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It's all 'S'wonderful' for Virtue, Moir

Love in the air in Mississauga; Chock, Bates climb to fourth

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pleased the crowd with their <i>Funny Face</i> free dance.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pleased the crowd with their Funny Face free dance. (AFP)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/30/2011) - Romance was on the menu in Mississauga, Ontario, Sunday afternoon, with all the faces of love -- from yearning to angst-ridden to joyous -- on display from the top ice dancing couples.

To no one's surprise, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's paean to MGM's gloriously light-hearted 1957 musical Funny Face won the day by a landslide, and Canada's golden duo finished more than 20 points ahead of the field at 2011 Skate Canada.

"I was pretty excited at the way we skated," Moir said. "It felt like we executed everything the way we wanted.

"We kind of had our moments today of being able to communicate to the crowd and let them into the story, and Tessa and I had our moments together ... That's what skating is all about."

Serving up far more tortured ardor to Serge Lama's "Je Suis Malade," Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje took second. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte won bronze with a charming free dance to La Strada that emphasized the uplifting and whimsical aspects of Nino Rota's soundtrack.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, sixth in the short dance after both fell on their closing pose, climbed two spots to fourth with a romantic take on Chopin's Prelude in E minor that ended with an in-the-moment kiss.

The Olympic champions' rendition of Funny Face had all the vivacity of the Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film, and the opening selection, Gershwin's "S'wonderful, S'marvelous" featured the star's voices.

With an outing at the Finlandia Trophy earlier this month already under their belts, Virtue and Moir flowed across the ice seamlessly from steps to lifts, and the program was over in a flash. Like any MGM movie, it had a big finish: a highlight lift with several heart-stopping changes of position.

"What I liked best was we had a moment of almost improvisation," Virtue said. "We were in the moment, in the characters, and doing things we hadn't necessarily done at home.

"When the training is there and the technical base is there, it offers up opportunities in the performance."

While delighted with today's result, Marina Zoueva, who coaches the couple with Igor Shpilband in Canton, Mich., thinks there is much room for growth.

"It was a great base, and there is huge room for improvement," she said. "I really look to get maximum points for this program.

"We did actually make a lot of changes since Finlandia. That's why I decided to go with them to a small preseason competition, to figure out how judges like the new program. Local [judges] are one thing; international judges are different, and we wanted that feedback. I'm very happy with everything we did so far good, and it's still October."

Funny Face earned 106.73 points, slightly less than Virtue and Moir's main rivals, world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, earned at Skate America last week with Die Fledermaus. Overall, though, the Canadians earned 178.34, edging the Americans' 178.07.

"Different [technical] panel, different judges, different country," he scoffed. "It doesn't compare. We know that matchup is coming in December [at the Grand Prix Final] and don't care who has 105, or 106, now."

Weaver and Poje, who train at the Detroit Skating Club under a coaching team headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova, looked every inch the conflicted lovers in their free dance. The drama of their performance helped overcome Poje's small hesitation on the twizzle sequence and a rough spot in the diagonal steps.

"Our biggest goal for the free dance was to really feel the passion in the music and tell the story we worked so hard on," Weaver said. "We can perform the program better and more completely in the technical aspect in the future, but this a positive."

"Je Suis Malade," a tale of love sickness, just skirted the ISU's rules concerning free dance music having an "uplifting" effect, and did not get a deduction. Russians Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko were not so fortunate; their fifth-place program to Sviridov's "The Snowstorm" sustained a two-point music penalty.

"When we chose the music, right away we were captivated by the song but worried about the danceability and ISU guidelines," Poje said. "So we called up [music editor and creator] Hugo Choinard, and he led us to Karl Hugo, who composed extra pieces to ensure the danceability of the music.

"Still, I think we displayed the true emotions of the story."

After a disappointing 2010-11 season marked by coaching changes and relocations, Cappellini and Lanotte got off to a promising start here. Their captivating program, marked by its freshness and innovative lifts, took second place in the free dance with 92.95 points.

"We love this free dance very much," Lanotte said. "This summer we tried to work on our skating skills, and we feel we were able to show that in this competition. We are very proud [of our performance] and, overall, it was a great week for us."

Skating to Chopin's "Prelude in E minor," Chock and Bates showed good chemistry to go along with five Level 4 elements, earning 84.67 points in a fine comeback from their disappointing short dance.

"We're really happy with the performance overall," Bates said. "The elements will come over time. With a brand-new partnership, it still feels young and new, and obviously more time will help us."

"I went into this program trying to enjoy every minute of it and to forget about the short dance, and that's what we did," Chock said.

Chock and Bates teamed up four months ago after Chock's previous partner, Greg Zuerlein, retired from competitive skating. Bates, who missed the 2010-11 season with an Achilles tendon injury, split with longtime partner Emily Samuelson prior to teaming with Chock.

"It's been a new challenge and one we welcomed," Bates said of the partnership. "It feels like starting over, especially for me after talking last season off. Skating with Madison, with new coaches [Shpilband and Zoueva], I've had to evaluate my skating, my likes and dislikes, and change my technique. That kind of stuff usually takes years.

"At this point, we, of course, could use some more time and, personally, I could probably use a lot more, but it's only been four months, and we can't be too hard on ourselves."