2019 Skate Canada International Pairs and Ladies Review: What’s Life Without a Few Dragons?

This weekend was Skate Canada International, aka the second week in a row when I can pretend I have a life on the weekends that doesn’t just involve grocery shopping. It’s funny how I wait all year for the Grand Prix, then complain about how busy I am because I need to watch all these videos, and write up a solid review of all the action by Sunday morning.

First of all, can I just say that “Skate Canada International” sounds like “Men in Black: International”? Every time I hear people talking about it, I catch myself looking around for Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in suits and sunglasses. Seriously, Canada, next year you should create an ad with Yuzuru Hanyu and Gabby Daleman dressed as the Men in Black and I guarantee you will sell more tickets.

I suppose I should start actually talking about skating before all my readers get bored and start watching Netflix, so here goes.

PAIRS:

The pairs event here featured some big names, but there weren’t many clean performances. It just goes to show how difficult pair skating really is and makes me appreciate the clean performances when they do happen.

Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitri Kozlovskii:

I expected Boikova/Kozlovskii to be good, but not this good! I wasn’t sold on the SP music at test skates, but after seeing them here, I think it works well for them. Since it’s an instrumental cover of “My Way” and not the age-old Frank Sinatra original, it feels fresh and dreamy. I was a little surprised that they scored a 76, but the scores here were on the high side in general, so I think the result was fair. Her dress looks fine, but I demand a different costume for him. You just can’t put a huge Russian man in ballet pink and make it look good! I imagine she picked out the dress for herself and made him wear the pink shirt to match, and he was a good sport about it.

I may be mildly obsessed with their free skate. I’m a huge fan of the song “Writing’s on the Wall”, especially this stunning cover by Sofia Karlberg. I’ve seen so many James Bond programs fall flat because either the music cuts are all wrong or the skaters just miss the boat in the interpretation. This program checks off all the boxes: it’s dramatic, but it doesn’t overwhelm them. I think their coach, Tamara Moskvina, does a great job picking programs that suit their skill set. This is definitely a step up in maturity from last year’s “The Nutcracker”, and I’m eager to see them keep progressing. The amazing thing is, they left a few points on the table with their levels and they still won easily. They’ll face off against Tarasova/Morozov again at Rostelecom Cup, and I’m curious to see if Boikova/Kozlovskii can come out on top twice in a row. It’s definitely not out of the question.

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro:

I’m going to say it: Kirsten and Michael have the best set of programs of the season so far. The short program is dynamic, hot, and stylish. Kirsten looked like a fabulous disco queen, and they skated it so well! Their twist, which is their main weak point, looks better than it did last season. Kirsten giving a shoutout to Meagan Duhamel and Bruno Marcotte’s new baby in the kiss-and-cry was absolutely precious.

The free skate is simply a piece of art. I dare Monet to create something as beautiful as this. It fits them perfectly – it reminds me of their lovely program to “Un Ange Pas”, but even better. The side-by-side jumps didn’t happen this time, but the mistakes didn’t ruin the overall impression of the performance. While she’s still the stronger skater of the two, I think he’s worked hard to narrow the gap between them, and I’m eager to see them keep moving up this season!

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov:

The reigning world silver medalists had some surprising hiccups here. In the short program, Vladimir popped the toe loop into a double, but the rest of the program was solid. I think “Bolero” is a strong vehicle for them; it’s powerful and classical, almost like their Rachmaninoff short program from the past two years. What I like is that they’ve finally stopped recycling the same moves in different programs. I know this is a common thing to do, but many of their short programs over the past few years had the exact same layout. Props to Massimo Scali for finally breaking them out of their box. I definitely prefer these blue costumes over the weirdly dyed bodysuits they had at US Classic last month, but I still think they need something else. The choreography is pretty sexy, so I think they should let her be a gorgeous, fabulous woman instead of putting her in this little sundress. She looked like a total bombshell in that black practice outfit at test skates, so why can’t they make a costume like that? Also, Vladimir’s outfit looks like a 2016 Eric Radford Hometown Glory remake.

