Buckley lands Axel in ITNY Celeb Skate victory

YouTube sensation edges Young, Morehouse for honors at New York's Chelsea Piers

Celeb Skate winner Michael Buckley skating with partner Sinead Kerr.
Celeb Skate winner Michael Buckley skating with partner Sinead Kerr. (Darial Sneed)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(06/13/2013) - Michael Buckley rode his rapier wit and keen eye for pop culture to YouTube stardom, but after his winning performance at Ice Theatre of New York's (ITNY) Celeb Skate 2013, he might start taking it easier on some of the targets of his (usually) good-natured snark.

"Even though it was a fun event, it was stressful," said Buckley, star of the top-rated What the Buck vlog. "Your program may seem easy on the practice ice, but not when you get out there. I have new respect for the competitors now."

Buckley, along with actress Sean Young and Olympic fencing silver medalist Tim Morehouse, braved the ice at New York's Chelsea Piers on Sunday. The celeb trio teamed with pro skating partners to compete before a judging panel headed by ITNY founder Moira North and including Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, fashion designer Nicole Miller and renowned modern dance choreographer David Dorfman.

ITNY artistic director Douglas Webster and All My Children star Rebecca Budig hosted the event, a fundraiser for ITNY's rehearsal fund and Education and Outreach Program, which provides free performances and skating clinics to New York City public school students.

"Everyone who participated -- the skaters, the celebrities, the judges -- donated their time," North said. "We're very grateful because it means ITNY can continue its programs for students throughout the city."

Placements were based 40 percent on the judges' scores and 60 percent on the audience votes.

"Don't just vote for the best; vote for who inspired you the most, who made you want to get up and skate," Webster told the crowd.

That turned out to be Buckley, who took up skating as a 22-year-old college senior at New Hampshire's Saint Anselm College. Performing with Sinead Kerr in a cat-and-mouse routine set to the James Bond film Casino Royale, the 30-something Internet star landed an Axel and executed challenging steps and spread eagles.

"Your back crossovers were powerful, there was lots of snap in your Axel, and you kept up the speed throughout the entire program," said Cohen, awarding Buckley a perfect "6."

"I actually learned the Axel the month I started skating. For whatever reason, I had guts and wasn't afraid to throw my knee up and get around," Buckley said. "I've lost it many times over the years, but I was happy to have found it here. I love what ITNY does, and just to be a small part of it is really cool for me."

Young, star of Blade Runner and No Way Out, performed to Judy Garland's finger-snapping "Get Happy" from the 1950 MGM musical Summer Stock. The elegant actress was partnered by Jonathon Hunt, with three other tuxedo-clad gentlemen -- Patrick Connelly, Eliot Halverson and Andrew Naylor -- adding to the fun.

"A very enjoyable program, skated with such theatricality, and I don't expect anything less from Sean Young," Dorfman said.

Young, who trained with Hunt 2-3 times a week for six weeks, credited skating with "tightening up my tush."

"It's also good for confidence and balance," she said, recommending the sport for adult women. "I came into this knowing I would be challenged. It's hard, so it requires skill, and you get an increase in skill if you keep at it. I feel like I'm a lot better with Jon [Hunt] helping me than when I first got here."

Morehouse and ITNY principal skater Elisa Angeli donned full fencing gear, complete with sabers, in their Pirates of the Caribbean program. The Olympian tripped up taking a bow but, fortunately, did not fall on his sword.

"Swords and figure skates, that's a lot of sharp objects," Morehouse said. "I've only had four or five practices, so I'm going for the comedic excellence versus the skill excellence today."

Morehouse's foundation, Fencing-in-the-Schools, has 10,000 student participants in public schools in seven states. ITNY's mission to expose New York City kids to skating inspired him to don skates.

"So many kids never get to experience sports like figure skating and fencing, so when ITNY asked me to do this to help support their public school outreach program, I agreed," Morehouse said.

Cohen gave props to the celebrities for taking the ice.

"I really admire people who haven't skated before, who after maybe two months of lessons put together a program and skate an ensemble number," she said. "I applaud them in advance because skating is difficult, even if you've done it your whole life."

Cohen, a full-time student at Columbia University, will keep a close eye on the skating scene this fall.

"The U.S. ladies' chances are good," Cohen said. "I think this year will show a lot of development and maturity, especially for Gracie [Gold], who is a younger skater. I'm really excited to see what she looks like this season.

"Ultimately, ice is slippery, and [Olympic medals] are going to be open to those skaters who have great nights. Yu-Na Kim is perhaps in a league of her own, but I think the U.S. ladies have good chances to medal."

Celeb Skate 2013 featured the debut of "Oceans," a four-act skating ballet performed by Halverson, the 2007 U.S. junior champion, as well as ITNY's Special Events and Education & Outreach Ensemble. The ballet featured eye-catching costumes, including white pearl-encrusted dresses from the Charles Schulz Collection, inherited by ITNY.

"I wanted to create a piece to inspire the imaginations of children, something fantastical," Webster said. "The costumes helped to create a visual feeling people don't see at ice shows anymore, except perhaps Disney on Ice. We wanted to make something New York City kids would watch and enjoy, so they'll say, 'I'd like to try skating.'"

Reporter's notebook: Edward Villella, the great principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and founder of the Miami City Ballet, will work with ITNY to create a ballet on ice to premiere at ITNY's annual Benefit Gala and Performance in October: "ITNY will be in residency at Sun Valley[, Idaho,] in September, and the choreography will be created there," Webster said. "It will be a romantic ice ballet, very fitting since this year's gala honors Sonia Rodriquez and Kurt Browning." Rodriquez is a long-time principal with National Ballet of Canada, and her husband, Browning, is the four-time world figure skating champion. Villella has close connections to the skating world. His wife, Linda Carbonetto, is the 1969 Canadian champion.