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The Inside Edge: 'Ice Chips' takes on Finnish feel

Skating Club of Boston commemorates 101 years with event at Harvard University's Bright Arena

Ross Miner fit right in with members of the Finnish synchro team, Marigold IceUnity.
Ross Miner fit right in with members of the Finnish synchro team, Marigold IceUnity. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(04/22/2013) - The Skating Club of Boston's 101st "Ice Chips" show, held April 13-14, seemed like it happened in another lifetime, given what happened in Boston in the following week. Nevertheless, Sarah was at the show, which brought the usual roster of top club skaters, great guest stars and Girl Scouts to the Bright Arena at Harvard University.

The show opened to pulsing, mystical music and blue lighting, against a beautiful backdrop of curved fabric panels that disguised the skaters' entrances and exits, and also served as a screen for projected lighting and video. The club's senior skaters entered and showed off lifts and jumps through a thick layer of dry ice fog. Then, the enormous cast, made up of all the higher-level skaters at the club, entered in identical bluish-purple jumpsuits and did unison choreography in weaving lines and patterns.

The overall theme of the fast-paced show was "Life on Earth." Several low-test group numbers played on ocean themes, as bubbles rained from the ceiling. More young skaters presented "Sky" and "Land." Snow fell as Heidi Munger skated a lovely solo in pale blue.

Along with the club's regional and sectional medalists, the soloists included national competitors Alexandria Shaughnessy and Jimmy Morgan, skating a sassy number to "Greased Lightning." Isabella Cannuscio and Michael Bramante performed a very romantic number to music from Ghost. Harrison Choate went all out in "Desperado," and Yasmin Siraj was ethereal in "Bring Him Home," unusually sung by a female vocalist.

Stephen Carriere skated a powerful, interesting program to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and landed a crisp, perfect triple Axel, triple Lutz and triple toe. Backstage, he was lively and funny as always, wearing, for some reason, a pair of Simon Shnapir's warm-up pants. Check out the photo in the gallery. (Shnapir and partner Marissa Castelli missed the show, since they were competing at the World Team Trophy.)

Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff skated a powerful, lyrical program to "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus were steamy, as always, skating to "Unusual Way" from the musical Nine. Christina Gao, looking lovely, skated to the lovely song "River" by Emili Sande. Ross Miner channeled Frank Sinatra in a reprise of his "Luck Be a Lady."

The guest stars were Finland's Marigold IceUnity, who stayed in Boston after the 2013 World Synchronized Skating Championships, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. IceUnity members showed off their speed and perfect unison in two programs, Dreamgirls in the first half and "Chess" in the second.

The Shibutanis skated with their usual elegance to the poignant ballad "Lost" and showed off their effervescent humorous side in "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," finishing off with a little hip-hop.

And about those Girl Scouts ... the club has been affiliated with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts for the past six years. 180 scouts and their families took advantage of discounted tickets to the show. Skaters Jessica Lin and Amanda Steeger, herself a 12-year scouting veteran, organized a meet-and-greet with the stars of the show. The skaters demonstrated elements and signed autographs for the scouts.

This year's Spirit of Ice Chips award was presented to Dr. Jarshen Lin, father of Jessica, who is an enthusiastic, tireless, kind and humble champion of the show, the club and skating in general.

Backstage

The stars hopped on buses to Legal Seafood for dinner between shows, zipping through Cambridge, Mass., traffic with a police escort. The Finnish synchro team loved this, giggling and taking pictures of the police car, flashing lights, siren and all. In the restaurant, Alex Shibutani held court over one table of Finnish girls, while Miner was at another. Both guys and girls seemed to love every minute.

Gao is very focused on skating at the moment; she is taking a "gap year," putting her Harvard studies on pause this spring and next fall so she can put all her energy into preparing for the Olympic season.

"And then we'll see after that," she said.

She hasn't yet decided on music for next season.

Carriere revealed that Tanith Belbin has choreographed his new short program and that David Wilson did the free skate. He declined to say what his music is, but said he plans to compete at Liberty and as many summer competitions as he can.

Sara Vedenoja, the captain of the IceUnity team, took a few minutes to chat with us about skating in Finland, and whether synchro would ever be competed at the Olympics.

"We have waited for that for a long time," she said. "I don't think it will happen in the close future, but maybe later, I hope. There are so many different factors."