The free skate just did not work here. Tarasova/Morozov’s strength comes from their technical elements. When the jumps are on, they’re impressive. When the jumps aren’t there, the programs don’t really hold up the wow factor. With mistakes on both side-by-side jumps and an aborted lift, they just looked really out of it here, and the music didn’t help carry them. I’m hoping they just had a bad day and things will get better at Rostelecom Cup. They looked so strong at test skates, so I know they’re capable of great things. 

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim/Chris Knierim:

After watching Alexa and Chris’s short program for the second time this season, I want to submit a petition: go back to last year’s short. Don’t get me wrong, this program is fine. It does its job and doesn’t have any wonky choreography. But last season, they were skating to “Castle” by Halsey and looking like they came out of The Matrix. I want that iconic energy back, not just one more “pretty” program. Alexa is a tiny beast and I want to see that swagger. However, their costumes are stunning. I really liked the free skate at Nebelhorn Trophy, but at this event, they just didn’t have their usual mojo. I’m used to seeing them botch jumps but maintain the overall performance quality. Here, they just looked sleepy, especially Alexa. It’s a shame because honestly, I think they could’ve snagged the bronze here if they had made one less mistake. However, what’s done is done and they need to focus on the main goal of the season: showing good results at Nationals and earning one of the two Worlds spots.

Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau:

Okay, everyone knows how I worship Lubov Ilyushechkina as the guardian goddess of pair skating. She is one of the most uniquely talented skaters I have ever seen in terms of flexibility, gracefulness, and extension. I was also a fan of Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau, so Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau were one of the most exciting Grand Prix debuts for me. Their short program worked pretty well, minus Lubov’s messy landing on the triple toe. I thought their PCS were on the low side, but I’m hoping they will snowball as this team gets more momentum. A lot of people are complaining about the SP music, but I don’t mind it, and they seem comfortable skating to it. Her dress is simple but beautiful; I’m not usually a fan of rose-gold dresses because they look flesh-colored under the lights, but she pulls it off with class.

The jumps didn’t quite show up in the free skate, but there was a lot to admire here. The lifts are absolutely breathtaking, especially the upside-down one that covers the entire length of the rink. She has a heavenly quality to every little movement; it’s like someone used the DNA of Yulia Lipnitskaya and Satoko Miyahara to make a person and Lubov was the result. For a Grand Prix debut, this was not bad at all.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson:

I became completely obsessed with these guys’ programs last week at Skate America. It’s hard to skate at back-to-back events, but in this field, 6th place was very respectable. She is so beautiful – she even reminds me a little of Michelle Kwan. If they can lay these programs down clean, I think they could be a dark horse pair. Remember when Cain/LeDuc were still rough and unpolished just a few years ago, and now they’re national champions? I feel like this could happen for Calalang/Johnson. Regarding the SP, I love everything except the last two seconds – please add a dramatic ending pose!

I’m very biased about the free skate. “You Are the Reason” is one of my favorite love songs, and their skating fits it beautifully. Like Moore-Towers/Marinaro, they managed to deliver a great performance despite the messy jumps. I love her unique position in the death spiral. If they can pull this all together, I’ll be a sobbing mess at nationals.

Feiyao Tang/Yongchao Yang:

I need to thank Tang/Yang for one of the most enjoyable short programs of the night. I can’t help enjoying a good Roxanne program, and these two came up with a modern arrangement to spice it up! They look so young, so I kind of want her to cut her hair like Peng and Sui did. It’s a rite of passage for Chinese pair skating queens. They looked so happy with their performance and I felt proud.

The free skate didn’t go as planned, especially with the aborted lift, but this program to “The Greatest Showman” really showcases their versatility. I like these guys a lot.

Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud:

Walsh/Michaud win my award for being one of the most gorgeous pair teams I’ve ever seen. Their short program music isn’t my cup of tea – I’m sorry, Elton John – but their costumes make up for it. Purple leopard print unitard with black mesh pants? I approve. The technical side isn’t really working for them this year, and I’m concerned about their small height difference. Last season, I was defending them to the death about this, because I do believe you can have a small height difference and still succeed in pairs, but it just makes everything so much harder. You have to throw the girl so hard to give her enough time to rotate and properly land the throw jumps. You have to launch her so far above your head to complete a clean twist. It’s not impossible to overcome – Cain-Gribble/LeDuc have made it work very well. But it takes a lot of time.

