By Lynn Rutherford
Note: In Lake Placid, compulsory, original dance and free dance competitions are held independent of one another. Marks do not carry over.
Potential new U.S. ice dance stars Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsov won the Senior Original Dance with 45.51 points. Performing (as opposed to simply skating) to samba and rumba rhythms, the lean, physically well-matched couple flew across the ice with good speed and expression, particularly in their smooth and sensuous rumba. The couple, especially Barantsov, "sold" the program, capturing the rhythms with hip action and facial expressions no other duo matched.
The Dallas-born Wester teamed with Ekaterinaburg native Barantsov, a two-time World junior champion (with former partner Natalia Romaniuta), in the spring of 2003. Taking the initiative, she approached Barantsov’s coach, Nikolai Morozov, in the stands at the 2003 Worlds in Washington, DC, and asked for a tryout.
The couple’s competitive debut had been derailed by surgeries to both of Wester’s shoulders, but now their future looks bright. They passed their senior dance tests on June 13th; on the personal front, they became engaged on February 27th and have set a wedding date for May 6, 2006.
"Knock wood -- after two full surgeries and a whole lot of rehab, I feel amazing. I’m still taking it slowly doing the Beillmann positions, but that’s really just being cautious," explained Wester. Barantsov has begun the process of gaining U.S. citizenship, and the couples expect to be eligible for the 2010 Olympics.
Shae-Lyn Bourne, who coaches the couple with Morozov in Newington, CT, said, "The Russian Federation still has not released (Barantsov), but I don’t think that matters. He has his green card. They certainly can compete at sectionals and U.S. Nationals next year, and I think they could accept an international assignment."
Second place went to Jamie Silverstein & Ryan O’Meara with 44.24 points. The promising new Igor Shpilband-teamed couple skated to salsa, rumba, and cha-cha rhythms; their snappy opening salsa was particularly impressive and they showed good speed throughout the routine, although they had a slight miscue on the twizzles in their mid-line step sequence.
The expressive Silverstein, a former World junior champion (with former partner Justin Pekarek), is extremely flexible, and this serves the team well in their lifts, where she is able to hit elegant split and catch foot positions with relative ease.
2004 U.S. bronze medallists Loren Galler-Rabinowitz & David Mitchell were third with 43.92 points. They chose the meringue, rumba and cha-cha rhythms, and had a strong performance with good expression and speed. They may have lost ground with the judges when Galler-Rabinowitz did one fewer twizzle than her partner in the mid-line step sequence.
"This is really only two months of work for us, so it still feels early. We know we’re going to Cup of Russia but we’re hoping for another assignment," said Galler-Rabinowitz. (Mitchell was unable to train full out following shoulder surgery last December.)
"What is most important to us is that everybody is talking to me, saying how strong Loren and David look. That is a very good sign," said Natalya Dubova, who coaches the couple in Stamford, CT.
"Of course, there are still some things I would like to review with the caller. My feeling is that the new system is just starting to work and everybody needs more experience (with it). All of the skaters are working so hard to get to Level 4 that the artistic expression is getting lost. We need to remember that this is ice dance, not Cirque de Soleil.
"It is easier to fix the elements than the expression and choreography, so Loren and David have made a very good start here."
Stepping up to the senior ranks for the first time, reigning U.S. junior champions Trina Pratt and Todd Gilles were an impressive fourth, with 43.20 points. Pratt, the emotive star of the couple, really "sold" the (slow) samba, rumba and samba rhythms, and they had good speed, lovely lines in their spin and an unusually musical mid-line step sequence, doubtless the work of choreographer Tom Dickson.
"We don’t think the judges are necessarily going to give out high GOE’s; if you do a Level 1 or Level 2 footwork, you won’t be compensated by getting +3 GOE," explained Pratt. "So, we’re going for the higher levels to rack up points."
"The OD is much easier for them than the free dance," said Pratt & Gilles’ coach, Patti Gottwein, who trains the couple in Colorado Springs.
