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Thread: Figure skating is dying, and judges can't prop it up

  1. #136
    Tripping on the Podium
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post
    The question I am trying to understand is this. When it comes to judging the artistic components, the judges must be doing something other than reading the explanations of scoring in the official rule book. Yu-na Kim gets a 9.5 in choreography. Why? Because she is a very good skater. The theme, vision, etc., of her program is "Yu-na Kim skating." She went with Les Miz as her vehicle, but I do not see anything about liberte and fraternite in the transitions into her 3Lz+3T combo.

    The program of a 6-year-old child, on the other hand, does have a unifying theme that binds the program together in a harmonious blah blah blah. She should get X number of CoP bullets.

    In fact, however, Kim gets a 9.5 because, well, she is a really, really, really good skater, and that's the kind of mark that you give to really, really, really good skaters. So where does the CoP come in?

    We keep whittling away at this square peg hoping to make it fit.
    I was just pulling your tail a little bit, but I apologize if it came off as dismissive. I do not feel that way about your comments, at all. You raise, I believe, an issue that is quite profound. Let's take a look at the case of Miray ().

    You make the case that her performance checks off all of the necessary bullets, and therefore this performance should be scored just as highly as Yuna's Les Miz. I will argue the other side of the brief. Tough, I know, but someone's got to do it . As a good advocate, I will do so through a series of objections:

    -Objection #1: The bullets, as written, are undoubtedly true, but not comprehensive. As I mentioned in an an earlier post, the PCS guidelines implicitly assume and rely upon an aesthetic framework, without which the explicitly written explanations that you reference cannot possibly result in sensible outcomes.

    If we are to believe Harold Bloom, the most important question that a critic addresses is actually the same as that for sports: greater than, less than, or equal to? IMO, although it is not explicitly stated in the bullets, this principle undergirds all aspects of the artistic components of PCS. It is not enough, in other words, that there is a consonance of music and performance. The reason that crayon drawings from the local kindergarten are not generally displayed in major museums, nor a grade-school writer of limericks chosen as Poet Laureate, is the same reason that li'l Miray is not getting a 9.5 in her components. None of these things, as a rule, display that which we believe to be aesthetically interesting and valuable: sureness and mastery of technique; complexity; nuance; individuated style and perspective; breadth, depth and power, both expressive and cognitive.

    Now, it may be your point that these things are not explicitly explained in the bullet points. But I do think they are very much implied (all the talk of parts and wholes), and can be demonstrated to be practically and operationally present, as they should be. It is for this reason that a monotone naivete is not rewarded in PCS, as appropriate to the music as it may be. Should all this be made more explicit? I would vote in favor.

    -Objection #2: Does this 6-year old skater really check off the boxes? I'm not so sure. The reason I say so is that almost all of the concepts and bullets you cite contain a critical idea: intentionality. Purpose, idea, concept, vision, motivation, symbolic meaning, interpretation, expression, involvement. What all of these key words share is intention. It is here that the youngster's program falls down.

    First, there is the question of physical intention. Granted, the music is cartoony and stilted, which matches, at least approximately, the movements of the skater. But that is the point: is the skater intentionally moving this way to express the characteristics of the music? It is, I believe, more accurate to say that whoever supervised this program picked music which generally matched the skater's natural range and rhythm of movement. Compare this cartooniness with that of real professionals, such as Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, or even Bugs Bunny. When called upon to be cartoony or stilted, they can be, but in the most intentionally precise and graceful way imaginable. They are, one might even say, the Platonic forms of cartoony marches. The former is merely the struggles of a prodigious but real-life toddler. The latter is art.

    Second, and somewhat related to the above, is the question of intellectual and emotional intention. In other words, apart from the question of whether the skater was deliberately and precisely moving a certain way (e.g. the micro-choreography), there is the issue of whether the six-year old intended that these movements express something highly specific that they meant for the audience to recognize. This is also aesthetically crucial. It is the reason that unintended silly accidents captured on video only make us latter-day Jackasses with limited half-lives on Youtube, while the exquisitely deliberate idiocies of Moe, Larry and Curly will, I am convinced, continue to outlive all of us, and our progeny.

    Some concluding thoughts: All of this is not to say that figure skating programs, or art in general, must be full of seriousness and doom and gloom in order to be great. But adult simplicity and enthusiasm is different from childish artlessness. In my experience, one of the rarest traits is the ability to do exactly as one intends. In a performance activity such as skating, the trick is to be able to do this, and make people like it.

