Shibutanis thrill crowd with Kodo drums OD

Siblings open 8.89-point lead; Tibbetts, Brubaker second

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are one dance away from gold in Spokane.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are one dance away from gold in Spokane. (Michelle Harvath )


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/21/2010) - Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani took command of the junior dance event with a rousing performance of their original dance to Japanese folk music.

While a few glitches kept the siblings from gaining expected element levels from the technical panel, the performance stirred the crowd, bringing many to their feet.

"There are a lot of positives we can take away from it," Alex, 18, said.

"We didn't hold back. For me, there were a couple of errors. It's not what we normally do in practice." Alex didn't grab his foot on the otherwise fine twizzle sequence, dropping it to Level 2 -- although the siblings moved so fast, the audience didn't notice or care. Much of the mid-line step sequence was impressively done on one foot, with a slight flaw when the skaters touched the boards at the end.

The Shibutanis gained Level 4 for a straight-line lift with multiple changes of position, and closed the program effectively with a rotational highlight lift. They earned 56.17 and enter the free dance with 91.89 points overall, some 8.89 points ahead of the field.

It was the second time in four seasons the siblings have turned to Japanese music for a folk dance OD.

"We wanted to play to our strengths, and the [Kodo] drums set a fast pace," Alex said. "Our skating has grown to the point where we can skate out and really perform this music."

"We listened to a CD of Kodo drums, and it was so vibrant," added Maia, 15. "We also went to a couple of performances; it's very inspiring, the drummers have such energy and passion."

Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker's lilting country waltz to Eva Cassidy's rendition of "Tennessee Waltz" earned 49.24 points, third in the OD. They sit second with 83 points overall.

"It was a good performance," Brubaker, who turns 21 on January 31st, said. "I think we missed a couple of levels. Overall I thought our expression and performance were good.

"Our style of skating is kind of waltz-y, so we wanted something soft. We're a bigger team [Brubaker is 6 foot 1 inch] and we wanted to fill the ice."

Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue placed second in the OD and climbed to third overall with a fast-paced country-western style OD to music from John Denver and the Charlie Daniels Band. They enter the free dance with 83 points.

It was just their second time performing this OD.

"The judges didn't like our Flamenco OD; it was a modern version, and they preferred the classic Flamenco," Donahue, 19, said. "They said, 'You can change it, or you can change it' and so we changed it."

The team moved from Colorado Springs this fall to train at the Detroit Skating Club under a group including Elizabeth Punsalan, Anjelica Krylova, Natalia Annenko and Pasquale Camerlengo, who choreographed their OD. They also work with three-time U.S. pair champion Jason Dungjen on lifts and spins.

"It's a fun group," Gilles, 18, said. "We needed to make the move for our training, but it's been difficult living away from my twin [single skater Alexe Gilles]. Luckily my brother Todd, who is also an ice dancer, moved with me, and we have family two hours away."

Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello's lively Russian folk dance placed fourth in the OD, and they enter the free dance in fourth place with 78.59 points.

"I think we skated really well," Cannuscio, 19, said. "We lost three levels, but the program felt good."