Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ice-Dancing Goes to the Movies

As happens every two years, I find the Olympic Games irresistible viewing. Even though --  technophobe that I am -- I consider the many-buttoned remote control gadgets that power my TV extraordinarily daunting, I’m currently spending my evenings glued to the tube, enjoying the scope and the sweep of winter sports. Speaking of sweeping, I can’t say I’m keen on curling, but  watching snowboarding sports sure gets my blood racing. Heck, I even got excited recently during the finals of the single-man luge.

But for me the sport of sports is figure-skating. The blending of music, costumes, and dramatic emoting with first-class athleticism is for me too powerful to ignore. I’m a sucker for up-close-and-personal profiles of the skaters, and the one-two punch of Tara Lipinski and the always memorable Johnny Weir adds invaluable commentary. I learned from Weir, for instance, that in ice-dancing the woman’s role is to be the show-offy flower, while her male partner acts as her stem. Weir then went on to portray one of the teams, admiringly, as containing two flowers. 

I think one of the things that intrigues me about figure-skating competitions is that they meld artful discipline with the spontaneity of live competition. When you watch a movie, you’re enjoying the result of months and years of careful planning by a whole army of participants. Yes, it’s true that the unexpected things that pop up on a movie set can have impact on a completed film, for better or for worse. Serendipity is a very real aspect of the film-making process, and smart filmmakers know how to take advantage of happy accidents. Still, when we watch a film, we’re seeing a finished product, one that has been lovingly polished and perfected before it reaches audiences.  A live theatre performance can change slightly from evening to evening, depending on the mood of the audience, the health of the actors, and a host of other things. But normally theatre productions that are beyond the rehearsal stage try to conform nightly to a set of codified expectations toward which everyone has been aiming during weeks of preparation. 

In figure-skating, too, there is a carefully developed plan of attack for each stage of the competition. Costumes, music, and basic choreography don’t vary from outing to outing. But this is a sport, and so anything can happen. A bobble, a recovery, a fall . . . what develops in the dynamic between pairs skaters from night to night is particularly fraught. One Canadian ice-dancer, I’m told, is super-adept at calculating point totals in her head while she’s on the ice. If one of her and her partner’s elements doesn’t go as planned, she knows how to adjust for maximum impact. 

It doesn’t surprise me to sense that figure-skaters love movies. At least, they frequently turn to famous movie themes to add crowd-pleasing oomph to their programs. In the last few days, I’ve seen skaters glide to music from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, Memoirs of a Geisha, and “Unchained Melody,” as featured in the schmaltzy lost-love movie, Ghost. The Italian duos seem particularly adept at taking advantage of movie drama through their choice of music. One pair of Italians charmingly captured the antic spirit of Fellini by way of Nino Rota’s film scores. And an Italian ice-dancing team, skating to music from Life is Beautiful, conveyed that Holocaust film’s heartbreaking throughline by moving from romantic love to the horrors of war. All the best skaters, at least in my eyes, tell a story with their faces and bodies. And movies are often the inspiration that moves them forward.

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