Apparently, the ice at the American Airlines Center in Dallas is pretty bad. I suspected this as soon as we sat down, last night, because we were close enough to see that the corners looked a bit slushy, and there was a dark spot near one of the mats, as if blood had frozen into the ice (it was probably more like cocoa, but, this is where my mind goes). Our suspicions were confirmed when, just before the opening music, the announcer informed us that some programs would be modified for the safety of the performers, due to the condition of the ice.
That aside, this years tour of Stars on Ice was every bit as good as tours I’ve seen in previous years, despite the notable absences of Kristi Yamaguchi and Scott Hamilton (who is dealing with brain tumors, this year).
They’ve revamped the cast a little. Partly, this is normal – it allows newer, younger skaters to be in the tour, and allows older skaters, many of whom have families now, to take time off. So now, instead of seeing Kurt and Ilia and Michael in every show, each is only performing in select cities. Dallas is on the Kurt Browning leg of the tour, which is fine, because he’s one of my favorite performers.
Stars on Ice follows a fairly structured format of a group number, performances by each soloist or pair, and another group number, in each act, and adds liitle bits of comedic diversion to cover costume changes and lighting changes. Each year’s show has a theme that ties everything together. This year, the theme was Imagination.
From the moment the lights came up on lavender and silver-clad skaters, all grouped around a central platform, to the last wave-goodbye at the end of act two, it was obvious that Christopher Dean is the principal choreographer for the show. The use of props – especially hats and umbrellas – is typical of his work, and the concentration on intricate footwork is one of his signatures as well.
The cast we saw included:
Sarah Hughes – who skated to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Over the Rainbow” – elegant as always, though her jumps were a little ‘off’. (I blame the ice, mainly.)
Alexei Yagudin – who did some Cirque de Soleil-type acrobatics suspended from a white sheet over the ice. He worked without a net, yes, but he was also extremely cautious. And eventually, he did skate, wonderfully, as always. He vamped it up for the audience, but I still think he comes across as cute, not hot.
For HOT, we had Steven Cousins. I’ve seen him skate before, but he never made much of an impression. Last night, that changed, and no, Fuzzy, not because he was shirtless for part of his performance.
Yuka Sato (who is alternating performances with Ekaterina Gordeeva, I think, as the latter did not skate in Dallas), skated to “Naughty Girl” in act one, and “Amazing Grace” in act two. In the first, her vamping was more adorable than sexy. In the second, she was breathtaking, ethereal, wonderful, classy. Did I say I missed seeing Kristi Yamaguchi? I take it back. It was wonderful to see Yuka Sato not in Kristi’s shadow.
The pairs skaters were all equally wonderful. Watching Ina and Zimmerman was like seeing old friends – they do amazing feats of lifting and he holds her up there for nearly infinite lengths of time, it seems.
Sale and Pelletier, recently engaged, skated with the intensity of young love. I really enjoyed their skating to “Who Wants to Live Forever” which spotlighted their yoga training. (Fuzzy liked it because ‘the music was from Highlander’).
Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze had some issues during their second-act performance (it looked like soft ice was tripping Elena), but their overall performance was everything you expect from Russian skaters, intensity, precision, style.
And then, there was Kurt Browning. I’d seen both his programs on television – he used them for the last Ice Wars competition, which surprised me, because they don’t seem like competitive programs – Leaky Pipes I & II. The premise of these two numbers is that Kurt is left home to fix a leaky pipe while his wife and son go out, but he’s distracted by the lure of his kid’s toy box. The performance then becomes Kurt playing with all these props – a cape, a slingshot, a knight’s sheild (with a hockey stick as a sword), impossibly tiny skates, a fire hat, a jumprope. The man JUMPS ROPE on ice. Both pieces are witty and engaging. The first is set to Jitterbug (the number cut from The Wizard of Oz), the second to SuperCaliFragilIsticExpiAliDocious, both as performed by Harry Connick, Jr. Perfect childlike music for a show themed IMAGINATION.
The two finales were both wonderful, with the first being a medley of music from The Who, and the scene being an amusement park. At first, all the skaters are on a roller coaster, and we watch them climb and then sail down, the first ‘hill’, then they break off into smaller groups, with the skaters not in the spotlight chugging around the edge of the ice. It ended with everyone (except Ina & Zimmerman) skating beneath red umbrellas, while rain fell – I&Z skated in the rain.
The act two finale was just as dramatic, with each skater coming out in silver and tinsel, and skating a bit alone, and then going back off-ice, and then returning, each time more people returning, until the full company was available. We’d been warned at the end of act two to listen to weather reports, which were piped over the loudspeaker during Intermission, and the hints provided paid off – for this act culminated in an indoor snowstorm falling on the skaters, as they waved goodbye.
It was a lovely show, as always, and when we left the arena, I was surprised to find it was after ten, because it felt like we were only there for half an hour.