Tonight was the opening of the tour. (At least Scott Hamilton, who introduced the show, made it sound that way -- he wasn't counting Lake Placid, where the show was taped last fall.) The new show is called "Imagination." The idea was to show magic and illusion, and they did this mostly through the transitions between skaters' performances, with just a bit too much emphasis on gimmicky costume changes, mostly by Kyoko Ina. There was also rain on the Act I group closer and snow on the Act II closer. (I sure hope it was snow, and not the flameproof paper they use for Nutcracker snow.)

From the opening group number, I would have thought that Todd Eldredge was the headliner, but from the introductions, it was clear that Sarah Hughes was. But they should get real -- Yagudin got by far the biggest ovation. He's certainly the de facto headliner in this group. After the introductions, I went into a panic, because while guest Yuka Sato was in the opening/introductions, Kulik was not, and I was afraid he wasn't going to skate. It was a bit amusing when he came out to skate his first number, and a group of women behind me thought he was Yagudin He wasn't introduced until after his first number.

Eldredge opened with Robbie Williams' version of "Let Me Entertain You," and it was the kind of music that's blasted in sports stadiums to get drunk males to buy more beer. I wouldn't say he looked tentative, but he did look constrained. I could hardly blame him -- there were no "boards," even the low ones. There seemed to be some kind of soft material about 4-6" wide adjacent to the ice, and then a foot or so wide border of something else.

Sato followed with a gorgeous skate to Beyonce's "Naughty Girl," which was a bit of a stretch. However, the line, edges, effortless flow, and impeccable jumps and spins were there, even if vamping doesn't really suit her. She's so good-natured about it, though.

Kyoko/Zimmerman skated next -- that was his black leather pants number -- and while they are very fine, I just am not sucked into their performances.

Kulik skated next, to the smooth, rather obvious "A House is Not a Home" by James Ingram, but he turned that sow's ear of a song into one silk purse of a skate. Like with Sato (and Berezhnaia/Sikuharlidze), I could watch him skate circles all night. Such beautiful flow and edges and multi-plane choreography. Watching him skate is such a privilege.

(I'm getting the songs and performers from the Stars on Ice website:
On my own, I recognized only "Shout" and Aretha Franklin's voice in "Step-Sisters.")

The skate was a group number to Genesis' "TKO" for Pelletier, Eldredge, Cousins, Yagudin, and Zimmerman, in which they played boxers, trying to knock each other out. It was similar in spirit to the routine they did last year, with brooms. Very clever and well-performed, without any hesitation.

Hughes followed with her first solo piece to Tamyra Gray's "Raindrops Will Fall." She did lots of spirals, a couple of doubles (Sal and Toe, I think), and a couple of spins. I wish I could say nicer things about her skate, but she was slow, and her posture was awful, with one exception at the end of the show. Puberty was kind to her in real life, but she may be suffering from similar shift of her center of gravity that Bobek has She's also lost a bit of flexibility in her back -- neither layback attempt was the thing of beauty that it's been in the past -- although not in her legs: in either her second number or the finale she did an easy upright Y-spin, which looks rather regal when someone of her height performs it. Sikharulidze had more of an impact from the shoulders up during a transition piece with a magic scarf than Hughes did with her whole body. (If he ever retires as a skater and wants to perform still, he could be a master mime.)

Berezhnaia/Sikharulidze followed to Michael Bolton's "If I Could" -- who picks out this music???? -- and they transcended the sap that was that song. They were brilliant, with fabulous transitions between elements, including a spiral into a throw and (IIRC) cartwheel lift into death spiral, and a wonderful landing from the 3 (I think) twist, where Berezhnaia landed with her skates on his skates. (If they've done this in the past, I'm glad I had amnesia about it, because it is such a captivating move.) They were stunning.

Because SOI is so original, B/S were followed by Sale/Pelletier, who skated to "Radar Love" by Golden Earring. SOI is really Sale's metier -- she clearly loves the show-biz aspect, and is quite brilliant in the little filler between skaters, a deft commedienne. S/P had some wonderful moves in this piece, including several that were a cross between pairs lifts and dance lifts. There was quite a lift where he did an outside spread eagle, with her blades on his boots, then he some flipped her around him, and lifted her into a half candle (her head was at his waist height) while IIRC he was in a bent-kneed spread eagle. (2nd position plie in dance terms.) But it also felt a little more generic than their second piece.

Yagudin's first piece was completely unexpected: suspended from a giant white "parachute" that was rigged so that it looked a bit like a giant stork's diaper, Yagudin did a mini Cirque du Soleil performance to Peter Gabriel's "Passion," wrapping his legs (in skates!) around the side and flipping in and out of inverted and upright positions, all without any sign of fear. He was then lowered to the ice, where for the second half he skated mostly footwork, which was wonderful.

The act ended with a group number that was okay. There's a big difference between rehearsal and performing the show; although everyone looked well-rehearsed, there was the occasional obvious glance to be cued for what came next, and a few more shows before the sense of distance and placement is second-nature.

