Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Holiday Festival on Ice - Langley, BC - Dec. 1, 2012

written by Tina

Every year, Holiday Festival on Ice brings a little holiday cheer and a lot of great skating to a few cities in Canada. This year, the mini-tour kicked off in early November with a show in St. John's, NL, that was taped for CBC. While that show featured special musical guest Measha Brueggergosman, and will be aired on Dec. 12 (8-9PM EST), the show that came to Langley, BC on Dec. 1 was a bit different. Special guest Kaetlyn Osmond replaced Nicole Bobek in the cast, and without a musical guest, several of the skaters did different programs.

As a Kurt fan, the change was all to my benefit. To my delight and surprise, Kurt skated to three different solos, all new for this season. The holiday theme was also more muted, which disappointed some, but worked well for me, since I'm happy to celebrate the holidays a bit closer to the holidays.

Act 1

O Come All Ye Faithful/Joy to the World (Measha Brueggergosman) - Cast

Dressed in festive red costumes, the skaters, led by Jeff Buttle, Elvis Stojko, and Kurt Browning, took to the ice to kick things off. The number flowed between the three guys, to Kimmie Meissner and Joannie Rochette skating together, to Shawn Sawyer, Sinead Kerr, and John Kerr. It alternated the group skating together with individual intros and highlight moments for each skater, and got the audience ready for a great night of skating.

Gwendoline/Mambo No. 8 (Perez Prado) - Kaetlyn Osmond

Kicking things off was the night's "special guest", Canadian wunderkind Kaetlyn Osmond, 2012 Skate Canada and Nebelhorn Trophy winner. While the ice wasn't kind to Kaetlyn on jumps (and later wasn't kind to some of the other skaters, especially the ones who had to sit or lie on it), it hardly made a difference. That girl has a definite spark and incredible charisma, great audience connection, and some super-quick, exciting choreography that just kept moving, even out of a fall or two on jumps. The number, her short program this year, has a very upbeat Latin beat, and she kept up with it very well.

Tropical Christmas (Bobby McFerrin/Daddy Lion) - Shawn Sawyer

It was a rainy, chilly night outside in Langley, but Shawn Sawyer, in his dreadlocked wig, would have us believe we were warm in the tropics. His program, to a medley of "Don't Worry Be Happy" and a reggae-esque song by Daddy Lion, evoked a laid-back, relaxed vibe. The costume (though he rid himself of the wig halfway through) gave the program a comedic touch (he looked much the same front to back), though there was nothing comedic about Shawn's beautiful jumps.

Fairy Tale of New York (The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl) - Sinead & John Kerr

What was comedic was the Kerrs' first number. The program opened with Sinead and John each collapsed in a folding chair. John got up, stretching and grimacing, like he just woke up from a long night partying, and then pulled a limp (hungover?) Sinead up, to dance around. He basically dragged her limp, unresponsive body around until it was like someone gave her a shot of adrenaline, and suddenly they were both running down the ice cheerfully and quickly. I'm not entirely sure that my interpretation is what was intended, but it sure seemed like a very hungover couple the morning after a great Christmas celebration, and it was fun to watch.

In This Shirt (The Irrepressibles) - Jeffrey Buttle

When I first saw this program at the Medal Winners Open in October, I knew that the other skaters in the competition would have a long way to catch up with this program that perfectly melded Jeff's still impressive technical skills with wonderful artistry. Seeing it again at Holiday Festival on Ice didn't change that impression. In my opinion, Jeff Buttle is at the top of his game - his programs are detailed and beautiful, his jumps clean and high, his spins incredibly fast, his footwork lovely, and his overall performance passionate and committed.

White Christmas (Mannheim Steamroller) - Kimmie Meissner

This program started out simply enough - Kimmie skating gracefully to traditional Christmas music in a nice, but fairly typical holiday skating number. Partway through, however, she disappeared backstage and came back out with a gauzy piece of cloth, which she used to lovely effect around the ice. She skated with it streaming out behind her, and wrapped around her as she spun, creating a nice dreamy effect.

