Russian and Chinese Skaters Show the World Their Programs

Senior Russian test skates include open skates; China streams the first of their Olympic qualifiers.

There were no major competitions this week besides the JGP Riga Cup. Instead the biggest event of the weekend was the Russian test skate, which unlike most test skates, gave fans almost more videos of new programs than they could watch. And there was an internal competition in China, one where the results were most relevant to exactly three ladies skaters, and the livestream of it was more important to everyone who wanted to see the Chinese programs.

Russian Test Skates

After much skating that the public was not allowed to see, Russia’s top skaters came this weekend to Sochi for the senior test skate. There were some closed-door skates, but there were also a pair of open ones, complete with a livestream, and fans allowed to bring their cameras in. The world got to see Team Russia’s short programs on Saturday, and their free skates on Sunday.

There were some top skaters in Russia who didn’t participate. Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov weren’t ready for the public eye, due to his injury, though they did apparently participate in the closed skates. Anna Pogorilaya bailed, with her coach saying she’s still not recovered mentally for Worlds, which is alarming. Maxim Kovtun is coping with illness and injuries both, and Alena Leonova is also out sick. We finally got a statement from Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov about whether they’re even going to compete: they’ll do it only if the federation asks them to. And there’s nothing from Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, whom should probably also be assumed to be out.

Everybody else skated, even if they were just reshowing programs from last season they’ve decided to keep. We saw a handful of new ice dance programs last week, but most of the new programs we’re seeing for the first time:

After two seasons of doing one tango short, Mikhail Kolyada is now doing another one. Though the opening of this does a good job of showcasing his softer side.

In his free skate, it turns out he’s not as good at showing his softer side to Elvis. But he is very, very good at rocking it out, and the opening and closing sections of this are great for that.

Sorry, Sergei Voronov, but being intense and sometimes moving your arms to tango music does not a tango make. This short just comes off as a lousy version of something done better by plenty of other skaters.

At least he was smarter with his long program, doing one not unlike last year’s, which is something he can do. At least in theory, though he needs to not get tired at the end the way he did here.

Alexander Samarin is not trying to be anything he is not in his short program. Those jumps will be excellently timed to the music whenever he can hit them clean.

His long program music, on the other hand, seems to be overwhelming him a bit. The choreography helps him only so much.

Dmitri Aliev’s short program could maybe use a little more content, but what’s in there already works very well for him.

His long program, meanwhile, may prove one of the best of the year. It’s a creation that joins song and skater, taps deeply into everything each of them have, and brings out the beauty and emotion of both to powerful effect, making each of them more than they would be alone. The mistakes here disrupt the effect a little, but if Aliev could nail this one…

A singles short program should have a limit on disparate music cuts, and Alexander Petrov’s has too many. This feels like multiple potentially good programs squeezed into a place they do not all fit into by a long shot. Though it is nice to see him enjoying it so much. He’s keeping last year’s long program, one which was far more sensible about the use of music cuts.

Andrei Lazukin is using a Once Upon a Time in Mexico short to portray a matador. At least it’s an unusual combination of clichés?

It was bad luck for Lazukin that Aliev’s using this music for his short. This long program comes off as a weaker and overly extended version of him. But it might have come off as going on for too long anyway (his finishing way behind the music didn’t exactly help!)

Evgenia Medvedeva’s telling tales again. This short program apparently is the story of a near death experience (“the flight of the soul,” according to Google Translate), where her heart stops and she steps out of her body, and at the end of it we’re hearing her own breathing, specifically recorded for this. Way over the top, but she just might sell it.

There’s probably a story we haven’t heard yet for this free skate. But with no gratuitous miming or weird sound effects, it’s perfectly possible to forget all that and just enjoy the sheer beauty of her skating.

Elena Radionova is keeping her flirtatious short program from last season, and combining it with this long one. But while the former really works for her, this music and choreography requires the kind of diva she’s not used to being and might not even have in her.

For all Swan Lake is overused, it’s rare to hear this much of this waltz. Maria Sotskova takes to this short program, too.

She’s a very good match for Claire de Lune too, and to this choreography. Had this been her short program, it would probably blow everyone away. But it was a bad idea trying to stretch it to four minutes: the cuts completely wreck the piece’s rise and fall, which can’t help but distract.

Alina Zagitova’s short program puts her through her paces, but the change of music and then back is on the jarring side. But at least the middle piece offers some variety, especially when she’s keeping last year’s free skate.

Bit of egregious miming in Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s short, but it’s nice to see her skating a program with such confidence, given how she’s been these past two years.

She carries some of that confidence over into her long program too. But it’s long enough for the repetitiveness of the choreography to get annoying, especially when it’s not even very tango-y.

Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov have now fully matured. They pretty much had anyway, but this short program confirms it. But it’s one that can be too easily disrupted; they don’t want to fall on the throw like that.

This long program is more in the style of their memorable short last season. Except watching it right now, it doesn’t feel worthy of memory. Maybe if they built up their energy, but even then one can’t be sure.

Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert perhaps could do a little more, but for what it is, this short program is a sweet, sad one.

When coach Nina Mozer listed off the pieces of Zabiiako & Enbert’s long a couple weeks back, we wondered how Sleeping Beauty and two pop songs would gel. It turns out they’re using instrumental versions, which work pretty well to fit the “backstage” segments of the program, before the ballet is performed as a fitting climax. It’ll work better, though, once they do the side by sides in unison.

Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov’s short starts well, and then progressively gets more bizarre. Techno Carmina Burana?! Really?!?! I don’t think anyone even needed to know that existed, thank you.

Their long is the long Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov should be skating. The music is better, the program is put together better, and Astakhova & Rogonov perform it as a much better whole, even if they fumbled the ending a little bit.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev showed the world their short dance last week, perhaps because this free dance gives everyone enough to talk about. These two have been known for some wacky/scary free dances, and this may be one where they funnel their intensity into making the story work. There’s something odd haunting about it.

Could somebody tell Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin that this is not an appropriate use of Sia’s “Chandelier”? The choices in this short dance are odd all together. We didn’t get to see their free dance this weekend, because Bukin came down with a fever right after skating this.

We saw Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov’s short dance last week too, which is a good thing, since they didn’t skate it clean here. This free dance is expertly choreographed. Not sure whether or not Katsalapov is supposed to be creepy in it, but either way, it’s wrong that is he to Vocalise, the music for one of Ekaterina Gordeeva & Sergei Grinkov’s best programs.

Last week we saw Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd’s free dance, which they didn’t have the easiest time connecting to. But they do far better in their short dance, which just hits you with the Latin and lets that make for good watching.

Could somebody tell Tiffany Zahorski & Jonathan Guerreiro that rumbaing “Hip Hip, Chin Chin” was a bad idea even when Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir did it? And when the rest of this is pretty good, too.

They put beats on “Redemption” too! But those aren’t as disruptive, and this free dance might be one of the better programs to do a medley of Muse, rather than just one track.

Anton Shibnev is keeping up with Elena Ilinykh a little better now. This short dance wisely showcases her.

The free dance exposed his shortcomings more, even before they didn’t do a significant section of it. Obviously a lot of work remains to be done.

Chinese National Grand Prix

While Russia was having a test skate, China was having a competition in singles and pairs. Their National Grand Prix is one of multiple events where the skaters get points towards Olympic qualification. Who’s going isn’t really in suspense for men or pairs, but those skaters still needed to show up, and China’s top three ladies have to battle for one Olympic berth. The event was also streamed on Weibo, and there are fancam videos, so the world got to see everyone’s programs for the first time, although a number of the ones on YouTube are only of tiny figures.

Unfortunately, one of the debuts went so badly it’s probably better it go unwatched. Boyang Jin is going geek again, combining Holst’s Mars with Star Wars a la Satoko Miyahara, but he fell five times. At least the debut of his short went decently, though he’ll likely never do poetic, which he tries here, as well as some:

It was so bad Han Yan actually beat him. He even overcame a huge gap after the short program, where he was underwhelming even before the mistakes:

Really, by the time he’d finished his free skate, it was simply a relief to see him put forward something relatively decent:

In the ladies, too, the winner was a surprise. At first Zijun Li was in the lead, followed by Xiangning Li, then Ziquan Zhao. But when both Lis fell twice in their free skate, Zhao took advantage, pulling ahead despite a fall of her won to win this first round. Xiangning Li ended up second, a little less than a point ahead of Zijun Li.

It was particularly sad for Zijun Li, falling even as her artistry continues to increase, as her short program displayed:

And even if she’s just a tiny figure, if you know her story, there’s an emotional impact seeing her skate to ”Somewhere Over the Rainbow”:

In her a relatively simply short program, Xiangning Li showed some developing grace and beauty herself:

She seems to be doing the same in her free skate too, from what we can tell:

Sadly, even though she won the event, all we have uploaded of Ziquan Zhao is the tiny figure vid of her free skate. The tango medley she skates to has some weird stuff in it, such as a woman singing words set to a famous tango piece, but she does seem to be expressing the ordinary tango fine:

The big stars of the event, of course, were Wenjing Sui & Cong Han. They may have the misfortune of skating to the same song as Patrick Chan this year, but they gave their short program what they could, and it has a good build at the end:

They had no trouble winning, even when they made mistakes in the free skate. Those weren’t the story of that, either. Instead, it became clear from Sui & Han’s costumes that someone is trying to turn them into the next Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (probably Zhao himself, since he’s now in charge of them). At least they used a different cut of Turandot than that team did, especially since they can now use Pavarotti when Shen & Zhao couldn’t:

Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang came in second over Cheng Peng & Yang Jin in third, which was also as expected, though this was closer, with Peng & Jin getting second in the free skate. The short program on which Yu & Zhang got their placement showcased her as an excellent swan, burdened by a prince who still can’t quite keep up with her:

Boyang Jin wasn’t the only one skating to Star Wars. Yu & Zhang’s long was a medley taking music from both trilogies and Rogue One. Using “Leia’s Theme” makes one feel like Yu might be playing her, like Miyahara was, or maybe she’s playing Jyn Erso, since they’re using her theme too. It’s hard to tell when they’re small:

Peng & Jin’s tango short has not much new, but does make her look older:

Their long program also appears to be working to display a connection between them, and even when they’re small figures you can see a little bit of it:

We’ll be seeing more senior programs debut in the weeks to come, during the Challenger events. But there probably won’t be another weekend quite like this one.

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