The Proximus Stars on Ice shows in Antwerp 2004
Photos © Joy & EMJO
Stars on Ice seem to spell success wherever they go, and the second edition of the Antwerp shows were no exceptions. Unlike the US-tour, these shows were put together in just a couple of days which meant very hard work for choreographer Lea Ann Miller and the skaters. This year's cast offered a mix of professional and eligible skaters and the enthusiastic audience was taken on a 2 hour joyride to skating heaven. It would have been nice to have Katarina Witt and Andrei Griazev along for that ride; both were scheduled to appear but were unable to perform because of injuries. Instead the IMG, on a moment's notice, found a crowd pleaser in Maria Butyrskaya.
Many people attended the shows in the Antwerp Sportspaleis, a venue which rarely hosts skating events. The ice was made just for the shows and it should be added that it wasn't completely without problems...
The opening, "Brand New Morning/Time to come together" by Magnum, was performed by the cast except Nicole Bobek, Oksana Baiul and Maria Butyrskaya. Nicole and Oksana skated in Ice Wars and arrived in Antwerp on the day of the first show.
The costumes used made many smile as they were recognized from the 2003 US tour finale. In Antwerp they were put to good use again in a number featuring synchronized steps by the cast, with skaters breaking away from the group to do an individual jump or spin. The energetic music made it all come alive and it was fast and fun!
The show had two announcers as everything was said in both Flemish and French (the two official languages in Belgium). It would have been nice to have the skaters introduced as they did their little solo spots, and from the choreography it looked like that was the idea. Many attending the shows were locals and probably would have liked to immediately know who the skaters were. Instead they now had to wait for the lengthy introductions before each performance, a part that perhaps should be reconsidered for next year.
While the music phased over to the Proximus theme, the cast left the ice and Nicole Bobek appeared, wearing a beautiful, glittery dress which suited her music and blonde hair perfectly. She wasn't introduced at this point, which made it hard for the non-fans just visiting the shows to identify who she was. Nicole is an elegant skater and was much appreciated by the male part of the audience. In spite of the ice she performed some very nice spirals but no jumps.
From here on the two announcers were seated on a small podium in a corner of the ice. They were briefly joined by Katarina Witt who was very sorry to tell the audience she injured her leg in practice a few days earlier and could not perform.
Next to skate was Stefan Lindemann. He used the music "Good Life" from the "Matchstick men" soundtrack and was very cool looking in a white shirt and tie, portraying the jazzy feeling of the music very well. During certain moves and jumps it was noticeable that the poor ice condition affected his technique and at one point he fell but saved the situation very cleverly by doing a summersault.
Junior world champion Miki Ando skated to "Heart of the Sun", her gypsy inspired current short program. These were Miki's first shows outside Japan and naturally there were nerves involved. She took a fall in the Saturday show but bravely moved on and delivered a good program, and already on Sunday she showed more confidence with great spirals and a head spinning fast camel. Bravo Miki!
The professional ice dance team Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas of Lithuania skated to "Spente Le Spelle" by French opera singer Emma Shapplin. The music is beautiful, although slightly overused in skating, and the team delivered a wonderfully emotional performance that got even better on Sunday.
Takeshi Honda, who was introduced as the guy jokingly telling everyone he is the son of a famous manufacturer, performed his short program; "Piano concerto in A minor" by Maxim. Choreographed by Kurt Browning this program was packed with wonderful footwork. Takeshi is a very entertaining as well as technically skilled skater and he pulled off a triple Axel, praise to him!
Ekaterina Gordeeva appeared in a beautiful black dress and skated to Andrea Bocelli, and the feeling from beginning to end was; passion! The printed program stated that Katia weighs only 43 kilos and that may be, but every gram is grace and elegance and her performance ended much too soon.
The local favorite, Belgium's own Kevin van der Perren showed his short program to the music "Samba Adagio" by Safri Duo. Kevin himself refers to this program as "Computer Game", the story of the boy who gets trapped inside the game and tries to fight his way out, thus the "exit" sign on the back of the black costume. It's a fun program and was delivered with lots of energy and triple jumps, even in combination. Kevin is a big name in eligible skating everywhere but certainly in his home country.
Special guest star Maria Butyrskaya skated to Shakira, a program most fans had seen many times already. But having Maria in the show was a treat and although she has some things going besides skating these days, she radiated joy in performing. She arrived in Antwerp the night before the first show and immediately went to work with the choreographer to be able to participate in the finale. Such dedication must be admired.
Many skating fans have vivid memories of the "Adios Nonino" number by Astor Piazzola, skated in the Olympic gala in Salt Lake City by Italians Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio who earned a bronze medal there. The program started with the ice dancers sitting on chairs and turned into a fiery tango, a program which conveyed much temperament and sensuality. It was great on TV but even better live and it was hard to imagine that Barbara had a baby just a few months ago. She is again slim and fit as a fiddle and the couple proved again that they are still one of the best.
The much anticipated highlight of the show was for many fans the appearance by Olympic champion Ilia Kulik who skated to Art Garfunkel's beautiful ballad "All I know". Unfortunately the ice didn't cooperate well with knee sliding, but Ilia mesmerized the audience with intensity in both moves and feelings and threw in a cart wheel without hands. A wonderful performance the audience couldn't get enough of. A stuffed toy was thrown on the ice and he picked it up and especially turned to thank the people throwing it. A very nice gesture!
The last individual program before the break was performed by Oksana Baiul, another Olympic champion. Wearing a sheer, violet dress she skated to "Dov'e L'amore" by Cher and sure knew how to play an audience! Although she fell in the Sunday show, Oksana has been working on getting her triple jumps back and it was thrilling to watch her connecting so well with the audience.
The Bond medley became many skating fans' and also skater's favorite number. It was good in practice but became perfected and intensified in the show. Several Bond theme songs along with solo and group skating offered excitement and entertainment at its best and the men took turns playing the part of James Bond beginning with Kevin. The cheering knew no end as the last introduced Bond, Ilia Kulik, entered dressed in white to Tom Jones' "From Russia with love" doing among other moves his famous cantilever. At the very end the girls had all the "Bonds" trapped in the middle of the ice. During practice and dress rehearsal a rope had been used to hold them, but the rope didn't make it to the ice during the show so the girls had to improvise and used their arms instead. The Bond medley was innovative and fun and although it was long it wasn't long enough for the appreciative crowd.
A break for ice resurfacing was announced and the "Zamboni" and several men with shovels and rakes worked hard to improve the ice. The result was questionable but the show had to go on.