Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2016-17

Welcome to my third annual round-up of the best, most, and worst in pairs skating!! Included are my picks for the top 10 long programs and top 10 short programs of the season (with videos). As usual, all opinions expressed herein are strictly my own. (And possibly more idiosyncratic than usual.) So feel free to agree—or disagree! 

Sui-Han-smiling

PAIR of the YEAR  Sui/Han It was a short, but glorious, season for Sui/Han. What made it special wasn’t just their victories, but the way they won. Pairs have returned from major injuries before, but I can’t remember a team coming back in their first event the way Sui/Han did at Four Continents–setting new personal-best scores to win a major ISU championship. Sui/Han have been building toward this season for a very long time. Their 10 years of partnership led to World silver medals in 2015 and 2016. Clearly, they weren’t going to let a pesky nuisance like foot surgery stop their momentum. As they took the ice for their long program at Worlds, I thought: “It can’t be silver again. Can it?” No, it had to be gold for Sui/Han this season. And, against all odds, it was.

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COACH of the YEAR  Hongbo Zhao Last spring, I certainly didn’t expect Hongbo Zhao to be my coach of the year. Like many, I was dismayed by the Chinese partner swap involving Peng/Zhang and Yu/Jin. Like many, I questioned Zhao’s role in the decision. However, a year later, it’s undeniable that the partner swap has worked out–at least in the short term. The Chinese pairs, as a group, had a hugely successful season. They placed 1st and 4th at Worlds (Sui/Han, Yu/Zhang), 3rd at Junior Worlds (Gao/Xie), and won medals at Four Continents, Asian Winter Games, the Grand Prix Final, and other Grand Prix events. When you consider the coaching challenges Hongbo Zhao and his team faced, it’s quite amazing: Wenjing Sui had to be nursed back to health and competitive shape after a very difficult surgery; two brand-new senior teams had to be coached up from ground zero; the junior pairs were also new. Yet, Zhao and the entire Chinese coaching team triumphed and took their teams to the top. I’m not sure many other coaches could have produced the results he did this year.

BEST SET of PROGRAMS

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GOLD James/Cipres It was an incredible season for the French team, who broke through to win their first medal at Europeans. And their programs played a big role in their success. James/Cipres’s greatest strengths are their sheer charisma and chemistry; yet, few of their past programs had taken advantage of this. Choreographer John Kerr, who created this season’s programs with John Zimmerman/Silvia Fontana, put those qualities front and center. Their “Earned It” SP was intense and sexy; their “Sound of Silence” LP was powerful and passionate. Audiences loved the programs; and they fell in love with James/Cipres, too. I’ve seldom seen competitive programs have such a strong transformative effect on a team’s career. That’s why James/Cipres top this category.

Savchenko-Massot-LP

SILVER Savchenko/Massot John Kerr also choreographed Aliona/Bruno’s programs this season—and what a brilliant job he did! I loved the music choices, the creativity, the dance elements in the SP, the beautiful transitions in their LP—just the whole package. Another exciting thing: Savchenko/Massot’s programs showed a totally new side to Aliona’s skating. How many skaters, after 16 years of senior competition, still have anything new to show us? But Aliona did this season. I’d never seen her skate to anything like their modern-jazz “That Man” SP. And it’s been years since she did a program as tender and soulful as their “Lighthouse” LP. Aliona has always been a creative force in pairs skating, but Bruno brings out a new gentleness and lightheartedness in her. Savchenko/Massot’s programs were my personal favorites of the season.

Della-Monica-Guarise-SP-death-spiral

BRONZE Della Monica/Guarise Although Della Monica/Guarise chose very familiar music–the oft-heard Carmina Burana and Love Story—I really liked what they did with this material. Like James/Cipres and Savchenko/Massot, the Italians chose an ice dancer to choreograph their programs: Raffaella Cazzaniga, former Italian dancer (with help from Giuseppe Arena). The programs were intricate and interesting, with more dance holds and seamless transitions than most pairs. I liked how Cazzaniga brought out the unique mood of each piece to create two very distinct programs. And Della Monica/Guarise brought her choreography to life wonderfully with their smooth, expressive skating.

BEST PERFORMANCES in SHORT PROGRAM

It was hard to narrow this list down to just 10 short programs! So many pairs had great SPs this season. In the end, I just had to pick my 10 personal favorites (plus one honorable mention!).

