Hicks turns to 'Evita,' Cassar to bring out maturity

U.S. pewter medalist selects short program music that hits home

Courtney Hicks hopes her collaboration with the recently retired Jonathan Cassar allows her to better connect with the audience.
Courtney Hicks hopes her collaboration with the recently retired Jonathan Cassar allows her to better connect with the audience. (Jay Adeff)


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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to
(07/03/2013) - Courtney Hicks, the 2011 U.S. junior champion and reigning U.S. pewter medalist, will be working with two different choreographers in the upcoming season.

The recently retired Jonathan Cassar has choreographed Hicks' new free skate, to Evita. The program will tell part of the story of Eva Perón's life, as depicted in the movie based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

"I think it's a good challenge for me to interpret a mature character and work on my performance skills," Hicks said. "She was very powerful, but she was still feminine and a good, strong character without giving up everything that made her who she was. At the beginning, I'm looking back over my life, as I'm dying, and it goes through my whole life, and at the end it's her last triumph."

Earlier this summer, Cassar choreographed a show program for Hicks, to "Hope Will Lead Us On" by BarlowGirl, and she decided to turn to him for her new free program as well.

"I would see him at Alisa Viejo during the week, and he's such a good performer; his choreography is so good," Hicks said. "He knows how to help people express the music and do the movements the best they can."

"The first thing I thought of is, she's no longer a young kid, so how can we help her become a young lady on the ice?" Cassar said. "She's a brilliant performer. I wanted to give her a program where she could find a character, to better her skills as an interpreter. I wanted her to feel something, and I wanted the audience to feel something, too."

Cassar stepped away from competition after the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and he is now focused on choreography.

He spoke of Hicks with enthusiasm.

"She's got this incredible power on the ice," he said. "I thought she could draw on that and use it to her advantage. I tried to use some of the jumps as choreographic elements. She is such a strong jumper; she just gives you the chills. I think she's going to do a wonderful job."

The jump content of the program will be similar to last year's free skate, but Hicks said she plans to do both the triple Lutz and triple Lutz-double toe-double loop in the second half.

For her short program, Hicks will skate to another movie score, one with a special significance for her.

"My short program is the Soul Surfer soundtrack by Marco Beltrami," Hicks said. "It's based on a true story, and it kind of pertains to my whole story with the injury and everything."

The 2011 film is based on the true story of 13-year-old surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm in a shark attack but returned to surfing. Hicks suffered a painful and public injury in the fall of 2011, when she fractured her tibia and growth plate during the free skate at a Junior Grand Prix event in Milan.

"She was determined not to let the injury get in the way of what she wanted to do," Hicks said about Hamilton. "I think it's really neat how she overcame it and got to do everything she wanted with her sport and with her life. She was able to get back into the water."

Hicks had to confront the memory of her injury in a very concrete way last spring, when she competed at the world junior championships in Milan.

"It was the same rink where I got injured," she said. "It was kind of weird, the very first practice, to be there in the same place where that happened. But it was also kind of nice to get to skate there again. Even though it wasn't my best skate, I kind of redeemed that rink for myself. Finishing that program was the final step in putting it behind me."

Hicks, who was formerly coached by John Nicks, Ken Congemi and Scott Wendland, started working with Jere Michael and Alex Chang last November. Chang choreographed the short program.

"He kind of re-choreographed my long program last year," Hicks said. "We liked what he did with the long program, so I thought it would be a good idea for him to do the short."

The planned jump content for the short program is triple flip-triple toe, with the triple Lutz and double Axel in the second half of the program. Relfecting on her injury and long recovery, Hicks looks on the bright side.

"I think it was actually a really good thing for me," she said. "I had some time when I wasn't able to jump and I could work on jump mechanics. I did a lot of walkthroughs. I could work on the whole setup. When I was first able to jump a little bit, I did a lot of exercise with singles and hops, like with my Lutz, getting the edge correctly."

Hicks plans to compete at the Los Angeles Open later this month; she says she is definitely going to skate her short program but hasn't decided whether to do her free. In addition, she will perform in the US Athletic Foundation show, "An Evening on Ice," July 20 in L.A., and in Parker Pennington's "Skate Dance Dream" show in Pittsburgh on July 27.

Coming off her podium finish in Omaha, Hicks is open about being one of the prime contenders for one of the United States' three ladies spots in Sochi.

"That's my ultimate goal this season: to make the Olympic team," she said. "I can't wait to get started with the season."