Kurt's Song (The Tragically Hip) - Kurt Browning

Back in 1998, Kurt's favorite band The Tragically Hip wrote a song especially for him. The program to that song, Antares, became one of Kurt's classic programs. This year, Kurt was contacted by Gord Sinclair of the Tragically Hip, who told him he'd been thinking of him and wrote him a song. That song - more melancholy, more piano and instrument-based (though still with some spacey-sounding beats over it) - became the basis for Kurt's new program which he debuted at Holiday Festival on Ice. The program is still in the works - there's no costume (he wore his "How Do You Keep The Music Playing" costume), and the choreography is shifting as Kurt works with it - but there is a lot of potential there. The program, as performed in Langley, had a beautiful flow to it that fit the somber feel of the music, and some beautiful 3-toes, and a series of 2-axels in a serpentine pattern down the ice.

For Me, Formidable (France d'Amour) - Joannie Rochette

I have seen this program by Joannie many, many times now. I've probably seen it a few too many times for my taste, but there's no denying that this program is a really, really good program for her. It suits her somewhat more demure flirtatiousness to a T - that body language that invites the audience in while still holding a little back in reserve. She's just so solid in her jumps and spins as well. And it's fun watching the face of the audience member she picks out to wrap her scarf around.

Above the Northern Lights (Mannheim Steamroller) - Elvis Stojko

The problem I sometimes have with holiday shows is that there is a finite supply of known Christmas songs, and so you often hear the same songs over and over with slightly different variations. I particularly enjoyed Elvis' number because it was a Christmas number, but a very different one to music I hadn't heard before. The music was rather mysterious, and dreamy sounding, and I thought Elvis did a really nice job interpreting it. This is probably one of my favorite programs I've seen Elvis perform, actually.

Before the intermission, Jeffrey came out to make an appeal for WorldVision, very similar to the ones he did for the Canadian Stars on Ice tour last spring.

Act 2

Blessed Assurance (Measha Brueggergosman) - Joannie Rochette, Sinead Kerr, Jeffrey Buttle, John Kerr

Act 2 began simply - Joannie and Jeff just appeared at the end of the ice, waited for the crowd to notice them, and then began skating to the music of Measha Brueggergosman. I have to confess that the music for this number was not at all to my taste - overdramatic, overoperatic - but Jeffrey Buttle's choreography was more simple and joyous, and redeemed this number for me. That, and his and Joannie's charming skating alongside Sinead and John Kerr. Not to mention an incredibly fast scratch spin from Jeff that made me gape in amazement.

All I Want For Christmas (Two Figure Skates) (Geoffrey Tyler) - Kurt Browning

Kurt has done programs in hockey skates before, to great effect (Luck Be a Lady, Let Love In), but usually there is no apparent reason he is in hockey skates, except that he skates amazingly in them. This program, however, is brilliant in finding a concept that completely justifies *and* highlights Kurt being in hockey skates, and executes the concept superbly. It is about a little boy who wanted figure skates for Christmas, but, to his dismay, got hockey skates instead. Throughout the program, he keeps trying to do figure skating tricks in his hockey skates, struggling with the lack of toepick, and pulling off amazing footwork in the process. His friend Geoffrey Tyler crafted the lyrics to the song especially for this program, with references to wanting to be like Brian Orser, and his shirt says "I Wish I Was Toller/Taller" (with Taller crossed out). The highlight of the program was a beautiful double axel landed in hockey skates (highlight for Kurt as well, judging from the ear to ear grin on landing), but the overall program was just wonderfully fun and delightful to watch.

Reach/Hotel Nacional (Gloria Estefan) (Gloria Estefan) - Kaetlyn Osmond

Kaetlyn's second program started a bit slower and kind of generic female ballady, but when the music switched, it went into high gear. The girl moves so fast, with quick changes of direction, and choreography that doesn't stop for a minute. And yet, despite moving so quickly and having so much choreography to execute, she still made eye contact with the audience and carried out the sassy/sexy feel of the program with verve. I was also impressed that she didn't allow the fact that her music started before she was barely out on the ice (ahead of what she was expecting) or any jump issues to throw her off.

Alegria (Cirque du Soleil) - Shawn Sawyer

I've said it before, and I will say it again - Alegria is the perfect program for Shawn Sawyer. It's the ultimate fit of concept to skater, from Shawn's bendy flexibility and acrobatic maneuvers, to his passionate commitment to the music and choreography. I believe Shawn as a strange, wild-eyed Cirque du Soleil creature. I marvel at his balance, and strength, and flexibility. And I enjoy the heck out of his program.

Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison) - Kimmie Meissner

There's a simple charm to Kimmie's Brown Eyed Girl program. Aside from the fact that she is the brown eyed girl personified, she sings along with the music, and generally engages the audience with the friendly twinkle in her eye. In Langley, she particularly charmed the audience (especially the side that could see her face) when on the "slippin' and a slidin'" lyric, she slid down on her side and obviously immediately regretted getting down on the wet ice. The look of rueful dismay on her face, as she picked herself up and wiped the excess water off, was both charming and amusing, and she won a sympathetic laugh from the audience.

Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchell) - Jeffrey Buttle

This is a program that I think showcases Jeffrey Buttle's strengths in musical interpretation. There's a spareness to this lovely song, space and tension between the words and verses, and I think Jeffrey's performance really captures that feel of tension through pauses, emotion in the quiet, as well as the build of feeling in the chorus. He knows how to take his time, and that suits this music well.

Pencil Full of Lead (Paolo Nutini) - Sinead & John Kerr

It's rather amusing that both of the Kerrs' programs essentially starts with them asleep. In this case, poor Sinead had to lie down on the aforementioned wet ice (and was clearly disturbed by this, cringing gamefully as she carefully lay down, winning the audience's sympathetic laughter in the process). John, on the other hand, got away with lying on the red carpet on the floor of the on-ice seats (lucky him!). This program is so full of energy and fun to watch, just complete nonstop steps and lifts and dancing. There was a scary moment when John flips Sinead up to slide down his back headfirst, and seemed to almost lose his grip for a second, but they saved it and went right on with the fast, frenetic program.

My Sharona (The Knack) - Elvis Stojko

Elvis' first number was possibly one of my favorites I've seen him do live, because of the interesting music and his committed musical interpretation. "My Sharona", unfortunately, was more typical of the type of exhibition programs I don't enjoy from him. On the positive side, he had solid, beautiful jumps, and the program was high energy and fun. On the negative side, my least favorite thing in skating exhibitions is the skater (always male) standing still for an extended period of time and just pointing smugly into the audience and getting a huge cheer for it. My Sharona had a lot of this, and diminished my enjoyment of the program a great deal. The audience completely ate it up, though, and he may have gotten one of the biggest ovations of the night for this.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire - Joannie Rochette

It was kind of nice to bring things down a bit with a warm, lovely skate by Joannie to the much slower, homey feeling "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." It was odd, though - in a holiday show, this was one of the very few holiday programs in the second act, and actually jarred me a bit to go from a bunch of fun exhibition programs to this very traditional Christmas carol. Not one of Joannie's more memorable skates, but nice and fitting for the theme.

Singin' in the Rain (Gene Kelly) - Kurt Browning

I had assumed that Kurt was only doing two programs, and so imagine my surprise when the first few notes of "Singing in the Rain" came over the speakers. It's been a while since I've been surprised like this, and I was absolutely delighted. In fact, it pretty much made my night. Seeing "Singing in the Rain" live in general would make my day, but seeing three Kurt programs in one night? Sheer bliss. At any rate, the performance didn't disappoint one bit. Kurt obviously loves this program and loves performing it, and that joy just leaps off the ice and embraces the audience. His skill with that umbrella is impressive, not only doing jumps (including a 3-2 combination) and spins while holding it, but also tossing it around and flipping it open and closed with his choreography like it's part of his body. His footwork and choreography is wonderfully matched to the music, his facial expressions fully in character, and the whole package just delightful.

O Holy Night (Measha Brueggergosman) - Cast

The finale led off with Joannie alone on the ice, doing some footwork and a lovely spiral before being joined by Kimmie and Sinead. The three ladies did some side by side footwork and choreography, and then Joannie and Sinead went into side by side layback spins while Kimmie did a spiral around them. They were then joined by Kurt (who did a remarkably quick costume change), Elvis, Jeff, and Shawn, skating side by side down the ice. Sinead and John did a turn around the ice together, including Sinead lifting John upside down. The music flowed into the skaters skating as a group down the ice, with lovely flowing choreography as they swooped around in different patterns. The number was a nice capper to the night, bringing together all the skaters (Kaetlyn joined for the bows) and circling back to the holiday feel of the show.

Overall, Holiday Festival on Ice was a wonderful night of skating with some beautiful programs and amazing skaters. I enjoyed it a great deal, and left the arena very happy.