"They’re on a tight budget, and there’s not a lot extra for ballroom dance instructors, so Trina has been watching a lot of ballroom, studying and doing a lot on her own. She and Todd have a really good relationship; there’s a lot of trust there. He’s a great dancer in his own right and we’re trying to bring his emotions and performance level up out there on the ice."
The new team of Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, who are coached in Ardmore, PA and Wilmington, DE by Robbie Kaine, placed fifth with 40.67 points. The couple performed a fast, then a slow cha-cha, followed in the final forty seconds by a meringue, with choreography by Natalie Linichuk. They skated with good energy and had a fine, one-arm rotational lift at the end, but Navarro stumbled a bit transitioning out of the mid-line step sequence.
Skating to samba, rumba and cha-cha rhythms, the brother-and-sister team of Julia Rey & Phillipp Rey were sixth with 39.70 points. They had good speed and unison in their step sequences as well as attractive lifts.
"We love these rhythms; these, and the flamenco, are our favorites. They’re energetic and passionate; you can skate them from the heart," said Phillipp Rey.
Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler placed seventh with 38.32 points, an impressive debut considering that she is stepping up from the novice level.
Caitlan Mallory & Brent Holdberg, who skated to the cha-cha, rumba and samba, were eighth with 37.99 points. They performed with good expression and unison, and she attained an attractive Biellmann-like position in the couple’s spin. Her arms are particularly expressive.
"They rhythms are fun; it’s different for me, because I’ve never done them before. I like how the OD rhythms are chosen for you, because it forces you to expand (your repertoire)," said Mallory, a former free-style skater who has only been ice dancing for two seasons.
Lake Placid, the couple’s first senior competition, is "a little intimidating, with all of the pressure and talk about the Olympic spots. This season is a learning experience for us; we just want to skate our best," she said.
Coming in at ninth were Kendra Goodwin & Chris Obzansky, who earned with 34.71 points. The couple did a cha-cha, rumba and salsa with good unison and a nice, musical feel overall, but Goodwin did not appear as flexible in the lifts as some of the other female dancers.
Note: Lia Nitake & Yuriy Kocherzhenko, who finished 11th in the free dance competition, withdrew from the original dance, citing an injury to Nitake’s foot.
This Thursday 19 couples took the ice for Lake Placid’s senior free dance competition, a record for the event. Still, the field was shy of two key entrants: former World bronze medallists Margarita Drobiaszko & Povilas Vanagas, and Tiffany Stiegler & Sergei Magerovskiy, fourth-place finishers at the 2005 U.S. Nationals.
"Sergei has had a tough couple of weeks. He had a bicycle accident about three weeks ago; it was a very hot day, (he was wearing shorts) and he fell, slid and scratched himself up over his entire body. He couldn’t put skates on for a while, and he couldn’t bend his elbow. He’s okay now, but they lost about two weeks of training," said Stiegler & Magerovskiy’s coach, Igor Shpilband.
Shpilband did have good news: the Russian-born Magerovskiy, who is married to his former (American) partner Rebecca, should have his U.S. citizenship in time to compete at the 2006 Turin Olympics, if he and Stiegler win a spot on the team.
"Sergei applied for his citizenship on July 15th and I think and hope everything will be okay. He needs to have an interview and take the exam. Sometimes the wait is one week; sometimes it is two months," said Shpilband.
The busy coach has also been advising the Lithuanians on their comeback to eligible skating after a three-year retirement following the 2002 Worlds in Nagano.
"Unfortunately, they could not make it to Lake Placid, because Margarita has a small injury to her shoulder," he said. "I think their (comeback) has a realistic chance. They were in my rink with me for one week, and we worked on some levels, making adjustments to lifts and footwork. They have amazing material in their free dance (to "Phantom of the Opera"), but it is a matter of them getting the (necessary) training time in."
Wednesday’s free dance practice nearly produced two more withdrawals: Lydia Manon & Brandon Forsythe and Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, survived a nasty collision.
