Thursday, August 13, 2015

Off Season Fun 2014-2015: Favorite Free Skates

More Off Season Fun!  Now it's time to take a look back at my favorite Free Skates from last season

5. Rika Hongo - "Carmen"

This is an extremely overused piece of music but, when it's done decently, it's still a very effective choice.  Though this isn't my favorite Carmen, I have to give Rika props for pulling this one off.  I really liked the pacing of this program.  The footwork was nicely done and I loved the jumps in the middle of the program.  Most of them were landed right on the accent of the music, especially her 2A-1L-3S combo.  Rika did a great job of keeping up the energy and selling the performance.  Comparing her performance of this FS at the beginning of the season to her performance at worlds was like comparing night and day.  She grew so much last year and this FS is a testament to that growth.

4. Elena Radionova - "Rachmaninoff No. 3"

This music is and will forever be the property of the Kween, but I think Elena made this work for her based off of one thing: her freakish consistency.  She executed this 7-triple program six times in a row without error...six times without missing one jump.  That is incredible!  The difficulty was through the roof (two 3-3s, two lutzes), yet she made it look easy time and time again.  The program itself is nothing spectacular; however, Elena's personality and love for the sport shines through so brightly when she skates that it enhances whatever it is she's doing and makes it enjoyable to watch.  That choreo sequence was pure joy and that ending layback spin was always amazing.  More than anything this program proved that Elena is the real deal when it comes to mental toughness and focus. Six times, her or hate her, you have to admit that is pretty damn impressive.

3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva - "Sandstorm"

After years of somewhat boring programs, Liza T finally hit gold with this one.  Like Elena's FS, this program does not make the list on the merit of its choreography.  In all honesty, 85% of Liza's choreography is all in her wrists and arms.  There's just not a lot of substance there. Still, limited choreography or not, I really loved this FS for her.  It actually brought out a different side of Liza T.  She's always flirty and even a little sensual in her delivery, but this program allowed her to be playful and energetic as well.  The music really grabbed the crowd right from the beginning and Liza always used that energy to her advantage.  She looked like she was having a blast out there and the crowd loved it.  Overall this was a great package...magic muumuu and all.

2. Ashley Wagner - "Moulin Rouge"

To be honest, the first time I saw this program I didn't particularly care for it.  It wasn't until Ashley's performance at the Grand Prix Final that I saw its potential...and then she proceeded to give me LIFE with it at nationals.  This program was a tricky one.  When Ashley struggled, sometimes it fell flat; but when everything went right, it was bordering on epic.  I love the moment she takes at center ice right before the "one day I'll fly away" part.  This program was a great example of using vocals the right way.  It totally enhanced the program overall.  Ashley has become a master when it comes to presentation and her ability to portray a character.  She knows how the sell the crap out of a performance and when she was on, she was on with this one.  Her nationals performance gave me chills at the end.  That final jump into the choreo sequence and the ending...amazeballs! Well done Diva Wagner.

1. Satoko Miyahara - "Miss Saigon"

Hats off to Tom Dickson, the architect behind this masterpiece.  This "Miss Saigon" was nothing short of gorgeous.  The music edit was absolutely brilliant and the choreography was thoughtful, intricate and highlighted the music beautifully.  It really told a story and Satoko delivered that story perfectly.  She's severely under-rated when it comes to her skating skills (gorgeous use of her edges), transitions (seamless and varied), choreography (best in the field last year) and interpretation (nuanced but effective).  The use of vocals in the middle section added to the emotion of that part of the program.  You can't always convey a feeling with just the instrumentals; however, listening to the words that go along with the movements made that part of the program so touching and beautiful.  The choreographic sequence was exquisite.  The music starts to swell and you expect this big crescendo...and then it just floats down gently as a feather.  The placement of the spiral there was pure genius and created such a lovely moment.  This was far and away the best program of the season and the best "Miss Saigon" I've ever seen.  Definitely a masterpiece in my book.

Rounding out my top 10...

6. Samantha Cesario - "Carmen"
While this version wasn't as great as last year's, it was still spectacular.  I'm really going to miss Samantha but this version of "Carmen" will live on until someone can top it. #SammiFierceForever

7. Polina Edmunds - "Tinkerbell"
I complained a lot about Polina's packaging this season but it had nothing to do with the program itself, which I thought was lovely, albeit less impactful.  Those twizzles were awesome...

8. Gabrielle Daleman - "Aranjuez"
I actually thought this vocal version of "Aranjuez" was really nice.  I think Lori did a lovely job with the choreography and composition of the program as well.

9. Zijun Li - "Moon River"
It was nice to see Zijun step outside of her classical music norm and tackle something different.  I love this music and I thought it matched Zijun's soft and graceful style perfectly.

10. Julia Lipnitskaya - "Romeo & Juliet"
This program never really found its legs; however, I must give kudos to the step sequence in this program.  I really loved that section of the music and the steps were nice as well.

Who had your favorite free skate of the season?  Make sure to vote on the poll!

And just like that, Off Season Fun is over!  It's time to get back into the swing of competition!

We still have a few months of waiting before we'll get to see the senior ladies but we've got a full season of Junior Grand Prix events to look forward to.  There are a number of junior ladies hitting the scene this year that I am excited to see (Marin Honda (JPN), Polina Tsurskaya (RUS), Vivian Le (USA), Yuna Aoki (JPN)) as well as skaters I'm excited to see more of (Wakaba Higuchi (JPN), Maria Sotskova (RUS), Serafima Sakhanovich (RUS)).  There's a lot of new and returning talent which should make for a competitive and entertaining JGP season.

The first event of the 2015-2016 Junior Grand Prix season is JGP Bratislava which kicks off next week in Bratislava, Slovakia from August 19-23.  We're starting with awesome talent right out of the gate!  We will see the JGP debut of Polina Tsurskaya (RUS) and Vivian Le (USA).  I'm excited about both of these ladies.  This should be a good first match up!

Hopefully the ISU will continue their awesome YouTube channel like they've done for the past few years and we'll be able to catch all of the action this season.

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