GOLD Sui/Han at Four Continents We only got to see Sui/Han’s “Blues for Klook” SP twice this season—a shame, because it was so magnificent. The choreography, phrasing, and, most of all, the performance level in this program were simply astounding! When Sui/Han came out at Four Continents and skated this level of program–after 10 months away from competition—it was immediately apparent that they’d be the team to beat at Worlds.

SILVER Savchenko/Massot at Worlds This modern-swing short program to “That Man” was an instant classic when Savchenko/Massot debuted it at Nebelhorn Trophy. The program is so cleverly choreographed, with lots of great dance steps and intricate holds. What really makes it work, though, is how it plays off the lightness and charm of Savchenko/Massot’s skating. Bruno is such a big & powerful guy, and Aliona is among the most intense pairs skaters we’ve seen; yet together, they have a surprisingly light touch on the ice.

BRONZE Tarasova/Morozov at Grand Prix Final This “Glam” SP was a winner for Tarasova/Morozov, delivering big leads for them in most competitions. Why did the judges love it so much? Tarasova/Morozov really filled out the ice terrifically; their moves and patterns were just so big. And the transitions were really well-choreographed with the spirit of the music. Mostly, though, this program is fast. For me, it gave the sensation of thoroughbreds being let loose to run. Note, for example, the tremendous speed T/M carry into the side-by-side triple toe loops.

FOURTH Stolbova/Klimov at Russian Nationals Stolbova/Klimov were rusty this season, after multiple injuries and a long layoff. However, this “Clair de Lune” short program was stunning. The program was stylistically unusual for Stolbova/Klimov, and some fans didn’t care for it. But I loved it, especially this performance at Russian Nationals. The standout element was the step sequence, which was the best we saw this season from any pair, in my opinion. Note how deeply Ksenia/Fedor get into the ice in this sequence; the up-and-down movement of their knees/bodies is very pronounced, compared to most teams. Observe Ksenia’s stellar extension through her upper body–the arch in her back, the sretch through her arms and hands. It’s also the longest step sequence I saw from any pair–over 1 minute in length—making it even more challenging.

FIFTH James/Cipres at World Team Trophy This sexy, werk-it SP from James/Cipres was one of the standouts of the whole season. I thought their best performance came at World Team Trophy. Removed from the pressure of the higher-profile competitions, James/Cipres took things to a whole new level of hotness at WTT (while also delivering some great technical elements).

SIXTH Zabijako/Enbert at Worlds Zabijako/Enbert placed a surprising 5th in the short program at Worlds with this performance. Watching it again, it’s not hard to see why. I love the attack, flow, and seamlessness. What stands out is how together they seem. There’s no grabbing, no pulling, no lack of unison. It’s classic, pure pairs skating.

SEVENTH Duhamel/Radford at Skate Canada For me, Duhamel/Radford brought a special energy to the short program this season that was different from any other team. Their “Killer” SP was a bit edgy, a bit intense; and I always enjoyed watching it. This outing at Skate Canada was the best we saw it all season, in my opinion. The routine also included a successful throw triple Axel.

EIGHTH Moore-Towers/Marinaro at Four Continents  Kirsten/Mike’s “Heartbreak Hotel” program didn’t get much notice this year, but I thought it was great. What I enjoyed most was how relaxed Kirsten/Mike looked, skating to it. They were smooth, they were in sync, they were on the rhythm. No one does this kind of blues-rock/blues-swing music better than Kirsten Moore-Towers; the style suits her so well.

NINTH Peng/Jin at Cup of China This was the first time we saw Peng/Jin in competition—and their first program couldn’t have been a more pleasant surprise. When the new partners took the ice in China, they looked surprisingly relaxed and happy, sharing a big smile. And once the program began, what fun! Their comic “My Drag” was unique; the first time I can recall seeing a Chinese pair try comedy on the ice. This program was a breath of fresh air—and an immediate signal that the “leftovers” in the Chinese partner swap didn’t intend to be overlooked.

TENTH Della Monica/Guarise at Cup of China Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is such powerful music that it’s hard for most skaters to interpret well. Della Monica/Guarise met the challenge head-on: They took the power of the music and made it the theme of this SP. Their opening moves immediately drew attention, and the technical elements were placed on musical crescendos, highlighting their athletic prowess. The best part of the program, though, was the step sequence. Again showing strength, this step sequence was one of the longest among pairs this season (about 50 seconds) and also one of the most challenging. While many pairs performed easier straight-line step sequences, Nicole/Matteo’s was circular/serpentine, with about a third of it in dance holds. They also included twizzles and other difficult steps.

