Monday, June 7

The Six Michelle Kwan Performances You Need To See

This is my little tribute to a figure skater named Michelle Kwan. Oh, you say you're familiar with her? I'm shocked! But no, seriously. If you have been a long-time fan of the sport, I don't think any of these performances are going to be exactly brand new to your viewing eyes. I became a fan of the sport just as Michelle was coming up into the senior ranks and starting to make a name for herself, and I can tell you that these six videos could be put on YouTube replay all day long and I would never tire of them. I hope that some of the newer fans that read the blog get to experience and enjoy these programs as much as I have, and maybe some of the long-time fans can re-experience the greatness. So, here we go, in no particular order except for the last two, which tie as my absolute favorites.

1995 Skate America Free Skate - "Salome" - Yes, Michelle won her first World Championship later in the season with this very free skate, and while it was performed extremely well there, I can still remember watching this particular event like it was yesterday (some 15 years ago)! I still distinctly remember Terry Gannon in the opening segment saying something to the nature of, "I had to ask who that skater was," when referring to Michelle-- she had undergone a huge transformation over the summer of 1995. The internet was obviously not nearly as big as it is now, and I had no idea that she had completely changed her packaging and appearance. What a great first outing of Salome, including a triple toe/triple toe.

1996 World Championship Short Program - "Romanza"/"Fiesta Flamenca" - I've always really loved the choreography of this program. So much to enjoy-- the opening steps she does right to the music, starting the program with the spiral sequence, the double Axel and how she held the landing in a spiral-esque position (something we'd see often from other skaters in the future), the dynamic and crisp choreography she does at 2:15 with such an intense look on her face, the way the program builds throughout and how all of the required elements just seemed like they absolutely belonged where they were choreographed.. should I keep going? To top all of that off, the look she gives at 3:11 is just priceless. It's a look that clearly stated that she knew she had reached the top, and it would be a long while before she'd step down.

1998 National Championship Free Skate - "Lyra Angelica" - What else can you say besides: duh?! Interestingly enough, I never really enjoyed the masterpiece that this program is until I started really learning the basics behind figure skating and attempted skating myself. I always thought it was an okay program, but my 11-year-old self was all wrapped up in the spark and energy that Tara Lipinski had during the time, overshadowing my ability to really love it. That didn't remain the case for long. There's not much else to say besides the skating tells the story here. The middle section to Erik Satie's Gymnopedie piece is some of my favorite choreography ever.

2002 Olympic Games Exhibition - "Fields of Gold" - Yeah, some people can go on and on about how it might have been a poor choice for Michelle to pick a song such as Fields of Gold in an Olympic year where the gold medal turned out to be anything but predictable, but there was still a genuine sadness in this performance that could be felt by everyone-- fan or not. There is some great choreography throughout the program, but my favorite part is definitely the back spiral she does at the end, at 4:08 in this video.

And now for my two favorites..

2003 World Championship Free Skate - "Aranjuez" - 2002 was the season when many people feel Michelle's choreography started to dwindle, and I'm definitely not arguing too hard otherwise. However, there is something about her free skate from the the 2003 Worlds that gives me chills EVERY single time I watch it. I remember that my mom actually sat and watched this competition with me as it aired, and I was explaining to her that the second triple Lutz was her last jump element. The way the American crowd explodes in excitement and Dick Button loses his mind after she lands the jump adds to the magic of the moment. You can hardly hear the music throughout the footwork sequence that follows right after the jump, and the crowd is on their feet before the program is even finished. Intricate choreography or not, this program was really something special. It is definitely one of those times where I wish I wouldn't nit-pick all the little parts of the sport, and rather just sit back and enjoy the skating!

1998 World Pro Championship Interpretive Program - "East of Eden" - There is really nothing to say about this aside from BRILLIANT. "East of Eden" is one of my favorite pieces of music ever used in figure skating, and I was so glad she brought back the program for the interpretive pro-am competitions that took over the fall of 1998. Just watch it.. there is no wrong step in this program!

And there you have it. Honorable mention to some of her other performances, including exhibition skates of "Winter", "Dante's Prayer", and the recent "Winter Song" that she skated in her return last year, as well as some competitive programs such as her gold medal-winning free skate from the 2001 World Championship to "Song of the Black Swan". 


jumping clapping man said...

great selections!

only glaring omission to me is her Rach SP! i also really liked her "Red Violin" and Jewel's "Hands"

my least favorite program of hers of all time is/was "Miraculous Mandarin":

i really respect that she and Oppegard took such a risk with this music...and it was a HUGE risk. noone else at this level has skated to music like this, but it's just too heavy-handed and distracting, even to my ears...and i listen to A LOT of classical music! BUT, ick!

Anonymous said...

This brings back so many memories, I used to follow the ladies because of Michelle. I remember the excitement of watching the nationals and WC on tv when they used to broadcast them in primetime. As an Asian-American, I loved how she was portrayed by the media as an American skater. When I was little, l remember the 2nd hand embarrassment from watching Tiffany Chin having her Chinese ancestry/ roots emphasized by the media every time they profiled her during tv broadcasts.

becauseofitall said...

The thing I've noticed that similar between Yu Na and Michelle, is that neither of them looked 15 when they were 15, in a good way. Both exuded a maturity that wasn't overdone, and you get the feeling that they understood the music, that it's more than just jumps and spirals.

Anonymous said...

what about her short program from the '01 season, east of eden?? i loved the music so much, that I used it to walk down the aisle at my wedding. The music is gorgeous, the program beautiful.

Tony said...

East of Eden is the music she used in the very last video I posted. She used the music as part of her 1994 long program, her 1996 exhibition, again as her exhibition/interpretive free skate in 1998-1999, and then as a short program in 2001. The particular performance I posted, though, is definitely my favorite.