Tuesday, September 6, 2016

18. Tango, Pt. 1: The Compulsories

The tango is so ingrained over nine decades of ice dance that in terms of sheer scope, it's too daunting to tackle as a single post. And so we'll begin instead with the fundamentals of tango on ice -- and progress from there.

It's lent its stylings to two senior compulsory patterns, arisen in five seasons for original dance usage -- and once as a secondary short dance rhythm, one of those topics we'll discuss at another time -- and otherwise functioned as the focus of countless more free dances. Of all specific partner dances, none can be more relied upon to appear annually than the tango.

The Argentine Tango compulsory, and its fellow far rarer Tango compulsory, date to that 1930s spell of compulsory development, as the two-decades-long craze for organized partner dance hit the ice. The Argentine tango proper had in fact become something of an international sensation in this period, making this a reasonably timely adaptation -- though, ironically, concurrent with the dance's temporary decline in its actual South American homeland.

The compulsory dance is meant to emulate its counterpart with "sinuous" quality, "skated with strong edges and considerable elan." It's tough to be sure which specific Argentine tango should best inform a skated pattern; certainly distinctions can be noted just between Argentine dance as a genuine street dance and the polished show style presented by professional champions Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone:



Yet another example would come via the fairly formalized competitive level of Argentine tango, though such examples as available on YouTube are hit and miss in terms of either video quality or video-friendly dynamism as compared with other types. Regardless, what tends to separate street from stage and floor is that more casual quality; the footplay and ganchos are present, but the hold is a bit looser, the pace a bit more spontaneous. This basic tutorial video covers some primary figures and steps; Wikipedia is useful for a more detailed overview of movements you'll easily recognize.

The Argentine compulsory is strikingly different from the dance by immediate means of its frequent open, non-face-to-face hold; a related lack of footwork interplay also signals the distinctions. But in sections like the interdependent steps from 0:54-0:56 and 1:28-1:31 in this skate from Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, there is some sense of tango's footwork:


But it's a very rare Argentine compulsory that includes a touch of in-pattern embellishment to reference the dance's footplay -- and fittingly, it comes in the last-ever skate of the pattern at an elite senior event:


Watch those feet at 0:53 and 1:28; you won't see those motions in other couples' presentations, and it's no accident here.

The other major tango compulsory, the Tango Romantica, was born of Ludmilla Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov's 1973-74 original set pattern dance. No video appears to exist of the dance as competed, but this very early 1980 compulsory outing from Natalia Linichuk and Gennedi Karponosov -- coached, as noted by commentator Debbi Wilkes at the top, by Romantica creator Elena Tchaikovskaia -- demonstrates how significantly the formal trappings of '70s and early '80s era ice dance suggests the feel of ballroom tango far more than Argentine:


While a multiple-compulsory-per-event need for versatile costuming helping to preserve this ballroom aspect well into the '90s, as demonstrated in 1992 and 1996, things began to shift in the IJS era. And by the compulsory's final outing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, here skated by segment leaders Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, we can see how much the Argentine "feel" had slipped in despite no change to the pattern proper:


Next time: The Choreographed Tango

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Special Topic: A Manifesto on Opinion

I have in the past year become more comfortable at publicly venturing opinions of a skating nature while continuing my work as a journalist of the sport. Though I never hope to hurt feelings -- and I will generally avoid offering negative views explicitly aimed at a team or choreographer on the basis purely of personal taste, and avoid strong opinion in event coverage, analysis and features unless identified as opinion-based -- there are a few reasons why I will defend the overall practice.

1. In traditional sports journalism, from basketball to tennis, it's certainly the norm, if not actively encouraged, to challenge play strategies or starting line-ups and rotations. Music and choreography are among skating, and especially ice dance's, versions of that.

2. And because I also cover skating from an aesthetic angle, room for subjective criticism is equally permissible. I believe strongly in use of music to its maximum effect and demonstrations of close skating unless demanded otherwise by a style; choreography that overlooks musical nuance in favor of lyrics and merely overt highlights or uses openness for no justified reason is something of which I have and will take a much dimmer view.

3. I will never posit that because I may not like a song or piece of choreography, that by default means the team in question should be scored less for the program in question, as though my preferences are in any way arbiters of objective quality. Last season, one of my least favorite free dances came from one of the teams I most respect; my taste judgment (and feeling, perhaps, that the material failed to provide a proper showcase -- more on that below) did not in any way mitigate their skill set or my belief in the marks they should merit based on what was demonstrated of their ability.

Likewise, as I've touched on previously, a team should never be scored for "spellbinding" quality over and against all other PCS criteria that are rooted more in reasonably objective technical assessments -- let alone receive any significant TES bump in such a scenario.

But I would venture to argue that music and choreography can help or hurt a team -- if judges are convinced a team is one-note, if choreography fails to highlight a team's best attributes as technicians or performers, if music doesn't present enough opportunity to showcase a team's dance ability. Improper choices can sometimes mean anything from deductions for a mismatched rhythm to feedback that demands a program overhaul. Ultimately, that's why music and choreography are open for criticism: they are part and parcel of outcome in this sport of skating.