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Zoueva steams up Davis, White's 'Scheherazade'

Shibutanis take a look in the mirror; Chock OK after practice tumble
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Fans at the 2014 Prudential Figure Skating Championships will notice some added sex appeal in Meryl Davis and Charlie White's 'Scheherazade' free dance. -Getty Images

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have all the right moves. They've almost maxed out their Scheherazade free dance's lift, steps and spin levels. The excellence of execution is there -- but they're looking for more.

"Right now, we feel like we're getting to the cusp of greatness," White, 26, said in the mixed zone after the team's first practice at Boston's TD Garden on Wednesday.

So he and Davis seek to ramp up the free dance's charisma, that compelling magnetism sought by many but attained by few.

"I think [charisma] comes, really, from an understanding of your character and your relationship with the music," White continued. "We've done a good job of balancing, up to this point, the technical aspect and the performances. What we felt could really help is just having a little more fun with it.

"Sometimes it's just going out and having fun, not always worrying about the technique, just getting into enjoying the program and letting that come across."

The team's coach and choreographer, Marina Zoueva, had an idea, as timeless as the birds and the bees.

"I added a little bit of an erotic part in the middle of Scheherazade, a little flavor of love," she said with a blush. "Just a little, little bit."

After all, Scheherazade and the king were married. During their 1,001 nights, they conceived three sons.

"I did it in a classical way, [because] that is the story," Zoueva said. "I was thinking of how to make a little bit more of a dramatic moment. To show more drama, I had to show how [the king] tried to escape from Scheherazade. I had to show a deeper connection part before, to show more contrast."

As always, her skaters -- on the verge of winning a record-setting sixth U.S. ice dance title -- are willing to put in the work to reach new highs.

"We're definitely stronger and better now than we ever were before," White said. "I think one of our strengths is we never set a ceiling for ourselves; we never think, 'OK, we're really good now.' We never sit back and feel pleased with ourselves. We feel the possibilities."

In addition to adding a touch of classy titillation, Zoueva said her skaters have worked to improve the speed of Scheherazade, "to make the program bigger and flow better."

The 27-year-old Davis, who has skated with White for about 16 years, wouldn't have it any other way.

"We've put pressure on ourselves since we were very young," she said. "We've always held ourselves to a high standard and expected a lot from ourselves. I think that's how we've gotten to where we are now."

Marina's choice: Boston or Ottawa

Davis and White won their fifth Grand Prix Final in December, but it wasn't easy. Their training partners and chief rivals, Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, were just 1.35 points behind.

After a relatively slow start, Virtue and Moir have improved their scores at each event this season. The teams are set for a too-close-to-call showdown in Sochi next month.

With the U.S. and Canadian championships held the same days, Zoueva chose to accompany Davis and White -- plus Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and Alissandra Aronow and Collin Brubaker -- to Boston. Her coaching partner in Canton, Mich., Oleg Epstein, is in Ottawa with Virtue and Moir.

"I never miss Canadians; I did 22 Canadian championships in a row," said Zoueva, who left the former Soviet Union in 1991 to settle in Ottawa. "Tessa and Scott are 100 percent ready and healthy. That is the key, and they can go and perform at nationals."

"They have never been so ready for nationals maybe since 2008, because of [Virtue's compartment syndrome] injuries. Now everything is gone, everything is perfect, so I am very confident about them up there."

Shibutanis' reflections lead to 'Man in the Mirror'

The Shibutanis took a look at their Grand Prix performances, and no message could be any clearer: They turned to "Man in the Mirror."

After positive response to their Michael Jackson free dance, the siblings sought ways to get the most out of the program and make it even more entertaining.

"We were recommended to find a way to maximize the potential of the program, and we picked 'Man in the Mirror,'" Alex said. "It brings the program so much more flow."

The siblings asked Stacy Walker, choreographer (with Travis Payne) of Jackson's "This Is It" tour, to help integrate the music into their free dance, which begins with "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and ends with "Thriller." Walker and Payne had held a pre-season "Michael Jackson boot camp" for the Shibutanis when they began work on the program.

"Stacy come out [to Canton] after NHK Trophy to help us make the change," Maia said. "The timing feels really right. We like to show a lot of improvement from our Grand Prix events to nationals."

The changes didn't stop with the music.

"I'm pretty analytical; I like to break the numbers down," Alex said. "We looked at the scores. ... There are tweaks to lifts, we changed our spin, we have a new choreographic lift. We looked at where we could get more points and really perform it even better than we did during the Grand Prix season."

Zoueva is all on board, calling "Man in the Mirror" one of Jackson's greatest vocals.

"When the music plays, even I start dancing more," she said. "Probably the music they used before ("Ben") was missing the concept a little bit."

"The program is strong, of course, because we work not just for technique, not just for choreography," Zoueva continued. "I also trained them to do the best performance they could do for this time of the year. It has to be their best performance, and they are ready to do that."

Chock, Bates add finishing touches

2013 U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates cut their media interviews short Wednesday after Chock had a nasty fall in practice. The team regained its composure and completed the session.

On Tuesday, while watching the novice free dance at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Bates shared a few tweaks coach Igor Shpilband has made to their programs.

"We changed the arm positions in our twizzles; we put the feature on the second twizzle," he said. "We added detail, transitional stuff to make the free dance [to Les Misérables] flow more. And we added some gold to my tuxedo in our short dance.

"I know these changes sound like pretty small stuff, but little changes at this time of year are big."

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