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The Inside Edge: Ice Chips in Boston

Sarah and Drew dish up the latest skating news

This year's Skating Club of Boston show paid homage to Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao.
This year's Skating Club of Boston show paid homage to Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(04/13/2011) - Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins go behind-the-scenes at Ice Chips in the latest edition of the The Inside Edge.

Pairs honor Shen and Zhao
The 99th annual Skating Club of Boston show, Ice Chips, brought the near-legendary Olympic pair champions, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, to Boston. In their honor, five of the Boston pair teams re-created some of Shen and Zhao's previous exhibition programs for the show.

"I had a brainstorm that we could use this opportunity to do everything we can to make our guests welcome and try and show our gratitude for what they have done," said coach Bobby Martin. "I took five of their old programs and assigned them to the kids. I propped my computer up on the side of the rink and put video of their programs up."

Morgan Sowa and David Leenen did a very close copy Shen and Zhao's "Caruso," and Kloe Chanel Bautista and Tyler Harris reproduced "Ramalama Bang Bang." Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff took on "Time to Say Goodbye," and Alexandria Shaugnessy and Jimmy Morgan skated to "Come What May."

David Leenen said it took about a month to put the program together.

"The whole first half of our program is directly from them," he said. "We just watched the video over and over and learned it second by second. We did the programs for them in practice and they were impressed. We were a little bit intimidated at first!"

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were assigned "Feeling Good," although they weren't able to skate an exact copy.

"There was no full video of the 'Feeling Good' program, so we decided to incorporate some of their tricks. We completely look up to them. We got to practice with them!" Castelli said.

Martin said that on Friday, the day before the shows, the five pair teams skated with Shen and Zhao and performed the programs for them.

"They had big smiles on their faces the whole time it was going on. They seemed really please and honored and flattered," he said. "We went to lunch with them afterward, and the kids had a good hour at the table with them. I think it was a real highlight for them."

Shopping
Shen and Zhao graciously made time for an interview, although they were exhausted not only by the long flight from China but also by an Olympic-level shopping expedition to the Wrentham Outlet Mall. We heard that they did their bit to stimulate the economy.

After shopping, they were offered a choice of Western or Chinese food and chose spicy Szechuan cuisine. The restaurant staff recognized them and they were very excited to serve them.

We heard that the Olympic champions were recognized at Logan Airport, too, as is only right for skating royalty. They arrived late on Thursday night, just ahead of a nasty spring snowstorm that dumped several inches of slushy snow on the Boston crocuses. We asked how the trip was and apologized for the weather.

"I don't mind snow," said Zhao, laughing. "I'm from Harbin!"

What did they think about the tribute programs?

"I saw it yesterday. We felt very surprised that they spent a month and a half on these programs. After they all finished skating, we thought, 'Oh, we have a lot of programs!'"

Since Pang and Tong are probably retiring after worlds, and the Zhangs may not compete much longer after they recover from injury, what do Shen and Zhao think of the future of Chinese pair skating?

"China is currently very strong, we have a lot of new pairs," said Shen.

"We want to share our experience to make the Chinese team strong," said Zhao.

They plan to work with the Chinese team, as coaches.

Miner and Carriere
Between shows, the hungry cast had a quick meal -- Chinese, of course -- at the excellent Joyful Garden restaurant near the skating club. Everyone talked over the preceding eventful weeks, the catastrophe in Japan and the drama with worlds.

"I'm just glad they're going to have it," said Ross Miner. "For about a week there, I thought they were going to cancel."

This is Miner's seventh year in the show. Was he one of the little kids the first time?

"I was one of the seven dwarfs," he confirmed. "I was sad I couldn't be in the boys' number this year, but the practices were all on week nights and I had to do long programs in the morning!"

Stephen Carriere skated a reprise of his brilliant "Mr. Cellophane" program and brought the house down in every show. He said that he has given up on skating pairs, but he's going to stay in Boston and compete in singles. He's working with Suna Murray, and attending Boston College part-time.

He said that although pairs didn't work out, the injuries that sidelined him last season are clearing up. "I'm definitely competing next season -- I'm taking it one year at a time," he said. "I'm in a really good spot right now. I'm going to Wilmington in two weeks for a show and I'm going to get my short program then."

Carriere said he has his long program already, and revealed, somewhat sheepishly, that he was inspired by the movie Black Swan and will be skating to Swan Lake. (He's not the only one, although we're not authorized to spill the beans on the lady we know will also be channeling Natalie Portman next season). Carriere's short will be to Louis Armstrong, and both programs are choreographed by Irina Romanova.

Carriere said he'll play both the prince and the evil Rothbart in his long program.

"Since nationals is in San Jose next year, it's a little bit of an homage to Rudi Galindo in 1996."

Before the second show, Shnapir came down the hall carrying a crate of water bottles on his shoulder. "My new partner," he joked. "It's all water weight."

Backbend
Sheryl Franks directed and choreographed the show and Tim Leblanc did the opening number and the ever-popular "boy's number," featuring the club's senior, junior and novice men. A large wooden box marked "TNT" sat ominously at the end of the rink, exuding "smoke" from a dry ice machine. It finally burst open and the men, dressed in camouflage fatigues and tight black T-shirts, burst out and performed a military-style precision routine. They showed off their personal tricks, too: Bennett Gottlieb has added a back flip to his arsenal, which drove the audience wild. Mark Jahnke showed off a stunning back-bending lunge -- check it out in the photo gallery.

We asked him how on earth he can bend like that. He told us he has a minor congenital spine condition and that the L5 vertebra is actually smaller than normal.

"Along with plenty of stretching and core work, it gives me the flexibility to do cool stuff like the Biellmann lunge," he said. "It's a pretty common condition, and minor cases like mine are asymptomatic so most people never know they have it. I lunge, then slide my hand back into the blade, then bend back and slide my left hand up my right arm until it is in the blade too. It's scary to lose control while doing, that's for sure!"

Jahnke finished fifth in the novice dance event in Greensboro with partner Brynna Oi. The team split after the competition, and Jahnke says he is looking for a partner.

"I hope to compete on the junior level this upcoming season and pick up where I left off at the end of last season (I've been dancing since 2005). For now I'm working on technique and new dances, but I'm hoping to form a partnership soon."

Jason Wong and Leblanc choreographed a special nine minute tribute to the 1961 US team. Ten members of the club died in the Belgium plane crash. As stills from the crash and videos of team members played overheard, lines of skaters dressed in black and holding candle-shaped lights skated in slowly in crossing lines. They moved into large empty rings, as Wong brought out a scribe and traced a circle in the center. Several skaters, including Wong, Miner and Castelli, did figures. A few pairs reproduced moves done by 1961 team members. It was very moving.

Club Executive Director Doug Zeghibe is already planning next year's 100th anniversary show.

Sarah and Drew
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