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Davis, White go in different direction

Reigning world champions listen to feedback, change free dance

Meryl Davis and Charlie White compete in the short program at Skate America.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White compete in the short program at Skate America. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2011) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White didn't win the U.S.'s first-ever world ice dancing title by being stubborn.

For the second consecutive season, the team has scrapped a competitive program after gaining feedback from judges and officials at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp, which was held Aug. 26-29 in Colorado Springs.

In late summer of 2010, the three-time U.S. ice dancing champions changed their Golden Waltz short dance from a program set to the Amelie soundtrack to one choreographed to an opera medley. The switch worked: Davis and White won every event they entered.

This time around, the change was more complex. The skaters and their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, put a free dance to Nino Rota's La Strada score into mothballs in favor of a more light-hearted routine to the Johann Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

"After a lot of review with the judges, and a lot of ideas being thrown around as to how [we could] kind of adjust the free dance, we just decided to go in a truly different direction," Davis, 24, said.

"Any time you have to change a program after already having made a program, it's a little bit of a bummer, but we're super thrilled with the outcome," the 23-year-old White said.

"We really exceeded our highest expectations for the choreography, especially for having made it so quickly," he continued. "We enjoyed doing the Nino Rota program, but in the end it just wasn't making everybody happy."

A strict on-ice interpretation of La Strada, Federico Fellini's bleak 1954 film about an itinerant circus strongman and his abusive relationship with a child-like young woman who assists him in his act, was never planned. It doesn't comply with ISU guidelines, which suggest free dance music has "an uplifting effect." In addition, Davis and White weren't interested in going the tragic route.

"I really fell in love with the music, and I really thought it had a lot of great emotion and we would be able to connect to it and with it," White said. "The program we made did exactly that; however, we didn't follow the story of the movie, and I think that caused some confusion, which is just the opposite of what you want.

"You don't want the judges to feel they are confused when they are watching something for any reason, even if they eventually got what we were going for. Right off the bat, we don't want them to be thinking, 'They are not doing this enough. They are not portraying the characters enough.'"

Turning to Die Fledermaus, a comedic tale of multiple mistaken identities highlighted by an uproarious masquerade ball, came relatively easily.

"Marina, for a long time, has been telling us that it would make a great program for us, and I guess we were going to get around to it eventually," White said. "It kind of made it easier that there was this option floating around, that we had talked about before."

Zoueva -- who also choreographed two-time Olympic pairs champions Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov's 1989 world title-winning free program to Die Fledermaus -- is thrilled with the change.

"I always thought this couple should skate to this music, and now it is happening," she said. "It is an absolutely adorable program, it suits the ISU rules, and I think it will be one of their best, if not their best."

It is full steam ahead for Davis and White's Rumba short dance, set to Latin rhythms, including the samba-hip hop beat of Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor."

"It's the most exciting piece of music, so we're doing our circular steps and our lift to it, just to get everyone excited," Davis said.

The world champions worked with former Dancing with the Stars professional Elena Grinenko to perfect their moves and to add authenticity to the routine.

"She was great at choreographing a few little sections, and then also helped us get in tune with little movements throughout [the program]," White said.

Young U.S. teams ready to shine

Newly teamed Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue have already made a big splash this season, winning gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month, and they're hoping for the same type of consistency at Skate America.

"We've been working on getting the levels [of our elements] every time we train," Donohue said "At Nebelhorn, our short dance didn't get all of the levels we needed, mostly in the Rumba sequences, so that has been a focus."

The 20-year-old skater credits a Detroit Skating Club coaching team headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelica Krylova, and including Massimo Scali, Liz Punsalan-Swallow and Natalia Annenko-Deller, for the team's fast success.

"Everything has been falling into place for us," he said. "Pasquale and the entire team are just really irreplaceable. Having such a fantastic training base has definitely helped with how far we've come."

Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello used last month's Challenge Cup in Philadelphia as a tune-up for Skate America, and are they ever glad they did.

The skaters, who train at the University of Delaware under coaches Karen Ludington, Sasha Kirsanov and Christie Moxley, placed a surprising third in the free dance after several deductions.

"It was really enlightening," Lorello, 21, said. "We got a lot of deductions, including one for an extra lift -- it was a little jump move [the technical panel] counted as a lift -- and an overtime [too long] lift.

"We also didn't get some of the levels we wanted, so we lost a lot of points. Obviously, we've made some changes and fixed some things, so it ended up being a very productive competition."

Cannuscio feels their free dance to selections from Les Miserables is now primed and ready.

"We were glad to get everything out there and make all of our mistakes early," the 20-year-old said."

European champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who train with Hubbell and Donohue at DSC, will likely challenge the Americans for the title. The French champions, who narrowly missed world bronze last season when they fell at the start of a step sequence, received positive feedback for their new "Mummy and Pharaoh" free dance at the recent French Masters event.