All photographs by Olga Trofimova (courtesy of Stars on Ice)
Stars on Ice returned to New England this past weekend for the first time in three years. And what a return it was! The headliner of this season’s tour is newly crowned Olympic champion Nathan Chen. But, he’s just one star in a cast full of World and Olympic medalists. This year’s show–which includes many programs that became iconic during this Olympic season–is titled “Journey” and celebrates the winding paths that all these athletes traveled to get to the Olympics.
The cast members in the show all skate two solo numbers (one in each half). So, no matter who your favorite is, you’ll get to see them multiple times. In addition, group numbers open and close each half of the show.
The first group number was set to the high-energy “Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC and featured Nathan Chen skating with the women in the cast. Right away in this number, I was struck by the speed, energy, and expression of Chen’s skating. I’ve never seen him perform with the same freedom, joy, and level of showmanship that he did in this year’s Stars on Ice. It’s almost like, with the pressure of the Olympics off, he could just fully enjoy and be himself. He looked confident and masterful. By my count, he also landed three back flips in the Boston show. Impressive indeed!
Chen’s solo numbers were both great to watch. His first program to “Space Song” by Beach House was one of the softer, more lyrical pieces that we’ve seen from him. The routine included a triple toe loop and really showed off his edges and glide, giving a different look to his skating. In the second half, Chen performed his now-signature “Rocketman” program–the same program with which he won World and Olympic titles. This number featured a quad Salchow and two triple jumps, and the crowd loved the hip-hop step sequence at the end. It was great to see this program under show lights and with no pressure!!
New World bronze medalist Alysa Liu performed to two upbeat K-pop songs. Her first program to STAYC’s “RUN2U” was inspired by Squid Game, with Liu wearing a mask and baggy suit. Liu showed lots of energy, landing a double Axel and two triple jumps. She also performed a lovely Biellmann spin. Liu wore a gorgeous fringed red dress for her second number to Itzy’s “Loco,” which featured a nice step sequence and a lot of “handography” to the music.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished their final competitive season this year with three medals at the Olympics and Worlds. Their Stars on Ice programs paid homage to their long career together. Hubbell and Donohue skated their first program to Joe Cocker’s “I Put a Spell on You”–the same music they used for their first free dance back in 2011-12. With Hubbell wearing a red lace dress and Donohue in black pants, white shirt, and untied bow tie, they expertly deployed their chemistry and charisma in this piece, which included an overhead lift. For their second number, Hubbell and Donohue reprised the Janet Jackson rhythm dance that was such a hit for them at the Beijing Olympics. Replacing the pattern dance in the program was some new–and very hot–choreography in the middle section. As always, Hubbell/Donohue skated this routine with lots of attack and power.
New World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were a great addition to this year’s show. I loved seeing pairs skaters again in Stars on Ice! Knierim and Frazier reprised their World title-winning long program to Coldplay’s “Fix You.” This sensitive, expressive routine suits them well, and they completed a nice throw triple flip and two difficult lifts. Knierim and Frazier’s second program was an intriguing Latin number set to Oona’s “Tore My Heart,” featuring Knierim in a coral pink dress. I loved the interplay and dramatic tension between Knierim and Frazier in this piece, which showed maturity and a different mood than their competitive programs. The routine was highlighted by a double twist, carry lift, another great throw triple flip, and a hip press lift.
Olympic team member Jason Brown was, as always, a highlight. When it comes to show skating, I really question if there is another skater in the world who can match Jason Brown as a performer. The connection he has to audiences is so direct and pure. It’s as if, for the moment he’s on the ice, there’s simply no other thought except to share his best with the crowd. He’s like a live current of joy.
Brown’s first number to “I Lived” by One Republic had so much fun stuff in it! He did a back somersault into a spiral; a Biellmann spin; cartwheels; Russian split jumps; and a couple of triple jumps, too! It was awesome, and he got a huge ovation. But, the best was still to come: Brown’s sensational “Sinnerman” program. This routine–already stunning to watch onscreen–feels almost transformative live. The complexity of the transitions, the quick movements that are right on beat, and most of all, the building intensity as the rhythmic pace increases, just make for an amazing viewing experience. Brown landed a triple flip and triple Lutz in the program to top it off.
Also impressive were World bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates. This team really shone in the show setting.The quality of their skating was readily apparent in the complexity, yet ease and smoothness, of their movement. The up-close view also highlighted their excellent line in dance spins and lifts. I really enjoyed their “I Hear a Symphony” program by Cody Fry. Despite their real-life relationship, Chock and Bates don’t often skate to sweeping, romantic pieces like this, so this was a nice change of pace. In the second half, the duo performed their popular “space alien” program to Daft Punk. I felt like this program almost worked better under the stunning, dark show lighting than in competition!
Olympic team member Mariah Bell skated her first number to music by Lady Gaga, wearing a glittery costume and landing a triple Lutz and double Axel. Bell’s second program, set to an instrumental version of Adele’s “Easy on Me,” was one of the highlights of the evening. Lyrical and appealing, it showed Bell at her best, skating with beautiful extension, stretch, and expression.
Vincent Zhou contributed two standout programs to the show. I was really taken by the strong emotional quality of Zhou’s skating here. The last year and a half have seen some great high points but also some difficult times for Zhou, and I felt like he brought some of that emotion onto the ice with him. His first program to “Lonely,” by Illenium and Chandler Leighton, was very expressive and featured a triple Lutz, triple Axel, and a nice Ina Bauer and step sequence. His second number was his signature “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” by Josh Groban. I never tire of watching this program, and Zhou performed it with great sincerity and emotion. Not only that, he landed a triple Axel, gorgeous triple Lutz, and triple flip as well.
2018 Olympian Mirai Nagasu was also a pleasure to watch. Her first program to “Warriors/Nate Growing Up,” by 2WEI/Labrinth, featured nice edges and interesting, angular shapes, along with a triple Lutz, triple flip, and double Axel. Her second program to two Beyonce songs was really interesting because it showed two totally different moods–and also featured a costume change, from a black shorts outfit to a lovely ice blue dress! Nagasu always brings an inventive and unique energy to Stars on Ice.
The show closed with an exuberant final group number set to Elton John music. The cast seemed to have a great time with the upbeat music, wearing on-point costumes inspired by Elton John songs. It was a fun and celebratory end to a great show, and a great season of Olympic excellence.