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Virtue, Moir turn up the heat with 'Carmen' free

Canadians win fourth Skate Canada title; Italians' 'Carmen' takes silver

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are all red-hot passion in their <i>Carmen</i> free dance.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are all red-hot passion in their Carmen free dance. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/27/2012) - This season, Marina Zoueva has brought the drama.

The coach and choreographer wanted to show a different side of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, so she turned to a story and music that spells passion like no other: Bizet's Carmen.

"The best thing about Tessa and Scott is their connection, how they are a man and woman on the ice," Zoueva said. "They always performed in a lyrical way, a lovely way. This is the first time in their careers they are showing love in a dramatic way, and that is number one."

There's nothing lyrical about Virtue and Moir's Carmen free dance. It is profoundly modern and stylized, punctuated by staccato bursts and angular upper-body movements. There's hot desire mixed with seething rage, just barely controlled, and it explodes in the program's two ending lifts, including an almost-wild rotational.

"We took every move we've done for 15 years, and tried to eliminate those and only come up with moves that add to our story," Virtue said.

Despite withdrawing from the Finlandia Trophy earlier this month due to Moir's strained neck, and then having a challenging short dance here, the Canadians' Carmen exceeded nearly everyone's expectations. It gained six Level 4 elements, including three lifts, and earned 104.32 points, and it helped win the duo their fourth Skate Canada title.

"This was the debut of our free dance, so it was an exciting day for us, but we felt we handled the nerves well and performed a very good program," Moir said. "There were a couple of mistakes in there, but as with any free dance, you have to work through it. We'll be looking to build on it in Russia (at the Rostelecom Cup) in a couple of weeks, and on to the worlds in spring."

The Canadians did leave some points on the table; their circular steps rated Level 3, and their diagonal steps Level 2.

"Everything in the program is new, never done in figure skating before: all of the lifts, spins, footwork," Zoueva said. "It is a difficult program, and they did a great job. There is lots of room for improvement; the day they do it really well, it will be over 200 points [for both programs]."

Zoueva, who with Oleg Epstein and Johnny Johns coaches the couple and their top rivals, U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, in Canton, Mich., was inspired to create Carmen by Virtue's growing versatility as a performer.

"Years ago when Tessa and Scott were juniors, many of the comments from judges and officials were that they could see more of Scott," she said. "He's dancing, he's hyper, he has dark hair, he has enthusiasm. Tessa is so gentle, so lyrical, so beautiful.

"Now Tessa is a woman, and she has had drama in her life ... Before she was quite a naïve and lovely girl, but now she can show the dramatic aspect of love."

In an interesting twist, Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, sixth in the world last season, also skated their free dance to Carmen. They took a more classic, but still fresh, approach, giving the story an elegant twist.

Their highlights were a lovely straight line lift, with Lanotte in a kneeling position and Cappellini stretched horizontal to the ice, followed by a fast rotational lift. True to Bizet's story, Lanotte stabs Cappellini at the end (whereas Virtue is victorious over Moir).

The Italians, too, left points on the table in their step sequences but gained five Level 4 elements to earn 94.98 and the silver medal with 160.06 points.

"We tried to go and give everything, and we were really focused on showing the program; we wanted to show our interpretation and confidence on the ice," Lanotte said. "We received Level 2 for circular and diagonal steps, and that means there is work to do to be more solid in parts of the program. We have to be stronger in the technical part because we really want to compete in the highest level of the sport."

In yet another twist, Cappellini and Lanotte train in Novi, Mich., under Igor Shpilband, former coach of Virtue and Moir, in addition working with to Paola Mezzadri in Milan. Shpilband and his wife, Adrienne Lenda, coached the Italians at this event.

"They had some higher levels at Finlandia Trophy; this time, maybe they didn't attack some edges," Shpilband said. "It definitely could be improved with more power and speed. It will grow; it is only the beginning of the season."

Far from being disappointed that Virtue and Moir also chose Carmen, Cappellini said that comparisons would spur them on.

"We already had a change of free dance in the summer, and we weren't going to change it a second time -- we wouldn't have been ready for the Grand Prix," she said. "Knowing that Tessa and Scott were doing it was very motivating. We didn't want to look bad next to them."

Moir, too, took it in stride.

"It's skating, aren't there always two Carmens?" he quipped. "There is only so much music you can use in skating. We show it differently. In our camp, we didn't have a reaction; obviously, we know they are going to do a beautiful Carmen and we have to bring our 'A' game."

Another team partially coached by Shpilband, Russians Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, performed an elegant and refined free dance to the theme from The Godfather with four Level 4 lifts. They gained 87.59 points for their free and won bronze with 143.39 points.

"We are so proud we were not so nervous like yesterday," Tkachenko said. "Now, we remembered the feeling of a competitions. We were calm, everything was on time, and we really we liked our skating today."

Since training part time in Novi with Shpilband, Lenda and their longtime primary coach, Alexei Gorshkov, the team has spent more time perfecting its lifts.

"Every day we have a one-hour lesson with the lifts," Tkachenko said. "Now we are practicing them a lot; we didn't before. When you are working on lifts so much, they are not so risky."

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue skated a sexy and challenging free dance to flamenco rhythms, gaining Level 4 for three of their lifts. They lost points on their spin when their blades briefly collided, dropping that element to a Level 1, and also lost levels on a curve lift and diagonal steps. They placed sixth in the free and fifth overall with 135.16 points.

"They made little mistakes on the technical side, but it's the beginning of the season," said Massimo Scali, who coaches the couple at the Detroit Skating Club. "The important thing is not losing a battle but winning the war."

"We're working on training the program more and more; we don't want to hold back," Hubbell said. "We do have risky elements, and when they don't work, their levels get pushed down. By the end of the season, I'm pretty confident we'll be rewarded for pushing the envelope."