Oh, figure skating, what’s happened to you? You used to be interesting, beautifully diverse in movement and creativity. You were a blend of grace, power, and speed. Sadly, you’re none of those things now. These days, everyone looks the same, picks the same music, and moves about the ice like zombies from The Walking Dead. Where’s the excitement? Where are the edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding programs?
I wish Simon Cowell was a skating judge. He’d have a lot to say about what passes for figures skating circa 2014. He’d bemoan the lack of originality, the total absence of what he calls ‘the wow factor’
And he’d be right.
Modern figure skating is dull. Profoundly, insomnia-curing, what’s it doing in the Olympics, is it even a sport, dull. It wasn’t always this way. Around the time Tonya Harding was plotting the whack heard round the world, skaters world-wide took chances. Remember Alexei Yagudin’s unbelievable footwork? Breathtaking! Enough so you forgot about the jumps–and that’s saying something. In dance, Evgeni Platov and Pasha Grishuk perfected what Torvill and Dean started. When was the last time a free dance was as peppy, astutely crowd-friendly, and exciting as theirs. When they were winning everything, their music choices included: St. James Infirmary Blues, Rock Around the Clock, and Stepping Out. Those are a far cry from the classical snooze fest we’ve seen since. It’s not limited to dance either; the ennui, so pervasive in what was once ballroom on ice has invaded ladies, mens, and pairs. Mens? Really? I still remember David Santee rousing the crowd to its feet with Rocky. Once, albeit in a show, Brian Bointano skated in total darkness with lights all over his costume. I think the music was Funky Town. If not, then it was something very much like it. Can you imagine Bointano’s later iterations doing that? I didn’t think so.
Today, figure skating has become a parade of ballet solos and pas de deux, (a prize for the plural of that). If I wanted ballet, I’d go to the ballet. Is it any wonder figure skating’s popularity has fallen? One look at gymnastics, skating’s Summer Olympic cousin, shows why. Granted, the male gymnasts don’t use music, but the women do. How often is that music slow and uninteresting? Not much that I recall.
In skating, we get a recycling of about 10 classical pieces. At any given competition you’ll get the requisite Carmen, Rhapsody in Blue, Swan Lake, Firebird, Giselle, Copellia, or some other famous ballet. And within those selections, the arrangements are BORING! No build in the music, no engaging the audience. What gives? Years ago, Olympic medalist, Toller Cranston, performed in Boston to something he considered art. It went on for–I kid you not–10 minutes. By the time he finished, you heard snickers throughout the crowd. Maybe this was the beginning of the end. Every Olympics, sports writers and viewers wonder if judged events belong. They ask: is skating even a sport? Figure Skating’s current march toward ballet puts that question in play. And not in a good way. Skating needs to make up its mind. If it’s art, then be art. Just don’t expect to stay in the Olympics for long. You’re giving the not-a-sport crowd WAY too much ammunition. You’re not interesting. You’re not exciting. You’re not ballet. And you shouldn’t pretend to be.
FWIW; Keith Yatsuhashi was the 1984 World Jr. Ice Dance Silver Medalist (behind the great Evgeni Platov) and 1984 US Jr. Dance Champion.