"We were both fully into lifts; Lydia was actually up in the air," said Forsythe. "They were skated backward, and we had a backward entrance. I dropped (to the ice), he jumped up and he and I collided. We said we wished we had the whole thing on tape, so we could send it to "America’s Funniest Home Videos."’
Fortunately, no real damage was done. Bommentre had a few minor cuts on his lower arm and Forsythe’s elbow was numb.
Setting the Stage
Lake Placid organizers are justifiable proud of their event’s prestige.
"A lot of international assignments have been determined by this competition before and I fully expect that will be the case this year. There’s an open spot at Skate America and there are still a lot of JGP spots to be decided," said long-time event chairperson Ann Greenthal.
All of the senior and junior events, plus the novice free dance, were judged under NJS using a full complement of technical equipment, including computerized entry screens for the judges. Technical specialists ("callers") include former U.S. ice dance champions Judy Schwomeyer Sladky; Judy Blumberg; and April Sargent, as well as former U.S. ice dance competitor Darleen Gilbert.
"All of the judges here are experienced; 80% of them are from the ISU and have judged internationally. There will be both private feedback for skaters and a roundtable discussion for skaters and coaches," said event referee Margaret Faulkner, herself a retired international judge.
"It’s a learning experience (with NJS) and trying to do the best possible job for the skaters. This is a mini-review for the dance event at Nationals. I’m sure things will continue to change after we have more competitions and put in more reviews."
Hopefully, experience will make the process swifter; in Lake Placid, a wait of up to eight minutes between couples was the norm, not the exception.
Silverstein Makes a Successful Return to Competition
In a surprise, the new Shpilband-coached team of Jamie Silverstein & Ryan O’Meara took top honors in the senior free dance with 76.70 points (41.80 TES + 35.90 PCS). The 1999 World junior champion and her partner, who won the bronze at the 2005 U.S. Nationals with previous partner Lydia Manon, skated a "happy Tango," as the expressive Silverstein took a unique approach to the usually intense dance.
"It’s a kind of a modern, lounge-style Tango – I think it’s fun and different," said Silverstein, who is having her first experience under the NJS here.
"We’re shooting for level four in our elements, then we’ll get the judge’s feedback and re-tool. The NJS makes it so different to work with Igor (Shpilband) on choreography. We always used to choose the music first, then worry about the elements. Now, we’re mapping out things like our serpentine footwork sequence first, before we even decide on the music."
As it turned out, she needn’t have worried; Silverstein & O’Meara received credit for six "Level 4" elements, including two twizzle sequences and four lifts. Their highlight was a stunning curve lift to rotational lift, with Silverstein in a full split position. Their footwork sequences were skated exceptionally close together; their only noticeable was slight unison trouble on their first set of twizzles.
Asked about Silverstein’s interpretation, Shpilband replied, "I think a Tango can be happy music; Jamie had a different interpretation. With her not competing for five years, it’s an emotional thing. She is a talented person and can express anything. If she wants to smile during her Tango, I’m not going to stop her."
Second place went to Loren Galler-Rabinowitz & David Mitchell, the 2004 U.S. National bronze medallists who train under Natalya Dubova in Stamford, with 72.39 points (TES 37.10 + PCS 35.29). The couple has a sleek, new look – Galler-Rabinowitz has lost considerable weight – and a more mature style. Their Tango free dance was polished, with the authentic holds and intensity traditionally associated with the rhythm. They showed improved speed, but elected to do only one (Level 4) twizzle sequence and an extra (Level 2) spin, thus yielding important potential technical points to Silverstein & O’Meara. In addition, missteps and deletions to their diagonal step sequence lowered it to Level 1, with a GOE of –1.20.
"We’re very happy; with David’s injury, that was done on really only two months’ work," said Galler-Rabinowitz. "Now we have to go back and fix some things. The diagonal steps need work."
