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'An Evening on Ice' brings champs together in LA

Plethora of top competitors skate to make a difference, have fun

Tricia Laroche (left) and Doug Laroche at the meet-and-greet after the show, posing with the winners of a poster raffle.
Tricia Laroche (left) and Doug Laroche at the meet-and-greet after the show, posing with the winners of a poster raffle. (courtesy of Chad Phillips)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(07/23/2012) - The Toyota Center in El Segundo, Calif., was filled with skating stars and enthusiastic fans on Saturday for the second annual "An Evening on Ice," benefiting the US Athletic Foundation.

Former senior national competitor and 2002 U.S. junior champion Nicholas LaRoche and his sister, Tricia, started the foundation to aid competitive skaters with training expenses. They also present the Sportsmanship Award on behalf of their mother, Bunny, who was killed in 2008. The award is given to athletes who show both strong promise and great successes in their sport, and who Nick and Tricia feel embrace Bunny's vibrant spirit.

LaRoche's passion for the foundation is clear; his sister shares his feelings, and her great love for her brother is obvious.

"The major thing I learned from last year's show was how much support and love I have in the skating community," LaRoche said. "The amount of people who pushed for me to do another event this year was astonishing, and the friends that keep coming together to make it happen assure me that this show will continue to grow."

After a successful show in 2011, the LaRoches expanded to two shows this year. They go out of their way to make sure every detail of the experience is a great one for the skaters who donate their time and talent, believing that showing the skaters a good time will encourage them to come back, and thus ensure that the show and the fund will continue to grow.

The skaters were met at the airport by greeters who ushered them into limos to the hotel. On Friday night, the cast was surprised by the arrival of a stretch Hummer limo that ferried them to dinner in Hollywood at Eva Longoria's restaurant, Beso.

On the day of the show, arriving fans were treated to lots of extras, including displays of skating costumes in the lobby; each skater in the show brought one of his or her most famous costumes. Fans were also graced with the presence of legendary pairs skater Tai Babilonia, signing copies of Forever Two as One.

The large crowd greeted all the skaters with enthusiasm. Braden Overett served as master of ceremonies, and he also took the ice for a humorous program of love for a teddy bear.

Overett choreographed both the opening and closing numbers.

Grant Hochstein led off, skating a lyrical program to "Collide." Courtney Hicks, back from an injury that took her off the ice last season, showed off a powerful and inspirational program, including a strong double Axel, triple flip and two huge Russian split jumps. Chelsea Liu and Devon Perrini did a lighthearted program to "Dueling Banjos."

Alex Johnson skated a modern and innovative program, choreographed by Tom Dickson, to Middle Eastern music. He wore a black sleeveless top with a hood and black mesh harem pants, and did a nice triple Lutz and triple toe. Leah Keiser, in a very pretty burgundy dress with gold crystals, skated to Adele's "Make You Feel My Love," and landed a triple Lutz and triple Salchow.

"I wanted to do 'An Evening on Ice' because it seemed like a great charitable foundation and a good chance to skate with other great skaters," Keiser said. "It seemed like such a great cast and a great opportunity that I didn't want to miss it. I've definitely been enjoying myself. It's been a long day, but every second's been worth it."

Derrick Delmore performed to "Apologize," followed by Sean Rabbitt, who performed a Cabaret program he choreographed himself for the Young Artists' Showcase competition. He started with his head poking through the curtain, to the delight of the crowd.

"I choreographed this program as a tribute to Ryan Bradley," Rabbitt said. "I wanted to do the show because I'm all for helping out everyone with skating or any kind of recreation. Coming together with all these great skaters, I felt very honored to be asked to be part of it. It's been great; it's the Hollywood experience, getting to take the limo to the restaurant and room with all the skaters."

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin skated to "Come What May" from Moulin Rouge, followed by Bebe Liang skating a very cute program in blue shorts to "The Way I Am" by Ingrid Michaelson. LaRoche skated a powerful program, including his amazing signature hydroblade move, to "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

Rachael Flatt, skating on her birthday, rounded out the first half, skating a fun program she choreographed herself, one that included a triple loop and double Axel, to Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man." Synchronized team, Team Fusion, presented Flatt with a giant birthday card on the ice at the end of the show.

"Nick has done so much for the sport, so it's hard to say no to him," Flatt said. "It's such a great cause. It was great to see some people I haven't seen in a couple years."

In the second half, after Overett's romance to his teddy bear, the new pair of Lindsay Davis and Mark Ladwig started things off. Next, Adam Rippon tossed off his trademark Rippon Lutz in his program to Benny Benassi's "Cinema," wearing a gray tank top, jeans and a big smile. The fun, happy number started with some vogueing and even included a little break-dancing.

Alexe Gilles looked regal, wearing a sparkly champagne dress, in her program to Amy Winehouse's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow."

"Nick is a great friend," Gilles said. "It's always a fun atmosphere, and you get treated really well. It's nice to be treated like that even if we're not big-timers yet."

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker included a big double twist in their "What a Wonderful World/La Vie en rose" program. Doug Razzano, in a black T-shirt and jeans, skated to "Love the Way You Lie" as performed by American Idol star Colton Dixon.

"This is my first time [skating in the show]," Razzano said. "It always feels good and warms your soul to do a charity, and it's for such a good cause. Being a member of the foundation, it's even more special. I appreciate the invitation; I'm glad to be here."

Former world champion Kimmie Meissner, wearing a gorgeous mauve dress, did a very pretty double Axel that looked big enough that she could have done a triple. She skated to Birdy's "Skinny Love," a lyrical and musical program choreographed by Chris Conte.

"I always like to come and help out with Nick and his foundation," Meissner said. "Last year was really fun, and this year so far has been awesome. It's a great cast, always a good time."

Richard Dornbush, almost unrecognizable in a nerdy hairstyle and glasses, wore tan shorts and suspenders over an orange checked shirt and mismatched socks. He popped up throughout the show, pushing through the curtain or climbing over the barrier, pretending to try to get autographs from the stars. He was hustled off the ice by Overett, and at one point Ladwig picked him up and carried him away.

When it was finally his turn to skate, Dornbush performed a silly and playful number, which included a great triple Axel and three double Axels in a row, to "Let's Get it On" and "Stayin' Alive." He did another triple Axel during the closing number, and he was without a doubt the audience favorite, getting gales of laughter from the crowd.

Joannie Rochette, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, closed the show with a triple Salchow-triple toe sequence in her jazzy number to Christina Aguilera's "Burlesque," wearing a gorgeous hot pink dress. At the end, Dornbush finally got her autograph.

After the show, about 120 fans who had purchased VIP tickets were invited to a meet-and-greet reception at the hotel.

"Next year, we would love to sell out the event, and I can tell you now we already have some of the biggest names in skating asking to join our cast," LaRoche said. "Next show, we would like to combine a lot more professional skaters with the current competitive group."