November 2017 SKATING Magazine: Artistry on Ice Begins in the Dance Studio

By Mimi McKinnis

Hans Rosemond Photography

Hans Rosemond Photography

You landed your jumps. Your lifts were perfect. You earned Level 4s. But that’s only half the score.

The other half lies squarely on program components: skating skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of music. And while most technical elements can be trained year to year, a program’s components can vary program to program, even performance-to-performance.

In the international judging system (IJS), every gesture, every note and every nuance counts.

For 2015 U.S. ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, this season’s steps are more than just movements.

“It’s all so important this year,” Chock said. “We went about it the way we did because we thought, ‘This is the Olympics. The Games use sport to reach so many people. This is your opportunity to say something.’ We don’t just want to skate a program, we want to make an impact. We want to portray a powerful message.”

Hans Rosemond Photography

Hans Rosemond Photography

To perfect that message, Chock and Bates brought in the experts for their choreographic expertise. With coach Igor Shpilband, they created their short dance with Oksana Zolotarevskaya, a professional ballroom dance champion; and their free dance, poignantly set to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with 1984 Olympic ice dance champion Christopher Dean — a partnership formed with last season’s “Under Pressure” program.

“We went to Chris because he has such an incredible, creative mind,” Chock said. “This season, we wanted to bring him back and explore another side of what he could create by doing something a little bit softer. We wanted to create something artistic and fresh with him.”

Chock and Bates aren’t the only ones to turn to outside influences in important years. Prior to the 2010 Olympic season, Meryl Davis and Charlie White sought the expertise of Anuja Rajendra, a leading Bollywood performer and instructor, for their now-iconic folk short dance. Prior to 2014, they worked with Derek Hough — a professional ballroom champion and two-time Emmy winner for his choreography on “Dancing with the Stars.”

In their climb to win their U.S. titles, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani recruited the likes of Corky Ballas, a professional world ballroom champion and pro on “Dancing with the Stars,” and Hokuto “Hok” Konishi, a member of dance troupe Quest Crew, and a finalist on the third season of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

This season, the siblings sought out Latin dance experts to help polish their short dance to mambo, cha cha and samba rhythms from Cuban bandleader Perez Prado.

“We’ve been working with Serge Onik a lot, since literally the (2017) World Championships,” Alex said. “We’ve been working with Jenna Johnson (‘So You Think You Can Dance’) as well. They’ve been our ballroom dance squad.

“We find ways, within the restrictions, to come up with something cool and different.”

Embarking on his first Olympic campaign, Nathan Chen turned to World champion ice dancer Shae-Lynn Bourne. Known for his extensive ballet training — by age 7, he took as many as six ballet classes per week, and even performed in Sleeping Beauty — the reigning U.S. champion is channeling modern dance this season, a style highlighted by freedom of movement and expression traditionally suppressed in classical ballet.

“I really like the contemporary style,” Chen said of his “Nemesis” short program after debuting it at the U.S. International Classic. “Initially when Shae pitched the music, I was not sold. I thought, ‘This is a little too much for me.’ I couldn’t see myself capturing the piece or the words behind it. But as I started to listen, I started really enjoying the lyrics. And once I started to enjoy the lyrics, I listened to the melody and I thought the melody had a lot of strength to it, which is very parallel with my skating, so I think it ended up working really well for me.”

Read the full cover story in the November issue of SKATING magazine.