HONORABLE MENTION Efimova/Korovin at Russian Nationals Although this routine didn’t figure into medal conversations this year, I have to include it because it was actually one of my personal favorites from the entire season. I’m a fan of this team, and thus predisposed to like their programs. Nonetheless, I do think there was something intriguing about this routine. We see so many “hot” Latin programs: Hip-swiveling, flirtatious, sexy. This program was rather different–a “cool” Latin, if you will. There was no hip action; but I loved how Efimova/Korovin effortlessly stayed up on the fast tempo, never slowing for a moment. And their big tricks (triple twist, throw loop) popped so easily, without distracting from the choreography. The cool, almost imperious, look of little Efimova captured my attention. Although I doubt it would qualify as a “true” or authentic Latin, I liked this different interpretation.

BEST PERFORMANCES in LONG PROGRAM

GOLD Savchenko/Massot at Europeans One of the most spellbinding and sublime programs I can remember in recent years. The beauty of this performance almost made the competition feel beside the point. (Almost. :-))

SILVER Sui/Han at Worlds I just loved the tenderness and emotion of this program (not to mention the fabulous technical elements). It’s like Sui/Han opened the door to their world, and just drew us all in.

BRONZE James/Cipres at Europeans For many, this was one of the most exciting performances of the season. After years of mistakes, James/Cipres finally put out a clean, well-executed long program—and at a crucial moment in their career, too. They also connected emotionally with fans worldwide. A tour de force and defining moment.

FOURTH Tarasova/Morozov at Europeans The Europeans LP was also the biggest moment of Tarasova/Morozov’s young career. And, like James/Cipres, they rose to the occasion admirably. Tarasova/Morozov entered the long program with a 6-point lead and—for the first time–the expectation to win a major ISU championship. It was a lot to handle, but they kept their cool and skated a fast, energetic program to hold on for the gold. Although they faltered just a bit at the end, it was still a career-best routine.

FIFTH Yu/Zhang at Worlds Most of Yu/Zhang’s performances were more technically stunning than artistically satisfying. However, there was something different in their free skate at Worlds. It was like they were listening more closely to the music, expressing it on a somewhat deeper level. I’ve never seen Xiaoyu Yu skate more beautifully than she did in this program. Aside from a jump error at the start, the program was technically flawless.

SIXTH Peng/Jin at Four Continents Peng/Jin had a disappointing short program at Four Continents, but recovered beautifully with this clean, lovely, and lyrical long program. It was a delight to see (as was their reaction).

SEVENTH Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch at Worlds As much as this program was technically a bit flawed, it was nonetheless quite thrilling to watch because of the emotion Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch brought to it. Lubov, in particular, gave everything in this performance. Her radiance, joy, and conviction made the routine memorable, despite a few jump snafus.

EIGHTH Della Monica/Guarise at Skate Canada I enjoyed watching Nicole/Matteo’s Love Story all season, and this was possibly their best and cleanest performance. I really liked the tender mood of the program and thought Nicole/Matteo did a great job expressing the music, even through their hand movements and facial expressions. (Note how they gaze at each other romantically in the sit spin.) They portrayed the happiness of falling in love, then the sadness of separation. And their skating was so smooth. Small dance lifts (choreo lifts) can be tricky for pairs teams, but note how fluidly Nicole/Matteo perform their dance lifts in this program. There was a lot of quality in this program.

NINTH Duhamel/Radford at Skate Canada Duhamel/Radford’s programs met with a mixed reception from fans this season. But I personally loved their “Je Ne Regrette Rien” LP. One of my only regrets from this season is that we never saw the program skated clean at one of the big events. This performance at Skate Canada was the closest they got. What I liked most about the program was its emotional depth. And I particularly loved the lifts at the end, which went so well with the soaring music.

TENTH Castelli/Tran at U.S. Nationals  This is another long program that wasn’t a favorite with some fans. But it was with me. I liked the Journey music—but more to the point, I liked how Castelli/Tran skated to it. Their performance at U.S. Nationals, while not perfect, showed them in their best form of the season. Despite some jump errors, Castelli/Tran’s speed, edges, lifts, and connection were exciting to watch. As with Duhamel/Radford’s LP, I just wish we’d gotten to see this program skated completely clean. This music, and this tempo, is something very few pairs teams could have skated to as well as Castelli/Tran, in my opinion.

