May. 13, 2016
Summer Skating: Shoma Uno's New Exhibition and Vivian Le's New Short Program
As my blog nears its one-year anniversary, I'm faced with a conundrum: what to write in the off-season. I have a few longer posts planned, but they're going to have to wait until my Real Job slows down. There will be videos here and there from summer competitions and ice shows, two of which I'll cover today, but not enough to keep this blog running. As we get closer to the Summer Olympic Games, I'll end up writing about some gymnastics and other Olympic sports. For the most part, though, I'm going to be rolling the Wayback Machine out of the garage, sharpening its rusty blades, and sharing some of my favorite performances from the figure skating past.
Summer is also the season when ice dance and pairs teams split and recombine, and athletes from all disciplines switch coaches or undergo long-overdue surgeries. It's only May, and we've already seen plenty of drama on that front. The new team I'm most enthusiastic about is Betina Popova and Sergei Mozgov, who were the better halves of their respective former teams. They'll either be a tragic mismatch or the saviors of Russian ice dance.
The North American summer club competition circuit is barely underway, and Vivian Le has already given the first notable performance of the 2016-17 figure skating season. It's no surprise that she won Skate Dallas, or that she looks ready to move up to the Senior level even though USFSA might send her to the Junior Grand Prix for another year while she weathers her growth spurt and improves her consistency. She doesn't always hit that triple lutz-triple toe loop, but when she does, it's a stunner. Le's music choice is smart, too: last season, she seemed to get lost in her program music, but she's much more at home with pop diva classics of the '90s. (Let's not talk about the fact that "Hero" was released seven years before Le was born.) She has lovely upper body lines and great flexibility, which this choreography takes advantage of. Unfortunately, she's still failing my Weird Old Rock test: it looks like she's responding to the rise and fall of the music, but the arm movements and arabesques work just as well to noisy rock by The Japandroids. With so many Russian and Japanese prodigies her age, Le will need program components to set herself apart, so I hope she'll spend the rest of the summer refining her performance.
Shoma Uno finally has a real exhibition program! He laid off the jump difficulty, to the point where I suspect he's resting some minor injuries. Those doubles are so over-clocked, it's as if he can't remember how to not throw a triple. Like most other Japanese skaters, Uno has lovely edge work to show off. It's cute to see him crack a smile when the crowd shrieks at his layback cantilever. This program really comes to life in the song's hip hop breaks, and I get the sense that those are the parts of the program Uno enjoys most. Since the rhythms for the 2016-17 short dance were announced, I've been thinking about whether hip hop really is a doomed genre for figure skating, or if we just have too narrow of a conception of it. The strong percussion and bass in Uno's short program seemed to help him with his timing last season, not only in his footwork and choreography but in his jump takeoffs and landings. I can imagine Uno doing something cool with Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE or Common's "The Light." I don't know if figure skating judges are ready for that kind of thing, but it would be exciting to see a young skater take a risk with it.