Ice Network

Aldridge, Eaton lead with character-driven 'Carmen'

Orford, Williams nipping at Americans' heels; McManus 'machos up'
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Hoping to build on their fifth-place finish at the 2014 U.S. Championships, Americans Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton jumped into first place after their 54.08-point short dance. -Jay Adeff

A stingy technical panel, still-new ISU rule changes and the early-season timeframe limited the Level 4's received by the six ice dance teams at the 2014 U.S. International Classic to just two. For Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, however, it was all about their characters.

Skating to Bizet's classic Carmen, the tall, dark-haired Aldridge portrayed the title character with a sensual stare and a few tosses of her long, dark hair, while Eaton mustered up arrogance appropriate for the proud toreador Escamillo.

"The levels will come. It's a process," said Massimo Scali, one of the team's coaches. "It's about the story they represent. Alexandra really has to get into the character of this woman seducing this man, and he has to bring that Toreador feeling. It's that passion they have to generate that will really give [audiences] a chill."

The two-time (2012, '13) U.S. junior champions brought mature drama and flowing edges to the paso doble and flamenco rhythms, highlighted by a Level 4 lift that had Aldridge in a grasping, upright position, balanced on Eaton's thigh. They earned 54.08 points, taking a 0.34-point lead over Canadians Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams.

"The performance itself was really a goal for us here," Eaton said. "This year with the paso, there are really deep edges and fast character, so it's a challenge but also really fun."

"We've never done a paso rhythm dance before, not even the compulsory, so it was hard for us to understand the movements, especially for a short dance," Aldridge said. "The paso itself is a good pattern. The key points make sense."

After moving from the Detroit Skating Club to train with Marina Zoueva's group in Canton, Michigan, earlier this summer, the skaters have worked with experts like ballroom dancer Sharna Burgess (Charlie White's partner on Dancing with the Stars) and Canadian dance instructor and choreographer Jennifer Swan, who collaborated with Zoueva on Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's Carmen free dance.

"Marina and Massimo built our programs, and then Marina brings all of these specialists," Eaton said.

"Sharna was great helping me play the character," Aldridge said. "She said, 'You need to be bipolar -- "I want him, I don't want him."' As a dancer, she doesn't focus as much on the skating, but on [the kinds of movements] a dancer would do."  

Wearing stunning black and red costumes, Orford and Williams -- the bronze medalists at this event last year -- took a more subtle approach with their paso section before cutting loose with a fast, expressive flamenco. Their closing rotational lift was especially effective, and they earned 53.74 points.

"They skated fairly well for this point in the season. There are a couple of things I'd like them to do better next time out," said Megan Wing, who coaches the team in Vancouver. "We will get some feedback on the levels and how we can max the technical score."

"It was not our best or what we had hoped to do, but I think we performed all the way through, and even though it was wobbly in spots, I don't think we let it show," Orford said.

Marieve Cyr and Benjamin Brisebois Gaudreau, who placed ninth in Canada last season, gained third place, aided by a Level 4 closing straight line lift. They will take 46.34 points into the free dance.

"We're happy with our performance," Cyr said. "We had a rough practice yesterday, so we're happy with how it went today."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, seventh in the U.S. last season, brought intensity and sharp style to their paso and flamenco, plus a rotational lift that fit the character of the dance. However, they lost timing on their twizzles, and their closing step sequence gained just a Level 1. They sit fourth with 46.34 points.

"Pretty solid as far as the performance goes, but the trouble on the twizzles was unfortunate," said Karen Ludington, who coaches the team in Newark, Delaware. "Colin said he slipped going into the second twizzle and he ran out of steam, and then they ran into each other."

The skaters spent a month in Montreal this summer, working with two-time Canadian world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, and taking flamenco lessons from acclaimed dancer Antonio Najarro.

"Our coaches, Karen and Sasha [Kirsanov], did our programs, and then Marie and Patrice, they kind of gave their twists on our programs," Cannuscio said.

"[Lauzon] had a lot to offer me within the paso and the flamenco," McManus said. "He just really helped to, I don't know if 'macho up' is the right word, but he helped me try to portray that strong paso male lead you really need in this program."