Act Two opened with Sarah Hughes, flanked by Cousins, Eldredge, Pelletier, and Yagudin. If she had been a bit sharper, it would have been rather impressive that as a tall skater, she wasn't dwarfed by the men, but she's not in fighting shape, and she looked like she was the same size as Yagudin and Cousins. She's clearly a good sport about doing the more theatrical parts of the act, and in many ways, she's quite charming, but still not the polished profession that all of the other skaters were, and without the technical "oomph" to bring something different to the table.

As if the comparison of her edges, line, flow, and speed to the group of men wasn't enough, there could not have been a more cruel cosmic joke to have Yuka Sato skate immediately afterwards to "Amazing Grace." Sato was the personification of the song's title, if not the thin interpretation by Hayley Westenra. Among the beautiful jumps and footwork were two, simply amazing spins: a fast camel spin to change to an even faster camel spin on the second leg, which seemed to start at the same pace as the first and then accelerate, and a second combination spin, which started with a fast camel that gained speed in an upright straight-leg position into a blazing forward scratch spin, each perfectly centered without a hint of travel.

Steven Cousins really earned his paycheck in this show. First, Seattle audiences are on the quiet side, and perhaps it wasn't the best morale idea to start the show here. Second, from the audience applause-o-meter, it was clear that Yagudin and Eldredge, and later Kulik, were the stars, and that when Cousins was announced, he got a polite, but not overwhelming reception. Cousins' lone solo was to John Mayer's "Come Back to Bed." He's tempered a bit of the flashy showman; this was a more subtle number for him. He was the first man to perform consistently high, tightly rotated triples with some "boom" to them, but it took me a while to realize why his program was so accomplished: I don't think he took more than three cross-overs in a row during the entire program, including going into his jumps. That's when I realized that throughout the show, the one thing common to Kulik's, Sato's, Eldredge's, Yagudin's, and Cousins' skates was the paucity of cross-overs. (The pairs took more, I'm guessing because the rink was so small that they needed to get enough speed into elements fast, before they ran out of room.)

Ina, Berezhnaia, Sato, and Sale followed with "Step Sisters," which started as four women focusing on Cousins, and then morphed into girlfriends routine, which was a nice transition -- with great music -- to Ilia Kulik's second number, to Rick Braun's "Green Tomatoes." Like the first, it was brilliantly skated to more upbeat and rhythmic music, but I preferred the subtlety of his first piece. Still, what a pleasure to see him skate, flying across the ice in a whisper.

I understand the need to let skaters perform different types of pieces, but I don't think the second piece for Berezhnaia/Sikharulidze was the best constructed. It started out with such great promise: Sikharulidze vamping across the ice, playing with the audience at rink level, is a pretty ideal opening. The problem is that Berezhnaia was given a similar vampy piece at mid-ice. The audience consisted of: young girls, teenaged girls, middle-aged women, gay male teenagers, and husbands of women they were sitting next to. While the latter are the only target audience for Berezhnaia's vamping, they were on strict behavior, so the poor woman was left stranded at center ice. Which was a waste, because the women in the audience were Berezhnaia's target audience for skating. This morphed into a short traditional piece that sounded like the Russian Sailor Dance that Abt used for last year's short program, and then transitioned to a rocky version of that piece. This program was to me a waste of precious time to see B/S skate.

Yagudin followed with "Shout" which was a rather subdued piece for such a lively piece of music. He wore a Hawaiian shirt and pants cut just below the knee, but the piece was not particularly quirky or humorous, and it didn't quite capture the drive behind the music. Perhaps he was tired. (Who knows what time zones the skaters are in.)

Next up were Sale/Pelletier, who performed to Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever," which I will always remember as "The Song from the Sarah Brightmann Album that United Airlines Played for Two Months Straight on Their Classical Channel [enter Klimt's "The Scream" Here.]" In spite of this, it was a brilliant program, full of wonderful, original lifts, and apart from the opening 5 seconds, avoided sentimentality. Watching their entrances into and exits from elements, I was struck by how accomplished they were; each looked as natural as breathing.

Following S/P was Hughes' second solo, to Eva Cassidy's rendition of "Over the Rainbow." I really wanted her to skate up straight and bend her knees a lot more. (And to eat her vegetables!)

Who wouldda thunk that all Eldredge needed was a sexy, sappy Latin number (Alessandro Safina's "Forevermore") to cure him of stiff arms and clenched fists? He really had his feet under him in this program, and he moved. Almost a completely different skater than his conservative doppelganger in Act I (when he probably was trying to get his bearings in this arena.)

The last routine was to Aerosmith's "Dream On," and I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the music my friends got stoned to in college. It is a great finale piece, particularly when it is an excuse for John Zimmerman to come out in silver leather pants, with Kyoko Ina in a silver dress that looked like tinsel. At first, I thought, well, they've finally picked some great music for I/Z's second number, but one by one, the other skaters came on the in same outfits. Yes, that's right, Yagudin in silver leather pants, Cousins in silver leather pants, Sikharulidze in silver leather pants, Kulik in silver leather pants, etc... There was too much to drink in, especially when Sato skated at one end of the ice between Cousins and Kulik and Yagudin next to him, while the pairs flew and Eldredge and Hughes flew around the other end.

This show has some great numbers, and if the cast members are your favorites, it is definitely worth seeing. I suspect it will take a week or two to tighten up, but for an opening night before an audience that tended to sit on it's hands, it was a great start.