The Proximus Stars on Ice shows:
An inside look

Text © Mireille Geurts & Magdalena Osborne

Photos © EMJO

 

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On Friday we learned that Maria Butyrskaya would skate in the shows. There were rumors of Katarina being injured and although it still wasn't confirmed Andrei wouldn't show up, our hopes for getting to see him were dim and fading by the minute. But having Maria in the shows was a treat and she happily accepted the invitation right away although only given a moment's notice. The biggest challenge was finding her a flight that would get her to Anwerp on time, but no task was too hard for IMG's very capable Ellen Dupont, and Maria arrived Friday night and went straight to the Sportspaleis to practice.


Katarina Witt was indeed injured and unable to perform. She appeared briefly in street clothes with the announcers at the beginning of the Saturday show, and explained the situation. The next morning when she checked out of the hotel, she told us she had been advised by her doctor to take it very easy and do nothing for the next few days. She was very sorry about missing the shows and although she didn’t know when she’d be able to start training again, she planned on doing her upcoming events as scheduled. We thought she looked beautiful as always, but she declined having her picture taken.

Starting on Friday, all practice sessions were held at the Sportspaleis. It's a semi large arena seating around 12.000 people. It offers a variety of events and concerts but for SOI it had to be converted to an ice rink. Last year the ice was a bit small so this time it was made to Olympic size. Unfortunately that meant taking out the first 6 rows of seats, so the skaters appeared to be rather far away. And boards were put up as well, and even thought they were nicely decorated in Proximus purple, they were a pain for us since they obstructed the view. Between the board and the seats there was also an iron barrier.

The whole arena got dressing up for the show and soon there was so much purple that when we later noticed some skaters wearing purple pants we jokingly commented to each other they got the fabric from Proximus (the sponsor). All kinds of things still had to be arranged and attached, from banners and lighting to handrails. It was amazing how a solid crew could change an arena in a days work. The skaters, for the most part, paid no attention to what was happening around them, only when the spotlights were tested and got in their faces did they react.

Practice sessions were closed to the public and only a handful people got to watch. From the moment we spotted the "Zamboni" we knew there was a problem with the ice. Why something decent couldn't be shipped over to the Sportspaleis I guess we'll never know. We had some good laughs watching as several men on the ice pushed and pulled and tried hard to make the best of the situation. It needed more water, then the tractor broke down and then the "Zamboni". At one point it took a whole crew to push it off the ice.


It must have been so frustrating for the skaters and they all made thumbs down to the ice condition. Still, they skated and there was very little complaining in spite of the numerous "ice snakes" and the fact that it had to remain very cold in the arena or the ice started to melt.

On Friday the opening and the Bond medley were refined. We also found out what the individual numbers would be. Kevin would skate his current short program but also a new exhibition piece to "The Matrix" music, a program he put together himself just a few days before the shows. Very well done, Kevin!

Ilia was fiddling with intricate footwork for his second number and clearly wasn't happy with it, we assumed it had something to do with the poor ice.

 

 

Watching the guys jumping around, Takeshi and Stefan were trying to hold a triple contest, Kevin was pulling off quads and Ilia triple Axels, was a real treat for the eye.



Barbara and Maurizio practiced their second number, "Killing me Softly", without the rope they used in the show. Even without it, this program is very sensual and it made a real impression. So much the music announcer even said ‘thank you’. Maurizio turned to the totally empty part of the arena and thanked the seats over there.

Later that afternoon, when all the skaters were there, they started practicing the finale. This took a lot of time, and a lot of waiting again for the skaters. There was a table on the ice where they could sit (it was later used as a podium for the announcers) but not really anywhere else because of the boards and the barrier between the ice and the seats.

At one point Miki got her hands full of ice and threw it on a totally unexpecting Takeshi. Served him right, good revenge Miki!
It was very noticeable to us that Ilia was the first to understand what Lea Ann wanted them to do. He helped her out a lot by showing steps and moves to the others and when they were all lined up to break out in pairs to do their own trick, he even signaled to them when they should leave. Ilia is a true professional and the eligible skaters surely learned a lot from him.

During the last bit of polishing, a part of Miki’s second number "Hey Mickey" was played and Takeshi showed her how she should skate it. It was funny and Lea Ann applauded him laughingly.

Friday's practice felt a bit tenser than the day before, everyone working more serious on their moves. But at the end of the day it was really noticeable that everything started coming together and we had a fantastic show to look forward to.

 

The dress rehearsal was scheduled for early Saturday afternoon, but was delayed by almost two hours. By now everything was supposed to be smooth, and the skaters were smoother than the ice for sure!
This was when we first noticed the costume recycling from previous SOI shows and backstage there were two people who frantically worked to make them fit. Some steps were still a little out of synch but we got a glimpse of what greatness was to come and knew we'd love the shows. Some parts of the individual choreography now started to make sense, with the costumes and the props (like the rope used by the Italians) and we got to see Katia in her red dress and the stunning effects during spins.

Nicole (who just arrived) skated to the Proximus lead music and that still had to be edited and choreographed on the spot.

 

The dress rehearsal went fine and it was entertaining to watch Lea Ann acting as Katarina doing her speech so it could be timed. The only thing that didn’t go as planned was when the announcers suddenly got lost.

Skating shows should be watched several times to be fully appreciated and having seen everything in practice before the curtain went up increased our understanding for all the hard work. There were no 6 am practices like at competitions, but even so, doing shows is hectic. The skaters had very little free time and the hours at the arena were long and demanding. Practice sessions were often delayed and some of it was due to the ice.

The hotel bar was nice and stayed open late, which was appreciated, but many preferred to sleep. Oksana Baiul and Nicole Bobek arrived on Saturday morning after having skated in the pro competition Ice Wars in South Carolina, USA. The jet lag must have been awful but when the show started no one could tell, which must be credited these two ladies.


Both shows were successful beyond expectations, and the IMG and the main sponsor Proximus were both very pleased. It has already been decided the shows will return next year which is something to look forward to.


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