For a few hours this afternoon, the Staples Center was transported back in time to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s as the Original Dance (OD) competition featured music and dances from that era. Skaters could select their own rhythms among those represented by music from that time period. As a result, the audience was treated to dances from all over the rhythmic spectrum including blues, the foxtrot, swing, and even the waltz.
When the sequins and feathers settled, Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin held onto their lead over Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto who won the OD portion of the competition. The Russians cling to a narrow 0.64 points lead heading into the free dance, which amounts to a single level or Grade of Execution (GoE) difference from one team to the other.
“We are happy with what we did, but it can always be better,” Domnina said. “We are excited about getting a level four on all of our elements. We are always striving for a level four. This is probably the last performance of this dance this season, and therefore we tried to give it the maximum.”
The leaders skated a controversial program to Masquerade Waltz, which doesn’t truly fit the vision of the theme selected for this year’s dance. The music selected by the duo was actually written in 1952 by Aram Khatchaturian, and the waltz is a dance of the 16th and 17th centuries. The couple covered up these facts by calling the program a “jazz waltz,,” which is a musical term rather than a dance rhythm. However, the International Skating Union (ISU) approved the dance, so it was judged on its merits.
Domnina and Shabalin portrayed street urchins dancing together under the sky, and were rewarded with level fours on all of their elements. The Grand Prix Final silver medalists actually outscored the Americans on the component score by .02 points, but were outscored by their training mates by .50 points on the technical element score. Interestingly, the difference on GoE for Belbin and Agosto’s dance spin was +.50 points.
Domnina and Shabalin earned a new personal best 64.68 points for their OD, and held on to the lead overall with 105.45 points overall.
Belbin and Agosto skated a much-improved tap program to Kander and Ebb’s Steppin’ Out, which was easily one of the crowd’s favorites of the night.
“It’s been a long and tough road, and we really just wanted to be here,” Agosto said. “We want to show what we have accomplished over the last year, and there was no way we were going to sit this one out. We wanted to be the best, and that is what we have been working toward. We’re really happy.”
Belbin continued, “It’s nice to skate in front of our home country after missing nationals, and the response was just amazing. You just can’t beat that.”
Like the leaders, Belbin and Agosto also earned level four on all of their elements, but it was the GoE bonus points that gave the Americans the win in the OD.
“It’s always great to beat a Russian team,” Belbin said with a smile. “They are so rich in tradition and are always so competitive. We are beyond where we thought we could ever be as far as our skating goes.”
The four-time U.S. Champions scored 65.16 points in the OD that eclipsed their previous season’s best by some six points, and currently have 104.81 points overall.
Holding on to third place after a tight performance is the Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The reigning silver medalists managed to earn level four on all of their elements, but did not earn high GoEs on those elements.
“It was a little bit of a difficult performance,” Moir said of their OD. “It obviously was not a personal best, but we were still able to perform the character of the program and that is fun no matter what.”
Skating to Won’t You Charleston With Me?, Virtue and Moir looked tentative throughout their program, and finished in a disappointing sixth place in the OD with 61.05 points. With help from their great showing in the Compulsory Dance (CD), Virtue and Moir have a total of 100.42 points overall.
Just behind Virtue and Moir are their training mates and close friends Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The U.S. Champions are only .09 points out of third place, and set up an interesting rivalry for the podium heading into the free skate.
“Seeing our biggest competitors daily is motivating,” Davis said. “We hope it motivates them too. We look forward to our free dance, and are feeling confident.”
Davis and White also earned level four on all of their elements in their “Happy Feet” program, but they were somewhat disappointed in their skate overall.
“Yeah, it wasn’t the best program that we did all season,” admitted Davis. “We made some technical errors, but it is things that would not be visible to anyone watching,” White added. “It’s great to have the technical credited. We value that, and our coaching has played a huge part in making that happen for us.”
Davis and White finished third in this segment of competition with a new personal best of 62.60 points, and have a total of 100.33 points heading into the free dance.
Sitting in fifth place is the Russian team of Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, who skated a fun blues and swing number in some of the brightest costumes known to man. The European Champions did not earn all level fours on their elements, earning just a level three on their diagonal steps, but used high program component scores to keep them in the medal hunt.
“We were in a very positive mood when we went out to skate,” Khokhlova shared. “We were not nervous, but we made some little errors that cost us some points probably on the grade of execution.”
Khokhlova and Novitski scored 61.68 points in the OD and 99.02 points overall, and are less than a point ahead of French Champions, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.
Skating a lindy hop to It Don’t Mean a Thing by the Puppini Sisters, Pechalat and Bourzat kept pace with the top teams by earning level four on all of their elements as well.
“We beat our personal best by three or four points, and we had level four in each element,” Pechalat said of their skate. “That’s great for us!”
After finishing in fourth place at the European Championships, Pechalat and Bourzat skate as if they are hungry for the medals stand, and with their strongest competition phase coming up, it is a strong possibility. Their OD earned the fourth highest marks, 61.83 points, and their competition total of 98.37 points is a little more than two points out of third place.
“The free dance is our favorite program, and we love to skate it,” Bourzat admitted. “We know it is the last time to skate it here at the World Championships, so we will do our best and enjoy the audience.”
Moving up to seventh place is the British team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who are always an audience favorite.
“There are quite a few people who come from Scotland for us, and also it seems like an awful lot of people from the U.K.,” Sinead observed. “I think that we have a lot of American support too, which is great. Our choreographer Robert (Royson) is always telling us that the crowd is here to watch and be entertained. He tells us to think about the audience first and foremost.”
In addition to their crowd appeal, the European bronze medalists put together an impressive OD that was part Lindy Hop and part West Coast Swing. Other than the circular steps, the British Champions earned level four on each of their elements, and they earned a new personal best of 60.13 points for this phase of the competition. Overall, Kerr and Kerr have a competition total of 95.43 points thus far.
Slipping to eighth place after a shocking fall by both team members, are Italian Champions Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali. The tap and foxtrot program started off well, and the European silver medalists even earned level four on all but one element. However, Scali made a mistake on a non-element causing him to fall to the ice and bring his partner with him.
“I was doing a cross over, and I think my one boot hit the other and I lost my balance,” said an obviously disappointed Scali. “I tried to catch it, and I thought I did, but then I completely lost it. It’s a shame.”
Faiella and Scali’s score of 55.92 points was good enough for tenth place in the OD, and their competition total of 92.22 points placed them just ahead of Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost of France.
Carron and Jost, like many others, skated a personal best in the OD, and are in ninth place heading into the free dance. Faiella and Scali’s teammates Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte are currently 10th.