Later today, I catch a flight for Boston and then tomorrow, I'm driving with two friends, Chele and Jen, to the MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Connecticut for Thin Ice.
Thin Ice is a new mini-series of a competition for professional skaters, who have been given new partners for the event. They're skating several shows and "preview" shows at the ballroom in the MGM Grand this weekend, with the Friday night and the Sunday night shows to air nationwide on ABC. The skaters have been encouraged to think outside the box and do something outside of their comfort zone. They're all skating to popular music that will be accessible to the average TV audience (as opposed to an audience full of skating fans) and some have even worked with choreographers from the dance world, as opposed to the skating world.
The pairs are Shae-Lynn Bourne & John Zimmerman, Marie-France Dubreuil & Michael Weiss, Jamie Salé & Patrice Lauzon, Elena Berezhnaya & David Pelletier, and Shizuka Arakawa & Stéphane Lambiel. Two "real-life" teams are a part of the cast -- Dubreuil & Lauzon and Salé & Pelletier -- so it will be fun/possibly weird to see them competing against each other and with different partners. Of the 10 cast members, 7 are used to skating with partners, either in pairs (Zimmerman, Salé, Berezhnaya, Pelletier) or dance (Bourne, Dubreuil, Lauzon). Weiss, Arakawa, and Lambiel are all singles skaters and only skate with partners for ensemble work in shows. Only one pair comes from the same partner-discipline -- Berezhnaya & Pelletier are both pairs skaters. However, Bourne does have pairs experience from very early in her career.
Some of the early press I've read has indicated that Dubreuil & Weiss and Berezhnaya & Pelletier might be early favourites, but it's hard to tell who will mesh well with a new partner. Some of the pairs have been practicing a for a couple of weeks, but no more than that, so this is all happening fairly quickly. Based on what I know about the skaters and how they look on the ice, it's easiest for me to imagine the pairings of Bourne/Zimmerman and Dubreuil/Weiss, but I'm looking forward to seeing everyone and I'm sure there will be surprises!
Here's a bit more info about each partnership and what they have planned.
Shae-Lynn Bourne & John Zimmerman
Disciplines: dance (her) + pairs (him)
Career highlights: Bourne won 10 Canadian titles (with Victor Kraatz) between 1993 and 2003 and 6 World medals (4 bronze, 1 silver, 1 gold). She competed with Kraatz until 2003, did some show appearances with Kraatz for the rest of the year, and has been skating as a solo dancer since then. Zimmerman won 3 U.S. titles with Kyoko Ina, as well a bronze medal at the 2002 World Championships. He skated professionally with Ina until 2008, when she decided to retire from skating, and has skated mainly as a soloist since then, although he's also skated in a couple of shows with Elena Berezhnaya.
Programs planned: "Closer" - Ne-Yo and "Poker Face" - Lady Gaga, choreographed by David Wilson
My thoughts: Both skaters are gorgeous and have a commanding on-ice presence. Their long lines should look great together. Bourne did a great job adapting her style to a new partner when she finished second in Canada's Battle of the Blades last fall, where professional female skaters were paired with former NHL stars.
Marie-France Dubreuil & Michael Weiss
Disciplines: dance (her) + singles (him)
Career highlights: Dubreuil (with Patrice Lauzon) is a five-time Canadian champion and a two-time World silver medalist. Her last competitive appearances were in 2007, and since then, she's been touring with Stars on Ice and skating in other shows. She also appeared on Battle of the Blades last fall, where she finished third. Weiss is a three-time U.S. champion and a two-time World bronze medalist. He retired from competition in 2006 and has also been with Stars on Ice since then.
Programs planned: "Meet Me Halfway" - Black Eyed Peas, choreographed by Fatima Robinson and "Broken Strings" - James Morrison & Nelly Furtado, choreographed by Mark Ballas
My thoughts: Both skaters are high-energy performers and they've toured together with Stars on Ice, so this seems like a good match, too. Weiss doesn't have experience doing lifts, so I hope they don't try anything too crazy (also because Dubreuil's partner on BOTB dropped her a few days before the first show...she's had enough of that!), but I already appreciate that they've taken some choreographic risks and tried two different choreographers from different areas of the dance world.
Jamie Salé & Patrice Lauzon
Disciplines: pairs (her) + dance (him)
Career highlights: Salé (with David Pelletier) is a three-time Canadian champion, World champion, and Olympic champion. She retired from competition in 2002 and has been touring with Stars on Ice. She won Battle of the Blades in November with Craig Simpson. See above for Lauzon's highlights.
Programs planned: "Sexy Chick" - David Guetta and "Hey, Soul Sister" - Train, both choreographed by David Wilson
My thoughts: I respect both of these skaters tremendously. Salé is one of my favourite pairs skaters; Lauzon is one of my favourite ice dancers. It's a bit tough to picture them together, though, and a lot tough to picture Lauzon skating to "Sexy Chick," but I guess I have to go with it! Salé is a crowd favourite, though, and Lauzon is definitely one of the best partners in the world, so they have a lot going for them if they can put this together.
Elena Berezhnaya & David Pelletier
Disciplines: pairs (both)
Career highlights: Berezhnaya (with Anton Sikharulidze) is a four-time Russian champion, a two-time World champion, and the 2002 Olympic champion. See above for Pelletier's results. Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze and Salé & Pelletier were close rivals between 1999 and 2002, always going head-to-head in major competitions. The rivalry was a pivotal moment in the 2002 Olympics when the discovery of a judging fix resulted in both couples sharing the pairs title. Berezhnaya also retired from competition in 2002, touring with Stars on Ice for four years, until 2006.
Programs planned: "Hot 'n' Cold" - Katy Perry and "Cowboy Casanova" - Carrie Underwood, choreographed by Steven Cousins (Berezhnaya's off-ice partner)
My thoughts: Well, I fully expect the TV broadcast to blow up the past rivalry between the skaters, as they always did whenever they appeared in the same event post-Olympics. When I heard that they would be skating together, I didn't have a hard time picturing their skating meshing, but I wasn't anticipating these music choices, so now I'm not so sure!
Shizuka Arakawa & Stéphane Lambiel
Disciplines: singles (both)
Career highlights: Arakawa is the 2004 World champion and 2006 Olympic champion. She retired from competition after her Olympic win and has been skating in shows since then, though she hasn't skated very often in North America. Lambiel is a two-time World champion and the 2006 Olympic silver medalist. He retired from competition due to injury in 2008, but after a year off, was rehabilitated enough to return for a final Olympic season. He finished fourth in Vancouver this year and again announced his retirement from competition this month.
Programs planned: "Get Bodied" - Beyoncé and "Magic Touch" - Robin Thicke & Mary J. Blige, choreographed by Hi-Hat
My thoughts: I think these two have a disadvantage because neither has extensive experience skating with a partner and I could be wrong, but I feel like they don't have much of a height difference, so I don't expect wow-factor lifts from them. They're both exquisite skaters, so I expected them to choose more lyrical music, but I'm also confident that they'll have fun with these programs. On a personal note, I'm really excited to see both of them skate! I haven't seen either live before, and Lambiel is actually one of my favourite skaters of all time.
Overall, I'm thrilled that ABC has put their support behind this show. I hope it does well, and I hope its success would mean a resurgence in skating's popularity. It's a great time to capitalize on the post-Olympic wave and I think the format, where viewers are asked to vote for their favourites, is a good choice. It's also great to see skaters pushing the boundaries and trying to do something different.
I'll be covering the show for Ice-Dance.com, so check the website for photos and thoughts, and keep an eye out for me on TV!