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Stars on Ice lives up to its name

Source: Montreal Gazette
Date: April 14, 1994
Author: Paul Delean

Copyright 1994 Southam Inc.

Figure skating fans threw the Montreal Forum for a double loop last night.

The building may still be ringing from the cheers lavished upon the Sun Life Stars on Ice show, which sent a capacity crowd into figure-skating nirvana for the better part of two hours.

The Cowboy killed, but that was the safest bet since Secretariat. Kurt Browning's legion of admirers has only grown since his classy but medalless performance at the Lillehammer Olympics, and now that he's turned pro, the four-time world champion from Alberta is destined - deservedly - to become one of the biggest draws in North American skating.

In a show that legitimately lives up to its name with 10 world- class acts, Browning took centre stage, ahead of even Olympic champions Kristi Yamaguchi of the U.S. and Katarina Witt of Germany.

And he set the tone for the evening by delivering a backflip seven minutes into the show, to the delight of a crowd that arrived excited and got positively rapturous as the night wore on.

Browning did a solo number in full Western regalia to a country instrumental called Blues Berry Hill by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, then returned in the second half in a plain white T-shirt and blue pants for an athletic take on guitarist Joe Satriani's bluesy All Alone.

The strength of Stars on Ice is the depth and variety of its skating talent. From Annenko (Natalia) through Yamaguchi, there isn't a weak link in the lineup, and the range of styles is remarkable.

Canadian champion Josee Chouinard, so often defeated by nerves in international competitions, is an ice-show natural, all grace and fluidity. And in Mariah Carey's All I've Ever Wanted, she had music that suited her perfectly.

Pairs champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler dazzled the audience with their astounding - often one-handed - lifts and spins that had Brasseur clinging to Eisler's neck by her skates or with her face only inches from the ice.

Former Canadian men's champion Brian Orser skates with more verve and assurance now than he seemed to as an amateur. Yamaguchi, who had the night's only fall, and Canadian veteran Toller Cranston are in a class apart when it comes to interpreting music. For those with rock'n'roll inclinations, pairs team Christine Hough and Doug Ladret tossed and turned their way through Lenny Kravitz's Are You Gonna Go My Way?

Witt performed both her Olympic numbers from Lillehammer - Robin Hood and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? - with speed and style.

Some of the best skating of the night came from the two least- heralded acts - Soviet pairs teams Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov and Natalia Annenko and Genrich Sretenski.

Bechke and Petrov's superb solo to Verdi's I Masnadieri was a riveting blend of elegance and acrobatics. In most ice shows, it would have stolen the show; in this one, it simply elevated it further.

GRAPHIC: GAZETTE, Dave Sidaway/ Dazzling show: Skater Kristi Yamaguchi twirls in Stars on Ice show at Forum last night. Yamaguchi and veteran Toller Cranston (below right) showed that they are in a class apart when it comes to interpreting music. Below left, Kurt Browning wows fans as a cowboy.