Golden Skate

Domnina and Shabalin maintain lead after Original Dance

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin perform an Aboriginal Dance at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships.

The ice dance competition  at the 2010 European Figure Skating Championships continued today with the original dance, which this year, is a rather cutthroat event for the lower ranked teams.

The number of couples advancing to the free dance have been dramatically reduced to only 16 from the traditional 24. However, despite the high stakes and understandable nervousness, the event was highly entertaining and one of the most spectacular thus far.

The folklore theme picked up by the ISU for the Olympic season is an excellent choice for the original dance as far as audience appeal is concerned.

The 2009 European Championships silver medalists

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy won the original dance (61.68 (31.20/30.48)), pulling  up to second place overall (99.15) with a flawless performance of their Italian Folk dance.

The defending silver medalists aimed for a truly authentic dance, and collaborated with Monica Sava (professor of Folk Dances at the University of Lisboa) to work out every tiny detail of their program.

Faiella and Scali  have really done their homework, and were more than ready to explain every little move in the dance, which has strong sentiment to them.

“This season, we really wanted to represent Italy at the Olympic Games as much as we could, so we have chosen the Italian dance,” explained Scali. “There is a large Italian community in Canada, mostly from Southern Italy, and we hope they will recognize the music. Everything in this dance has an exact meaning. Federica is wearing black because she has just lost her husband. In the first half of the dance, I’m a suitor trying to seduce her and in the second, it’s like she finally fell in love me.”

“Many moves in the dance come from farming,” continued Scali. “For example, like feeding chickens and picking the fruits. It’s really cool to bring an Italian dance onto the ice in such details.”

The technical aspect of their dance was equally strong, and they  picked up the highest levels of difficulty of all the teams in competition. Only their circular step sequence was rated level three, while the others  were level four.

Faiella and Scali  recently started working with Natalia Linichuk and Genady Karponosov in Aston, Pa. (USA), and are  very satisfied with how things are going.

“We started working with them this summer,” said Scali. “We now spend most of the time there, and we feel we have progressed a lot in a relatively short time. We couldn’t spend all the time we wanted there because Federica was sick, but we felt that we have improved a lot in the last two months. We are proud to skate with such great teams as Oksana (Domnina) and Maxim (Shabalin), Tanith (Belbin) and Ben (Agosto). It is a great experience for us.”

The Italian Champions were very exited about their performance: “We had a great feeling out on the ice,” said Scali, “with the technical mark and with each other. We really found that connection. This was the best program of the season. We couldn’t have asked for more. It was amazing.”

The notable exception to familiarity of the dances for the general audience was the program by the overnight leaders Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (RUS). The reigning World Champions were reluctant to do another ‘Slavic’ routine this year. They  admitted considering a lot of options,   including Scottish folk, but eventually settled on an aboriginal dance: a choice that certainly surprised everyone, but was also perceived as inappropriate by a few.

“Our coach offered us this music,” explained Shabalin. “We thought that it was original and unusual and it was interesting to work with it. We have done a lot of research. We have tried to find information on internet. We haven’t been to Australia so far, but perhaps we will go there after the Olympics.”

Irrespective of the authenticity their dance, the students of Natalia Linichuk and Gennady Karponosov gave a solid performance, which was better overall than the one they had at their national championships less than a month ago. However, their midline non-touching step sequence received only a level two, and the team picked up a rather moderate grade of execution for their lift.

On the whole, the elements looked crisper and it was evident that both skaters were getting more comfortable with the choreography. Domnina and Shabalin placed second in the original dance with  61.49 (28.90/32.59) points, and remain in first overall with a total score of 104.27 points.

“We are satisfied with our performance,” said Shabalin at the press conference. “We felt more confident than at Russian Nationals. The audience was great. We are looking forward to tomorrow and we hope we’ll skate better tomorrow and at the Olympic Games.”

The team is not upset about loosing the original dance: “We don’t quite understand why [it happened],” admitted Domnina. “As far as I understood, there was something wrong with the levels. I suppose we were not 100% today. I know that all our elements are choreographed to be level four, but execution varies of course. It was far from ideal. Even though it was better than at Nationals, we have made another important step forward.”

The Russian Champions are also pleased to have the Italian couple as training mates. “It’s ok with us,” said Domnina. “We are not in the each other’s way. When you come to training and see Massimo bursting with energy, you have to do something as well.”

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) finished third in the original dance (60.08 (30.00/30.08) points), but remained nominally fourth overall by 0.02 points (96.44).

