Ice Dancers Set Lake Placid Ablaze at Annual Championships

by Lynn Rutherford, special to U.S. Figure Skating Online

Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles
Photo by Katie Weigel

2007 Lake Plcid Ice Dance Championships Photos

(8/6/07) – When the strains of a Viennese Waltz waft through the Adirondack breeze and parents frantically sew sequins to costumes in hotel lobbies, it's a sure bet the historic Olympic Center is playing host to the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.

Each summer the North American ice dance community flocks to the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games to try out new programs and receive valuable critiques from judges and technical specialists. Free dances, original dances (ODs) and compulsories are offered as independent competitions. A few teams impress skating officials enough to snag international assignments; others perform solo routines in hopes of finding a partner.

Some couples, like seniors Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles (Broadmoor SC/ Broadmoor SC), compete together for the first time, using the early-season contest to test the waters and ease butterflies.

“It's so hard to start over; you don't know what the perception is going to be,” said the team's coach, Patti Gottwein.

As it turned out, Summersett and Gilles, who teamed up in April, won all four events they entered. The duo's free dance, choreographed by Tom Dickson to Ravel's lyrical yet sinister “La Valse,” impressed the judges with its intricate transitions and difficult lifts, all five of which attained level fours. Their step sequences had multiple changes of direction and levels, and their final move, a curve lift with Gilles in a deep crouch position and Summersett balanced on his thighs, had stunning effect. They earned 79.41 points, winning the senior free dance by a 4.45-point margin.

That curve lift is partly responsible for bringing the two skaters together.

“When I tried out with a girl, we'd go for the lift, which I did with my former partner Trina (Pratt),” Gilles said. “It was a test. If the girl could do it, then she was a good fit. Jane could do it.”

Summersett's previous partnership with Elliott Pennington ended in 2006. She attended college in Michigan, but yearned to compete again.

“I love the challenge and risk of ice dancing,” she said. “When I got the opportunity to try out with Todd, I was in Colorado Springs in a heartbeat.”

“She is so grounded and positive,” Gilles added. “It's easy to skate with her.”

Second place went to Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler (Stars FSC of Texas/ Stars FSC of Texas), who had a smooth, confident performance to Sarah Brightman's “Time to Say Goodbye.” Their free-flowing choreography, created by Natalia Linichuk, had seamless flow in and out of elements, with Traxler showing deep edges in the lifts.

“This program took us in a completely different direction from our Motown free dance last season,” Traxler said. “We wanted to prove we could do something more dramatic and mature.”

Canadians Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno (Gloucester SC/ Vancouver SC), who are coached by 2003 World champion Victor Kraatz and his wife, former Finnish champion Maikki Uotila-Kraatz, placed third with a fast-paced program set to electronic new age music from Nortec Collective.

“They've improved so much since last season,” Kraatz said. “Mostly, we've worked on their basic stroking and trying to make the difficult technical moves look easy.”

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt (All Year FSC/ Stars FSC of Texas) were fourth with a polished Argentine Tango. The free dance of Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky (Oklahoma City FSC/Salt Lake FSC) to classic rock tunes was entertaining, but a double spill on their final element, the rotational lift, left them in fifth place.

The International Skating Union added a new wrinkle for the 2007-08 season: a country/folk original dance, using authentic music from a specific country or region. Lake Placid had a smorgasbord of routines ranging from a Peruvian scarf dance to a Bavarian Schuhplattler. You never knew what was coming up next, which is a big part of the appeal.

Ask coaches about the innovation, and you'll get one response: “It's. . . interesting.”

Iouri Tchesnitchenko, who coaches several highly rated teams in Ann Arbor, Mich., added, “It was a little confusing at first. But a lot of (spectators) like it, even in the practices. And it helps us grow as choreographers, because we are forced to learn about different cultures and some dances we had not done before.”

Summersett and Gilles's country-western OD to bluegrass and gospel music, choreographed by Christopher Dean, took first place. The team's opening mid-line step sequence featured level-four twizzles done in low, catch-foot (“pancake”) positions, and their circular steps included difficult behind-the-back holds punctuated by energetic kicks.

