchuk did programs in Pittsburgh that weren't seen again.) Because of the layoff for Christmas, the skaters could rework programs and parts of programs.

For a summary that covers the show in the order in which it occurred on opening night in Green Bay, go to Joe Erbentraut's review on The Skate Blade. He also lists Introduction clips of music for each skater.

Below are comments on all of the skaters for the three shows, the first half program first.

Nicole, Surya, Rudy, and Irina Grigorian did only one program apiece; all others did two programs. In Rudy's case it was mostly to go easy on his hip because of the energy both of his programs demanded. He also had a large part in the finale.

Rudy first!!! In the opening show in Green Bay and in Pittsburgh, he did the Rocky Horror Show "Sweet Transvestite"/"Time Warp" program he had done on the Elvis Sk8 Tour during November (check out some very good pictures and reviews there). Although there was a little controversy about it on that Tour, it was generally very well received in Canada. In all fairness, Elvis Stojko's show was billed as "a show like no other" and was geared toward adult audiences. Admittedly, Tom Collins has a different audience to be concerned about. To his credit, he did allow Rudy to try out the program on this Winter Tour. There were supposedly some boos in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, I didn't hear them. Collins decided after that show that Rudy needed to switch to something else.

Those who spent countless weekend nights at the movies during the '70's, '80's, and early '90's experiencing the happening that was the Rocky Horror Picture Show would relate to and appreciate this program more readily than those less familiar with it. On one level, it's a fantasy on moral decadence and sexual ambiguity and identity; on another it's both parody of and tribute to third rate horror, science fiction, and even beach movies, to bad comic books, and to rock and roll. The unnerving part of it is that daytime and late night TV is now crowded with REAL people that much resemble Rocky Horror's other worldly fantasy characters in terms of sexual exploits and confusion!

This Frank N Furter characterization ranks up there with Rudy's black swan and surpasses it in pure energy. The sweet transvestite from the planet Transexual, Transylvania whose sinister science has just created the perfect man--Rocky Horror--struts and boasts, incites and entices. His facial expressions, body movement, and choreography enliven the words and music. At one point he does a grand slinky sliding crawl on hands and knees across the ice, then somersaults out of. Sweet exquisite decadence!

The costume for this part of the program is a black bustier top, satin or leather pants (shiny, anyhow), elbow length lacy gloves, silver-buckle belt, necklace, glitter--and makeup. Like Frank, he's alternately menacing and pretty. For Time Warp, the breakaway pants come off to reveal a short bottom to the bustier top and fishnet stockings like he wore for the introduction to the 1999 Tour. He does this part of the program with an infectious, light-hearted "Let's Do the Time Warp Again" attitude. It's fun, and even the startled Pittsburgh audience was drawn into it. And Rudy has those fabulous legs...

The performance was superb, and so was Rudy's overall skating. His obvious commitment to the program enhanced everything about it. The jumps were on--two combinations, a triple toe/double toe and a double axel/triple toe (?), as well as a triple salchow, another triple toe, and one or two more double axels. The non-jump content included Rudy's usual wonderful spins, including fast sit spin up to front catch foot spin into very fast scratch spin. He worked at this one.

The words to "Sweet Transvestite" seemed to upset the Pittsburgh audience a little to start with, especially "transvestite" and "transsexual!" When the long pants came off in the Elvis Tour, there was a roar from the audience, in Pittsburgh a luke-warm quietness. This program deserves to be seen by audiences that can appreciate it without reserve.

So Rudy came back from Christmas with the Prince Medley from the 2000 Winter Tour slightly reworked--and that gorgeous purple costume. He only did the number for a few weeks that year due to his illness and hadn't done it since, so it was nearly new. It was thoroughly entertaining and got great receptions at Columbia and Manchester. Rudy incorporated the combinations into it, as well as the salchow and triple toe. He was a little off like so many of the others in Columbia, but was right on in Manchester. This is an upbeat, fun program, too, although Rudy is a little less into Prince than Rocky!!

Nicole Bobek opened all of the shows with a medley from Abba's Mamma Mia. Her yellow two-piece costume was attractive and looked superb on her--very short in front and with a long flowing skirt in back. In Pittsburgh, she removed the long part of the skirt, then kept it on in the other two shows. She was especially "on" in Manchester, and the audience reaction showed it.

She began with "The Winner Takes It All," which is such a strong female ballad and so well suited to Nicole's skating and presentation that I really wished she had done her entire program to it. As much as I love "Super Trooper," "Take a Chance On Me," and "Dancin' Queen," they interrupted "Winner" a little too soon for me.

Nicole was a bit rusty in Pittsburgh, but got better in the January shows. Her 2Axel was pretty much on throughout, and she was managing a decent triple toe or two later on. She is a gorgeous woman and skater, and putting her on first is a fine way to assure that an audience is in a good frame of mind--and to make the men who may not have chosen to spend the afternoon with skating instead of football happier that they did.

Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow may have done the best skating in the show in their two programs. The first is a Ray Charles country western number, "Here We Go Again." It's humorous and sexy, and features great interaction between Liz and Jerod as he is again hopelessly drawn into the web of the same woman who has done it before. (A lingering kiss pleased the audience greatly!) There are innovative and clever moves and positions as Liz wields her charming superiority, and Jerod haplessly tries to avoid a repeat of past behavior. They are very expressive, and Jerod's western style costume with brown velvet pants and jacket and a cowboy hat is a highlight. He's worthy of the Peizerat/Tchernyshev/Zimmerman club, and has the maturity that appeals to the over 21 crowd!

Their second program to a haunting and beautiful version of "Song of India" was mesmerizing and elegant. The simple, neutral shade costumes (short kimono style tops and pants, or leggings) and subdued lighting captured the essence of the program. Although the choreography was complex, again with inventive positions and movement, it had a pureness and simplicity to it that was very satisfying. It was a peaceful interlude in an upbeat night of skating, and, for me, it's effect increased with each performance of it.

Besedin and Polishchuk (the acrobats) did the coal miner number in the yellow costumes from 2002's Boitano Skating Spectacular. This one features more skating than their other offerings, and it's rousing and very effective to techno-pop music. Seeing Alexei (sp?) in an overhead handstand going full tilt is more heartstopping than seeing it in slow motion! The beauty of this act is that audiences, particularly the guys who may or may not be attending the show voluntarily, can immediately relate to and respect the difficulty in what they do. It seems to grab the interest of those who might not otherwise be as involved with watching the performances.

In Pittsburgh, B & P tried out the bullfighting program I had heard about from what seemed like a few years ago. Alexei makes an adorable bull in a red costume, and the horns produce some typically tense moments for the pair. I loved the program, but it is a little cuter than their usual fare.

In the later two shows, B & P performed the "slow motion" program with the original non-descript costumes--suits with cropped pants, not the tutu ones. Even this oft-seen number wowed the crowd (and me).

Nancy Kerrigan was at Columbia and Manchester--and was much sharper by the later show, as were most of the skaters. In her characteristically blunt way, she remarked backstage that everyone was filled with good intentions for practicing over the holidays, but...didn't, so Columbia was a little rough. Her first program was "Go the Distance," sort of an undistinguished ballad with Nancy herself doing the OK singing. (This is the song she does a bit of on the VH1 TV series What Are They Doing Now?) I liked the Shakira Tango she did in the second act. It's livlier. She's as attractive as ever--seems to have her hair much straighter than I recall.

Surya Bonaly was another one program skater, but it was an ambitious one--"Shadowland" from The Lion King. Her jumps seemed to be triple Salchows and toes, but I don't always get that right. She did several of them, and the audience appreciated it. Surya has seemed to have more flow in her skating every year. She looked particularly fit and maybe even thinner in this tour. The back flip is always a winner, as is her smile. I respect the continuous quality of Surya's performances--and it is obvious that the COI audiences consider her a favorite. She could select music that would "carry" her and win her applause with less effort... She is also unfailingly pleasant away from the ice.

Victor Petrenko's first program was terrific (Brian Lane Green's "Flight"). He is fit-looking and seems to have shed the slightly paunchy look of the past few years. Although I only l observed double axels and triple toes, they were numerous and HUGE! Like the old Victor. This was a long number, and he did it expansively and with great commitment--the best I've seen Victor in a long time.

Unfortunately, his second program was about as insipid as I've seen at COI. I guess the title was "Would you like to go to bed with me?" since that was repeated with some variation throughout. He was also removing his clothes throughout. Perhaps it bothered me that Rudy couldn't continue to do the Rocky Horror Show "Sweet Transvestite"/"Time Warp" program, but this unabashed piece of drivel went on for the whole tour. Victor had dredged up "I'm too sexy..." for his intro number, as well.

Kazakova and Dmitriev did a new program for their first performance--Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole's "Unforgettable." It was a little dull in Pittsburgh, but by the two later shows was absolutely wonderful. When a normally passionate pair performs something that appeals through its dancy casualness, it may take a time or two to appreciate it. They couldn't have done it better by Manchester. Totally smooth...

The Matrix "puppet" program is one of the most ingenious and captivating pairs programs I've ever seen. The characterizations are flawless and the telling of the story is so well integrated, that even the COI audiences to whom a Russian pair may not be a primary attraction are engaged by this program. I've seen it in person maybe a dozen times, and the Manchester performance may have been the most perfect.

Although Sale & Pelletier and Berezhnaia & Sikularidze are first-rate performers, I'm not sure they are yet in a class with this pair.

Dorothy Hamill skating to James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend") might be just a little too mesmerizing as I found myself a little bored with this number. Her second program, to Linda Eder's "When Autumn Comes" had an entirely different effect and I was again drawn into her skating, edging, and beautiful back. She did a number of very nice double jumps. She has a substantial following among the COI audiences and there were a couple of signs expressing that at two of the shows.

