Champions On Ice Tour 1 - 2004
                  Photos by Sean O'Connor from the Atlanta, GA, Champions On Ice show, April 13, 2004
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Boston, MA, Durham, NH, and Atlanta, GA

This review is based on three of the Champions On Ice Tour 1 stops--Boston, MA, and Durham, NH, the second and third performances on April 4 and 5, and Atlanta, GA, the eighth performance on April 13. The most significant difference was the finale, which had improved impressively by Atlanta. The cold spots intro with bright colored costumes, all with a checkered part somewhere on them effectively warmed up the audience. Otherwise, the differences were in the performances of individual skaters.

Since this is being posted retrospectively because of waiting for the arrival and installation of a new computer and the immediate attack by the sasser worm and subsequent removal of same, this is written retrospectively with awareness of performances throughout the remainder of the tour.

Boston seemed to be about 3/4 filled in the lower sections. However, my friend, who goes there every year said the crowd was smaller than usual. Durham is a small venue anyhow (a college hockey rink that maybe seats 5,000-7,500), and it was possibly 1/2 full. The lower part of Philips Arena in Atlanta was 3/4 full (and the boxes above the club area appeared to be fully inhabited). It was somewhat less than last year, but not significantly so. Again, the men were out with the women in Atlanta, at least in the "club" seats. Perhaps they are sufficiently broken in on hockey and being at Philips that coming for any skating is enjoyable for them. I was fortunate enough to get a seat in the second row of the club section via the Internet a week before the event. There were order forms for next year in Boston and Atlanta.

COI seems to be having a guest performer at some shows. In Boston and Durham, it was the ice dancers Grushina and Goncharov, and they were a popular addition--one of those acts where the applause at the end of the performance far exceeded the applause at the beginning. There wasn't a guest performer at Atlanta. There was someone obviously official videotaping the entire show. He was two seats to my left and blocked a number of jumps in the corner down from him. I finally learned to look at his monitor! (It wasn't a TV kind of taping.) Perhaps COI will offer the results of the taping for sale???

When I saw her in Boston, I thought that Jennifer Kirk was surely Nicole's opening act successor. She did several triple jumps and didn't miss a one. What a pretty young woman and engaging performer! She seemed to enjoy herself immensely, and I wondered if she would elect to turn pro and take her chances on having some good years. In Atlanta, she fell once (maybe twice, missed thanks to the videotaping guy) and struggled for other landings. I've read that she had jump problems in several recent performances that seemed to get worse along the way. I hope she can work this out because she definitely has possibilities as a professional performer.

Johnny Weir is such a wonderful skater--the jumps, the spins, and everything in between. I wish he seemed to welcome the audience into what he is doing more, but there is no argument that he does enough skating-wise. His quietness, lovely extension, and easy jumps remind me of Rudy in 1996 (also the traveling camels and the final nicely enhanced "egg-beater" spin), but he doesn't yet have the ability to totally mesmerize an audience as Rudy did with "Ave Maria" on that '96 tour. He's my new second favorite skater, so I have great hopes for him. The audiences obviously appreciate his ability.

Surya Bonaly's program is more flowing than many she has done. I liked it. She had some jump problems in Atlanta, and a hand down on the back flip, which scared me, but was pretty amazing in Boston. The jumps donít seem to be as frequent or as sure as before this last injury. Her audience following is always solid and admiring.

The Green Acres + program of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto was VERY well received in Atlanta, where they understand, love, and accept occasional jabs at southern living (and laugh all the way to the bank as the South enjoys prosperity). The Atlanta audience considered it an honor! (Later, they ADORED Besedin's entrance in an Atlanta hockey jersey.) B & A tinkered with this program and improved it from New England to Atlanta, i.e., Tanith waited in the skaters' entrance for Ben to finish his solo part rather than standing sort of uselessly at the upper end of the rink. There were other improvements, and the number was very well received. Ben is such an expressive skater, and she is so pretty and always smiling that it's hard not to love them.

Elena Sokolova's program is to familiar music I can't name. It's nice skating with some decent jumps, but was frankly boring to me. She's cute, but doesn't have the appeal of Irina Slutskaya, or the ethereal quality of Fumie Suguri when she does a number like this one. The costume was interesting and attractive! As has been reported before, when she and Slutskaya skate together in the Finale, Sokolovaís layback is clearly inferior.