“During the circle, I felt like screaming “Yee-ha!” Gilles said.

Second place went to Hann-McCurdy and Coreno's charming program to “Log Drivers Waltz,” choreographed by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. The couple, who finished eighth at the 2007 Canadian Championships, skated with good energy and attack, smoothly executing their difficult elements.

“It's the story of a girl who falls in love with a lumberjack, instead of a society man, because the lumberjack is so graceful,” Hann-McCurdy said.

Third was Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt's romantic Russian gypsy dance, which featured well-executed level-four twizzles and a unique spin in an unusually close position.

“It's a confident, flirty dance,” Kriengkrairut said. “A girl puts a flower in her hair to try to get a guy's attention, and he plays along.”

Summersett and Gilles won the first two compulsory dances, the Argentine Tango and Yankee Polka, but did not enter the Austrian Waltz. Hann-McCurdy and Coreno won the senior combined compulsory event with placements of third, fourth and first in the three CDs.

Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello
Photo by Katie Weigel
Juniors Show Skill and Style

Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello (University of Delaware FSC/University of Delaware FSC), who train under Karen Ludington, performed a fast-paced free dance to music from Edward Scissorhands that was capped by its strong closing move, a fine combination straight line to rotational lift. They received 67.54 points, winning the junior free dance Group A by 1.54 points.

“I thought our lifts went pretty well,” said Lorello, a former singles skater who switched to ice dancing just over a year ago. “I'm so grateful I made the change to dance. I love the speed and challenge of it.”

2007 U.S. novice champions Maia & Alex Shibutani (SC of New York/Broadmoor SC) took second place with a free dance to contemporary piano music from Jean-Marie Senia that was filled with interesting shapes and intricate handholds.

“It has a lot of modern dance moves,” Maia said. “We wanted it to be as challenging as possible, so we could grow as skaters.”

Sara Bailey & Kyle Herring (Charter Oak SC/University of Delaware SC), second to the Shibutanis at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships, were third here with a dramatic program to powerful music from the 300 soundtrack. “It's a big jump from novice to junior,” Herring said. “Each time we perform, we want it to be better than the time before.”

Canadian junior champions Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier (Scarboro FSC/Scarboro FSC), who placed ninth at the 2007 World Junior Championships, captured junior free dance Group B with a sophisticated tango, pegging them as early favorites for a podium finish at this season's Junior Grand Prix Final. The program opened with an inventive stationary spinning lift in low position and was highlighted by one-foot, level-four twizzles that drew gasps from the crowd for their speed, unison and unusual bent-leg positions. The couple earned 72.23 points, edging the field by nearly four points.

“Last season we did a tango OD, and it became our favorite dance,” Poirier said. “We've been taking ballroom lessons, trying to improve the little details every day.”

“We're working on developing deeper edges and more speed,” Crone added.

Crisp, staccato footwork marked the techno/tango free dance of Rachael Richardson & Brad Coulter (Detroit SC/Spokane FSC). Amazingly, the couple earned five level-four elements and not one negative grade of execution en route to their second-place finish.

“We were tired, but we used that as inspiration to keep going,” Richardson said. “We work a lot on our lifts; our motto is ‘Safety first.'”

Joanna Lenko & Mitchell Islam (Barrie SC/Barrie SC) of Canada performed a Latin medley including the classic "Bésame Mucho,” finishing with a flourish with back-to-back reverse rotational and rotational lifts. They placed third.

The junior OD events were audience favorites, showcasing an amazing diversity of creative choreography and youthful enthusiasm.

Crone and Poirier won the junior OD Group A with an evocative Romanian gypsy dance that began with soft movements and flowing edges, building in intensity to a one-arm rotational lift and fast closing spin with an unusual shoot-the-duck back outside edge entry.

“We're working on the relationship and connection between the characters, who are two people looking for a better life,” said Crone, who was born in Romania and adopted as an infant.

“I'm very pleased with it,” said the couple's coach, Carol Lane. “They had good speed, especially in the transitions in and out of the highlights.”

Anastasia Cannuscio & Dean Copely (University of Delaware FSC/University of Delaware FSC) took second with an energetic Russian Kalinka that had speedy circular steps and an attractive straight-line lift. Like many of the event's peasant dances, it had the crowd clapping along.

“Entertaining the audience is the main thing,” Copely. “If they are happy, so are we.”

Another Canadian couple coached by Lane, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill (Scarboro FSC/Scarboro FSC), finished third with an exciting OD to African rhythms. Ralph hit a lovely layback position in the spin, and Hill held her extremely low to the ice in their straight-line lift.

“African dances are often spiritual,” Hill said. “In the beginning, this dance gives thanks to the spirits, then it turns happy, and there's a celebration at the end.”

The Shibutanis finished atop Group B in junior OD with a Japanese folk dance to taiko drums distinguished by soft knees, adroit phrasing and clean footwork. They earned 49.14 points, 2.15 points ahead of their nearest rivals.

“Japanese folk dance is quiet, reflecting the Japanese culture, and we wanted to show that,” Alex said. “We consulted the Japanese Folk Dance Institute (of New York), who gave us some videos and suggestions.”

The siblings, who moved from Colorado Springs to Canton, Mich., this spring to train under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, are pleased with their progress.

“This competition is a good beginning,” said Maia, who is 20 days too young (she was born July 20, 1994) to compete in this season's Junior Grand Prix. “We need to improve the speed and emotion of our programs.”

Skating to the classic “St. James Infirmary Blues,” Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan (Broadmoor SC/Broadmoor SC) were second with an expressive routine featuring sinuous step sequences and lifts.

“I just kept thinking, I'm in New Orleans, and it's hot and sticky,” Gilles said.

Cannuscio and Lorello finished third. Their African folk dance had good unison throughout the step sequences -- including several exuberant leaps -- and their arm movements complemented the choreography.

Anastasia Olson and Jordan Cowan
Photo by Daphne Backman
Novice Teams Hit High Notes

The depth of North American ice dance was reflected in the quality of the novice teams, many of whom included several level-four elements in their free dances.

Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan (Ann Arbor Figure SC/All Year Figure SC), who train under Tchesnitchenko and Iaroslava Netchaeva in Ann Arbor, won Group A in novice free dance with a speedy, dramatic rendition of a Russian gypsy dance.

“It felt very good,” said Olson, who only started skated with her partner in April. “It was pretty clean, and we had a lot of energy. Our lifts were definitely the highlight.”

Una Donegan & Andrew Korda (SC of Boston/SC of Boston), the 2007 U.S. intermediate champions, took second place with their program to Sarah Brightman's rendition of “Anytime, Anywhere.”

“I remember Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev using this music when I skated in Detroit, so I decided to resurrect it,” said the couple's coach, Justin Pekarek. “Andrew is a powerful skater and presents Una so well. She has genuine expression.”

Megan Evans & Nathan Truesdale (Washington FSC/Arctic FSC), who are coached by Shpilband and Zoueva, placed third with a sprightly program to music from Little Miss Sunshine that showcased their fine posture and lines.

Canadians Olivia Martins & Alvin Chau (Scarboro FSC/Scarboro FSC) won Group B in novice free dance with a seductive program to a rhumba and modern tango. The well-matched team opened with an exceptionally elegant rotational lift and showed strong, deep edges.

“This year our lifts feel a lot better,” Chau said. “We still need more connection and unison in the program.”

Lauren Ely & Travis Mager (Columbia FSC/Columbia FSC) placed second with a Bobby Darin medley marked by fine twizzles and strong footwork sequences.

“There were a few timing issues, but it was our best program performance wise,” Ely said.

The clean, entertaining free dance of Chloe Wolf & Rhys Ainsworth (Spokane FSC/North Atlantic FSC), set to music from Les Miserables, featured several changes of tempo and rhythm and took third place.

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