Ice Network

Strictly ballroom: Chock, Bates lead with new short

U.S. champs on third program of season; Russians, Canadians trail
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Coming away with 70.56 points, U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates built a solid lead behind their third different short dance of the season. -Getty Images

Madison Chock disproves the old cliché that beautiful women aren't funny.

"Sure, we have a new short dance," she laughed. "Why not? Igor [Shpilband] said, 'Let's do a different short dance, for each competition this year.'"

So far, that's just what she and Evan Bates have done. At the Nebelhorn Trophy last month, the world silver medalists performed a colorful gypsy waltz and polka to the Russian folk standard "Dark Eyes." It was already their second short dance of the season; an earlier routine was developed and rejected this summer. And although they won gold at Nebelhorn with an impressive score, some officials thought "Dark Eyes" wasn't suitable for a polka rhythm.

"We cannot afford to have any weak points," said Shpilband, who coaches the team in Novi, Michigan. "Since several people didn't like the polka part, we changed the program completely. Our goal is to win worlds, and you can see by the high score here already, we made the right decision."

The new short dance, a foxtrot to Andrea Bocelli's version of "More" and waltz to Il Divo's Italian rendition of "Unchained Melody," begins with a light, ballroom feel and grows in intensity, closing with a daring lift timed perfectly to the final crescendo of the Righteous Brothers' timeless classic. The score Friday night at Skate America (70.56 points) was strong for an early-season outing, although there is room for improvement: The first Ravensburger Waltz section rated just Level 2.

"When we chose 'Dark Eyes,' we intended to think out of the box a little bit," Bates said. "Our new intent with this program is to demonstrate a traditional foxtrot and look like we're a ballroom dance team out on the ice. I'm very happy with the new program and think we made the right move."

That doesn't mean it was easy. Nebelhorn was held the final week in September, giving Chock, Bates and Shpilband less than three weeks to perfect and polish the new routine.

"This was just our third run-through," Chock said. "Obviously, there is room to grow."

"It's been a little bit of a stressful few weeks for us and a new challenge we've never experienced before, but now was the time we had to do it," Bates said. "It's a long season, and we felt it was best to make the change right now, just to move forward with the new program and the new concept."

Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, fourth in Russia last year, performed a classically elegant, refined short dance set to waltz, polka and march rhythms from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. They earned 62.76 points, well above their previous personal best.

The skaters teamed up in the spring of 2014, after Katsalapov controversially ended his partnership with Elena Illinykh, with whom he won an Olympic bronze medal.

"A lot has changed since last season; we have improved a lot," Katsalapov said. "I really feel my partner, and she feels me. The relationship has become so much closer, and we understand each other so much better."

Marina Zoueva, who trains the skaters in Canton, Michigan, chose the music in honor of Tchaikovsky's 175th birthday.

"I think the music matches perfectly (with) the way they look, how they move," Zoueva said. "They have improved significantly this season. Now, they perform like a team, with unison. They help each other emotionally and physically, and really show the relationship between a man and woman on the ice."

Canadian silver medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier showed a quirky, fun and inventive routine set to the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," as well as baroque selections from Mozart and Rameau. Their opening twizzle sequence, including a jump entrance, was excellent, but they lost ground when both Ravensburger sections rated Level 2. They sit third with 61.33 points.

Poirier explained the striking program's storyline.

"We're wearing the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper costumes, from the album cover," he said. "The opening sequence ('Lucy in the Sky') has a harpsichord waltz beat, and the harpsichord transports us to a trip back to the past. We dream we're dancing in an 18th-century court."

Carol Lane, who coaches the skaters in Scarborough, Ontario, has gotten positive feedback from officials.

"We haven't had any issues; everyone says the rhythms (waltz and march) are fine," she said. "The concept has been well received. I think it sets them apart."

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the 2014 world junior champions who placed fourth in the U.S. last season, performed a charming and intricate program to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, highlighted by an exciting closing rotational lift. Hawayek's slight bobble on the opening twizzles, plus a Level 1 on the first Ravensburger section, cost them points, and they placed fourth with 56.54 points.

"It felt pretty good; of course, there is a lot of room for improvement in the levels," Baker said. "Considering we only had one week between our last event (Finlandia Trophy) and here, we're happy with our overall skate."

"Our goal was to really go out and perform the program, and I think we did that," Hawayek said. "Next time, we'll get the levels and the performance."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, fifth in the U.S. last season, sit sixth after skating a dynamic short dance to Prokofiev's Cinderella that opened with solid Level 4 twizzles. Their three step sequences gained Level 2, which they vowed to improve.

"I thought it was really well skated, our best performance of the program yet," Cannuscio said. "Our levels were definitely lower than we expected, so we need to look at those. We are really shooting to get on the podium this year at the U.S. championships."