Monday, August 22, 2011

Mao Asada: Queen of the Exhibitions

Exhibition programs vary from skater to skater.  For the majority, it's time to throw on some shorts or pants, let their hair down (literally), and shake their money maker to whatever soon-to-be out of date pop song is currently in rotation.  It's rare to find a skater who takes the time and puts real effort and thought into their exhibitions.  For this reason, exhibitions (this includes most ice shows) have greatly lost their appeal in my book.  However, there is an exception to this...

Mao Asada.  It baffles me to a certain extent because her exhibition programs usually look more detailed and thought out than her competition programs.  To get a true taste of who Mao Asada is as a skater, one needs to look no further than Mao's exhibitions which are, in my opinion, hands down the best exhibitions of all the ladies currently competing.  There's a level of expression and energy she gives in her exhibitions that I rarely, if ever, see in her competitive programs.  Perhaps the pressure of competing zaps a lot of that out of her.  Regardless, the exhibition programs give Mao an opportunity to shine in a way that no other skater can...

This program, "Por Una Cabeza," is one of my favorites.  I remember watching this and being a bit shocked by how much she came alive during this performance.  She has great energy throughout and you can tell she's having a lot of fun, playing with and to the crowd the whole time.  I also recall thinking how well this music and choreography would work in an SP format for the 2009-2010 season; just a little reshuffling of elements and editing of the music and this could have been a signature program for her.  Unfortunately, we were treated to a reshuffling and editing of "Masquerade Waltz" that next year, complete with eye-watering costumes...*sigh*

"Caprice" is another wonderful program that shows yet another side of Mao.  This program was upbeat and fun and showed that Mao looks a lot more comfortable skating to music such as this, rather than music like "Bells of Moscow."  Heavy music that sounds like something you'd play when Satan decides to stop by for a visit just doesn't suit Mao's light and graceful style in my opinion.  Again, "Caprice" could have worked well as a short program, granted she'd have to lose the fan which would take some of the flair away from it, but it'd still be a much better program than her revamped "Masquerade Waltz" SP...much better costume too.

And now, on to the programs that made me fall in love with Miss Mao Asada all over again...

Glorious.  Ethereal.  Breathtaking.  Exquisite.  There are a lot of words I could use to describe "Ballade" including some uncouth expressions such as, "Holy shit!" and "That was effin' beautiful!"  It all amounts to the same thing: this exhibition is nothing short of amazing.  I gripe about Tatiana Tarasova a lot when it comes to Mao.  In my opinion, Mao's career started going downhill when she teamed up with TT.  The only programs I'm a fan of that TT did for Mao were her exhibitions (all of the above mentioned were done by the Russian diva herself).  This one especially blew me away.  There's just so much to love:  the softness of it, how light and graceful the movements are, the showcasing of Mao's gorgeous balletic lines and posture, the lovely spirals at the beginning and Charlotte spiral towards the end, the forward skid move, the elegant simplicity of her long white dress, the footwork with a back scratch spin, all of the effortless-looking twizzles in both directions.  It had been a long time since I watched a program that elicited several soft "wows" and left my mouth hanging open. "Ballade" is a masterpiece.  Plain and simple.

Insert all of the previously mentioned adjectives here, but add Deeply Moving and Stirring to the list.  This is Mao's latest exhibition called "Jupiter," though the song is named "I Vow to Thee My Country" by Libera.  This stunning number was choreographed by Lori Nichol.  Lori is another choreographer whose case I find myself jumping all over.  Lori's greatest work is behind her (reference Michelle Kwan's programs from 1996-2001) but on occasion, she'll crack off a gem or two, especially when it comes to Mao.  Last year, she renewed my faith in Mao's ability to cast magic on competitive ice when she choreographed "Liebestraum" and she continues to bring out the artist in Mao with this exhibition.

To me this exhibition reaches much farther than anything else she's ever done because you can feel how deeply personal it is.  "I Vow to Thee My Country" is a fitting song for Mao considering the tragedy Japan suffered at the beginning of the year.  The sincerity and emotion she pours into this performance is evident.  Again, so many things to love about this one: that gorgeous spiral at the beginning, the use of her arms throughout the program, the lovely costume choice, how expressive she was throughout, the long walking edges reminiscent of Michelle Kwan's "Fields of Gold"...this program is beautiful.  The music reminds me of another Michelle Kwan program, "Dante's Prayer."  That program always gives me this feeling that's very difficult to describe; the best explanation I can give is beautiful's strange but I love it.  That's what I feel when I watch Mao's "Jupiter" and that surprised me because I honestly didn't think I'd ever see another skater who could make me feel something like that again.  I've seen programs that are exciting or fun, but it takes a special skater to make you feel something deeper than those standard affects.  Mao casts a spell with this program.  It's magical.

Mao is an incredible talent, and it is my deepest hope that one day she'll find a way to bring the energy, passion, emotion and magic she exudes in her exhibitions to her competitive programs.  She can do it...I just know she can...


  1. You seem to have put into words (which I was unable to do) exactly how I feel about Mao's new exhibition. I was so taken by it that I couldn't even begin to do a respectable post.

    I see you have reviewed her last 4 exhibitions, but what about "So deep is the night?"

  2. you couldn't have said it in a better way, you put words to what i have felt about mao's programs for years and what makes this skater soo special compared to other skaters... she really brings something magical to the ice that no other skater can compare to. I just wish that the commentators and judges well acknowledge her as the uniq skater she is... her programs are actually one of the few that i could watch countless of times and still enjoy as much as i did the first time i watched it... she really is the queen of the exhibitions

  3. @Skate Skates: I stuck to my four favorites. :) "So Deep is the Night" was another elegantly done Lori creation and was the first time I realized how gifted Mao is at setting a mood. The feeling was definitely there, but I feel like she was still in the process of maturing. With "Por Una Cabeza" onward, Mao had really come into her own and brought a new life to the choreography and the music. I do love that one though ;)

  4. This is a wonderful post. I notice we share similar views on Mao's programs. I recently posted my thoughts on both Mao's and Michelle's programs in my blog. Hope you can check it out sometime.

  5. Thank you for posting this. Mao is really the only other skater (besides Michelle) that have truly moved me to tears on more than one occasion. There is something really special about her, and I think she also showcases this in her competitions, just in a different way.

  6. I think the 'Jupiter' is not quite perfect yet but i'm pretty sure she'll make it perfect. When I first saw her 'ballad', it was a little bit awkard for me because i thought she looked very weak at that point.(certainly she was weak due to her rebuilding process) But after a few showcases, (especially when she changed her custume) like you said, it became a masterpiece. I think that is one of the strongest parts of her. Slowly but certainly she has made her programs perfect.

    ps) The most fascinating programs of her is 'Bells of Moscow and Masquerade(LP)' for me.
    I just love the style :)

  7. add ) it was my mistake.. Right before, I saw Ballad on DOI again and already I regret what I said. It was masterpiece from its birth.

  8. Love her exhibitions and everything she does even when she can't hit all her jumps because the spirals, spins and step sequences are so overwhelming,, but I'm with Moonpie Bells of Moscow is like a Modern Art Masterpiece just with an overdose of sensual beauty thrown in with the haunting music. The desperate, gyrating but still inexpressibly elegant step sequence and those bold, racy, lithe and bewitchingly beautiful spirals and spins just fill me with artistic ecstasy at Worlds and Japan Championships . Why is Kim always given so many more points when the spirals, steps, spins, triple axels and passion aren't there compared to Mao? , ,