Let’s start with the ladies! It took me some time to think back over the season considering all the Grand Prixs, Senior Bs, and national competitions that come before we get to the big international competitions of Europeans, Four Continents, the Olympics and Worlds. So much skating. But I really wanted to focus on the program: the creativity, cohesion and clarity of it. There are programs that you enjoy because they are executed so well in the moment, but I didn’t want to just focus on the execution (although, it does play a role) because there are those programs that even if it wasn’t skated cleanly the idea and choreography of it are still enough to capture the viewer. So, here are my top short and free programs for the ladies this past season.
Notes: I decided not to include any programs that were repeated from a previous season, so, for example, while I loved Kaetlyn Osmond’s short program, I decided that it didn’t make the list. Also, in all my reviews, I aimed for five of each, although that’s not what I necessarily ended up with. (I don’t know why five. It just seemed like a reasonable number, not too big but not too small.)
Yuna Shirawa – “The girl with the flaxen hair” by Debussy. I thought this was a beautiful program. The music is gorgeous and a refreshing pick; her dress is lovely and reflects the idea of the music (cohesion); it just casts a little spell and makes a beautiful way to spend a couple of minutes. I really like Yuna. I hope she doesn’t get buried in the heap of talent that is the Japanese ladies. She’s only 15! I thought she had a pretty good first season in senior, not a big splash but a little splashy, especially because she had two interesting, excellent programs with refreshing music selections. (Yuna skated to “Pictures at an Exhibtion” by Mussorgsky. You don’t hear that every day.) I want to see lots of Yuna in the future! I probably should say who choreographed this but I don’t know. Maybe Tom Dickson?
Satoko Miyahara – Selections from the “Memoirs of a Geisha” soundtrack by John Williams. I already talked about Satoko’s dress and may have mentioned that I also love this program. The ending pose with the little look she gives the judges – love it! The step sequence is divine and I love how it all subtly builds drama and intrigue. Choreographed by Lori Nichol.
Wakaba Higuchi – “Gypsy Dance” by Minkus. Wakaba is just so fun. This is a fun program and I like to watch fun programs where the skater is having fun. I think this is a great choice, so much energy and personality, and it is maybe by Shae-Lyn Bourne. (The ISU bio sites should really list the choreography with each program, rather than lumping them altogether in a list at the top!)
Carolina Kostner – “Ne me quitte pas” by Jacques Brel, performed by Celine Dion. This is just all-round excellent. It is raw and sophisticated all at once. Another Lori Nichol.
Li Xiangning – “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” from the soundtrack of “Cinema Paradiso” by Ennio Morricone. This is just a lovely little thing. Li isn’t terribly expressive but I think she is quite artistic and I think this was a very smart choice of music. It doesn’t over power her but just carries her along and highlights here lovely carriage and lines and beautiful spin positions. (I can’t wait to see her as a pairs skater.) Choreographer by David Wilson.
I have to say on the whole, in general I tend to enjoy more short programs than free. Maybe it’s easier to be creative and cohesive over a shorter period of time? So, I have a few honourable mentions that I want to include:
- Mai Miahara – Tangos! You would think I would be sick of these by now but, I’m not. I think this has a few interesting choreographic moments and I like it because of that. Benoit Richaud for his one.
- Alaine Chartrand – I love the step sequence! (I think this is by Shae-Lyn. I have quite liked Alaine’s short programs for the past three years and I think Shae-Lyn has done them all.)
Wakaba Higuchi – Selections from the soundtrack of “Skyfall” and “From Russia With Love”. Wakaba makes the list twice. (It’s a real honour.) This program was effective every time she performed it. Every time she started the the step sequence to “Skyfall” I got a little shiver. And this is James Bond! It’s not like this is new one ice but she really created a character, and the choreography was interesting and so well timed to the music. This appears to be choreographed by Marina Zueva and Massimo Scali.
Kaetlyn Osmond – Selections from “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky and from the soundtrack of “Black Swan” by Clint Mansell. I found this program so exciting to watch. It used the music so well. Programs like this one and Wakaba’s (and others here) make you remember why those skating music warhorses are warhorses. The music is so good and when it’s used well and interpreted well, it’s so effective. (Unfortunately, I find that’s not the case very often). Kaetlyn is starting a good track record. The past two years, I have been all about Kaetlyn’s free programs. This one was choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle.
Mai Mihara – Selections from the soundtrack of “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone, including “Gabriel’s Oboe” performed by Hayley Westenra. I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face every time I saw this free program. Clearly, Mai liked it too because I think she killed this program every time she skated it. I really want Mai to keeping working on her expression and artistry because I think there is more there. This program makes me think there is more there. David Wilson choreographed. I think the step sequence is great and I love that he uses her great knee bend and lunges. (And I love her extravagant twizzles too. Maybe he could use them too?)
Satoko Miyahara – Selections from “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini. It took me awhile to really warm up to this program and fully appreciate. I blame the blue dress. I appreciate that Satoko didn’t wear the traditional purple but the blue never seemed quite. But the under the lights at Nationals, you can at last really see how sparkly it is and perhaps that made the difference… But back to the program. It’s gentle and gorgeous, so well thought out and brought to life. Choreographed by Tom Dickson.
Marin Honda – Music from “Turnadot” by Puccini. This is a program we didn’t get to see a lot of this past season but I hope we are going to see a lot more of Marin in the future. I think the music choice was maybe a bit ambitious, maybe even a bit of a miss at this point in her career but still, I think it’s a great program. This was either choreographed by David Wilson or Jeff Buttle. I’m guessing Jeff.
I feel like someone is going to point out someone very obvious that I missed but until then, those are my ladies. Looking at my choices now, I realize there are a lot of Japanese ladies. I already knew that I love the skating of a lot of Japanese ladies but I guess I like their programs too or at least this season anyway. Is it because they tend to use high level choreographers? Or maybe it’s just in comparison with what else was out there this season? There were a lot of repeated programs and there were a lot of safe programs – no one wanted to push the envelope or experiment in an Olympic season. I know whose programs I don’t like: Russian ladies.
I felt like I was maybe being unfair, so I did more review. I am intrigued by Stanislava Konstantinova but her programs were anything terribly interesting or exciting. Maria is pleasant and I like her music choices but nothing stands out. Anna P. was MIA and Elizaveta, well, she’s not exactly known for her programs. Both Elena and Polina had decent shorts but that were repeats and bland frees. I could have liked Evgenia’s short program a lot more if it hadn’t been for the stupid breathing; I could have liked her free program but for the miming (and the awful dress grabbing her neck – hey, there was a brown dress). And to be honest, I sort of liked Alina’s free program to “Don Quixhote” but I would like to have seen more balance. It felt sort of… empty on both ends. I just didn’t see a lot that was beautiful or exciting and I think in general the Russians suffer from trying too much or over-thinking programs. Here is my suggestion: keep it simple, keep it beautiful.