TFTI’s Top 10 of 2015

In recognition of the Year That Was, Two for the Ice highlights ten of its favorite 2015-16 programs from the U.S. and Canada’s senior dance and pairs couples — and we invite our readers to share their own favorites by tweeting us at @twofortheice or commenting below.


1. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, The Theory of Everything

Superficially, the program could be viewed as one set to a pretty film score with a generally overarching romantic theme. This would be to ignore the challenge actually faced — and conquered — in this sophisticated free dance from coaches Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo. Presenting the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking and the former’s battle with ALS could spell gimmickry; instead, it’s a tale told through dance, not theatricality. Mirrored moments and contracted motions spell out the duo’s romance, tragedy and a subtle shift in roles, those harsher, more grounded moments drawing in the contemporary dance influence. The duo’s autumn was an erratic one, from a Finlandia free dance fall to food poisoning forcing mid-event withdrawal from their second Grand Prix. When clean, though, this free dance has shown off the team to great effect and should be their key strength heading into Nationals.

2. Maia and Alex Shibutani, “Fix You” / “The Scientist”

An emotional program driven by real feeling, not emotion for its own sake. The lyrics — “When you try your best but you don’t succeed” — evoke the team’s struggles to maintain or regain their position since early career highs, and certainly the two clearly connect deeply with their material. But emotion is only meaningful with choreographic nuance and complexity, and both are in attendance, from the perfectly-placed twizzles (one of TFTI’s favorite elements of the 2015-16 season) to the added difficulty, from ever-developing lift positions for Maia to that extra half-twizzle set — extraneous difficulty and exceptional execution (such as the rotational lift’s ice coverage) also a factor in the pair’s strong Coppelia short dance. There remains even more room for improvement as the second half of the season comes on.

3. Lauren Collins and Shane Firus, “Beautiful Tango” / “Song of No Regrets” / “Breakfast in Baghdad”

The first of two entries here for Canadian choreographer Shae Zukiwsky, a former ice dancer with extensive off-ice dance experience in, especially, the contemporary and modern realm (and, indeed, a repeat interview source for TFTI). Collins and Firus showed promise as a new junior team in 2014-15, picking up national silver in the process, but have made considerable strides with a set of challenging programs from Zukiwsky and, in the short, Romain Haguenauer. The key to this free is subtlety; the world music here is laidback and detailed, rhythms and lines shifting and choreography — and skaters — obligated to keep up with it. The program came out with promise at July’s Minto and has grown incrementally, with the two capturing a second-place finish in the free at this month’s Skate Canada Challenge.

4. Andréanne Poulin and Marc-André Servant, Birth / “Piano Trio in G Major”

This free dance, meanwhile, was the product of a long creative relationship between Zukiwsky and the couple, and a choreographic handle on the team’s assets is evident. The abstract program draws on Poulin and Servant’s movement chemistry and musicality, bringing in too a sense of joy resonant with the team’s revitalized season after long periods of injury. While this skate at Challenge was not its smoothest outing, it did take first place in that event’s free dance — thanks in part to a competition-high PCS (won by the couple in the short as well).

5. Karina Manta and Joe Johnson, “Maple Leaf Rag” / “Bethena” / “The Entertainer”

Reasonably faithful attention to an early twentieth century will go far with TFTI, and in both choreography and performance, this ragtime free for the up-and-coming U.S. couple never loses sight of the character it’s meant to present. Despite a fall in this first international outing at Autumn Classic International, the team picked up bronze, followed by victory at Pacific Coast Sectionals. A few more weeks of polish should make the team, competing in their first year at seniors and second season together, one to watch — and the lively free should stand out in a field of lyrical and contemporary-derived programs.