The Grand Prix Final bronze medalists chose a ‘country’ theme  for their dance this season, and had the distinction of being one of the few teams among the medal contenders to avoid making mistakes or having elements downgraded. They skated clean and maintained excellent flow throughout, however, their program to somehow lacked the impact compared to the two teams above them.

“It’s good that we closed the gap and we are really close to the Russians,” said Bourzat. “We still have a shot at third place. We skated well, but we could have done better. We weren’t so relaxed as we knew that a lot is on stake and that we cannot afford any mistakes. But we felt good in the program.”

“We’ve progressed a lot since the beginning of the season, technically and artistically,” agreed Pechalat. “Our elements are clean. We don’t think about the placements during the competition, but we do think about it before and after the competition. Obviously we’d like to be on the podium. We feel like we deserve it, but many couples would deserve it. But during the competition we don’t think about that. We are on the ice to perform.”

In contrast to their teammates, Russia’s Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski chose the famous Russian song Vdol to Piterskoi (Along the Piterskaya) for their original dance.

“We were not looking for something extraordinary,” said Khokhlova. “We are Russians, therefore we have chosen a Russian dance. We wanted to show the audience a Russian festival, a Russian soul, and I think we have succeeded. Besides, Russian dances are well received everywhere. It creates a sort of feedback loop with the audience and it makes it easier to skate.”

The defending champions indeed immediately got the audience on their side after the opening chords of the music. They matched the music’s power, command, and character well, until Novitski suddenly lost his balance and stepped out of a twizzle in sequence.

While the students of Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin were able to put the mistake behind and finish strong, it took them several seconds to pull themselves together. They  received 58.59 (28.80/29.79) points and have 96.46 points going into the free dance.

“We are satisfied with our skating today, but we had a mistake on the twizzle,” acknowledged Khokhlova. “We could see that in the technical mark. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was great and we were happy to skate for the public today. I want to thank everyone for their support.”

“Of course being three points behind the Italians means that we have to go for broke tomorrow,” she added. “Tomorrow we’ll show our new free dance for the first time.”

Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr slipped  to the fifth overall (93.81
points) after the Scottish team flubbed  the twizzle sequence in their upbeat I’ve Been Everywhere dance. Sinead was off axis during the first half of the sequence and was forced to let go of her blade, which resulted in them getting lower levels and negative grades of execution. Otherwise they were highly energetic and entertaining, and elicited the usual enthusiastic response from the crowd.

“At first it had been going very well,” explained Sinead. “Then I just lost concentration during the twizzle and my foot slipped out of my hand. Tomorrow we just want to skate as always. You have to learn from mistakes and move on. We just left the program as it is. We’ve been happy with it so far. We’ve been training really well the past weeks.”

“It was not really our best performance this season,” added John. “Although we received a season’s best score today, we made a few mistakes. We could have done much better.”

Israel’s  Alexandra Zaretski and  Roman Zaretski have also chosen their national dance – Hava Nagila, which never fails to engage the audience. The brother-and-sister team interpreted the theme perfectly, and were one of the few teams who exhibited a strong authentic feeling to the dance. However,  only their twizzles received level four while all other elements were graded level three. The team is currently sixth with 90.55 points.

“We just wanted to enjoy the performance and make people smile,” said Roman. “We skated for the crowd, not for the judges. The crowd here is wonderful and caring. After being on the podium at Skate America, we’ve been even more motivated than usual. It was our first medal (in the Grand Prix). We worked harder and harder to improve, especially in the expression. We just had some minor changes in the program, but mainly had the emphasis on the expression. We worked harder and harder as there is no limit to perfection.”

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte opened the two final flights with a sparkling performance to Torna A Surriento and La Danza by Rossini. While the skaters were clearly better than the couples in the preceding warm-up groups, they ran into trouble with the required elements. The twizzles were out of unison and the changes of position in the lift were  labored. They are currently seventh overall with 88.76 points.

Ukrainians  Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo pulled one spot up after a clean and inspired performance  (86.90), while Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and  Dmitri Soloviev slipped to ninth place (86.36 points).

“We changed the order of elements, now it’s much easier to skate,” said Bobrova. “Our goal was to show a clean performance, but unfortunately today it was not our day. Tomorrow we will be better.”

Ukrainians Alla Beknazarova and Vladimir Zuev round up the top ten.

As expected, the new format of the competition hit the representatives of the smaller countries the hardest. Of the nations with one entry in the event, only   Alexandra and  Roman Zaretski (ISR),  Nora Hoffman and Maxim Zavozin (HUN), Christina and William Beier (GER), and Caitlin Mallory and Christian Rand (EST) were able to make the cut. The remaining 12 places in the final went to teams from the traditional ice dance power houses.

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