BY the NUMBERS: HIGHEST-SCORING ELEMENTS of the SEASON

Note: These numbers are from Grand Prix and major ISU championships only (no senior Bs/nationals/etc.).

QUAD TWIST Sui/Han in Worlds LP: 10.46 points

TRIPLE TWIST Tarasova/Morozov in Worlds SP, Euros SP/LP: 8.70 points

                            Yu/Zhang in Skate Canada LP, GPF LP: 8.70 points

                            Savchenko/Massot in Worlds SP: 8.70 points

QUAD THROW Duhamel/Radford in NHK LP: 7.63 points

TRIPLE THROW Sui/Han in Worlds SP/LP: 7.60 points

LIFT Savchenko/Massot in Worlds LP, Trophee de France LP: 9.60 points

SOLO JUMP Tarasova/Morozov in Worlds LP: 6.00 points

JUMP COMBO Zabijako/Enbert in Euros LP: 8.30 points

STEP SEQUENCE Savchenko/Massot in Worlds SP: 5.80 points

MOST IMPROVED

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GOLD James/Cipres James/Cipres were by far the most improved team, earning the best results of their career. Back in 2015, Olympic champion Maxim Trankov said of James/Cipres: “They can skate in a way that they should be feared by the Canadians and the Russians and the Chinese, but the guys make a few little mistakes competition after competition, and sometimes big mistakes …However, I’d like to repeat that the guys could be such a competition [for the top teams] that they better watch out!” Two years later, Trankov’s prediction has come true. James/Cipres are fast becoming real contenders for a World and/or Olympic medal.

Marchei-Hotarek

SILVER Marchei/Hotarek After a promising debut season, Marchei/Hotarek stumbled last year, slipping to 15th at 2016 Worlds. They started this season in similar fashion, finishing dead last at Skate America. But in the 6 months that followed, they somehow righted the ship and started landing some jumps. They skated more strongly with each event, eventually finishing 9th at 2017 Worlds, where they helped clinch 2 Olympic pairs spots for Italy. I think the area where Marchei/Hotarek improved the most was simply their confidence. Last season, they looked hesitant on their technical elements and out of sync artistically. This spring, they looked sharp, secure, and ready.

BRONZE Suto/Boudreau/Audet  Sumire/Francis saw stunning improvement in their scores this season. At U.S. International Classic, their total score was just 122.64. At Four Continents, it was 164.96–an increase of 42+ points! I doubt any other team such such a huge improvement. Suto/Boudreau-Audet also won a senior B event and skated well in the short program at Worlds, just missing the cut for the LP. It was a good season for the young Japanese team.

BEST SEASON: 1st- or 2nd-YEAR PAIRS

GOLD Yu/Zhang They became a pair in mid-April 2016. Less than a year later, Yu/Zhang were 4th in the world. Not only that, they won silver at the Grand Prix Final and gold at Cup of China. The only other pairs who have seen a similarly high level of success in their first year together? Volosozhar/Trankov and Savchenko/Massot. (Good company, there. :-))

SILVER Zabijako/Enbert In just their second season, Zabijako/Enbert won a Grand Prix medal and a bronze at Russian Nationals; were Top 5 at the Grand Prix Final and Europeans; and top 5 in the short program at Worlds. Their only hiccup came in the long program in Helsinki. Otherwise, it was a stellar season for the Russians, making them favorites for a spot on the Russian Olympic team.

Peng-Jin-SP

BRONZE Peng/Jin Despite being considered the “lesser” partners in the Chinese partner swap, Peng/Jin had a very successful debut season together. They won silver at 2 Grand Prix events and at the Asian Winter Games. They also made the Grand Prix Final and placed 3rd at World Team Trophy. Just as important, they won the hearts of many fans worldwide, who sympathized with the “leftover” team and enjoyed their skating, especially their fun & fresh short program.

BEST COMEBACKS

Four Continents served as this year’s unofficial “comeback competition.” All three of my picks are from that event!

GOLD Sui/Han Sui/Han’s first competition back after Sui’s surgery was pure gold. We all knew Sui/Han were capable of such skating; but no one expected to see it so soon after Sui’s surgery. What a warrior!!

Knierims-4CCs

Koki Nagahama/Getty Images AsiaPac

SILVER Knierims I have seldom seen Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim appear as radiant and joyful as they were in Korea at Four Continents. They just looked so thrilled, so happy, to be back on the ice together. It was lovely to see.