"We’ve been working on our intensity level, and coming out on to the ice in character. The whole process has helped us grow up," added Mitchell, who has only been training full out for eight weeks, following surgery to his left shoulder on December 23rd.
"We will work on the diagonal (step sequence); it was a bit off," said Dubova. "There are a few other things; the caller told us (Loren) was not in a full split (position) in one of the lifts. We can fix that, but the character of the dance is there. I see a bright future ahead."
To perfect their tango technique, the couple spent two-and-a-half weeks in Madrid this May working with Antonio Najarro, who helped create Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat’s famous 2002 flamenco OD, as well as Anissina herself.
Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsov, who train in Newington under Nikolai Morozov and Shae-Lyn Bourne, were third with 71.40 points (37.70 TES + 33.70 CPS). The stunning blonde couple performed to "Kalinka," a traditional Russian folk dance choreographed by Morozov. Barantsov, a two-time World junior champion with his former partner, somewhat overshadowed his talented but less experienced partner. Still, the overall effect of the program was charming.
"It’s a start. It’s good to be back," said Barantsov, a man of few words but large talent.
The brother-and-sister team of Julia & Philipp Rey had a strong performance to Amichi’s "Prayer in the Night" and finished fourth with 69.77 points. The personable couple, who train at the University of Delaware under 1980 Olympic champions Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, have focused on improving their mental preparation as well as their skating skills.
"Our free dance is the story of a lost love," explained Julia. "We’re shooting for Level 4 elements, and thinking they might be called Level 3. We’ve put in lots of work and practice, trying to come to the ice more prepared. We’re "warming up" our minds with visualization techniques."
"The NJS and all the new changes to it makes it very hard to put a program together. You’re so worried about the elements that sometimes the actual dancing gets lost. Everyone is doing the same lifts in the split positions; I think the callers are going to come on to the ice with protractors," added her brother.
Another new Shpilband partnership, Lydia Manon & Brandon Forsyth, placed fifth with 69.16 points. Skating to Vanessa Mae’s version of "Romeo and Juliet," the couple showed a good combination lift seguing to a one-arm rotational lift with Manon in a "tuck" position, but had unison problems on their twizzle sequences. They lost speed at the end of their (difficult) serpentine footwork sequence and finished a beat behind the music. Nevertheless, it was an impressive debut.
"It felt really good; I’ve only had one competition in the last four years. Our connection with each other is great and I think we’re able to bring that out on to the ice. We only finished (choreographing) this program a week and a half ago," said Forsyth.
"I feel we reached the audience. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good beginning," added his partner.
Yet another new team, Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, performed to selections from Canadian singer Michael Bublé, including "How Sweet it is to Be Loved by You" and "Dragonfly," choreographed by 1980 Olympic champion Natalia Linichuk. They placed sixth with 68.61 points. The couple skated with a light, easy touch and showed some strong lifts, but had trouble on several of their footwork sequences.
Seventh place went to reigning U.S. Junior Champions Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles, with 67.97 points. Stepping up to seniors for the first time, the talented young couple skated an extraordinarily ambitious free dance to "House of the Flying Daggers" and "Kodo Drums." Created by 1984 champion Christopher Dean, the ongoing choreographic process has taken one month thus far. To suit the program’s theme – and this year’s Latin American OD -- the formerly blonde Pratt has dyed her hair dark brown.
The exciting, fast-paced program kicks in to high gear immediately and doesn’t stop. The couple had some of the most interesting spin and lift positions in the field, as well as nearly seamless transitions. However, a rotational lift was a bit labored, causing them to lose speed at the end; they received a two-point deduction for this "extended" lift, as well as one other too-lengthy lift.
Pratt & Gilles’ coach, Patti Gottwein, who trains the couple in Colorado Springs, thinks they will do better later in the season.
"This skate was a bit of a disappointment for them; they missed some holds, and the step sequences were not as clean as they could be. If anything in the performance of this particular dance goes wrong, there is absolutely no place for them to recover," she said.
