Chock, Bates teeter to lead with mystical Polka

Kriengkrairut, Giulietti-Schmitt in tight battle with Canadian teams

Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the best circus in town, jumping to a 6.4-point lead.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the best circus in town, jumping to a 6.4-point lead. (Jay Adeff)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(09/13/2012) - Madison Chock and Evan Bates' lilting, intricate short dance opened a large lead at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City on Thursday, with the Novi, Mich.,-based team taking a 6.4-point advantage into Saturday's free dance.

Teamed in the summer of 2011, the Igor Shpilband-trained couple found a style all their own with their polka and waltz to the eerie strains of Cirque du Soleil Quidam, earning 62.89 points. They gained Level 4 on the first section of their Yankee Polka pattern and on a fast-moving, closing rotational lift.

"We're really happy with the performance today," Bates said. "We've been working a lot on the Yankee. The technical score (32.33) indicates we got decent levels, so we're going in the right direction with the work we're putting in at home."

The program begins with Chock as a circus performer, teetering on a tightrope.

"I'm a spectator at first, and then she slips, and she falls into my arms, and we go into this waltz/polka routine," Bates said.

"This program is a lot of fun; it's very quirky and kind of mystical," Chock said. "If you've ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show, the performers are always very curious and kind of searching."

Shpilband invited several coaches to Novi to work with Chock and Bates on their short dance, including Alexei Gorshkov, Barbara Fusar-Poli and Marina Klimova.

"When a coach comes for a week or two, everyone is focused to make the most out of the trip," Bates said. "It's fun, it's stimulating, it's new and it's good to get so many perspectives, because it's going to make a better product in the end."

The team, fifth in the U.S. last season, hopes to move up the podium at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to qualify for one of the three U.S. world slots.

One of Chock and Bates' primary competitors for the U.S. world team, Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, took a purely American approach to the Yankee; an entertaining country-style program to a medley of Chris Isaak covers, including "Ring of Fire" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."

The program's highlight, a straight-line lift with many changes of position, gained Level 4, as did a speedy twizzle sequence, and they earned 56.49 points.

"The Yankee Polka is an American-style polka, so we wanted to take it in that direction, especially since we are competing three times in the U.S. this year," Kriengkrairut said. "We thought having that genre in front of a home crowd would be fun."

"We wanted to do something unique, that was a crowd-pleaser, that a lot of people would recognize," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "What is cool about these two pieces is they bridge the gap of generations; people can identify the Johnny Cash ("Ring of Fire") at our age, and our parents' and grandparents' ages."

The team's coaches and choreographers, Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava Nechaeva, added many country-style details to the program, including a sliding move from Giulietti-Schmitt.

"That's something we're always working on: our transitional elements, getting from one thing to another, building our [program] components," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "It's been a focus of ours for a long time."

Canadian bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier turned in a charming performance to tunes from Mary Poppins, earning 55.98 points for third place.

The team gained three Level 4 elements from the technical panel, including speedy twizzles with a "leap" entrance and a daring lift featuring a dramatic, swooping drop.

"We're really trying to push ourselves and break into the top teams in the world this season," Poirier said. "That lift took us a little bit [of time] to do; we wanted that daring head drop at the end to give it a little excitement," Gilles said. "There were times I got really close to the ice, but I haven't hit it yet, so knock on wood."

Another Canadian team, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, is fourth with 55.86 points after a romantic program to a medley of the Edith Piaf tunes "La Foule" and "Milord," choreographed by former coach Kelly Johnson.

The program -- in keeping with several others at this event -- seamlessly blended a waltz with the required Yankee Polka pattern dance.

"The songs are from the same musical, which helps blend them together," Paul said. "It made it a lot easier."

"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Islam said. "There are obviously a lot of changes for us this season; we're looking to bounce back from a tough year."

After training at the Detroit Skating Club this summer, the 2010 world junior medalists decided to relocate to Detroit permanently, leaving coaches David Islam and Johnson in Barrie, Ontario, to train under a team headed by Pasquale Camerlengo and including Anjelika Krylova, Massimo Scali, Natalia Deller and Liz Punsalan-Swallow.

"Originally, it was just for the summer, to kind of go for training camp to experience it, and we decided it was in our best interest to stay," Paul said. "Training with the older teams (including world bronze medalists Natalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, and Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje) has been extremely helpful for us. Being around stronger, bigger teams gives us the push we need."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, the University of Delaware-based team who placed sixth at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, took an elegant and traditional route, skating a waltz and polka to selections from Johann Strauss II. They sit eighth with 42.10 points.

"It suited our characters very well, and I think it suited our look on the ice very well," McManus said of the team's Viennese ballroom approach. "I'm tall with long lines and I don't think the hoedown would have suited me. We wanted a program that played to both of our strengths."

"I thought it went well. We had a very out-of-ordinary slip right before our twizzles; our hand [hold] slipped," she said. "It's something you can't plan for; it's just something that happens and you have to keep going. We're looking forward to the free dance."