The free skate is lovely (credit goes to my man Eric Radford for the choreography). I’m really hoping we can see it clean sometime, because I enjoy this pair a lot and I love seeing them.

LADIES:

The ladies’ event was an epic battle.

Alexandra Trusova:

Of the three Russian girls coming up from juniors this year – Trusova, Kostornaia, and Shcherbakova – Trusova has the most firepower. I’ve heard a lot of criticism about her artistry, but I think she just attacks her programs like an athlete, not a performer. She’s never going to have the softness of Kostornaia, but with those quads, she doesn’t need it. I’m not quite sure what to make of the SP – on one hand, I feel like they’re trying to make her more artistic, but on the other hand, I don’t know if this style suits her. Her PCS were higher than I would’ve dished out, but if you try to deny her sheer technical power, I swear you’ll fail. I really enjoyed her “Game of Thrones” FS; I think it suits her better than the short. Even with a fall, she earned a simply massive score, and her quads are fabulous. Unlike many of the young girls who are attempting quads and triple axels, Sasha has a very good quad toe technique. My only question is about the costume: it’s unique for sure, but it doesn’t scream Game of Thrones to me. It looks like she was going for the stunning electric blue outfit Daenerys wore here.

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However, I’m not quite sold on how it translates as a skating costume, especially since Sasha is so tiny. It would’ve been cooler to just make a short version of this dress if she wants to stay with the blue:

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Rika Kihira:

Rika deserves a gold medal simply for her dresses at this competition. Her SP music gives me a headache, but she jumps beautifully, and she’s pretty much a complete package of a skater. Her triple axels have such flawless technique, which is rare in the ladies’ event. For me, her free skate was the best performance of the night. I was afraid all the music cuts would be jarring, but they all work together and it still feels like a continuous piece. I’m hoping she can snag a World medal this year, and so far, so good.

Young You:

I was very impressed by Young You here. She is a beautiful skater with soft jumps. She reminds me a lot of Rika Kihira – smooth landings, lovely programs, and of course a huge triple axel. The SP to “Romeo and Juliet” works for her. Usually I hate voiceovers, but these ones aren’t obtrusive; they remind me of the beginning of Virtue/Moir’s “Moulin Rouge” program. I adore the Evita soundtrack and love to see it used in skating programs, so naturally I was thrilled to see her FS. The only thing I would change is the dance break in the middle. I get that she’s trying to keep it interesting, but she didn’t really sell the “fun” part. She skates so well to the lyrical parts of the program, so I’d stick with that. Overall, I’m just annoyed that she doesn’t have a second Grand Prix event because I love her.

Bradie Tennell:

Coming right off the silver from Skate America, this could’ve gone two very different ways for Bradie. Sometimes back-to-back Grand Prix events can be beneficial, because you’re still on a high from the last event. But sometimes it can freak you out, because now you have to deliver the same level of performance two weeks in a row. In the SP, Bradie delivered a fairly solid performance to keep herself in the medal hunt. Once again, I like everything about the program except the awkward flirty choreography in the beginning. Benoit, Benoit, Benoit. Bradie is a quiet, lovely girl; she isn’t a smoldering Tessa Virtue as Carmen, and she doesn’t have to be. So please, fix the opening choreo.

Gratuitous fashion comment of the day: I like the concept of the red dress for the SP, but I think it would be more stylish if the neckline didn’t cut so far over on her shoulders and the mesh wasn’t covered in sparkles. Sexy is good, but if the neckline is so deep and wide, it becomes obvious that it’s illusion mesh, which kills the vibe. Kirsten Moore-Towers had an absolute bomb of a dress in a similar style, and I think that cut might look even better:

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I think “Cinema Paradiso” is by far the best free program Bradie has had. It allows her to just skate and showcase her beautiful technique, particularly on the spins. The

Evgenia Medvedeva:

