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Japanese stars debut programs at 'Dreams on Ice'

Hanyu goes in surprising new direction; Miyahara shows exhibition number
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In his new free skate, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu portrays Abe no Seimei, a 10th-century Japanese astronomer. -Getty Images

The show season is in full swing in Japan, and no show gathers more attention from media and skating fans than "Dreams on Ice."

The first of three performances of the star-laden extravaganza was held Friday in Yokohama. It featured all the medalists from last year's Japanese championships, as well as some other invited guests, but there's another reason people get excited for "Dreams on Ice."

The show is supported by the Japan Skating Federation. It is generally assumed that the intention of the event is to provide the top Japanese skaters with a stage to debut their new programs for the coming season, check their competition readiness and confirm that their programs hold appeal to an audience.

All three of those goals were clearly met by the majority of the performers Friday night.

After the grand opening, in which skaters performed either difficult jumps or exquisite steps, novice and junior skaters took the stage and showed one of their two new competitive programs. When you see those 13- or 14-year-old girls landing triple lutzes, or boys at the same age doing triple-triples in the second half of their program, you know the figure skating tradition in this country is going to continue for many more years.

It wasn't until the 11th program that a senior Grand Prix contender came to the stage. Daisuke Murakami, winner of the NHK Trophy last year, debuted his free skate for next season, set to "Bring Him Home" from the soundtrack of Les Misérables. He opened with a beautiful triple loop but then popped a salchow into a double, and recovered with a triple flip. As it was a shortened version of his free, he skipped some elements and performed two spins and a choreographic sequence before the ending. After winning the only Grand Prix assignment he had last season and finishing fourth at the Four Continents Championships, he said that his goal this season is to make it to the Grand Prix Final and be selected for worlds.

More familiar faces came out in the second part of the show. World junior champion Shoma Uno debuted his new Turandot free skate. Wearing a red velvet-like shirt, he displayed his usual smooth skating and musicality, but in terms of difficulty, he raised the bar by putting two quadruple toes in the program (both of which he fell on).

In the post-show interview, he revealed, "This program is more mature than my previous ones. I wanted to skate to something different, and my coach decided the music for me."

He also explained that the second quad was not planned and that he just wanted to give it a try.

"The layout isn't fixed yet," he said.

Another rising star, Rika Hongo, debuted her new short program, "Quidam" from Cirque du Soleil, choreographed by former world bronze medalist and Japanese champion Akiko Suzuki. Wearing a green dress with golden lines, Hongo complemented this exotic piece of music with a triple lutz, triple flip and double axel, as well as her impressive illusion spin. She also showed off some exquisite choreographic moves, which reminded some of those found in Suzuki's O program. The performance was as strong as the ones we became accustomed to seeing from her last season, and was rewarded with a standing ovation.

Skate Canada champion Takahito Mura also debuted his new short program, to "Dark Eyes," choreographed by Olympic champion Charlie White. He, of course, wore a dark black costume from head to toe. Besides his dynamic quad toe (maybe a bit double-footed), triple axel and triple lutz, he seemed to be more mindful of establishing an emotional connection with the audience.

Surprisingly, newly crowned Japanese champion and world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara did not debut a new competitive program but instead performed her exhibition number, "Pennies from Heaven," choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle, for the first time. Using a red umbrella as a prop, she looked light, energetic and lovely on the ice, although she did not push herself technically, performing just a triple toe and a double axel. Nevertheless, in her post-show interview, she revealed that her new short program will be "Fire Dance," choreographed by Tom Dickson, while her free skate will be Liszt's "Un Sospiro," choreographed by Lori Nichol.

Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the night was reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu's new free skate. He has chosen a very Japanese-style piece of music, "SEIMEI," a selection from the soundtrack of the movie Onmyoji. In it, he portrays the character Abe no Seimei, an eccentric Japanese astronomer who lived in the 10th century.

"I want to expand my performing scale," Hanyu said in the post-show interview, "and I want to do something Japanese. I think among all amateur male skaters I am the one who fits traditional Japanese style the most, and I want to interpret the delicateness and strength, to pay more attention to body lines, in order to create a program that reflects my characteristics."

In a shortened version of the program, he didn't change the opening elements from last season, opening with a quadruple salchow (which he fell on). That was followed by a quadruple toe (which he turned into a triple), a triple flip (preceeded by several 3-turns) and a flying change combination spin. After skipping the step sequence, he raised the difficulty from last season, trying another quadruple toe in the second half of the program, resulting in another fall. Nevertheless, he still did his trademark triple axel-triple toe wonderfully and excited the audience with a choreographic sequence, in which he performed two more of his trademarks: his hydroblade and layback ina bauer.

Regarding the falls, Hanyu said, "I think I've found out the reason, so no worry on that."

He came into the evening with specific goals in mind.

"It might sound not so appropriate to the audience, who've paid so much money to come in, but I want to be further polished and improve the consistency and completeness (of this program) by leveraging this show," Hanyu said

When asked about the short program, he hesitated for a while and then decided not to reveal anything yet.

The guest skaters from other countries did not disappoint either. Reigning European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov performed a new program to "February Song," with high-quality lifts and throws. Despite arriving in Japan at the last minute due to an airline issue, world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford performed an exhibition number to "Say Something," neither showing any sign of fatigue from the travel woes they endured. Newly crowned world champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva also brought something new, skating a sexy routine to "Get Low" and impressing the audience with her huge triple jumps. Finally, Evgeni Plushenko proved that he can still be competitive, rocking the arena with his new "Carmina Burana" short and landing a gigantic triple axel in the process.