  2. #137
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    In addition to Robeye's points, I want to address some more of Mathman's questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mathman View Post

    Purpose: Idea, concept, vision, mood. Check, check, check, check. Her program was a cartoony march. Every movement served the concept, vision, and mood.

    Unity: every step, movement, and element is motivated by the music. As well, all its parts, big or small, seem necessary to the whole, and there is an underlying vision or symbolic meaning that threads together the entire composition. Check. Much better in this regard than many senior programs at the championship level, where it is not clear that the program has a concept.
    These are some of the bullet points for Choreography. The program met them.

    To what degree this program met these criteria is another question. How much depth was there to what the choreography asked the skater to do (its purpose), and how well did she succeed?

    E.g., a march is one of the easiest rhythms to keep time to -- and therefore a good choice for a young beginner. In this case the choreography acknowledged the eight-measure phrases of the music and the skater mostly executed the movements within those phrases. During the forward stroking and crossovers it asked her to take evenly timed strokes on each downbeat, with no need for subtle rise and fall in the knees. The quality of the movement was appropriate to that (very simplistic) purpose, requiring a low level of skating skill, but the actual timing of the strokes did not perfectly match the beats of the music. The skater was marching, but not quite on the beat. So that slight falling short of the purpose in the execution would affect the Interpretation more than the Choreography.

    The other Choreography bullet points are

    *Proportion (equal weight of all parts)
    The elements of this program were well balanced against each other in the context of this skill level. Compared to programs at higher skill levels, however, the magnitude of the program as a whole was minimal in the amount of time and space that it filled and lacking in other parts (types of skills) that would be expected at those higher levels.

    *Utilization of personal and public space.
    The skater did a pretty good job of filling a space the size of her own body -- she wasn't hunched or curled in on herself, she wasn't tentative in her use of arms and free leg, she didn't look down much. But neither did she look up and out at the spectators or extend fully to the limits of her body's proportions and send energy past the ends of her arms and leg and up through her head. She did OK on this criterion, especially for this level, but didn't excel.

    *Pattern and ice coverage.
    Here is where the program layout is very typical of its skill level and severely lacking compared to what we see at higher levels. It started out toward one end of the ice with some backward marching and then forward stroking down the center of the rink. After that there were crossover circles around that end of the ice and some other moves that mostly occurred in that same third of the length, near the middle of the width. Aside from those circles at the end, the skater never got near the boards. Her travel patterns were only straight lines, a circle in each direction, and a few other small counterclockwise curves. There was never any depth of edge or weaving between clockwise and counterclockwise patterns, let alone with any surprise change of direction. On a scale of 0-10, the patterning of this program was somewhere around a 1 -- which is expected at that skill level. I bet most of her competitors used similar patterns.

    *Phrasing and Form (Movement and parts are structured to match the phrasing of the music)
    Yes, they were. The phrasing of the music was very obvious and simple, and the movement was structured to match that.
    The detailed explanation of the bullet point refers to a movement phrase "flow[ing] easily and naturally into the next movement phrase." "Flowing easily and naturally" are not words that characterize this particular performance. The movements and especially the stroking were stiff and isolated. To a degree that is appropriate because of the march theme -- but as Robeye points out, the theme was undoubtedly chosen by a wise coach/choreographer to fit the movements that the skater was capable of.

    *Originality of purpose, movement, and design
    I'd say that there was some originality in the commitment to a coherent theme and in some of the specific movements such as the little dance poses at the end of the ice and the arm movements in the attitude/spirals. But nothing especially unique -- and as mentioned, the program layout (stroke down the center, place the crossovers on the hockey circles at the end) is probably seen from most programs at this level.

    Interpretation: Expression of the music’s style, character, and rhythm. Maintaining the character and style of the music throughout the entire program by use of body and skating techniques to depict a mood, style, shape, or thematic idea as motivated by the structure of the music.
    Let's look at the detailed criteria.

    *Effortless movement in time to the music.
    Ability to translate music through sureness of rhythm, tempo, effective movement, and effortless flow over the ice surface by: rhythmic continuity, awareness of all tempo/rhythm changes in a variety of ways

    This performance was not characterized by sureness or effortless flow or any tempo/rhythm changes.

    *Expression of the music's style, character, and rhythm.
    Yes, on a macro scale. And sometimes the movements did match the rhythm on a beat-to-beat level as well. Other times they were off the beat -- in a style that by its nature calls for precision.

