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Ice dancers Wester and Barantsev ready to go

After injuries and setbacks, the married duo hopes this is their year

Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev will debut their 2008-09 programs at a monitoring competition in Ardmore, Pa.
Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev will debut their 2008-09 programs at a monitoring competition in Ardmore, Pa. (Courtesy of Jennifer Wester)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(09/04/2008) - The weather report Wednesday was showing rain, and ice dancers Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev were deciding whether to drive from Detroit to Ardmore, Pa., that night or Thursday morning. Once in Pennsylvania, they'll be showing off their original dance and free dance for the 2008-09 season at a monitoring competition.

Although Wester didn't think she'd finish sewing her free dance dress in time, she was eager to show the new programs to the judges.

"We're happy right now. We're definitely pushing to get back to the skating we wanted to show everybody two years ago," said Wester, who is finally healed from a knee injury she suffered shortly before the 2007 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the surgery that followed.

Patience and fortitude have been key words in the vocabularies of Wester, 23, and Barantsev, 26, who spent their first five years together in a kind of skating limbo. Injury slowed their U.S. nationals debut, which finally happened in 2006. But the prospects of competing internationally were on hold until Barantsev, a two-time world junior champion for Russia, received a release that enabled him to compete internationally for the United States. When that finally came, on the morning of the compulsory dance at 2007 nationals, Wester could barely walk due to a fractured left kneecap. She managed to push through the competition, and their sixth-place finish enabled them to score an invitation to the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, last September.

"All the years we'd been waiting for that assignment," said Wester. "I don't think anybody thought we were going to win, but in our minds, going into Nebelhorn, we were there to win -- left knee or not. We were really thrilled to have done that."

Not long before Nebelhorn, Wester and Barantsev, who got married in 2006, had relocated from Connecticut to Michigan, where they now train with Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills.

"We're thrilled with Pasquale and Angelika," Wester said. "We made a really good decision, especially for what we need in our relationship on the ice and the relationship we need with our coaches. I think we made a really great decision in coming to them. It's all we could have wished for."

Wester said her knee is completely healed, and they are ready to perform.

For the original dance, Wester and Barantsev have chosen to use a single piece of music, Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot," which has variations in tempo. "It goes through a jazzy and swing-type feeling," Wester said.

Former world exhibition dance champion Sharon Savoy has helped with the choreography and worked with them on capturing the mood of the dances.

"She worked a lot on the presentation and then in the details of the choreography," Wester said. "We're still working on the different hand movements and things -- the gestures and the connection between each other. She's coming in every couple of weeks to help us get the whole picture pulled together and really tell a story with our skating."

The free dance is set to the motion picture soundtrack Requiem for a Dream. They actually picked the music more than a year ago but didn't have time to choreograph it and be ready for Nebelhorn, so they retooled their "Singin' in the Rain" program for 2007-08 and saved this music until they could give it proper preparation.

"We're going for the story of hope and the agony that you put into your dreams," Wester noted.

It's a theme they know very well. There were times each of them thought of abandoning competitive skating, but luckily it never happened at the same time. When one got down, the other pulled them through. Their win at the Nebelhorn Trophy was huge validation. This season, they have two Grand Prix assignments, Skate Canada and the Trophée Eric Bompard.

By then, Wester, who now does all of their costumes, will have both sleeves on her free dance dress.

"I'm loving doing costumes for other skaters," she said, "but doing them for us is quite stressful."