Skaters, musicians come together at Improv-Ice

Concert ReviewOctober 7, 2009Unknown source

Innovative format kept skaters guessing, all entertained

By JR Walker, special to

(10/07/2009) - For one night, eight skaters came together to perform in a show in which they did not know what music they would skate to, what costume they would wear, or what moves they would include in their programs. Alone, these skaters would choreograph two programs each in the span of about two hours and take to the ice to perform these programs in front of a television audience. Add to the mix that for one of the music selections they would skate to a live band, and you've got Disson Skating's Improv-Ice, held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Hosted by Olympic Champions Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi, Improv-Ice brought together world and Olympic medalists with the rock band the Goo Goo Dolls. The skating roster included Americans Evan Lysacek, Sasha Cohen, Michael Weiss, and Nancy Kerrigan as well as Canadians Kurt Browning, Jeffrey Buttle, Joannie Rochette, and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

In Act I of the show, the skaters pulled from music that could be from any genre and artist, while in Act II, all music would be from the Goo Goo Dolls' catalog.

The show opened with the Goo Goo Dolls performing "Sweetest Lie," a song from their upcoming album, Something for the Rest of Us, before the skaters took to the ice for their first program.

"In the music industry, you are always looking for ways to reinvent yourself or to do something innovative," said Goo Goo Dolls bass guitarist Robby Takac. "Doing this show with skaters is a cool way to do that."

Following the Goo Goo Dolls' opening, the skaters took to the ice to show what they had come up with. If any of the skaters had issues with remembering their new programs, it wasn't apparent. In fact, several skaters looked as if they were skating to something that was old hat.

World champion Lysacek's program to "Sweet Thing" by Keith Urban had all of the makings of a successful competitive program. Lysacek showed two triple jumps, interesting spins, and his trademark lightning-fast footwork.

"It was a lot of fun," Lysacek remarked after the show. "The music was definitely a departure for me, but a good departure. I think that it allowed me to show a different dimension to my skating."

Former American champion Weiss agreed with Lysacek.

"I have always liked James Morrison's music," Weiss stated after he finished his "You Make it Real" program. " But I didn't know this song. After listening to the music, I realized that this is something that I might use again. I just brought something more to my skating."

Sasha Cohen wasn't as successful in remembering her program but covered so well that the audience wouldn't have been the wiser if she hadn't admitted that she invented a new program right before their eyes.

"I had a whole other program planned," Cohen said with a giggle after her program to Taylor Swift's hit "You Belong With Me." "And something else just happened. So, I just smiled and went with it."

Though Cohen struggled somewhat with her jumps in both programs, all of her other elements looked stronger.

The Olympic silver medalist was ecstatic when she drew the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" for her Act II performance.

"I just feel like this is the best piece of skating music you have," Cohen told frontman John Rzeznik before the show. "I'm really excited that I am skating to it, and I hope that I do you proud."

Buttle, the 2008 world champion, was pleased with both of his music selections and admitted that he felt like he was fortunate to pull music that felt like something that he would choose for himself.

"I lucked out," Buttle admitted. "All of the Goo Goo Dolls' music is great, so I knew that I was going to be safe there. But I was worried that I was going to get hip hop, so I feel extremely lucky to have selected 'Come on Get Higher' by Matt Nathanson. It's actually something that I could have selected myself."

But Buttle also admitted to a bit of nervous excitement before the show with the daunting task of putting together programs with little preparation time.

"This experience is kind of fun in that none of us knew what we were getting ourselves into," said the Canadian. "There is actually a little bit of pressure, but it is interesting fun. It's also the pressure of living up to the expectation of the live music that I want to live up to, so I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Veteran skater Kerrigan perhaps drew the evening's greatest artistic challenge in Beyonce's "Halo," a stark contrast to the normally refined Olympic medalist's skating style.

"I really don't tour anymore, so to come here and just put on the costume was a challenge for me," Kerrigan said with a giggle, much to the audience's delight.

"It's just fun to get out on the ice for the audience. I just wanted to perform well, and I gave it my all."

Act II belonged to the Goo Goo Dolls, as they performed another song from their soon-to-be released album, as well as ten of their favorites. The skaters had the difficult task of performing to the music without overshadowing the band, and each skater was perfect compliment to the Goo Goo Dolls' playlist.

World champion Bourne pulled perhaps the most appropriate song choice of the night, drawing the Goo Goo Dolls' hit "Slide," to which she showed about 50 new ways to use a skate blade. Bourne won over the band with her performance, and had Rzeznik stifling his laughter at her playfulness at one point in the program.

Rochette skated to another Goo Goo Dolls' classic "Broadway" with her trademark elegance, while world champion Browning lived out a lifelong fantasy in both of his programs. At the end of his Act I "Say Hey" (Michael Franti and Spearhead) program, Browning took to the concert stage and grabbed the microphone in a classic rock star pose. To close his Act II program, Browning joined the band on stage, and hugged Rzeznik much to Rzeznik's surprise.

"I closed my mind and opened my toes, and out it flows." Browning said with his typical sense of humor. "I got to be a rock star tonight!"

Improv-Ice will be broadcasted on Christmas Day on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.