I’m mildly obsessed with Evgenia’s unitard for the short program. It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, almost like Yuzuru Hanyu and Vanessa James collaborated on making a costume for her. The SP itself was a rough day at the office for her, especially that hard fall on the lutz. I think Exogenesis is my favorite SP of hers – it combines the twirling, transition-packed style she learned from Eteri with the freedom of expression she now has with Orser. Unfortunately, the jumps just didn’t show up when it counted, and even her clean free skate couldn’t dig her out in this field. While I was happy to see her fight back after the rough SP, the “Memoirs of a Geisha” program just doesn’t draw me in. I’ve never been a fan of the soundtrack, and to me it doesn’t highlight her intensity and emotional power. Fifth place is definitely not what she was looking for here. I’m hoping she can get her groove back in time for the big fight: Nationals.

 

Marin Honda:

Fun fact: I’m in love with Marin Honda. I’ve loved her skating since juniors, and I think she’s one of the most beautiful and talented skaters out there. She kept her SP to “Seven Nation Army”, which I enjoyed a lot last year. It shows her edgy, flirty side. I can’t handle how gorgeous her dress is! Her free skate to “La La Land” is one of the most joyful programs I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m happy she skated it fairly clean here, even with the botched spin at the end. It’s going to be tough for her to get on the team with all this fierce competition in Japan, but I love watching her skate.

Yelim Kim:

When I first saw Yelim Kim was skating to Black Swan, I winced. How many Black Swan programs do we need before someone decides enough is enough? But Yelim completely transformed it into a haunting program with voiceovers from the movie. I think she still lacks a bit of the expression to pull off the “madness” vibe the program needs, but I give her props for a beautiful dress that’s not black and white! Who would’ve thought to use teal for a black swan dress? I love it. Her free skate was lovely and suited her style a bit better, but some mistakes on the jumps cost her heavily. Overall, I’m impressed and I want to see more from this girl.

Serafima Sakhanovich:

Serafima is one of my underdog faves, and I’m so happy she got a Grand Prix despite a rough season last year. I really enjoyed her SP here. With these Russian girls, I always hope they can pull off at least one great performance and have their moment for the season, because they get lost in the shuffle too easily. I’m really happy she was able to deliver an almost clean free skate here.

Alexia Paganini:

It was a good SP for Alexia; I felt she was quite underscored. There were some mistakes in the free, but overall I found her skating very pleasant and pretty. I think she could be a dark horse this season if she can deliver.

Gabrielle Daleman:

Finlandia Trophy was not an auspicious start to the season for Gabby, and last season was quite up and down. The SP was a huge improvement from the last competition, and seeing her happy made my heart ready to fly. I didn’t expect the flirty jazz program for her, but I don’t mind it. It looks like she went dress shopping with Madison Chock this season and they both ended up with these hot pink showgirl costumes. As fabulous as it looks, I kind of want to see this program with a darker, sultry costume. Anyhow, I’m obsessed with her dress for the free skate and I love the program, even though the jumps were not on. Still, it was a step in the right direction from Finlandia.

Alicia Pineault:

I really enjoyed Alicia’s performances here. “Back to Black” is one of my favorite edgy songs, and she pulled it off like a boss. She just has so much swagger! With Gabby not at 100% and Kaetlyn Osmond officially retired, the door is open for the Canadian ladies, and I’d love to see her get in.

Veronik Mallet:

Veronik had a great showing at Skate America last weekend. Her performances here weren’t bad, but it was a pretty strong field so she ended up at the bottom of the pile. I love the song “Flashlight” by Jessie J, so it was a delight to see that free skate again.

This week’s shoutout of positivity goes to Alisha, aka @theintuitiveintrovert16! This girl is smart, sweet, and always makes the effort to make people feel welcome. I always shied away from the Virtue/Moir fandom – not because I didn’t like their skating, but because some of the fans were like a vicious pack of dogs whose favorite pastime was bashing Davis/White and Papadakis/Cizeron. But Alisha is classy, drama-free, and has a true passion for figure skating, especially supporting the Canadian team. She loves photography and takes stunning photos of skaters at many touring skating shows. Recently, she has started interviewing skaters, and her interviews are always professional and fun. She’s also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and she’s incredibly kind and helpful (I still owe her for that time she helped me get my Twitter account unlocked!). Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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