An Evening with Champions–the longest-running charity figure skating show in the world, organized by students at Harvard University–returned last weekend for the first time since 2019. The show, which originally started back in 1970, had been set for a gala 50th-anniversary celebration in 2020. Unfortunately, the covid-19 pandemic interrupted those plans. But, after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the show returned this past Saturday. It was a pleasure to see the delayed 50th anniversary edition of An Evening with Champions (EWC).
Paul Wylie (1992 Olympic silver medalist) and Emily Hughes (2006 Olympian)–both graduates of Harvard University–again hosted this year’s show. Hughes, who in past years wore a skating dress to host the show, appeared this year in black pants and sparkly black jacket. The reason for the outfit change? Hughes is expecting her first child in July, she announced.
The co-founders of the show–1971 U.S. champion John Misha Petkevich and noted Boston sports journalist John Powers–also appeared and spoke of how proud they were of the show’s longevity and success in raising funds for cancer research. Tim LeBlanc and Marissa Castelli returned as producers of the show, doing an excellent job with the limited time span for rehearsals.
One of the early skaters in the show, Jack Liu, is a Boston-area athlete who competed nationally this year in both novice men and novice ice dance (with partner Xinyu “Effie” Chen). Liu showed some nice highlight moves in his Michael Jackson number and landed a double flip (stepout) and some split jumps. Liu dates his own interest in skating to seeing his first Evening with Champions show, so it was no doubt special for him to perform in this year’s event.
Sean Rabbitt, longtime men’s competitor at U.S. Nationals, performed an elegant program to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Rabbitt, who turned 32 over the weekend, retains all the qualities that made his skating such a highlight for many years at Nationals. He showed great stretch and extension in his spins and footwork, and landed a triple toe loop, triple Salchow (stepout), and double Axel.
Hazel Collier/Misha Mitrofanov made their debut as a pairs team at the show. Mitrofanov won the 2022 Four Continents title just two months ago with former partner Audrey Lu, but the team has now split, and Mitrofanov subsequently started a tryout with Collier. Collier/Mitrofanov skated to “Beggin’” by Maneskin. They landed a throw jump and side-by-side double jumps. (The team’s coaches, Olga Ganicheva and Alexey Letov, announced the new partnership on Instagram a few days after EWC.)
Team Excel Intermediate, from the Skating Club of Boston, showed good unison and polish in their program, which was a mashup of The Nutcracker and “Salute” by Little Mix. Their choreography included a shoulder lift feature.
2019 U.S. men’s junior champion Ryan Dunk really entertained the crowd with a high-energy number to Britney Spears’s “Oops! I Did It Again.” Wearing an all-red outfit, Dunk really werked his dance moves and was fun to watch. He also landed a triple toe loop and performed a Sotnikova camel spin. Dunk recently announced his retirement from competitive skating, but hopefully he’ll continue to perform in shows now and then.
Audrey Shin closed out the first half of the show, skating to “I’m in the Mood for Dancing” by the Nolans. Shin, who placed fourth at Four Continents in February, showed nice flow and coverage in her routine. She landed a triple toe loop and double Axel.
The second half of An Evening with Champions opened with a video tribute to the Protopopovs, the 1964 and 1968 Olympic pairs champions, who were regular participants in the show for many years.
Forte of Boston, the Skating Club of Boston’s senior theatre on ice team, presented a very interesting program set to “Moonlight Sonata.” The dark, intense mood of this piece–which, at one point, featured groups of skaters bound in, and breaking free of, long chains–seemed to suggest a theme of humanity struggling against its boundaries or limits. Forte is a large troupe now, with probably 15 or more skaters, and they did a great job navigating the complex, weaving patterns of their choreography. Spotted in the group were U.S. pairs pewter medalist Emily Chan, SCOB choreographer Adam Blake, and former U.S. pairs competitor Jimmy Morgan.
Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud, current Four Continents bronze medalists, traveled to the U.S. from Canada to appear in this year’s show. Walsh and Michaud have grown as performers over the last few years, now showing more presence and charisma on the ice, as well as more smoothness in their skating. They performed an enjoyable program (also to “Beggin’”) that included a rotational lift, a carry lift, and a back outside death spiral.