BRONZE Moore-Towers/Marinaro It was also Kirsten/Mike’s first international competition after Kirsten’s concussion last fall. They, too, looked pleased to be competing again. And I was amazed at how strong their skating looked–with improved unison and lifts–even after several months off.

MOST EXCITING NEW JUNIOR/SENIOR PAIRS

Juniors

Alexandrovskaya/Windsor and Duskova/Bidar These two teams competed as both juniors and seniors this season; and both were successful in their dual endeavors. Each won a Junior Grand Prix event and made the Junior Grand Prix Final. Duskova/Bidar had an excellent debut at Europeans. Meanwhile, Alexandrovskaya/Windsor shocked the skating community by winning Australia’s first-ever major ISU championship medal at Junior Worlds. It was a thrilling moment for Australian skating! Duskova/Bidar and Alexandrovskaya/Windsor proved themselves again at Worlds, placing 14th and 16th. Both teams are so talented; it will be exciting to see them compete in seniors next year.

BEST MOMENTS in AMERICAN PAIRS

Unfortunately, it was a rough year for American pairs, and there weren’t many high points. But here were some of the better moments.

GOLD Knierims return to place top 10 at Worlds The Knierims’ absence was sorely felt this season. So it was great to see Alexa/Chris notch a top 10 finish in their return to Worlds. We need the Knierims to lead the U.S. pairs toward Pyeongchang.

Denney-Frazier-SA

SILVER Denney/Frazier return to win silver at Skate America How heartwarming to see Haven Denney come back from a serious knee injury and skate so well at Skate America, winning a silver medal. And in front of the home crowd, too. 🙂

Cain-LeDuc-nationals

BRONZE Cain/LeDuc win short program at U.S. Nationals First-year pair Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc skated with verve and flair in the short program at Nationals. They put everyone on notice and unexpectedly claimed first place.

WORST of the SEASON

-3 GOE American pairs earn only 1 Olympic spot  I love watching pairs teams from all over the world. But at the end of the day, I’m an American, and my first love is U.S. pairs skating. So for me, the worst moment of the season was the American pairs’ failure to qualify 2 spots to the 2018 Olympics.

As Worlds approached this spring, the level of competition was clearly increasing–and we knew the two U.S. pairs at Worlds were returning from serious injury/illness. The stakes were high; I worried that our second spot was at risk. In the end, the U.S. pairs lost the second Olympic spot due to an ISU rule that allowed only 16 teams to qualify for the Olympics at Worlds. Our pairs did earn the necessary point total to qualify (28 points). But 15 other spots were claimed ahead of ours … so we were left with just one spot. One.

This will be the first time in 94 years (since the 1924 Olympics) that the United States will not have at least 2 pairs at the Olympics. The loss of the second spot is sad for the current U.S. pairs skaters, who all hope to make the Olympic team.

And, let’s not mince words. The loss of the second spot also represents a clear failure of the U.S. pairs program as a whole, from a performance/governance perspective. This loss didn’t come out of nowhere. U.S. pairs have struggled with injuries and disappointing results internationally for the past couple of years. In my view, it’s incumbent on the U.S. Figure Skating Association to put some serious thought into how they can better guide, direct, and support the American pairs skaters, going forward. Changes need to be made, for us to have greater success in the future. Perhaps this week’s U.S. pairs camp in Colorado, with Nina Mozer and Robin Szolkowy sharing their expertise, is a step in the right direction (I hope).

The reaction to the loss of the second U.S pairs spot among fans was also a bit hard to take, at times. Some argued that American pairs didn’t “deserve” the second spot anyway, and that it was time for other countries to have their turn.

The arguments rubbed salt in the wound. It’s possible to respect, and be glad for, other countries that won spots, but still mourn the lack of your own country’s spot. Perhaps it would be less painful if U.S. pairs hadn’t had such a long run of comparative success. Almost a century with 2 or 3 Olympic pairs spots is a long time. Seeing that tradition and precedent broken was hard.

It’s a gain for an Australian or Japanese or Czech or Israeli team. But it’s still a deep loss for American pairs.

BEST COSTUMES

Well, on to less weighty matters now. 🙂  Costumes! This year, many pairs continued to experiment with the unitard trend. Others went the more traditional route. Overall, costumes had a rather subdued look this year, with many teams choosing shades of white, gray, or black.

