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The Inside Edge: Young Artists Showcase

Liang, Hanretty find exciting second calling as choreographers

Bebe Liang is surrounded by some of her Young Artists Showcase skaters.
Bebe Liang is surrounded by some of her Young Artists Showcase skaters. (courtesy of Bebe Liang)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(06/08/2012) - We've enjoyed watching the choreography challenge pieces posted at youngartistsshowcase.net for the third Young Artists Showcase (YAS). Congratulations to the two top finishers, Mark Hanretty and Garrett Kling, who will face off in the final. The cast includes Ryan Bradley, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Tim Koleto, Kate Charbonneau, Anna Cobb and Kayla Johnson, and third-place finisher Robert Mauti will also participate. "What the Buck" star Michael Buckley will MC the show, and singer-songwriter Connor Garvey will perform. The show is June 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.

Liang

Bebe Liang, always an audience favorite in her competitive days, did not make the final, but we enjoyed her programs very much. We found her on Skype and asked when she first became interested in choreography.

"I always loved how my own programs came together," Liang said. "I got to work with Sarah Kawahara, Lori Nichol and Braden Overett. I like to dance, and I was always interested in choreography. I tried to do my own exhibition numbers as much as I could -- this is my creative outlet."

Liang was interested in YAS from the first, but she was too nervous to apply at first.

"The first time they did it, Jamie Isley told me about it," Liang said. "I was going to enter, but I didn't have the courage to do it. I watched the first two seasons, and finally I was like, 'OK, I'm going to do it.'"

For the challenge in which choreographers were asked to make a piece based on the work of their favorite dance choreographer, Liang chose George Balanchine; Mirai Nagasu skated the piece. For the fifth challenge, which she won, Liang did a delightful group number inspired by Stars on Ice.

Her favorite challenge, though, was "Play Ball," which required the choreographers to incorporate at least one ball in their pieces. Liang did a group piece based on a pickup game of basketball.

"When I started, I had no idea what I was doing, but it ended up being really fun," she said. "It took me a while to figure out how to do the passing drill so it looked like they were playing basketball. That day when we filmed it, they were having trouble catching the ball, so it was pretty funny."

Liang just graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a B.S. in kinesiology and an option in exercise science. She plans to coach for the next year and then apply to graduate school for physical therapy.

"That was my original profession of choice," she said. "But I really love coaching, so now I have the time to concentrate on it and see what happens with it. And if I have the opportunity to make choreography a career, I would definitely take that opportunity."

Hanretty

Ice dancer Hanretty and his partner, Christina Chitwood, were medalists at British nationals and international competitions between 2008 and 2010. Feeling disillusioned with some of the politics in ice dance, he retired after competing in the 2010 World Championships.

"I was so passionate about skating, and it came as a surprise to my friends and family that I stopped competing," he said, "But fortunately, the timing of my decision opened up lots of exciting doors."

Hanretty was one of the pro skaters in Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's hit TV show Dancing on Ice in 2011 and 2012.

"Whilst the skating challenges on the show are limited due to the celebrities' skating proficiency, the experience is fantastic," he said. "Working alongside Torvill and Dean was both wonderful and utterly surreal. They were the reason I started skating, after I watched them return to compete in the 1994 Olympics."

As happens with reality TV, appearing on the show made Hanretty famous in England for a while, which leaves him feeling bemused.

"It was funny because we'd go to the supermarket and people would be nudging each other and coming up asking for photos, which was surreal and bizarre," he said. "I did a show a couple months ago with [two-time British champion] Matthew Parr on a tiny ice rink. He did a couple of triples to polite applause, and I did an artsy number with a double Salchow and people went crazy."

Hanretty told us that he started doing choreography toward the end of his eligible career, for his students.

"As I did more and more, I realized that choreography is a great love of mine," he said. "I consider myself so lucky to work in a job that I love so much."

Last year, he did Stacey Kemp and David King's short programs as well as programs for British junior champion Katie Powell and British champ Jason Thompson's free skate.

"I was thrilled to be able to take part [in YAS] this year," he said. "Not only did the contest allow me to indulge in my love for choreography but also enabled me to reignite my love for skating and performing. I am immensely grateful to Audrey [Weisiger] and Doug Mattis for organizing this fantastic event."

Hanretty said his favorite challenge was the fourth one, in which all the competitors did a program to a song by Garvey.

"It gave me the opportunity to skate with my wife," he said. "She stopped competing 15 years ago, and although she coaches, we've never skated together properly. I think my best solo challenge was the first one; I spent the most time on that."

Hanretty is excited to participate in the final, in which both contestants have to choreograph for the guest stars using the same piece of music. The results will be judged "blind," with the judges unaware of who did which piece.

