Though I've been a figure skating fan for many years, I've never paid as much attention to the team events in figure skating as I have to the singles' events, and in the past I've always paid far less attention to ice dancing than to pairs' skating. But all that changed with the Vancouver Olympics. Oddly enough, if it hadn't been for that Russian ice dancing team and their crazy costumes, I might not have paid much attention to the ice dancing in Vancouver either, so I suppose I owe them a debt of gratitude because I have completely fallen in love with the ice dancing event.
My favorite ice dancing teams are the top two in the world: Virtue/Moir and Davis/White, but there are two other teams I want to give honorable mention. The American team of Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates skated their free dance this year to "Canto Della Terra," a glorious duet by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, and their program was marked by beauty, grace and elegance and did justice to the music. (Watch it here on YouTube from the National Championships and here on the NBC Olympics website.) Another reason I like this program, although it really has nothing to do with the actual performance, is that at the Olympics (though not at Nationals) their costumes were the school colors of my alma mater.
Samuelson and Bates' free dance had a very classic feel, while the British brother-sister team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr had a very contemporary feel, with their musical selection by Linkin Park and their "inverted" lift in which the woman lifts the man, befitting their motif of him as a tormented soul and her as a savior-figure. (You can watch Kerr and Kerr's free dance from the European Championships here; the commentary is not in English, but there isn't much of it during the actual performance.)
After the Olympics, I was so excited about the World Championships, so looking forward to seeing who would take the title, although I was sure it would be either Virtue/Moir or Davis/White. But I was also a little worried because they'd both had transcendent performances at the Olympics, and how would they possibly be able to recreate that magic? I've seen many, many excellent figure skating performances over the years, but only a few have been magical. For example, Michelle Kwan's free skate at the 1998 Olympics was an excellent performance, but it wasn't as magical as her free skate performance at the 1998 U.S. Nationals had been a month earlier, even though it was the exact same program. So I was a little concerned going into the 2010 World Championships, but I shouldn't have worried because somehow those two teams brought the magic with them from Vancouver to Torino (and as Emily Samuelson said, how lucky they were to get to perform in two different Olympic venues in the same season).
It's fascinating (at least to me) to compare the free dances of Davis/White and Virtue/Moir because they are friends who share the same coaches and their free dances, though equally powerful, are such a study in contrasts. They are equally strong programs, but their strengths are very diverse.
Davis and White danced their free dance (here on YouTube from U.S. Nationals) to music from Phantom of the Opera, which is one of my favorite musicals so it won me over easily. As Tanith Belbin said while commentating on the World Championships, the program is "like fireworks"; it is explosive, vibrant, and spectacular. It has so much emotional intensity and is so energetic and appropriately dramatic.
Virtue and Moir's free dance (here on YouTube from Canadian Nationals), set to a Mahler symphony, is no less emotionally intense, but it's a quiet intensity. Scott Moir was quoted as saying that they felt like all Canada was on the ice with them in Vancouver, which is interesting because what strikes me about their program is how intimate it seems; as though, as far as they are concerned, they are the only two people in the world. Yet I think that's part of the program's power; their program is no less energetic than Davis and White's but while Davis and White's energy explodes outward, Virtue and Moir's energy draws the audience inward. It's like they've created this perfect little world for themselves, a world of love and purity and exquisite tenderness, and then as you watch they sweetly, subtly--so subtly that you're not even consciously aware of it--invite you to become a part of that world. It's such a delicate balance; it would be possible to oversell it, to try too aggressively to connect with the audience, but every time I've seen them perform the program they've struck the balance perfectly and the audience connection comes naturally, organically.
I read a very interesting article about ice dancing in the Vancouver Olympics and the Olympics in general. In making the case that ice dancing "can be one of the very best events at the [Olympic] Games, Summer or Winter" author Alan Abrahamson obliquely compares Virtue and Moir to Torvill and Dean, the British ice dancing team that won the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Torvill and Dean earned perfect 6.0s across the board for artistic impression in their free dance performance, the first and only time that feat was achieved under the old scoring system. Now, I did not see Torvill and Dean perform live, (or if I did, I don't remember it--I was three years old at the time); if I had I might feel differently about it. As I watch it now, I freely concede that it's a remarkable performance; there are parts of it that are insanely impressive (like at one point--at about 1:13 in the video linked above--Christopher Dean does this crazy splits move that makes me cry out in sympathetic pain--how does he do that? is he double-jointed?), but other parts seem just plain insane--or if not, then certainly bizarre. For whatever reason, this program just doesn't move me the way Virtue and Moir's does.
Alan Abrahamson says that "ice dancing speaks directly to the very essence of the Olympic ideal, in particular the expression of a touch of beauty -- and in a wider sense of something better -- in our world so often riven by conflict and turmoil." He then describes the "transcendent" performance of Torvill and Dean, which took place in Sarajevo, a city that was later torn apart by civil war. He doesn't draw attention to the irony, which perhaps makes it all the more pointed and poignant. As much as we might like to, we cannot stay forever inside these perfect little worlds of beauty that athletes and artists like Torvill and Dean in the 20th century and Virtue and Moir in the 21st, have created for us. These little worlds might seem like snow globes, but they're really soap bubbles. Perhaps part of what makes these moments transcendent is the fact that they are also transient.