Ice Network

Creating the program: Putting in the elements

Castelli, Tran start to run through sections in front of watchful coaches
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Coach Carrie Wall counsels Mervin Tran and Marissa Castelli during a practice session at the Skating Club of Boston. -Sarah S. Brannen

This is the third article in a series about the creation and development of Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran's new Journey free skate program.

Once Julie Marcotte finished choreographing Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran's new free skate in March, the team began the difficult process of inserting all the elements. The layout of the program was complete, but Castelli and Tran would need to learn to complete clean side-by-side jumps, throws, spins, lifts and a twist in the context of the new steps and transitions.

Often, skaters go elsewhere to work with a choreographer, and then return to their home rink to present their new program to their coach. In Castelli and Tran's case, coach Bruno Marcotte was present in Montreal for some of the choreography sessions with his sister, Julie.

"The good thing is, where Julie does the program is where I have my singles school," Bruno said. "I was lucky enough to see out of the corner of my eyes what was happening. I stay out of the process; the only thing I might get consulted about is the order of the elements."

The next step, after choreography, is to skate the program without any elements for several days. This allows the skaters to not only learn the program but develop the skills to get through it.

"It's one thing to skate through it with Julie, and it's [another] thing to do it ourselves, to the same standards that Julie has," Tran said. "It's easy, once you get comfortable with the program, to just start skating without thinking much, not being as meticulous as we should be."

"By the end of it, we're literally heaving, like, there's no way we're going to be able to do all the elements!" Castelli said. "That's a terrifying moment."

Marcotte has a very specific strategy for adding elements a little bit at a time. Twice a week he has the team run through the program from beginning to end. The first week, they did it with only one element, the death spiral. The next week, they added the lifts. The week after that, the twist.

"When they first do this program, there's always something magical," Marcotte said. "So my job is, when we add the technical stuff, the kids don't lose that magic."

The team works on the elements in context one at a time, over and over, with the sections of choreography preceding and following the element.

"It's just trying to feel comfortable doing different entrances into elements and skating it continuously," Castelli said. "Because if you asked us to do, say, twist, we just turn backward, do a couple crossovers and go. But Julie has us doing 3-turn, step, rocker, step, counter, and then we have to turn backward and go. That's something we definitely have to adjust to, and I'd say it's quite terrifying at first!"

During this time, the team concentrates on not just skating into each element but continuing with the choreography after it.

"It's so different than just doing the element," Castelli said. "You have to learn where to push, where to breathe -- especially breathe! -- and where to smile."

At this point in the season, the team is stringing two or three elements together and running sections of the program. 

"When we start feeling more comfortable, we'll maybe do a whole run-through but take out some spins, just so we have breathers in between," Tran said.

Every few weeks, Castelli and Tran travel south to Boston, where they work with Castelli's longtime coaches, Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall.

On June 12 at the Skating Club of Boston, Castelli started the day with a jump lesson from Peter Johansson. Tran joined her for the 10:20 a.m. session, with Wall at the boards. The team warmed up and then did the last part of the program, to Journey's "Any Way You Want It."

This section includes a dramatic, complicated lift and side-by-side split jumps, immediately followed by a butterfly from Tran. After a few repetitions, and some consultation with Wall, they moved on to part of the slow section, to "Open Arms." This part of the program features a beautiful carry lift that Castelli is eager for people to see. (Both sections can be seen in the video that accompanies this article).

"The lifts this year are a little more strategic," Marcotte said. "I want to make sure I always maximize the level, but I thought, 'Let's come up with one lift that's really for the audience, that's really spectacular.' We're going to incorporate a lot more highlights than last year. I'm very, very excited about this."

On June 9 and 10, the pair had the opportunity to work with legendary pairs coach Tamara Moskvina in Boston before she headed to U.S. Figure Skating's pairs camp.

"She's very meticulous," Tran said. "For her, everything is about polish, polish, polish. She's got so much experience. She's very keen on making sure everything matched at every point. She drilled us to make sure we always looked good together."

"And we have to take the time to work off ice: matching our hands, doing off-ice jumps together, making sure that every position we have is matching," Castelli added.

Castelli and Tran plan to debut the new free skate at Skate Detroit in late July. Tran says that they want to be doing full run-throughs of the program, with all the elements in place, at least three weeks before the competition.

"When they first did it all the way though, I could really appreciate the amazing work that Julie did," Marcotte said. "It has some very interesting highlights, some special moves that are very cool and people will really enjoy.

"I found their long last year a little bit tough. With this one, they'll be able to get their skating sills to the maximum. It's light, so when Marissa skates, she's always smiling like she truly enjoys what she does."