"It's kind of weird, because I kind of signed up to do this thing and didn't realize the ramifications of it all," he said. "I just entered to play with the choreography. I am hoping that YAS will open up new doors for me. It would be a great pleasure for me to work with increasing amounts of elite skaters."

Kling

The other finalist, Kling, first appeared on our radar screen when he was very young. "Gman" was a stalwart member of the Michelle Kwan Forum (MKF).

"Michelle came to my club when I was 11, and I gave her a kiss on the cheek," he said. "All the girls made me do it. I went on MKF to brag about it."

Kling competed in singles for 10 years and competed in novice ice dance last year. He started doing choreography when he was 11 and hopes to make a career of it.

"I'm shifting to choreography and looking at show options, but I'm mostly retired [from skating]," he told us. "Since I started skating, at nine, I've always loved performing. Shows have always been my favorite thing. When I was 11, I would ask my coach if I could do my own show programs, and I would do my own competitive programs with my coach. For the past couple of years, I've tried to make a career out of it."

We asked Kling where he begins the process when he starts to choreograph a program.

"It always starts with the music," he said. "Music is where all my ideas start from. It's so important to find music for a skater they can connect to and envision themselves skating to."

For his tribute to a dance choreographer, Kling picked one of our favorites, Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián.

"He has such an inventive way of moving the body," Kling said enthusiastically. "What drew me to him was the interesting shapes he creates. I specifically studied his Falling Angels piece, noticed all the shapes he created and also how rhythmic the dancers were. And it's quirky too. That was one of my favorite ones that I've done."

Kling's favorite of the five challenges was the first, in which the choreographers had to depict a single word. (Writer's note: It's fun to watch and try to guess what the word is.) Jason Brown performed the piece.

"Jason is not even human," Kling said, joking. "He's incredible. I had the easy job of just molding him into a position. I teach at his rink, so I see him a lot. Once I knew I was going to do YAS, I was like, 'I have to use Jason.' "

Kling says he is equally interested in choreographing competitive and show programs.

"I'd love to do both," he said. "I feel like I have a lot of ideas that are kind of new to the competitive realm. I watch skating today, and it's very easy to stay complacent with the same kind of style and music, and I'd love to work with skaters and try and change that a little."

Mauti

Mauti, a full-time coach and choreographer, competed in YAS last year, finishing second.

"I decided to compete again because it forced me to be creative," he said. "It forced me to go outside the international judging system, and that really appealed to me. Unfortunately, this time I wasn't able to do as much as I wanted with elite athletes. This time I've seen how Garrett went for it. Garrett's work was really good this week."

Mauti's favorite program was the "Play Ball" challenge, which he choreographed for four of his students, juvenile boys from the Louisville Skating Academy.

"I saw them playing football and basketball in the parking lot and I thought it would be great to do a piece about four little boys playing ball on the ice," he said. "I only had two hours to make the program with them, but I was very prepared. I had video clips, screen shots -- I had everything mapped out down to the second."

Weisiger, who created and runs the competition, is very pleased with the third year. She hopes that more people will apply for the event in the future.

"I feel the level of creativity keeps getting higher with each new season," she told us. "The contestants know what to expect, and many have observed and learned from the previous groups. All that have done YAS have vouched for the positive experience, so it is a matter of convincing aspiring choreographers to take the plunge."

State luncheon

Amanda Evora was honored to be invited to attend a U.S. State Department luncheon in Washington, D.C., today (June 8) in honor of the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino. We hope to hear all about it after the event.

Congrats all 'round

Congratulations to all the skaters who celebrated life-changing events in May: to Annabel Langlois and Cody Hay, who were married May 21; to Steven Pottenger and Kendra Moyle, who got engaged May 27 (they haven't set a wedding date yet); to Lucinda Ruh, who gave birth to twin girls, Angelica and Angelina; to Todd Eldredge and Sabrina Corbaci, whose baby boy, Ayrton, was born May 26; and to Angela Nikodinov and Ivan Dinev, who had a baby girl.

And congratulations to Christina Gao and Harrison Choate, who have both decided to attend Harvard University. Gao will enroll this fall, while Choate has decided to defer for a year.

Benefits

The Los Angeles Ice Theater's annual benefit show is tonight (June 8) at 8:00 p.m. at the Pickwick Ice Center in Burbank, Calif. Performers include Nagasu, Richard Dornbush, Courtney Hicks, Shotaro Omori, and Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini.

The third annual gala to benefit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp takes place June 9 at 3:30 p.m. at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass. Skating sisters Ursula and Heidi Munger organized the show, which stars Choate, Ross Miner, Jason Wong, and Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff. The camp, founded by Paul Newman, allows kids with cancer and other serious illnesses to go to summer camp free of charge, with access to medical treatment.

The annual Detroit Skating Club show runs from June 7-9 and features Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and a host of other big names.

That's all for now,

Sarah and Drew

Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew!