Stars on Ice 2016: Review

Recently I drove up to Portland, Maine, to see the second show of the 2016 U.S. Stars on Ice tour. I enjoyed it a lot!

This year’s Stars on Ice has quite a different tone and feel than the 2015 show. Last year, the theme was “Dancing for Joy,” and the overall mood was warm and inviting, with vibrant lighting and many brightly/softly colored costumes. This year’s theme is “E-motion.” While this show definitely has some emotional moments, overall there’s a rather detached, modern feel to the production (as the title suggests). The palette of this year’s show is defined by cool, stark lighting, with most of the costumes in white, black, or red. And many of the music selections are current dance/pop/electronica songs. The show is very interesting and entertaining, although it didn’t quite excite/uplift me like last year’s SOI.

This year’s show opened with a group number to “Staten Island Groove” by Down to the Bone. This cool, funky piece set the tone for the show, with the ladies in stylish black halter tops and black flared pants, and the men in all black as well. There was a lot of cool, sexy posing, finishing with the cast in a carefully composed line formation.

Formation-2

Then we saw a mix of solos and group numbers. The first act included both men’s and ladies’ group numbers. The ladies’ program was set to The Kills’ spare, rhythmic “Sour Cherry” and featured Madison Chock, Meryl Davis, Ashley Wagner, and Gracie Gold doing sharp dance moves. The ice dancers carried this off well, as you would expect, and Ashley more than held her own. (I must honestly report that Gracie looked just a tad stiff at times.) Ashley & Adam also did a brief duet to “Yesterday,” to introduce Adam’s Beatles program.

Later on, the men closed out the first half with a stunning group number featuring Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon, and Ryan Bradley. Set to a cover of “Sounds of Silence” by Disturbed, this dramatic program started with each man skating alone from darkness into spotlights, then showed all three skating together. Ryan did a layout back flip; all three men did double Axels, as well as gorgeous death drops. Such powerful skating in this number! It really reflected the dark, epic tone of the music. I thought this was one of the best programs in the show. The three ice dance teams also later performed a group number to Andra Day’s soulful “Rise Up,” wearing all-white costumes.

Maia

In the solo numbers, the standout performers for me were Maia & Alex Shibutani. I absolutely loved both their programs, and was so impressed with their skating overall. The Shibs’ first number was “Clair de Lune,” which they choreographed themselves. This program (also performed at the Worlds gala) was lyrical and beautiful. In the second half, the Shibs reprised their now-signature “Fix You” LP. Once again, it was marvelous!! It’s now been 5 years since I first saw the Shibs live (at 2011 Evening with Champions). They have grown so much as performers since then! Back in 2011, they were lovely and pleasant to watch but didn’t really make much of an impact. Now, there’s just so much more maturity and presence to their skating. They really command your attention and fill the ice now, in a way they didn’t before. And the quality of their skating … In both numbers, they were very smooth and had good power and nice, sustained speed throughout. Every highlight was clearly defined and extended, with great line and beautiful posture, yet blended seamlessly into the next transition. Watching them, for the first time I felt like the Shibutanis have truly joined the ranks of the great dancers.

I enjoyed all the other solo performances as well. Coming off her Worlds silver medal, Ashley Wagner was in great form. When Ashley is introduced to the crowd, a Star Wars-style story intro rolls across the screen, telling how Ashley just won her silver medal and broke the U.S. ladies’ medal drought at Worlds. I loved this little touch! (Because it totally plays on U.S. skating fans’ obsession with our ladies!! :-)) After the intro, Ashley entertained the crowd with her “Hip Hip, Chin Chin” SP. Ashley is so saucy in this number! She wore a midriff-baring costume, which of course showed off her hip action even more than usual. Ashley sold the heck out of the program, landing a triple flip and double Axel, and had great flow and phrasing throughout.

Ashley skated two more numbers in the second half of the show—“Life on Mars,” a David Bowie tribute, and “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande. Both were good, and she landed another triple flip and double Axel in “Dangerous Woman.”

It was also a treat to see Ashley’s BFF, Adam Rippon. In the first act, Adam again did his Beatles LP. This program is so entertaining, and the music so well-known, that I thought it worked just as well in a show setting as in competition. Bonus: Adam performed most of his regular jump content—no quad Lutz, but 6 triples in all, including a triple Axel. I was impressed! Adam’s second number was “O” by Coldplay (also performed at the Worlds gala). This is a gorgeous program, and there were some good jumps, too—Rippon triple Lutz, triple flip, and another triple Axel! I was, again, amazed at how far Adam has come this year. I remember a time when he was struggling so hard with his triple Axels in competition—and now, he’s confident enough to include not just one, but two Axels, in a show! How great is that? And what a testament to his training and coaching. (Speaking of Adam & Ashley, I had the pleasure of meeting them briefly in the hotel lobby the morning afterward. I congratulated them on the show and their success at Worlds. They were so nice!)

