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Skaters played to strengths

Stars on Ice show retained dazzle, but played to smallest crowd in years

Source: Halifax Chronicle Herald
Date: April 25, 2009
From Depression-era jazz babies to '60s go-go girls to the sexy club kids of the new millennium, it was hard not to like how the skaters moved in Sears Stars On Ice at Halifax Metro Centre on Thursday.

Tour newcomer Shawn Sawyer and recently crowned world silver medallist Joannie Rochette dazzled with speed and energy, while longtime audience favourites Kurt Browning and pairs champs Jamie Sale and David Pelletier had the crowd on its feet with their charisma and crowd-pleasing moves. Jeff Buttle showcased technical excellence and Sasha Cohen lyrical perfection.

Unlike past Stars On Ice shows, which were united thematically, this year's version, which clocked in at two hours and 15 minutes, seemed more like the skating exhibitions that wrap up national and world competitions, with individual skaters creating programs to suit their strengths.

In the first act, 2004 Canadian champ Cynthia Phaneuf, on the comeback trail with her first appearance at the world championships this season, channelled Britney Spears in a sassy program set to the pop princess's current hit Circus.

Sawyer, a 2006 Olympian vying for a repeat trip in 2010, sparkled as brightly as his turquoise sequins as he showcased his unique flexibility moves, soaring backflip and techno dance prowess to Soft Cell's Tainted Love.

Six-time Canadian champ Jennifer Robinson, who gets better every year on the tour circuit, was seductive and elegant as she skated to Natasha Bedingfield's Angel.

Newlyweds Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon set hearts aflutter with a graceful program set to Corinne Bailey Rae's Since I've Been Loving You. The two-time world silver medallist ice dancers drew prolonged applause for their trademark lifts in both programs.

In the second act, skating to U2's Desire, Lauzon twirled Dubreuil so close to the ice her hair picked up ice shavings and they triumphantly performed their oft-photographed move in which Dubreuil stands on Lauzon's thighs, arms upraised, travelling the length of the ice.

But it was Buttle who ignited the crowd skating to Jamiroquai's Canned Heat in a wild print shirt and bright red pants. With pulsating pelvis, sky-high jumps and innovative spins, he got the crowd clapping along and showed why he won the 2008 world championship. His classically-themed closing solo wowed the knowledgeable crowd with its high degree of difficulty.

The second act started on a high note as Browning, Buttle, Lauzon, Pelletier and Sawyer turned into rockers clad in black leather pants and royal blue muscle shirts showcasing pipes that were born for air guitar. Pelletier looked to be having the time of his life as, to the strains of Bon Jovi's We Got It Going On, he flipped Browning, then lifted Sawyer above his head into a horizontal position, all the while rotating dizzily.

Sale and Pelletier's high-energy take on Bodyrockers' I Like the Way (You Move) with Pelletier throwing the perfectly positioned Sale above his shoulders, round his hips, over his head, holding her by her skates in a mind-blowing split position as he twirled, and ending with Sale locking her ankles around his neck as he spun round and round, had the crowd roaring its approval.

And Rochette's impassioned performance to Suzy McNeil's hit Believe with gorgeous split leaps, impressive triple jumps and a sizzling scratch spin was moving and inspiring.

Browning, as ever, pushed the artistic envelope with intricate footwork set perfectly to a number composed solely of drum beats.

Then it was onto Cohen's Moonlight Sonata program, a work of breathtaking beauty as the 2006 Olympic silver medallist flowed effortlessly through a program of gorgeous spirals and spins, a layback Ina Bauer, and her trademark split, foot held high over her head.

There were some interesting interludes, but they seemed to appear at random, rather than as consistent moments and the Don't Skate homage to the Don't Vote campaign for the recent U.S. presidential election, while entertaining, probably left much of the Halifax audience puzzled.

Missing was the intricate lighting that created fascinating patterns on the ice in years past, while the giant electronic ads on screens in the four corners of the rink and overhead throughout the programs were distracting and took away from the overall appeal.

The individual skating at Stars On Ice was fabulous, but the lack of a consistent vision for the show was missed by what might have been one of the smallest and quietest crowds in years.