Ice Network

Donlan, Bartholomay dazzle with risqué 'Chicago'

Iliushechkina, Moscovitch ahead of schedule; Tran struggles on jumps
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Gretchen Donlan and Nathan Bartholomay have upped the sex appeal in their "All That Jazz" short program. -Lynn Rutherford

Gretchen Donlan possesses the qualities of the perfect classical dancer: elegant lines, arched back, pointed toes. She can step onto the ice and own Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty or The Nutcracker, and she often has.

At Skate Detroit last Friday, though, the erstwhile prima ballerina and her game partner, Nate Bartholomay, abandoned the barre and stepped into a jazz-era speakeasy. Their sassy, brassy and risqué short program to "All That Jazz" pushed them out of their comfort zones and into a new category of performers.

"We wanted to do a 180 from Gretchen's past, and my past," Bartholomay said. "There was a good three and a half weeks where [coach Jim Peterson] said, 'If you don't get this together, I'm going to change it.' In a very positive way, he demanded we play the parts full out or not at all. That turned the page for us."

"Mr. Peterson said, 'It's Chicago, you have to stay true to that,'" Donlan said. "It was a real struggle at first. It does feel a little silly when I do it, but now it's starting to get more comfortable."

The Ellenton, Florida, pair opened with a suggestive pose and a few attention-getting moves, and carried the sexy attitude throughout the program. Donlan landed a huge throw triple salchow, and although the team faltered on the landings of their triple toe loops, the rest of the program was strong.

"It still needs work, but I think we found a new dynamic," Bartholomay said. "I think this (program) reaches the audience. They're thinking, 'Wow, did she just do that? Did he just grab her?'"

Peterson, who choreographed the routine, added that a big goal was to show another side of Donlan.

"I think people know Nate can be a masculine lead, in a lot of different types of programs," he said. "I wanted to give Gretchen a strong feminine lead: powerful, provocative and more contemporary."

The program earned 61.76 points, slotting them just behind Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran (62.84) and ahead of Canadian bronze medalists Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch (60.96).

The Floridians' free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" was less successful technically, with jumping mistakes as well as flawed landings on two triple throws. Still, the program flowed well, earning the pair 104.98 points and a second-place finish behind the Canadians.

"The free is closer to what we did last season; Gretchen has very good lines, we think it looks good with a strong guy next to her, and my line is getting better. We didn't want to leave all that behind," Bartholomay said. "This program is a little more powerful than last year's free, it has a bit more punch. ... We've been skating it a lot better in practice, so this performance was disappointing."

Donlan and Bartholomay haven't received an international assignment yet, but they hope for a senior B as well as the final U.S. pairs spot at Skate America.

Iliushechkina and Moscovitch showed excellent early-season form in both of their programs. Their short, set to music by Led Zeppelin and choreographed by David Wilson, featured a huge throw triple lutz. The Gumby-like Iliushechkina also did a cantilever transition into the team's death spiral. The team lost about six points when Moscovitch failed to bring the lift up in continuous motion, and the element was disallowed.

The free, choreographed by Wilson to Rachmaninoff's "Symphony No. 2," was even more polished. Although Moscovitch put a hand down on a triple toe and Iliushechkina fell on a triple salchow, they showed two excellent triple throws, a lovely death spiral and spot-on side-by-side spins, easily winning the free skate with 120.45 points.

The Russian-born Iliushechkina teamed with Moscovitch, the 2011 Canadian champion (with Kirsten Moore-Towers), in June 2014. They placed 13th in the world last season.

"For this early in the season, we did a good job," Moscovitch said. "We're at least three months ahead of where we were last season. There were a couple of little bobbles, but I think we maintained our composure as a team, which is something we've improved a lot this year compared to last season. It just shows we're starting to gel, that we're kind of getting rid of that newness."

The team is working to add a triple twist, as well as a new lift, to its programs but suffered a mild setback when Moscovitch broke his right middle finger in May.

"It was during stroking class. We were all kind of walking through a new exercise and there were a lot of people around and I looked up," he said. "As I did, I stepped on my heel, my feet went straight up and my hands landed behind me."

Castelli and Tran, sixth in the U.S. last season, won the short program with a speedy, dynamic performance to Gershwin's "Summertime" choreographed by Julie Marcotte. The outing was marred only by Tran's fall on a triple salchow.

"We're really happy with the way we skated. Obviously, we have room to improve," Castelli said. "We're glad we got out there and started off with a great score."

"I did way too much on the sal, too much rotation," Tran said. "The main focus is, we want the program to look the way we envisioned it when we first created it. The elements will be there later."

The music is the same as last year, but after the first two elements, the choreography and transitions are different.

"Julie really wanted to keep this program. She was great with switching it around," Castelli said. "We believe in what she has for us."

They were far less happy with their free, choreographed by Marcotte to a medley of Journey songs including "Don't Stop Believing." Tran fell on a triple salchow as well as a triple toe-double toe combination, and also brought down a lift. They placed third in the segment with 100.51 points.

"The first half was great; the second half, we do a lot better in practice," Castelli said. "But we did what we wanted to do here: We got the program out."

The skaters, who hope for a senior B assignment prior to their Grand Prix events (Skate Canada, Trophée Eric Bompard), plan to compete their short program at the Quebec Summer Championships next month.

Another Ellenton pair, Jessica Pfund and Josh Santillan, placed fourth in both segments. Although they have only skated together for a few months, they impressed with their exceptionally strong side-by-side triple salchows and triple throws.