Saturday, February 11, 2006

Slick As A Brick

Always fantasizing about an Edenic past, The Telegraph is consistent about figure skating:
Whatever happened to ice-skating? You have to be over 35 now to have much memory of those heady 1980s when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were hardly off television, turning the winning of Olympic medals into experiences of unspeakable delight. You have to be over 45 to remember the greatest ice artist of all, John Curry.... Curry made enemies when he went beyond merely demonstrating that skating could be an art, and started talking about it, incorporating routines by classical ballet choreographers into his work. ...

The new points system aims zealously towards transparent and unemotional appraisal. Points pile up for each and every move, for their inherent difficulty and for the executor's skill. "Artistic" questions are marked in terms of whether, say, a skater is "in time" with the music or not, and costumes must be eye-catching. A step-by-step print-out proves to each skater the minutiae of the judging (including objective scoring of their dress sense, one supposes). Whether this favours stunt-quantity or quality we can see at the Turin Olympics ... judges will have to be wizard arithmeticians, handling, say, 200 points in a five-minute routine.... To me this system sounds practically Soviet in its ruthless suppression of individuality. ...

Dean told me once: "The beautiful thing about skating is that you can take a pose and move it in space, make it endless, then turn it into something else." The modern dance choreographer Twyla Tharp, who choreographed for Curry, found that "[skating] is a different and wonderful medium in its own right. Ice can be as beautiful, moving and meaningful as you want to make it." Tell that to the Olympic judges.
Even those wearing ideological blinders can be correct sometimes, and this may be their first token moment of accuracy for the year. I love figure skating, and was disgusted at the open dishonesty in the old Ice Dance "judging", but this ongoing effort to be more "objective" turns the choreographers into calculating machines. Like so many Tin Men from Oz, they "could be kind of human" if they "only had a heart".

By contrast, Curry, who had the sense to use my favorite modern choreographer, once was observed by a writer meeting a possible new skating student. He gave his own kind of test to the child. He said "Show me something beautiful." I wish he were still with us in Torino.


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