Dan Hollander got a special introduction in Atlanta that he didn't get in New England, probably designed to soften the accusations of his program not being politically correct. It does help, I suppose, for those who were offended. He is now introduced as Sister Daniella Hollander. I can't remember the exact words, but it's something about what the Nuns at the convent do to relieve the tense situation in the world today. The audiences seemed to love it, both when he skates as a nun, and when he rips off the habit to reveal a showgirl's costume pumped up with fake boobs that he fusses with throughout. He's a great comic skater and should have a place in this show forever. I'd like him to make better choices as to material, but maybe special introductions can help. He seems to use specific groups of people as the impetus for his comedy. Perhaps if he could focus on universally humorous situations that affect all of humanity--and there are many--it would work even better.

Fumie Suguri's number has a delicateness and beauty that keeps it from dying with the audience. Although she stepped out and two-footed a couple of jumps, she has a graciousness and purity about her that draws one to her, and her skating has the same qualities. I'm not sure if she skates with her fans open throughout the program or whether she opens them into it. At any rate, she presented one of them to the lady in the front row ahead of me so I got to look at her up close. What a treasure for the lady to have. Fumie's skating is FAST, as is her glorious back scratch spin at the end. She apparently gave away the two fans at each show, a gracious gesture.

Oh, Philippe...our front and center section area seemed to attract all of the skaters, and Philippe was no exception. He leaped over the high boards into the lap of a person front and right of me. It was a very handsome guy whose longish over-the-ears hair and finely chiseled features must have misled the king of audience attacks. Anyhow, I'm not sure who was more eager to get Philippe back on the ice again...the guy or Philippe himself. They accomplished this feat and Philippe went on to another section and hit a lady he could be sure of. The Karate program is not one of Philippe's best. It's too long and loses the audience's attention. The audience visitations are too frequent and lengthy. Oh, but the screams still greet the shirt removal ritual.

Irina Slutskaya looks well and skates a lively and cute, but not very substantive program to Chihuahua. Her smile is as welcoming as ever, and the audience seems to be very supportive of her. Some must know about her problems with illness of this past year. She actually skates quite well--excellent flexibility spins and passable jumps. I'm just glad to see her out there. Best of all she looks pleased to be skating. Since she managed the entire tour without apparent problems, perhaps she is on her way back to good health.

Rudy is amazing. In Boston and Durham, he did a triple loop, (stepped out in Durham), then a triple toe, and a double axel. (Boston featured a triple toe, double toe combination). In Atlanta, the skaters were having difficulty with edge jumps so he stuck to the triple toes and double axels. He is skating very well and gains confidence in his new hips with every performance.

Rudy's program, to Beyonce's "Star-Spangled Banner," takes the audience a little by surprise and people aren't sure about whether to stand or view it as a performance. A special introduction such as was done for Dan Hollander's program might help with the uncertainty. For his first time back on the ice since his surgeries, it's a good number for him. Besides the jumps and some nice spins (his trademark shotgun spin, a layback, and a great scratch spin), he also does a very nice straight line footwork pass.

In Atlanta, a lady in a front row seat ahead of me jumped up after Rudy finished and clapped enthusiastically with her hands over her head. At intermission, I asked her if she was a fan of his. She told me she was a long time orthopedic nurse and knew only too well what he had been through, not only to come back after these surgeries for hip replacement, but to skate at all after he was diagnosed HIV+.

As for Rudy, he feels fine and isn't having any problem with the every day performances. He spends a lot of time warming up and stretching so that he's always as ready to skate as he can be.

Shen & Zhao are possibly the biggest surprise to the audience. Most of the spectators have never heard of or seen them. But they know who they are afterward. The distance on their initial throw jump and the height on the double twist lift are breathtaking and literally have the audience gasping. The warmth between them throughout the program, as well as their speed and daring, win them the biggest applause in the first act among the "conventional" skaters. This pair seems to genuinely love performing. Since they are older than the average competitive skaters, I wonder if they might not elect to go pro after the next Olympics. They look like they could do this every night and happily drink in the obvious appreciation the audiences have for them. I wonder if Tom Collins has a longer term contract with them than just this year.

Nicole Bobek opens the second act with "Dust In the Wind," a pleasant enough number. She's pretty consistent with the double axels, but hit and miss on the triple toes. Her hair is darker--more ashy--and gives her a more mature look (in a good, not old, way!). Personally, I think the breast augmentation she has undergone makes a beautiful woman even more attractive. Jumps aside, Nicoleís skating is always aesthetically appealing and interesting.

Without question, the biggest applause getters on the tour are Michelle Kwan...and Irina Grigorian (Hula hoop lady) and Besedin and Polishchuk (the acrobats). Gregorian has made a few changes this year. She begins by manipulating a huge silver cube, twirling it while standing and while skating. She does do more skating than in previous years. Much of the hoop work is the same, and she does the always popular skating in a slinky and spinning a dozen or more hula hoops at one time. Dan Hollander still assists by delivering and taking away hoops. Grigorian gets a huge response night after night.

