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Ilya Averbukh hopes to bring show to U.S.

Picking up where Tom Collins left off

Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin perform in <i>Ice Age</i> in Nuremberg, Germany.
Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin perform in Ice Age in Nuremberg, Germany. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(04/04/2008) - The role Tom Collins played for many years in the United States has been taken over by 2002 ice dance world champion Ilya Averbukh. He started in Russia and has moved his act to other countries, with a trip to the U.S. on the horizon. He organizes ice shows, tours with stars and plans to come to Atlantic City, N.J., and Los Angeles in the near future.

Averbukh's tours are different from those of Collins or Stars on Ice, which consist of an international field of skaters. Here, everything is Russian -- skaters, sound engineers, the announcers.

In November, he was in Germany for the first time, in Dusseldorf, and easily filled a rink with 7,000 seats. Last weekend, he was in Nuremberg, Germany, and again 6,500 spectators came and paid high entrance fees of $105, $75 or $50 each, more than other tour organizers in Europe can imagine.

There was no advertising in the local newspapers, no link in the city Web site calendar, only posters in the small grocery stores in town and advertising on a Russian TV channel and in immigrants' newspapers. Therefore almost all spectators were Russian immigrants. In Nuremberg and the surrounding area, upwards of 50,000 Russian immigrants reside. Averbukh himself was the announcer on the ice and said hello to the spectators, only in Russian. Even the flower girls spoke Russian, although they were from the local club. There was no expensive stage, just the ice, like at exhibitions after ISU championships.

What is Averbukh's secret?

First of all, he has many big names. With the exception of Evgeni Plushenko (who had quarrels with Averbukh and toured on his own show), almost all Russian and near-Russian stars of the years 2002-2006 performed. Many of them skated on their own, plus also a second or third time with their partners from the widely popular television show Skating with Celebrities. While that show failed in America, it was a runaway hit in Russia -- one of the country's top-programs -- featuring well-known actors, news speakers and TV stars of any kind. And the public seemed to know them because they can watch Russian TV stations via satellite throughout Germany. They had a lot of reason to laugh, because there were many jokes. Averbukh made even a fool of himself by pseudo-dueling with well-known TV actor Marat Bashanov on the ice. He seems to have found the way to fill a rink in Europe, pay the stars extremely well and still become wealthy himself.

The main reason for the spectators to come was the skating stars that Averbukh had assembled to perform: 2006 Olympic ice dancing gold medalists Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov, 2006 pairs winners Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin, 2002 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin (in spite of an appendix surgery only three weeks before), former world ladies champion Irina Slutskaya, and 2000 pairs world champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov.

Other Russian stars there were the professional world champions Leonova and Khvalko, Ilya Klimkin, Alexander Abt (who coaches in the summer in Hackensack, N.J.) and former ice dancer and actor Anna Semenovich. Some teams were not 100 percent Russian, but one partner was at least of a neighboring country: two-time ice dancing world champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski from Bulgaria and Margarita Drobiazko (she is Russian) and Povilas Vanagas from Lithuania. Irina Lobacheva skated well but not with Averbukh, her former partner (they are divorced). On the list of performers for some shows later this year, is one U.S. skater, Johnny Weir.

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