Vanessa James, Morgan Cipres

GOLD James/Cipres LP These were the costumes of the year for me, hands down. Vanessa/Morgan’s LP music was so powerful that it almost demanded a different type of costume; and these stark, modern, sleek-textured outfits fit the bill. The all-black look and the simple cut emphasized Vanessa/Morgan’s power and athleticism. Subtle decorative touches (Vanessa’s black leg warmers and plain black choker) kept the look interesting, as did the glossy finish of Vanessa’s catsuit. Vanessa’s whole outfit felt very of-the-moment, reflecting the activewear-as-daywear trend. In this program, I almost felt like Vanessa/Morgan were showing us a new style of competitive skating, and a new, modern style of costumes, too.

FSKATE-FRA-PRIX-PAIRS

SILVER Savchenko/Massot SP These costumes lent a classy, elegant, yet fun, note to Savchenko/Massot’s modern-jazz short program. I loved Bruno’s outfit: The black suspenders, collar, and cuffs gave his gray polo shirt an amusing twist. And Aliona’s peach-and-ivory dress was to die for. The pleated skirt lent a whimsical touch, the bedazzled waistband and bodice added glamour, and the subdued peach chiffon inserts were elegant. Terrific costumes for a terrific program. Aliona’s Jazz Age headband was the perfect finishing touch.

Savchenko-Massot-reach-out

BRONZE Savchenko/Massot LP Another superb set of costumes from Savchenko/Massot. The quiet elegance of these silver/gray outfits perfectly matched the gentle, dreamy mood of their long program. Aliona’s dress was simple, yet lovely in its detail, with silver beading, a thin diamond belt, and subtle ombre shading in the skirt. Bruno’s shirt matched Aliona’s, and his plain charcoal gray trousers were a nice and subtle complement. A great look for them.

Nicole Della Monica, Matteo Guarise

FOURTH Della Monica/Guarise SP I really appreciated the bold, matching unitards that Nicole/Matteo wore for their Carmina Burana SP. The whole program emphasized the strength of the Carl Orff music, and the costumes extended the concept. The base black color conveyed power, and the curving, sinuous red inserts seemed to outline and emphasize the skaters’ muscles–again conveying the feeling of strength. Interesting.

Zabijako-Enbert-SP-YT

FIFTH Zabijako/Enbert SP These costumes were perfect for Zabijako/Enbert’s short program, which was set to the theme from “Snowstorm,” a movie based on a Pushkin story from the early 1800s. Alexander’s military-uniform look evoked the Hussar officer in the story. Meanwhile, Natalia’s dress was beautiful; especially its delicate, unusual mint-green color. The high Empire waist and tiny puffed sleeves conveyed the time period perfectly.

Suto-Boudreau-Audet-SP-YT

SIXTH Suto/Boudreau Audet SP Suto/Boudreau Audet’s short program this year was set to a Japanese song called “Sakura (Spring Blossom).” I liked how their costumes reflected the theme in an elegant, subtle way. The appliqued flowers referenced spring blossoms; their kimono necklines, and Sumire’s obi belt and wrap-style skirt, were clues to the Japanese origin. Yet the choice of a black-and-white color scheme, rather than typical “spring” colors, made the costumes more elegant and less literal. I also liked the use of opposing colors for the partners.

Tarasova-Morozov-SP-side

SEVENTH Tarasova/Morozov SP I thought these costumes were a smart choice for Tarasova/Morozov. This team is often criticized for lacking personality; these stylish costumes suggested otherwise. The bright gold accents, Vladimir’s metallic vest, and Evgenia’s snazzy fringed skirt all gave them a more glamorous look than we’ve seen in the past. Plus, the level of craft and detail in the costumes sent a subliminal message that this was a quality pair, to be taken seriously.

Yu-zhang-YT

EIGHTH Yu/Zhang LP This dress from Xiaoyu Yu was one of my favorites; it made her look like a languid, lovely princess. The white/silver/gray color palette suited her, and the white embroidered flowers added a beautiful, feminine touch. I also liked her long, layered skirt. Partner Hao Zhang’s charcoal gray outfit complemented her look. (Although his neckline did seem a bit constricting.)

Esbrat-Novoselov

NINTH Esbrat/Novoselov SP Lola Esbrat wore a beautiful kimono dress for their Memoirs of a Geisha program. The pale green color was lovely, as was the white-and-garnet flower pattern. The black-and-gold obi/trim was a nice contrasting touch. And partner Andrei Novoselov’s white shirt and gray vest suited his businessman character.