In the early shows, I wondered if Timothy Goebel would ever regain his jumping prowess. He seemed to telegraph everything and "labor" over his jumps, which looked awkward. His presentation was more at ease, but not the jumps. He was much better in Atlanta, trying a triple/triple (loops from the look of it), but stepping out, and later reviews have indicated that the improvement continues. Perhaps this tour will be his opportunity to return to form and to grow into the changes his body has apparently experienced. It seems to be a useful way for him to experiment with how much to push himself and gain confidence.

Kazakova and Dmitriev improved dramatically between the early shows and Atlanta. Maybe Shen and Zhao inspired them! Skating to a sort of stuffy male vocal version of "The Impossible Dream," they uncorked a couple of their own good throw jumps and spectacular lifts and were faster and sharper. Artur can skate better looking out of shape than anyone! As several people have noted, his presentation of his partner (and his former partners) is superior. As wonderful as Shen and Zhao are, he sometimes seems to place her in peril, whether it's an overzealous throw or a rough lift landing. Not Dmitriev!!!

Petrenko did the "Will you go to bed with me" number that I have detested since he did it last year on the Winter Tour. Then, he had the excellent "Flight" program to counteract it. To his credit, he skated with considerable energy and the audiences responded well to him.

Besedin and Polishchuk were the only partial standing ovations in Boston and Durham (other than Kwan). Along with Michelle, they have become COI's top applause receivers. Like it or not Tom Collins was right about their ability to appeal to his audiences as he was with Grigorian. This year, their program features more skating and pure acrobatic work than the past couple of years when they have repackaged the same slow motion program that had very little skating. Adding action and a humorous "plot" to strength and balance moves, as well as providing popular local flavor in the form of hometown jerseys for those areas with hockey teams moved their performances up considerably.

I like Elvis Stojko even if he seems to do little more than skating around, singing to his music (most of which sounds the same), pointing to the audience, jumping some (actually didn't see too many triples), hydroblading a bit, sliding with some spin, sometimes perilously close to the boards, and just generally looking happy to be there. He's athletic, cheerful, and unpretentious. He always adds something to the tour.

Totmyanina & Maxim Marinin are certainly world champions in terms of pure competence. The correctness of everything--choreography, unison, movement across the ice, pairs movesóis impeccable. At this point, they just arenít particularly memorable, and I canít identify any one way they might correct that. One place they might start is to make more of Marininís tall, dark-haired good looks!

Sasha Cohenís program to "My Fair Lady" songs was probably the most complete and professionally produced of any in the show other than the finale. The transformation of Eliza Doolittle from the Mary Poppins lookalike flower girl to the bell of the ball translated well to the ice. The "story," music, costuming, and choreography was meticulously chosen and done with great attention to detail. The result was a satisfyingly integrated piece that was lovely to watch and showed off Sasha perfectly at this stage of her life and career. I was impressed.

Plushenko skated to Elvis-like music ("I Was Born To Love You"). Even his less than competitive programs are eye-openers just because he does everything with such power and scope. Heís fun as a performer and has come so far in that area in terms of relating to the audience. His maturation as a skater and entertainer has been much more positive than I would have expected 3-4 years ago. By the way, the guy in front of me in whose lap Philippe erroneously landed in his program came alive watching Plushenko! Either that or it took him that long to recover from Philippe.

Michelle Kwan makes me wish I could feel for a minute what itís like to skate as she doesóand be grateful that she almost gets me there when she performs in person. Itís rare that an athlete can become so capable and comfortable at the top levels of what he or she does that the body can do the physical part seemingly effortlessly and free the mind to feel it and invite the audience to share the feeling. Michael Jordan played basketball that way; Secretariat ran races that way. The best dancers do it, but they arenít performing on a narrow blade on ice. I love the Josh Grobin song and was impressed seeing and hearing him sing it, but Michelle skating to it takes it to another level as she has with so many of her finest performances.

The Rhapsody in Blue finale was good, even in Boston when it was new. By Atlanta, it was excellent. For blue lovers, it was a feast for the eyes featuring many hues and shades of the color in the costumes and lighting. The choreography featured all of the "regular" skaters in movements and configurations we donít often see them do. In Boston, it seemed a little serious for the last number; by Atlanta, the skatersí enjoyment in doing it definitely rubbed off and it became a great audience sendoff.

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Last updated May 12, 2004