Ice Network

'DWTS' alum weighs in on elite ice dance duos

Tocker puts dancer's eye to top teams heading into world championships
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Of the teams he reviewed, Julz Tocker was most impressed by Olympic bronze medalists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia (left) and Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. -Getty Images

As has become an annual tradition at icenetwork, we asked a ballroom/Latin dancer to watch videos of some of the top ice dance contenders at the upcoming world championships and give opinions from a dance perspective.

This year, we turned to Julian "Julz" Tocker, a top international competitor in both Latin and ballroom dancing. Originally from New Zealand, Tocker has trained, competed and performed all over the world. In 2013, he was a member of the Dancing with the Stars troupe, and he continues to work with the show as a choreographer and occasional performer. This season, he is one of the co-hosts on the Dancing with the Stars recap/critique on AfterBuzz TV.

Looking at the free dances with a dancer's eye, he offers his thoughts on performance quality, choreography, musicality and interactions between the partners.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte 

Tocker liked this team's side-by-side work and thought early in the program they showed great unison and timing. He found Lanotte to be more fluid and at ease with the program than Cappellini.

"Some of the lifts sections were a little bit heavy and not quite clean enough," he said. "The shapes and lines they created were very nicely finished and extended through the body and quite beautiful.

"This whole number, I didn't feel like it took us anywhere," he added. "I would have liked to have seen a little bit more story between everything. It didn't, for me, connect so well."

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov

"I loved the set-up, I loved the costuming: classy, elegant, obviously perfect for the theme," Tocker said. "This was a couple who from the word go, from top to toe, from the ice to their heads, had the whole package: costuming, music, choreography, lifts."

He found this team's movement fluid, soft and confident.

"They knew they were going to nail it," he noted. "Every time they would touch or connect or do anything, it was done with full performance, power and technique."

Tocker said it was obvious that Ilinykh and Katsalapov had studied the ballet Swan Lake. He offered one criticism, that Katsalapov's chin comes forward a lot.

"Great use of accents in the music in the lifts and choreography," Tocker said. "At times, it looked beautiful and effortless and completely in the moment. ... They had full commitment, which sold me straight away. I kept being involved.

"Goose-bump ending, and the final line on the ice was stunning. You couldn't have done any more with it."

Madison Chock and Evan Bates

"Visually, very connected, and I like to see that between a man and a woman. I like to see them visually connected; also physically, through frame, hand or linking of the arm, whichever connection they physically use," Tocker said. "When he touches and holds her, you can see electricity."

Tocker said the height difference between Chock and Bates was very appealing and effectively differentiated them from other couples. The spins were beautiful, and they aligned perfectly with each other.

"His posture was beautiful -- a very nice long line from hip to head," Tocker said.

Tocker said he would have liked to see better use of choreography with the music. Instead of the romantic tone the couple set, he wanted to see more connection to the music.

"It should be more of an inspiring piece than a romantic piece," he said. "Very sound program, but left me wanting more from them."

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

"From the intro, they set an intense scene. For me, it created a mood straight away, and it was very clear this was going to be a tango," Tocker said.

He enjoyed Weaver and Poje's use of actual tango elements, especially her use of flicks, and how they related to the music and the theme of the program. He said they looked more like dancers on a floor more than any other couple. The final line was smashing.

"She stylized everything very well, very tango," he said. "It was nice to see something completely different from everybody else.

"Both were very involved, emotionally connected and on the same page," he added. "It was very clear that they were in tune with each other. You saw that constantly. They didn't lose their focus throughout the entire piece.

"Beautiful leg actions from her and partnering between each of them. A dynamic and dramatic mix when they would go from the skating, into a lift, into the partnering pieces."

Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat

Not a fan of over-the-top costuming, Tocker said he didn't see the reasoning behind Bourzat's outfit, finding it distracting.

"Very interesting music choices," Tocker said. "I enjoyed the change of pace and mood it created. I couldn't see the relationship between the music and the choreography and the costuming."

He said Péchalat and Bourzat are both beautiful skaters who exhibit strong chemistry on the ice.

"They did have some very interesting partnering and switching-arm connections," he said. "There were elements I really enjoyed and other elements I really didn't connect with. I look forward to seeing what they bring out next."