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Chock, Bates debut 'Dr. Zhivago' in Lake Placid

Yankee Polka provides challenges for competitors

Madison Chock and Evan Bates' 'Dr. Zhivago' free dance was the hit of the competition.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates' 'Dr. Zhivago' free dance was the hit of the competition. (Daphne Backman)

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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/30/2012) - Two dazzling performances from Madison Chock and Evan Bates highlighted the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, held in the picturesque resort hamlet in upstate New York last week.

The team, together since last summer, overcame the parting of ways of their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, in June and a subsequent move with Shpilband to the Novi Ice Arena to deliver a polished, romantic free dance to Maurice Jaffe's Dr. Zhivago as well as a creative short dance to music from Cirque de Soleil.

"Fortunately, we were on vacation when Igor's split with the Canton rink happened," Bates said. "If it had to happen, obviously this was the perfect time, right at the start of the season."

"We are now actually Igor's only U.S. senior team, but we are training with couples from an amazing number of countries: Russia, Poland, Canada, Lithuania and Italy," Chock said. "We have plenty of ice time."

Their free dance featured three Level 4 elements, including the serpentine and rotational lifts, and spin. Their circular steps and twizzles rated Level 3, and two other elements -- the opening curve lift and diagonal steps -- gained Level 2.

"The first curve lift was a mistake on my part -- I put my foot down and it was a one-foot lift -- but that was the only big mistake," Bates said. "I think we did a good job. We got feedback on the program -- that's the biggest thing -- and we'll make a few tweaks. Then we'll have [U.S. Figure Skating's] Champs Camp in three weeks, and another round of feedback."

As usual in Lake Placid, there were a few negative surprises: one of the lifts went over time, while their "choreo" lift, an eye-catching move that has Chock balanced on her partner's leg while rotating around, was deemed an "illegal element/movement."

The three points in deductions brought their score to 80.32 points.

"It's a stationary lift, with me on one foot, and the whole lift hinges on centrifugal momentum," Bates said. "My arms are fully extended, and basically it was called illegal because of the hand-to-hand hold. We are planning to keep the lift and just modify the hold.

"That's why you go to Lake Placid -- we need that information now, rather than later."

Chock and Bates, fifth in the U.S. last season, placed first in their free dance group, followed by Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus with 77.93 points, and Kristen Nardozzi and Nick Traxler with 69 points.

The other senior free dance group was headed by Canadians Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams, sixth at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, who earned 78.77 points. Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, fourth in the U.S. last season, placed just 0.5 points behind. The new team of Anastasia Olson and Keiffer Hubbell was third with 69.62.

The event was not without its falls, but most everyone took them in good humor. Spanish champions Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, 19th at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, skipped the short dance, which includes the perky yet treacherous Yankee Polka.

"No way could we show off a Polka -- we're not ready," said the 19-year-old Hurtado, who hails from Madrid. "We were bad enough in our free dance, which was a disaster. We had three falls and a deduction for a too-long lift. I hate to think what might have happened if we'd done the Polka."

The polka has always been a good-hearted and boisterous if unsophisticated dance, requiring lots of energy and spirit. Including it in the senior short dance this season is getting a mixed reception.

The dance was created by five-time U.S. champions Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky and their coach Ron Ludington for the 1969-70 season, when they won world silver. It has a record number of steps, 66, and some of them must be executed in half a beat.

Suzy Semanick-Schurman, a 1988 Olympian who heads up the figure skating program at The Pond Ice Arena in Newark, Del., had several entrants in Lake Placid. She vividly remembers doing the Yankee Polka with partner Scott Gregory.

"I still have a scar," she said, offering to show her left calf. "The steps are done at such speed and you are so close that if you get slightly out of sync, you get kicked."

Natalia Linichuk, who won the 1980 Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid with her now husband Gennadi Karponosov, is a proponent of keeping pattern sequences in the short dance.

"Compulsories are an essential part of training," she said. "Of course, it is a better test of edges if they are longer, but even the short steps of the Yankee Polka teach skill through constant repetition."

The diplomatic Shpilband, never a proponent of compulsories, is philosophical about the dance.

"This season is very challenging, because there is no place to rest in the Yankee Polka," he said. "The skaters must keep pushing. I'm not a big fan of this dance, but it does work better than the pattern for the junior [short dance], which is the Blues. However, I wish the rules allowed the skaters to split the Yankee into two halves."

Chock and Bates' short dance combines a waltz with two polkas. Their Yankee is done to the slower of the two polkas; the other is at breakneck speed. It opens with Chock playing a circus performer, teetering on a tight rope. Bates is kneeling, an adoring look in his eyes, ready to catch her.

The team hit fast, well-synchronized twizzles and a smooth one-arm rotational lift, and posted a score of 54.44, easily winning its group.

"I competed the Yankee Polka with my former partner [Emily Samuelson] in the 2008 U.S. Championships, but we were on the junior circuit earlier that season and only had four weeks to prepare it for nationals, so I don't remember too much about it," Bates said.

"Making sure you are on the correct edges when they are held for such a short time is incredibly difficult, but we like challenges. Obviously, that's what sorts the couples out. We got a Level 3 on the first half of the Yankee -- the second half we didn't get the level, but we know what to work on."

Orford and Williams were second with 50.57. Skating to My Fair Lady, Olson and Hubbell placed third with 47.16.

Cannuscio and McManus headed up the other senior free dance short, gaining 48.90 points for a program including "Acceleration Waltz," with Canadians Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam second (48.18) and Alissandra Aronow and Collin Brubaker third (45.74).

While Chock and Bates earned top marks in both sections of the senior event, there was a surprise in the juniors.

In the junior short dance, the pattern sequences are the Blues, which competitors can combine with Swing or Hip Hop. U.S. junior champions Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton gained the top score of 52.17 points for a program featuring Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000." But the couple completely missed the first lift in their free dance, and their score of 65.69 put them second in their group, four points behind Eliana Pogrebinsky and Ross Gudis.

"They were too far apart on the entry and had to abort the lift," said Massimo Scali, one of their coaches at the Detroit Skating Club. "There was nothing else they could do. There was no way he could get her up. It cost them a lot of points, but they will learn from it."

Overall, the top scorers in the junior free dance were Canadian junior silver medalists Madeline Edwards and Zhao Kai Pang with 70.19 points. They had gained 47.99 for their short dance, second most behind Aldridge and Eaton.