Jeremy Abbott performed two very different programs. The first was a funky, electronic disco-type number to “Peanut Butter Jelly” by Galantis. This routine was light-hearted and fun, and the crowd got into it. Jeremy landed a triple flip and double Axel. Then, in the second act, Jeremy skated to “Bridge over Troubled Water.” This emotional program really showcased Jeremy’s skating skills—his beautiful edges and speed. Unfortunately, he had some jump problems, turning out of both his triple Axel and triple Lutz. But it was still a beautiful program, and I loved the closing move—a simple circle of forward crossovers. Which looked amazing, since it was Jeremy doing it.

As always, I enjoyed watching Gracie Gold. I’ll be honest–Gracie is one of my favorite skaters. Whether her jumps are on or off, whether she’s suffering from nerves or not, I just love watching this girl. Her regal, elegant carriage and posture are my everything. And her skating skills … Her flow is so smooth and her speed so consistent. I really liked both her programs in the show, but especially her second number to Beyonce’s “I Was Here.” I felt a lot of emotion from Gracie in this program—the theme seemed so poignant, considering her struggle at Worlds. As the song says, Gracie is still trying to make her mark in skating and show us why she is here. She was lovely and heartfelt in this program.

We also saw U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds. Polina’s first program was an uptempo dance number from Glee. She landed a double Axel and triple Salchow in the routine, which was fun but a bit forgettable. I enjoyed her second number to “Ave Maria” much more. Polina has a softness and gentleness to her skating that fits really well with a lyrical piece like this. Polina again landed a triple Salchow and also a double Axel that transitioned into a lovely, extended spiral. Polina’s adventures in costuming continued: She wore a red sequined halter bra top and skirt for her first number (new look for her), then switched to a flowing white dress with headband and long curls for her second routine (very pretty, if not perhaps sophisticated).

Chock-Bates

Chock/Bates debuted a new program to Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen” (also performed this past weekend at the Team Challenge Cup gala). I appreciated the originality of this number, and felt that it worked fairly well. Some of the choreography is really very clever and relates well to the spoken lyrics. At other moments, I felt like they kind of dropped the concept in order to execute a big lift or highlight. But overall, it’s nice to see such a new and different style from them. Their other program, to Beyonce’s “Haunted/Ghost,” had some sexy moves but too much rolling around on the ice for me. (Whenever skaters do that, all I can think of is how cold they’re getting.)

Meryl/Charlie skated to two pop songs: “Dreams” by Imagine Dragons and “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine. Both were very pleasant to watch, although perhaps not among their more memorable programs. Meryl/Charlie looked great, but I did notice a bit of  a difference in speed and smoothness from when I saw them live at Nationals 2014. With all the touring and traveling they’re doing these days, I’m sure their training time is limited.

Ryan Bradley was in the cast as well. He skated his first program to OneRepublic’s “Love Runs Out” and landed a couple of triples and a back flip. I enjoyed the uptempo sections of this routine, but Ryan’s flow, bladework, and posture seemed to suffer a bit in the slower sections. I preferred Ryan’s second program to Vance Joy’s “Fire and the Flood.” In this, he landed a double Axel, triple toe, and 2 back flips!!

The show closed with an entertaining group number to another dance song, “Wild Motion (Set It Free)” by Miami Horror. This routine mirrored the opening number, with the girls in white halter tops and white jeans this time (instead of black), and with the skaters again ending in a tightly composed lineup formation. Meryl/Charlie did a lovely solo within this number, and all the skaters seemed to get into the upbeat, free-flowing music. It was a great ending to the show. (The only problem is that skating shows always seem to end too soon! :-))

Overall, I really enjoyed this year’s Stars on Ice. I did miss some of the great professional skaters from last year’s show (Ekaterina Gordeeva, Joannie Rochette, Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto), but on the other hand, it was nice seeing some of my favorite U.S. competitive skaters. And this year’s show has a young, current vibe that’s interesting and different. Some might prefer to see more diversity of musical styles/artists; however, there’s a certain coherency to this year’s show that’s satisfying on its own terms.

There are 4 more shows left in this year’s tour. For dates, check the Stars on Ice web page. I really wish there were more tour dates; the quality of the production and skating definitely merits it. If one of the remaining shows is coming near you, I’d say definitely consider getting some tickets if you can! One thing you can be sure of: You’ll see some great skating.

For some more photos of this year’s Stars on Ice, check out this online gallery from the Hershey, PA show: www.pennlive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/04/stars_on_ice_in_hershey.html#incart_river_index.

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