Dan Hollander did the "Old Man" program I don't really like because it's too close to home! It's cute, but...something about it irritates me. In Pittsburgh, I encountered older people in the audience who thought he really WAS an old man and were disappointed when I told them the situation.

Also, in Pittsburgh, he tried out a number I DID like--"At Least I can Skate In Heaven." I wasn't crazy about the premise on which he based it, in that he ended up in heaven because of a botched leap over a brick wall, but the number itself was wonderful. In Columbia and Manchester, he reverted to the Mrs. Doubtfire routine. Like Rudy's Village People, I always laugh at this one, and it's an absolute highlight with COI's younger audience.

Dan does more acting than skating--and his triple toes seem to get away from him, if his costumes don't prevent them. He's become a most valuable addition to the Tour. He's certainly a skater who knew his niche and has made the most of it. I'd like to see him apply his comedic talents to something other than old age and circumstances resulting from fatal accidents, but that should come.

Philippe Candeloro...His first number, that seemed to be karate based, at least the costume was, featured a long session in the audience. It wasn't wildly received in the two shows in which Candeloro skated. His jumps varied, from very off (Pittsburgh) to pretty impressive (in Manchester) where he must have completed 8-10 triples in the Lee Greenwood number.

Unfortunately, I rather resented Philippe's program to Lee Greenwood's "Bless the USA" or "Proud To Be an American." I didn't feel this way at all about the non-American skaters who participated in COI's patriotic theme last year because all of them have made good livings in this country and many of them live here part of the year. I'm sure they would have been free not to participate had they objected. The Greenwood song is also a first person number, and that seemed to be just one step too far for my taste. Did Philippe have even one US skater in his recent European Tour? I can't remember from the few reviews that appeared. Somehow, his performing to this seemed like pandering to the American audience with no-fail music, and it certainly worked. It was enthusiastically received, though I suspect the flag, rather than Philippe, was central in many cases.

At the Pittsburgh and Manchester shows, people around me wondered why Rudy didn't skate to that music.

Elvis Stojko will be very interesting to watch develop as a professional skater. His programs on last year's Summer Olympic Tour and the Winter Tour were pretty standard Elvis--but perhaps he will become more innovative with this coming Summer Tour. Between the Olympics early this year and his own tour in November, he's been pretty busy.

He is very relaxed with the audiences, looks at them, and genuinely seems to enjoy performing to them. The Creed "Arms Wide Open" is just that, and Elvis must open his with almost every phrase of the music. He does the ice sliding at sometimes startling speed and uncorks some very nice jumps (he did take a hard fall in either Pittsburgh or Columbia). He finishes with a VERY fast scratch spin.

"That Girl" was his Summer Tour number, and it's pretty rousing with lots of fast footwork.

Elvis was the Michelle of the Winter Tour with the autograph signing and backstage meet and greet. He takes his time and is very generous with all of the fans that want to talk to him. Even prodding from Tom Collins doesn't seem to push him.

Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler are always great first act closers. This year, that number was a pretty ballad that must have been very emotional for them, "Never Tear Us Apart." After seeing them do so many energetic programs, this was truly a pleasure to watch. They have the utmost of consideration for each other, something that is sometimes lost in the upbeat numbers.

I sat beside family friends of Lloyd's. I must have missed this in the reports of his recent wedding, but they said that Isabelle was his best man!!

Their second number was "Radar Love" and was fast, stirring, and filled with all their best tricks. As usual, the headbanger brought my hands over my eyes! As I understand it, this is the last time we will see B & E on the tour. I will certainly miss them.

Irina Grigorian, the hula hoop lady warmed up the second act audiences with a new program that is a variation on the one she did for earlier shows--and a new costume that looks backless, but isn't. Like the acrobats, her skill is immediately recognizable and appreciated by audiences. Although serious skating fans may not enjoy what they term "novelty" acts, judging from the audience around me, Grigorian and B & P do help to attract people to skating.

The Finale is different, but colorful and entertaining. The costumes were the most memorable thing about it. To me, they had Alexei Urmanov written all over them--big hats and headpieces, and otherwise "heavy" looking. Rudy got the best costume as the harlequin-like character leading the skaters through their paces. He wore a multi-colored diamond pattern jumpsuit and kind of darted in and out getting everyone arranged and introduced. (The jumpsuit appeared on Rudy's segment of "Where Are They Now.") This was the kind of number that was a nice, if not particularly distinguished way to close the show. The finale improved significantly from December to January.

One nice touch was that at the very end, long (several yards) streamers of green, purple, and gold came down from overhead into the audience. Everyone wanted to pick up a few streamers for souvenirs. It was a nice way to pass the time waiting for the crowd to move along.
 
 


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Last updated February 10, 2003