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Davis, White put classic ballet on ice, take lead

Canadians impress with Sound of Music; No lederhosen in sight

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White claimed the short dance by 5.6 points.
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White claimed the short dance by 5.6 points. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2012) - When the Yankee Polka was announced as this season's required pattern for the short dance, some feared an endless parade of perkiness dressed up in lederhosen. Instead, the skating community has risen to the challenge with programs showcasing a multitude of styles.

At Skate America on Saturday, fans could enjoy an outing at the ballet; visit the Great White Way; and travel back in time to a ballroom in Czarist Russia, with a stop at the Grand Ole Opry along the way.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White turned their talents to the first act of Giselle, one of the most widely performed classic ballets, and their coach, Marina Zoueva, was more than happy with the program's debut, which earned 71.39 points and a 5.60-point lead.

"I think they did great. It looks like close to their highest [short dance] score of last season," Zoueva said. "Plus, they had a one-point deduction -- a lift was too long (over time). We just changed it too close to competition. It's not a technical problem; it will be fixed, so the score will be even higher."

Polka and waltz rhythms play to the four-time U.S. champions' strengths, and they hit the music's highlights with elegant precision, their steps light and quick. The opening element, impeccable twizzles, gained Level 4, as did one of their Yankee Polka patterns and the closing rotational lift.

"Meryl and I were lucky enough to compete the Yankee Polka the last time it was the compulsory dance," White said. "It was always one of our strengths because we have really quick feet, and that's a big part of it, being comfortable with the timing. You layer [your characterizations] on top of that, so it's important to have the basics."

Giselle is a standard in every major classical company's repertoire, but the skaters are confident they bring their own personalities to the well-loved ballet.

"We've been able to watch a lot of ballets, and a lot of Giselles, to get a feel for the characteristics of how they act," White said. "We're definitely trying to make it our own, but we're comfortable with how we're presenting it, and it's not going to be too over the top.

"Obviously, the polka is supposed to be a lot of fun. No one is going to be dancing a polka unless they're having a blast, so we really like to try to show that."

"The interpretation from an American Ballet Theatre, and a Bolshoi, is very, very different, so I think we're having a great time kind of looking at all of the different styles and working them into our own style," Davis said. "It's a comfortable rhythm for us, but I think the short dance as a whole is challenging us with a style we haven't addressed before."

Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje took a different tack, approaching the Yankee from a Broadway-mixed-with-ballroom approach. Their short dance to selections from The Sound of Music, including the "Edelweis" and "Do-Re-Mi," was an uptick from their debut of the program at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava, Slovakia, earlier this month, where they were disappointed in the levels awarded by the technical panel. Here, they gained Levels 4 and 3 on their Yankee patterns -- the best of the event -- and another Level 4 on their rotational lift, for 65.79 points.

"We wanted to go back to the drawing board a little bit after Bratislava. We weren't happy with the way the levels were there," Poje said. "That's definitely what we've been working on. I feel like this is a strong starting point and we can grow from here during the season."

"One of our main strengths, I think, is interpreting the music while doing all of these difficult elements," Weaver said. "It's very difficult during the Yankee Polka because we're not naturally quick movers, and it took a long time for us to get comfortable with this dance, but there is no option but to combine the two, technical and artistic."

The music choice has added significance to the couple, as a tribute to a late family member.

"This short dance also has special meaning to us because of Andrew's grandmother, who passed away this summer," Weaver said. "She loved 'Edelweiss' and was Austrian, so we are really proud to perform this for her, and we are looking forward to it evolving throughout the season."

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, the two-time European silver medalists from Russia who now train under Alexander Zhulin in Moscow, chose a more classic ballroom polka and waltz, playing a flirtatious soldier and lady skating to a medley of Russian film soundtracks. The program was bright, fast and entertaining from start to finish, and earned 62.91 points.

"We are very happy with our performance today. We skated to have fun and enjoy ourselves," Bobrova said. "We think with every competition we can improve and improve."

"Our goal is to bring the original dance and the compulsory dance [Yankee Polka] together so it doesn't look like two parts but like one organic dance," Soloviev said.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, fourth in the U.S. last season, set a new personal best with their routine to Chris Isaak's cover of the Johnny Cash country classic "Ring of Fire" and Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love." Gaining Level 4 for both the lift and twizzles, the team sits fourth with 53.89 points.

"The crowd was really great," Kriengkrairut said. "They really got into our music, and that really kept us in character. It was great."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus evoked Viennese elegance with their short dance to selections from Strauss. They gained Level 4 for their closing rotational life and improved on the score they earned at the 2012 U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City last month, earning 47.98 points, good for seventh place.

"It was a lot of fun," McManus said. "We weren't nervous at all, just excited to be here. I think that really helped our performance."