Champions On Ice Winter Tour - 2002

Photo by Mark Walentiny

Locale & Arena

The 2002 COI Winter Tour was shortened to barely three weeks in anticipation of the lengthened Summer, or Olympic Tour, which will run from early April until into August. It turned out to be a terrific couple of hours plus of entertainment and interesting skating.  This review refers to the third stop of the tour in Manchester, NH, at the Verizon Wireless Arena, January 13, 2002. The arena appears to have a capacity of 8,000 to 10,000 and is typical of the smaller venues at which the Winter Tour generally appears. It was sold out some time before the performance, and there were scattered empty seats only, probably due to a mini snow storm (by NH standards). My friend had attended the first two performances in Portland, ME, and Durham, NH, and said these were similarly well-attended.

The sound system in the arena was extremely loud, and a little raspy at times. It occasionally bordered on uncomfortable.

There were no cast pictures for this Winter Tour, although there were T-Shirts with new pictures of the skaters--singles on the front and Dance and Pairs on the back.

Introduction & Finale

The introduction and finale numbers were especially good this year, and were similar in style, each utilizing smaller and larger groups of skaters doing almost precision-like skating. My guess (often wrong!) is that the same technique of introducing skaters by group, then having them join into a larger group may also be employed in the Summer Tour. COI mainstays Rudy, Punsalan & Swallow, Nicole Bobek, and Surya Bonaly started out and anchored the first group. Dorothy Hamill has taken over Brian Boitano's featured spot, and she appears alone after the crowd is warmed up. Audience response to her is very enthusiastic, as it was for Boitano. It's good she is around to temper the loss of Brian! The finale is a tasteful and gently presented medley of patriotic songs which the precision style keeps moving in a matter-of-fact manner with the intent of evoking thoughtful more than intense emotional responses. It was like an expression of recognition, appreciation, and moving on. The audience loved it and stood for the last part.

The entire show seemed to move along easily, very smoothly for the third night in performance.

Skaters & Programs

Several skaters did two numbers--Rudy (for the first time in a few years), Dorothy Hamill, Philippe Candeloro, Nancy Kerrigan, Victor Petrenko, Brasseur & Eisler, Kazakova & Dmitriev, and Besedin & Polishchuk (the acrobats), who received the most enthusiastic audience response of all. Others who appeared one time were Nicole Bobek, Dan Hollander, Punsalan & Swallow, Irina Grigorian, Usova & Platov, and Surya Bonaly.  I apologize for the fuzziness about jumps and music!

There is a tendency for skaters to use older programs on the Winter Tour because the audiences in the smaller cities have generally not seen them.

Nicole Bobek led off with a sadly timely and smooth version of "Imagine." There are so many things she does attractively, especially in a slower program, that one can forgive the occasional shaky landings. Unfortunately, she tacked an abrasive chanting kind of number on to finish up (might be called "Let's Give Peace a Chance" since that's about the sum total of the lyrics!). It was a strange and incongruous combination with the last part of the program somewhat spoiling the first for me. [Someone later clarified that "Give Peace a Chance" is also a Beatles number, which makes the combination logical, if not compatible soundwise.]

Rudy did a much revised version of "Gaite Parisien," originally performed at World Ice Challenge. Gone is the skirt (but not the can can music), the swimming segment is more clearly just that with longer spandex shorts on the bathing suit, and the entire program is shorter. He starts with three perfect cartwheels in a row, incorporates several jumps, a Charlotte, combination spins, and a wonderful and long circular step sequence with one and two foot turns. Rudy does many spins in combination in both of his programs, something that seems to please the audiences. Maybe it's the Lucinda Ruh effect! With the exception of Besedin & Polishchuk's "real" skating program, this number is the most energetic of the evening. Rudy is in terrific shape, race-horse like, slender, but strong!

Dan Hollander did his South Park/"Dude Looks Like a Lady" program that always tickles the audiences. It's funny, especially for those who haven't seen it. It's amusing that he and Rudy do many of the same butt-patting and wiggling and skirt-lifting moves in these two back to back numbers.

Punsalan & Swallow's new program is wonderful. It begins and ends with a classical piece, the name of which escapes me for now, and the main middle part is to "One Is the Lonliest Number." Their movement on the ice is constant, smooth, and beautiful. They don't call attention to particular elements, which is one thing I prefer to Usova & Platov's skating. Much underestimated is Jerod's ability to present his partner, and Elizabeth's flexibility. Also overlooked is the attractiveness of this couple. She may be one of the most beautiful women in skating. While Liz' hair is now very long and straight, Jerod has cut his hair fairly short (I loved the pony tail, too!). Wow!

Besedin & Polishchuk did the "strength" pairs skating number they did on Boitano's Holiday Skating Spectacular.  This had the audience's rapt attention and probably got the most enthusiastic reception of the evening. These guys can skate fast AND do unbelievable tricks. Slow motion is just one aspect of their work. Again, I'm not sure of the music, but it was done in the yellow work suits.

Philippe Candeloro must have taken some of the criticism he received after the Hallmark Skaters' Championships to heart. He appeared for his first number (to the Castaways music, I believe) dressed in well-fitting black pants and a maroon, possibly silk shirt, and WITHOUT any props. He skated well, although his mainstay is certainly his jumps (amazingly clean though lacking in the form category), his back flip, the strength thing he does kicking his legs in front of him, and his knees spin (apparently the only way he does spin). He did dwell at the far end of the arena for a rather lengthy visit in the audience with a no doubt adoring female admirer.