    *Use of finesse to reflect the nuances of the music.
    There weren't many nuances to begin with. Not much opportunity to meet this criterion.

    P&E. Physical, emotional, and intellectual involvement

    In all skating disciplines each skater must be physically committed, sincere in emotion, and equal in comprehension of the music and in execution of all movement.

    OK, I don't know what that means.

    Projection. The skater radiates energy resulting in an invisible connection with the audience.

    She could have thrown caution to the winds a bit more, but I (representing the audience) was in her corner.
    So, she was OK, basically adequate on that criterion.

    What about the other Performance/Execution bullet points?

    Carriage is a trained inner strength of the body that makes possible ease of movement from the center of the body. Alignment is the fluid change from one movement to the next.[that's not how I personally would define "alignment," but let's go with it]

    Well, pretty good for this level. She did stand up straight and did not significantly break at the waist on her forward stroking. But I wouldn't say there was much trained inner strength, ease of movement, or fluidity.

    *Clarity of movement
    Again, pretty good for this level, (understandably) nowhere near what we'd expect at novice-junior-senior levels.

    *Variety and contrast
    Not much

    It seems to me that the judges must be looking for something else besides what they wrote in the bullets, or they would have to give that performance a 5.
    Of course that program wasn't scored under IJS, so we don't know what the judges would have given if it had been.

    I suspect that, if it had been scored on all 5 program components, that it would have scored highest on Choreography, for the strengths that you point out, and would have scored higher than most other performances at that skill level.

    But in the greater scheme of things, there were significant weaknesses in this performance compared to what we see at more advanced levels. That's only to be expected. But just because a beginner program is surprisingly strong in some criteria doesn't mean that everything else would be ignored.

  3. #138
    On the Ice Mathman's Avatar
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    OK, so what I am getting is something like this. Yes, it is possible to have a continuously ordered scale for measuring excellence in performance art that can accommodate a huge range of talent, all they way from the idiot who fell off the garage roof in a home video (0) to a giant boulder falling on Wile E. Coyote's head (10). Applied to figure skating, the scoring of the three artistic components takes a creditable shot at doing this in a way that produces outcomes (who won, who lost?) that matches our intuition and common sense.

    Off topic: In the category of "hat's off to the judges," I went (as a spectator!) to a ballroom dancespoprt competition this morning. (My friend, not quite a beginner, got 6th in a division with more than 6 competitors! ) Anyway, in some of the dances there were like 10 or so couples on the floor at the same time, possibly involved in two or more separate competitions. The judges were expected to keep it all straight.

    Talk about an expensive sport. The ladies' gowns can cost thousands and you can't wear the same one over again, unless you go to a different city where no one has seen you before.

    I want to comment on the last two posts in detail (thank you!), but for now here is a quickie. I tried to find a march-themed program by an elite skater to compare Mirai's to. I couldn't find it on You Tube, but Michael Weiss did a U.S. Civil War soldier for his LP a few years back. Here is a description of the intent of the choreography (from Weiss' web site; my comments in square brackets).

    The young man, working in the fields, hears the drums off in the distance. He is moved as he has never been moved before…from deep within there is a calling. As the soldiers approach, he makes a decision, he must go with them! (Music: The Drums of War)

    [Insert triple Axel here.]

    His steps are filled with much bravado as they march through town after town. He is swept up by his own confidence as they pass by the young ladies blowing kisses and the old men saluting. “Bring them on!” he yells. [Not clear whether this means the kisses and salutes, or the enemy.] (Music: When Johnny Comes Marching Home – [although he is going to war, not marching home at the moment.])

    The reality of war hits hard. The dead and dying surround him by day, and the screams of boys just like him [no sound effects provided], from both sides of the shooting, haunt him at night. Very quickly there is a new understanding of what he is doing here [a sitspin], a new sense of purpose,…new priorities. (Music: Amazing Grace)

    Yes, Johnny comes marching home. [Triple Lutz, triple toe] With the freedom of his countrymen secure, and a new respect for what that means, he is very different from the young man who heard the drums while in the field. Heading home he dreams of his family and the life he will build…approaching the dirt road to his farm [represented by the judges’ row], he is greeted by a group of children, one of whom runs ahead proclaiming, “He’s home! He’s home! The patriot is home!” [Cue the Zamboni.]

    (Music: Battle Hymn of the Republic. [OK, I can’t make fun of a song that features that all-time cool lyric, “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored!”])
    Take that, baby Mirai!
    Last edited by Mathman; 04-05-2013 at 05:24 PM.

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