Audrey Lu was up next, making her debut here as a solo performer, after competing for six years as a pair with Misha Mitrofanov and winning the Four Continents title this season. Audrey will be heading to UCLA in the fall. According to host Paul Wylie, she plans to study neuroscience. Lu’s program was very appealing. She showed nice carriage and presence skating to Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die,” and did several nice spirals. Lu landed a triple Salchow and either a triple or double loop in the program (couldn’t tell which!).
Jimmy Ma, sixth at U.S. Nationals this year, skated a hip hop program to “Movie Star” by CIX. As always, Ma went all out with his choreography, exciting the crowd with his energy. He landed a triple Lutz and triple toe loop (fall), plus another triple flip after the program. Co-host Emily Hughes noted that Ma is from the same town as her (Great Neck, NY) and went to the same high school. Ma joked that the Hughes sisters were a tough act to follow in high school!
Gabriella Izzo–who is a Harvard student, in addition to being reigning pewter medalist at U.S Nationals–also lent her talents to her university’s show. Skating to a techno-jazz song (“Punga” by Klingande), Izzo displayed good speed and landed a triple Lutz and double Axel.
Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, silver pairs medalists at Four Continents, offered a fun and engaging number to “Something’s Got to Give” by Labyrinth. Chan and Howe really excel with their interpretation and expression, and the program seemed to go by too quickly. It included a throw double loop and a hand-to-hand lift with good ice coverage.
Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, the Four Continents ice dance champions, appeared at EWC for their first time together and nearly stole the show. They performed their gala program from this competitive season, which features Parsons as an urbane, sophisticated dancer trying to get Green, a performing doll, to skate with him. The problem? Every time he “starts up” the doll (Green), she starts dancing to hip-hop music–while he wants to perform elegantly to “Singin’ in the Rain.” I like how this program rather cleverly plays off Green’s youth and feel for hip-hop dance, and Parsons’s maturity and incredible smoothness on the ice. The crowd at Harvard seemed to love it. Afterward, the hosts congratulated Green/Parsons on their victory at Four Continents. “I think this set us up well for the next four years,” Green said. Parsons confirmed the team’s intention to go for a spot at the next Winter Olympics. “You’ll see us in Italy,” he promised. (The crowd roared its approval.)
Next came Amber Glenn, who unfortunately had to withdraw from U.S. Nationals this year due to testing positive for covid-19. Glenn skated a crowd-pleasing number to Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” She wore a memorable costume–stylish yellow overalls over hot pink bra top–and got the crowd going with a cantilever move and fun choreography. Glenn went for a triple toe loop and triple loop (turnout/fall). Asked about her future plans, Glenn noted: “The last few months have been kind of weird” and said she was taking things one day at a time at the moment.
Camden Pulkinen–who just won a small medal at Worlds, placing an impressive fifth overall–appeared in his second Evening with Champions show. (He took part in the fall 2019 show before the pandemic started.) It was great to see him again at Harvard, and Pulkinen put out a terrific performance to “Human” by Rag’n’BoneMan, landing two triple jumps. This program showed off Pulkinen’s lyricism and expression, and the lyrics (“I’m only human, after all”) almost seemed to reference the inconsistencies and nerves that he finally overcame in his impressive Worlds debut.
Afterward, Pulkinen said that his experience at Worlds has increased his confidence. “Sometimes you don’t know if you can really do something until you actually do it,” he remarked. Pulkinen will transfer to Columbia University this fall to complete his college degree. He noted at the show that he had yet to actually visit New York City (an omission he now seems to be remedying with a trip there, according to his Instagram).
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, reigning World and Olympic medalists in ice dance, were the last performers and the highlight of the show. The beauty and power of their skating was evident as they skated to a poignant ballad–”Once I Was Loved” by Melody Gardot. They performed their famous over-the-head dance lift (introduced this season), which drew gasps and applause from the crowd. The musicality, intimacy, and passion that this team brings to the ice is stunning, especially seen live.
Hubbell/Donohue provided a great finish to an excellent show this year, one that was well worthy of the event’s fiftieth anniversary.