Her students agreed.
"I got tired earlier than I thought I would," admitted Pratt. "Still, it’s a breakthrough program for us. We got all of the elements in, which was our main goal."
"We kind of had to go through everything Chris (Dean) gave us and make sure it was suitable for the NJS. The program went through several iterations. Sometimes, things look good but they may not get you the most points," added Gilles.
Still more work is ahead: When the group returns to their rink, they must work with Dean to shave a minute off of the program, so that is may be used at the couple’s upcoming JGP events in Bratislava and Croatia.
Making their senior debut, Caitlan Mallory & Brent Holdberg placed eighth with 65.23 points. The couple, who train in San Jose under 1992 Olympic champion Sergei Ponomarenko, kept last season’s free dance to "Sheherazade." Choreographer Marina Klimova (Ponomarenko’s partner and wife) added one minute of additional footwork, a lift and transitions to bring it up to senior level.
"We didn’t feel we did the maximum with the program last year, and we still really love the music," explained Holdberg. "The biggest challenge has been building up our stamina so that we can compete as seniors. We lost some training time in May, when Mallory had boot problems and then broke her wrist."
"We’re trying to make all of our elements Level 4, and hope we accomplish at least a Level 3," said Mallory, who has only been in ice dance for two years. "We especially like lifts; we have a lot of fun trying to create new ones. And it really helps having Sergei as a coach, because he’s also a technical caller."
Performing to "Harem," Meghan McCullough & Joel Dear, who are coached by Barrett Brown at the Skating Club of Boston, were ninth with 64.42 points. Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler placed tenth with 61.43 points. Maxwell competed as a novice last season and has decided to skip the junior division to perform with her new partner.
Skating to the soundtrack of "Spy Game," Lia Nitake & Yuriy Kocherzhenko placed 11th with 61.26 points. The couple, who train under Ponomarenko, showed good basic speed and strong lifts, but faltered slightly in several footwork sequences.
Kocherzhenko, a native of Odessa, Ukraine, came to the U.S. two years ago and
trained with another partner under Alexander Zhulin in New Jersey for a year. He
competed for Ukraine with several partners at four Junior Worlds; his highest
placement was fourth in 2001. He also finished 25th at the 2002
Nitake last competed at the junior level, finishing fourth with a former partner at the 2000 U.S. juniors. She has spent the last several years attending college and searching for a partner.
The re-formed partnership of Kendra Goodwin & Chris Obzansky was 12th with 60.98 points. Performing their free dance to music from the Indian movie "Lagoon," the couple had good transitions between their lift and spin elements, but stumbled a bit on their twizzles. Their program, while pleasing, did not appear as difficult as those of the top teams – not surprising, given that Obzansky has just returned to skating after a two-year hiatus.
"We’ve only been together eight weeks before this competition, but we spent three years skating together earlier in our careers," said Goodwin, who won a U.S. junior silver with Obzansky. The couple skated one year as seniors before Obzansky undertook a two-year Mormon mission in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In his absence, Goodwin skated for two seasons with Brent Bommentre.
"It feels like I never left (skating). It’s amazing; after two days I felt I had picked it right up again. But I didn’t skate for two years; I didn’t even have any skates with me. The only skating I did was in shoes when the sidewalks were icy," said Obzansky, who returned this spring.
"It was a wonderful experience. I love the people and the language. (Obzansky speaks Russian.) I have a lot of close friends over there and hope to return some day."
Meantime, Bommentre had ended his partnership with Goodwin after a sixth-place showing at the 2005 Nationals, and she was searching for a partner.
"I knew Chris was coming back, but I didn’t know whether he would be interested in skating again. Then he called me at the end of April and we had a tryout in the beginning of May. Things went well, so we decided to continue. Now it feels like he never left," said Goodwin.
The two moved to upstate New York to train with Inese Bucevica in Monsey. Goodwin’s family lives just 45 minutes away, and Obzansky is living with them until he can find his own apartment.
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