3. Julia Lipnitskaya - "Schindler's List"
I've always been critical of Julia and her lack of emotional and musical connection. Thankfully, she took steps to improve that area of her skating this season. Her emotional range is still somewhat limited but she found something within that range that allowed her to shine. This "Schindler's List" program played right into Julia's introverted style of skating. I could see the improved connection thanks in large part to the more thoughtful choreography which utilized Julia's strengths and downplayed her weaknesses. She gave more to the movements and seemed to be much more engaged. I was thrilled for her; I love to see progress. Choreographically, it wasn't all that amazing; however, it was the definition of a well-tailored/well-packaged program and Julia delivered it flawlessly multiple times.
2. Valentina Marchei - "Nyah"
Okay...in terms of interpretation, feeling music and creating a mood, Valentina ranks in the top 3 in the sport in my opinion. While she's not the most technically gifted when it comes to jumps or spins, her musical interpretation, artistry and performance level are phenomenal. This "Nyah" program dropped my jaw. It was mature, sultry and sexy...not at all what I expected from a program choreographed by the sweet and innocent-looking Yuka Sato. That opening...WOO! It set the tone of the program and Valentina carried it all the way through the to the end. I love the pause and the look she gives the judges before the footwork. She commits to the character of the music and maintains that tension up until the last beat. I thought this was an amazing program and it was wonderful to see her have her best performance of it at the Olympics.
1. Samantha Cesario - "Carmen"
Samantha Cesario? Really? A program set to the must overused piece of music in the skating world is your favorite of the season? Damn right it is. This program blew me away with its musicality. Samantha's choreographer, Inese Bucevica, deserves a lot of recognition for putting together such a stunning program. The attitude and fire Samantha brings to this is electrifying. She killed this program. There is so much to love: the opening where every accent of the music is used; all of the little details to the choreography in between the elements; the footwork sequence which highlighted the music amazingly; the tension, the snap in her movements and how Samantha stays in character and really sells the whole thing from start to finish. Of course my absolute favorite part of the program is that totally kick-ass ending spiral sequence: outside spread eagle to a backbend-inside spread eagle, split jump to arabesque spiral and that powerful ending...wow. Incredible choreography, phenomenal performance...hands down, my favorite of the year.
That pretty much does it for my favorites list this year. As far as honorable mentions...
4. Satoko Miyahara - "La Poeta"
Satoko always has nice programs. This one was definitely one of the better ones of the season. Very well choreographed and performed program. Despite her excellent programs and skating skills, Satoko still doesn't leave a big enough impact. Hopefully that will change next season.
5. Carolina Kostner - "Bolero"
"Bolero" is an all-time favorite program of mine from Carolina but, seeing as how she made the list with this program last year, I didn't want to put reused programs at the top of my list. This program is still the height of fabulosity though. The feeling she brings to the character of the music, the footwork...her Olympic performance was a dream come true.
6. Yu-Na Kim - "Adios Nonino"
I always love to see Yu-Na in that sultry and mature genre. She pulls it off so effortlessly. I prefer tangos that are fiery and tension-filled; this one had some tension but overall was softer and more understated. I liked this program and I think she performed it beautifully. Some liked her "Les Mis" FS better; personally I prefer this program but I do think "Les Mis" may have left a bigger impact by comparison.
7. Mao Asada - "Rachmaninoff No. 2"
Coming behind her "Swan Lake" FS, I thought this one wasn't as strong but it was still a good program. Nice transitions throughout and, as always, the most complicated and intricate footwork in the field. Her Olympic performance was beyond belief.
8. Ashley Wagner - "Samson & Delilah"
Same holds true for Ashley in terms of repeats at the top of the list. I thought her "Romeo & Juliet" program was nice but it did nothing for her. It took way too long for her to realize it. This slightly revamped "Samson & Delilah" allowed Ashley to shine again. I think she's learned her lesson about sticking to her strengths. Anyone else hoping she patches things up with Philip Mills over the summer?
9. Akiko Suzuki - "Phantom of the Opera"
Unfortunately, this program didn't come close to reaching the heights Akiko achieved last season with "O." It was a nice program (and I adore the music) but this one lacked that something special it needed to really stand out for me. However, her performance at nationals was truly amazing.
10. Elena Radionova - "Frida"
The choreography was kinda juniorish and the costume was horrible...but that Elena is just so damn adorable! She had so much fun with it and the energy and personality she brought to it was amazing. I didn't care for the program but when someone performs the way Elena performs, it's hard not to enjoy watching them skate regardless of what they're skating to.
More Off Season Fun to come! Check back soon!