Castelli-Tran-SP

TENTH Castelli/Tran SP I found these deep navy costumes very flattering on Castelli/Tran. With their dark coloring, this team looks great in deep jewel colors. The dramatic side cutout in Marissa’s dress, plus the matching side V-cut of Mervin’s shirt, gave the costumes a dynamic, asymmetrical look that worked well with their dramatic music. I also liked the high halter neckline and single sleeve of Marissa’s dress—unusual features that added interest.

MOST HEAD-SCRATCHING COSTUMES

I’m afraid I have to introduce this new category this year. I sort of hate to pick on skaters’ costumes, when I know everyone is spending a lot on them and just wants to look good!! But there were a number of costumes this year that I just didn’t understand!

Petranovic-SK-back

-5 GOE Petranovic/Souza-Kordyeru LP The Croatian team’s LP was a bit inexplicable (odd cover of “Happy” paired with 1970s disco music)–and the costumes did not make the package any more coherent. Souza-Kordyeru’s ensemble resembled a waiter’s uniform, while Petranovic’s dress reminded me of bad 1960s space movies. (And what was the logo on the front? I’m obviously missing a reference. :-))

Astakhova-Rogonov

-4 GOE Astakhova/Rogonov LP (Russian Nationals) Astakhova/Rogonov’s whole LP package seemed a bit misconceived. Announced as a sequel to their 2015-16 “Doll” LP, the music had little to do stylistically with the original program. Confusion extended to the costumes. While Alexei continued his 19th-century artisan look from the previous season, Kristina wore 3 different costumes (including last year’s) for this LP. By the time they reached Russian Nationals, she seemed to have given up, appearing in this anachronistic sleeveless orange dress with one side of the bodice missing and little relation to Alexei’s period costume.

Haven-Brandon-movie

Not seeing the connection

-3 GOE Denney/Frazier LP Alas, these outfits were my biggest costume disappointment of the year. I adored Haven/Brandon’s haunting, tender Somewhere in Time LP, and was hoping for costumes that would match the ethereal, romantic theme. These bright-blue outfits with heavy white-crystal beading were not what I had in mind—they looked a bit dated, and lacked connection to the music or the romantic time-travel movie. Haven/Brandon have had some terrific costumes in the past (see my 2015 best-dressed list!), so hopefully this was a temporary glitch.

DMG-Love-Story

?

-2 GOE Della Monica/Guarise LP These costumes just raised so questions. Why black velvet pants, Matteo? (Your character is a preppy New England guy.) Why a beaded glittery black dress, Nicole? (Your character was played by famously casual Ali MacGraw.) And, most importantly: Why the M?

Seguin-Bilodeau-2pink

2 pink

-1 GOE Seguin/Bilodeau SP, LP It’s not always easy to pull off pink on the ice when you’re an adult. Two pink-ish strapless costumes this season were two too many for Julianne Seguin. (Charlie, meanwhile, could stand to liven up his all-black look.)

ON THE FENCE COSTUME

James-Cipres-SP2

Too sexy for competition–or just right??

0 GOE?  James/Cipres SP  Which list do these costumes belong on? I’m not sure. On the one hand, Vanessa/Morgan looked damn hot in them (as they do in everything). On the other hand, I felt like Vanessa’s dress was perhaps a bit too literal in echoing the 50 Shades of Grey theme. The bondage straps, crystal beading around the bust, flesh cutouts, and spaghetti straps all made it feel rather more like a negligee than a competition dress. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll let you decide. 🙂

WRAP-UP

So that’s it for my season’s best, most, and worst list. It was a dramatic & exciting season in pairs! Here’s hoping next year will be even better. 🙂

Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.

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4 Responses to Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2016-17

  1. Fabulous post Clair. I’m looking forward to some quiet time tonight to re-watch some of those programs. I think I agree with just about everything you’ve said except – hmmm, I don’t get why Suto/Boudreau-Audet are on a best dressed list, and I don’t get why T&M’s hideous LP costumes are not on the most head scratching list? Her sleeves! What was with those sleeves? And that cheap garish electric blue/purple fabric. Ugh.
    Thanks for a good read, and a great recap of the season. I wish you did dance as well 🙂
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patrick O'Neil says:

    Claire this is freaking amazing. Goodness, gracious, great balls of amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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