For most people the first experience watching figure skating live is the ice show. This may be a small club exhibition or a large production of Disney on Ice complete with elaborate costumes. From Disney to the club rink, the show is definitely the thing. After all, a show is a skating experience that isn’t geared toward the competitive environment. Instead, both the audience and the skaters are encouraged to have good old fashioned fun. No need to think about placements and rankings. Who cares if you fall on a jump in a show? The point is the excitement of performing on ice, not the elements performed. A myriad of different ice shows populate the United States and other countries, but I’m only going to delve into the traditional spring figure skating club ice show and the tours that showcase the current stars of figure skating. Disney on Ice and Holiday on Ice are both important in their own regard, but I have little experience with them and thus cannot give commentary.
I’ll start with the tours that crisscross the country bringing figure skating’s stars of then and now to a wide variety of cities. When I was younger, in the nineties, I used to attend both Stars on Ice and Champions on Ice every couple years. Stars on Ice was dedicated to the stars of yore while Champions included all the young hopefuls rising up in the sport. Stars was filled with intricate choreography and little skating that would be recognized as competitive. Champions suffered from the opposite effect. The skaters were top of the world, but the choreography was stale and the group numbers looked more like an aerobic dance class than entertaining skating. In the end, I enjoyed neither. My mother tells me I was so disgusted with the overly romantic numbers in Stars on Ice that I refused to ever go again. Champions on Ice reminded us all of the exhibition after the competition. The show was entirely hit or miss and depended too much on the caliber of the skaters’ individual choreography.
We stopped going to the shows for nearly a decade. In 2004 we finally returned to the arena to see Champions on Ice, but only because I would have done anything to see Johnny Weir skate live. The experience was amazing, but the only skater I recall seeing was Johnny. No other number begins to register when I try and remember. After the 2006 Torino games, figure skating hit a real slump in television audience and show attendance. The games had not been terrible; Sasha Cohen won a silver medal in ladies as did Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto in ice dance. Nevertheless, fewer people were watching figure skating and even fewer were taking the trek to the rink to see the annual skating shows. While not surprising to me since I had always felt the shows were lacking, this was unusual for the general populace.
By the 2010 Olympic season, Champions on Ice had died an unremarkable death. The ice show options were limited in the United States for fans. YouTube became the best viewing arena since it showed numbers from the elaborate ice shows done in Japan and other foreign countries. Stars on Ice managed to survive, but decided it was time for a serious makeover.
I believe the changes precipitated by the death of Champions on Ice are perhaps the best things ever to happen to the ice show world. Stars on Ice pulled in all the old Champions on Ice skaters. This meant that instead of good skaters from previous generations, they were now showcasing current skaters in the international ranks. The change created a vastly more agile cast. Triple toe loop was no longer the hardest jump ever performed. In addition, skaters were familiar with IJS (International Judging System) style of footwork that manages to convey that most of the time footwork is harder than jumping. To top it off, Stars on Ice invested in good choreography.
Champions on Ice always included two performances from a skater, but the group numbers were merely a shadow of what could be. Stars on Ice embraced its old methods and new skaters in an innovative fashion. Instead of just a solo, the skaters participated in multiple group numbers ranging from duets to full cast pieces. Each of the numbers had insightful choreography tailored to the skaters’ strengths. Sasha Cohen and Alissa Cizney had a gorgeous duet of mirrored spirals and laybacks that epitomized their grace and beauty. In previous ice shows this would have been unheard of, but in 2010 it was a revelation. Why not have skaters at their prime skating intricate choreography with each other?
The new Stars on Ice is better than ever. It has picked up the pieces of the pervious shows and created something fresh and so much better. Its only failing at present is the decision not to invite Johnny Weir to tour with them during the spring of 2010. Johnny is art on ice and they were missing an important piece of a complete show.