Nancy Kerrigan's "Please Help Me I'm Falling" brought new meaning to the title in that she popped most of her jumps into singles. Nice spirals, though. She looked so fit and skated so well last fall in Myrtle Beach, but seemed to be out of shape in both areas here. The Holidays will do that!

Victor Petrenko did the "Jailhouse Rock" program with the ill-fitting costume from last year. However, he made up for it to me after the intermission. He seems to be skating much better and crisper than last year, and he looks trimmer than the last time his costume didn't hide him! He did nice 2A's and 3T's, whereas last year even these weren't sure things.

Kazakova & Dmitriev did the puppet routine that was so talked about at the Hallmark Championships (marionette may be the correct word since she is operated by strings). It is a must-see, from the use of the apparatus to their always inventive pairs moves. Dmitriev still looks horribly out of shape, and seems to tire noticeably toward the end, so it's a little worrisome. She just seems to get better. There is still something about them--flair, originality, musicality--that stands out among pairs skaters.

Dorothy Hamill's music for her first program was very strange. The song and singer in this somewhat up tempo piece seemed to be out of synch (don't know the name of either). Dorothy just skated along nicely, as usual, but she seemed to be following her own tune, too! At one point, she caught an edge while skating backward and fell, resting and laughing for a few seconds before resuming. (She was fine.) Hamill's music is usually so melodic and clearly integrated with her skating that this was a real shock for me. Maybe it was the sound system??

Brasseur & Eisler have to be among the best entertainers in the game. They did the Ricky Martin "She Bangs" number that starts out with Isabelle swinging lights in a darkened arena and ends with a head banger I can't bear to watch. She is absolutely the most petite woman in the cast and has lost the couple of pounds she carried last year after the birth of her daughter. Isabelle and Rocky Marvel must have all the trust in the world in Lloyd Eisler who tosses her in so many tricks, yet always seems to take wonderful care of her. The audience adores them.

After the intermission...

Irina Grigorian, Tom Collins' new non-traditional skating find, uses hula hoops, sometimes literally dozens of them, to entertain. (Someone said it looks like she's skating in a slinky!) She skates well, too! If this is what it takes to have a midsection and body like hers, she may start something new! She is a nice addition to the Winter Tour, but might be extraneous to the loaded Summer Tour. Again, the audience welcomed the variety.

Usova & Platov did a bullfighter routine (music from Carmen) featuring use of a scarf by toreador Platov. The colors of the costumes and lighting were particularly effective in this. I have to admit the wrapping and unwrapping of the scarf reminded me of Punsalan & Swallow's Dido number from last year. However, I did like the program as it wasn't as inscrutable as some of their work is.

Surya Bonaly performed "March With Me" as her only program. She actually popped her first jump into barely a single, and seemed more limited than usual in the jumping area. It's also curious that she only did one number since she's such a workhorse, even on tour. She did appear to be fast on the ice, so maybe it was just an off night, but my friend told me she had difficulties in the previous nights' performances, as well.

Victor did one of my favorites, "Mambo #5." He must love this program, too, as he has embellished it somewhat and seems to have the best time out there with his partner. Again, he is skating well.

Rudy's "Pie Jesu" should go a ways toward satisfying fans that want to see him do a slow, classical piece that emphasizes his wonderful movement and balletic qualities. Following Victor's upbeat number, Rudy appears like an ethereal creature in the subdued lighting and pale blue costume (down to the skate boots). The music is a NatureQuest piano version with sounds of birds and water, somewhat reminiscent of his "On Golden Pond" music. His skating is so soft and quiet that the audience has its ears busy listening for blade noise and wondering about the nature sounds. Rudy's recent interest in Yoga is readily evident in several moves, particularly the striking ending position where he lifts himself into a sort of forearm stand with his skate blades over his head. The skating is gorgeous, the change in mood welcome. If anyone gets a good picture of this position and is willing to share it through the web site, please let me know! You would need to be in the middle of either side of the arena.

Nancy Kerrigan's second number is an upbeat one sung by a female. Nancy wears the black sequined jacket with tails she wore in a program a couple of years ago. She skated much better this time.

Besedin and Polishchuk (the acrobats) did what was basically their slow motion program, this time in tu tu's and with bows on their heads. It was even funnier, I hate to admit. Again, the audience roared and loved them!

Philippe did a variation on his last year's World Professional Championships winning program ("Wild, Wild West"). Fortunately, he left the saloon and most of the other props besides a few costumes home. He did have a sort of laundry hamper into which he dumped his discarded outfits rather than leaving them out to trip over. He again had real costumes that probably set him back a buck or two! In this one, he ended up shirtless and elicited screams from the ladies. You can't blame him for catering to that response.

Brasseur & Eisler's cigarette holder program followed. I believe the music is "Minnie the Moocher" or something Cab Calloway like (if anyone but me remembers him!). Anyhow, Isabelle defiantly brandishes the cigarette holder in her hand throughout all of the tricks, sort of saying that this is me and I'm not changing a thing,  until the end when Lloyd has to carry her prone on his back and assumably done in off the ice. Again, a very entertaining number and quite different from the first program.

Dorothy Hamill's "Love Makes the World Go Round" medley was more typically Hamill, and the audience responded accordingly. She seems more relaxed now that she's had a few years of touring. I wonder how long she intends to keep it up? If her popularity is any indication, she could go on to 50, at least! And make tons of money doing commercials for products designed for middle-aged women!

Kazakova & Dmitriev's second number is gone from my mind other than it was a duet and I have notes indicating that they still do the pairs moves and throws as well as ever. I didn't see Artur do any triple jumps though!

The finale was next (see above). I think everyone went home happy and uplifted.
 
 

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Updated February 10, 2002