Nutcracker

1980 Olympian Sheryl Franks has choreographed Donlan and Speroff's programs for the coming season. Their short program will be to "Meditation" from Thaïs, and they'll be skating to the pas de deux from The Nutcracker for their free skate.

"We wanted to do what we do well," Speroff said. "Last year, we tried too hard."

"We want to polish more than last year," Donlan said. "Last year, we were so concentrated on training that we didn't spend as much time on the small details. Andrew and I will capitalize on our strengths, holding our line, making sure every extension is full and big."

Speroff did mention that all of the lifts and throws in the free skate will be in the second half.

Donlan, a freshman at Boston University, says she's on the pre-med track, hoping to become a doctor. She is loving college, and she was excited because her roommates were at the show.

Maia and Alex and Yo-Yo

Maia Shibutani had a chance encounter the day before the show with renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

"I was walking in Harvard Square, and I recognized him on the street!" Maia said. "He was so nice, he took a picture with me."

"I wasn't there," Alex said. "I wouldn't have believed it if she had told me, but she got a picture, so there's proof right there."

"It was very exciting because he actually worked on the Memoirs of a Geisha soundtrack," Maia said. "He's obviously such a great artist, so that was just an amazing encounter."

The Shibutanis were, as always, diplomatic and cagey about revealing anything much at all about their programs or plans. They did say they had started work on the Finnstep, next year's short dance, right after the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, and they are enjoying it.

"It's kind of right up our alley," Alex said. "It's a challenging dance, and it's the first time that it's being competed in the short dance format, obviously. Maia and I were thrilled that the quickstep/foxtrot/swing rhythms were chosen for the short dance. We really love the type of movement that that evokes."

Maia revealed that the brother and sister have been working with ballroom dancer Corky Ballas again. In fact, they had spent the previous week staying at his house in Houston.

"He's such a great personality, a wonderful man to work with," Alex said.

"So experienced and knowledgeable," Maia said.

"We got a lot of work done," Alex went on. "Marina was very happy with what we brought back. We worked a little in the studio, in his living room, and at a local rink nearby. We have a really good rhythm to our working relationship with him, and it was really easy this time around.

"I think one of the great benefits of having a strong male dancer is not only for me to see visually what I should be emulating, but for Maia to understand how I'm supposed to be partnering her."

What was it like to dance with him?

"Oh, it was absolutely incredible," Maia said. "He's such an amazing dancer. He definitely makes everything really fun, and he's great at explaining things."

Ballas is particularly well known for Latin rhythms. Hmm ... interesting.

Hair

The Shibutanis and Miner are planning a repeat of last year's Hawaii vacation in May.

"That worked out the first time; we didn't kill each other, so we'll try it again, keep our fingers crossed," Alex said.

The three go way, way back. Alex remembers watching Miner skate before he met him, over 10 years ago.

"Our parents went to Harvard," Alex said. "We went to see 'An Evening With Champions,' and I remember being in this same arena at a very young age and thinking it was the biggest arena I'd ever seen, ever would see. I remember we got popcorn -- I have very vivid memories of it. Ross did a flamenco Spanish program, and he did this thing where he was stomping his feet on the ice, and he did the hydroblade. He was all head and blond hair, and sticks for legs.

"We're at this point in our careers where we've kind of grown up with a group that has been lucky enough to make it through the ranks, and we're now traveling with them, and we've been through a lot of experiences with them."

Gao, Miner and the Shibutanis will be traveling to Los Angeles soon for the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit. After that, Miner will head straight to Colorado to get a new free skate from Tom Dickson. He doesn't know what the music will be yet, though.

"We've had discussions, just bouncing ideas back and forth," Miner said. "I'm sure it will get ironed out before I get there."

A few days before the show, Miner had been to the "Figure Skating in Harlem" event in New York City, with, among others, Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon. If you saw the photos from the event, you must have seen Weir's bizarre hairdo, with a sort of pouf of hair perched on top of his head. It was a hairpiece, obviously, or -- in fact -- two pieces.

After the show, Weir plucked it off and gave one piece to Rippon and one piece to Miner, for luck in the coming season.

"Enjoy these," Weir said.

Later, Miner's mother caught a glimpse of the ball of hair in Miner's suitcase and thought it was a dead mouse.

Baby news

Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao have announced that they are expecting a baby in September.

Naomi Nam Poor posted on Facebook that she and her husband are proud parents to a baby girl, Bella Tatum Poor, born April 16.

Mazel tov,
Sarah and Drew
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