the debut of carmen

i still remember the first time i saw carmen. i had actually been hoping to hold off until the free dance, but after opening the first skate canada practice link for the sake of this blog, i let the video play and found myself watching what would become my favourite version of the dance.

between the command with which tessa and scott entered their starting pose, the intensity on her face as she ran her hand over his spine and the piercing opening notes, i was stunned. this ... this was the type of program that i had only heard was possible. i sat there as a fan, so proud—and really, i stood because after scott's eyes grew dark and he kicked the ice with such force that he sent that massive note blaring through my speakers, i literally jumped up and gasped, "oh my god!". this dance was so hot, so intense, so raw that i couldn't stop watching. when the runthrough was done, that video was on repeat for the rest of the night and the more i rewatched this perfect combination of modern dance and bladework, the more my amazement grew. even the little choreographic moments blew me away, like the way scott turned a simple dance hold into an act of control and bondage, binding her wrists together, before tessa snapped them out of his hands and regained control, timing her move to a beat in the music that could have been easily overlooked. in her i realized in carmen's real feminine power, one that could destroy even the strongest man.

during this time, they weren't the only ones on the practice ice. if you watch the video i'm referring to, you'll see kharis ralph and her partner on the ice with them. in fact, it seems like they had just finished their routine before tessa and scott settled in to skate. kharis later tweeted this about the experience:


melanie hoyt was also at the practice arena and later wrote over at ice-dance.com, in a post entitled brought to you by insomnia, that "i have to mention tessa virtue and scott moir first, since i had definitely been a bit of a skeptic in regards to their carmen free dance. [really, everyone was shocked that they had picked this music since it was so overused.] friends, i am not a skeptic anymore. even just seeing pieces of that program from the 'wrong' side of the rink, i think that program is going to be incredible. i can definitely [see] the influence from an outside choreographer—they have a lot of new movements in this piece—and the lifts are mind-blowing." after seeing carmen in competition and hearing the reactions around her, she wrote another blog called a day of free skates to tell us that "everyone is talking about tessa virtue and scott moir’s free dance, and all i have to add is that they really surprised me. i wasn’t expecting to like their free dance, but i think it’s fantastic. it needs more time and perhaps a few tweaks (and some colour on her dress, please?), but what a way to start the year."

elena vaitsekhovskaya, a russian journalist, said here (translated here on fsu by quiqie) that the competition version of carmen blew her mind. to her, you had to empty yourself of carmen stereotypes, "red dress, skirt flapping, foot stomping", because you were not going to find any of that here. elena actually had to rewatch the video to truly take it in.

she went on to write: "the famous hollywood director zalman king, who directed the scandalous 'wild orchid' more than twenty years ago, once said in an interview something along these lines: a true passion in real life rarely looks attractive to the audience. and the most difficult [thing] for the director planning to portray a love story is to make erotic scenes look beautiful and authentic. the line between beautiful and vulgar in art is too thin. the dance choreograped by zoueva is balancing on this line from the beginning to the end. it is packed with non-random gestures and the most complex, unexpected, specially contrived elements, that will became stronger and stronger as the program gets more mileage. now one cannot fully appreciate it—there are too many little mistakes, but i have no doubt that virtue and moir's carmen will became a main event at the world championships in london, canada."

she continues, "only now, after the premiere, it's clear that for many years zoueva masterfully led tessa and scott to their carmen as an experienced director leads already established big actors for the main role in their lives. such programs usually make you think with mild annoyance: 'why now? why not in the olympic year?' perhaps there is also hidden reasoning behind. i can, of course, be wrong, but i believe that in case of perfect skate of such a great program no other ice dancing team in the world could came close to the canadians. and in this case, it is unlikely that judges will have any doubt as to who should become a world champion this year and win the olympics the next."

looking back, "immediately after shpilband and zoueva had parted, most voiced-in-the-press comments boiled down to the conclusion that the termination of their collaboration will negatively affect the skaters. and thanks to that, others will get a chance to close the gap to the leaders. carmen, choreographed by zoueva for the olympic champions, suggests rather the opposite. that if a strong and confident woman wants to prove something to somebody, she will do it. no matter how much effort it will cost. in fact, the dance that has shaken up the world of ice dance [tessa ands scott's carmen!] is about this, too."

pj kwong, writing for the cbc here, said "technically very intricate and artistically off the charts, tessa and scott credit modern dance choreographer jennifer swan along with marina zueva with helping them shape their vision. the happy by-product is that this program is so good that we now won't be able to think about carmen without imagining virtue and moir. i'm hoping this music will be ruined for anybody else's use in skating like bolero [because of torvil and dean], love story [because of jamie and david] and casablanca [because of kurt] have been. talk about killing two birds with one stone!"

alexandra stevenson at ice skating international wrote in this event summary that "tessa virtue, 23, and scott moir, 25, canada, presented a wonderfully intense four-minute-ten-second mesmerizing creation that edged their skating to new heights in audience communication. their interpretation was on a heated, heightened emotional plateau that almost melted the ice."

an italian journalist called this carmen "gothic", "innovative", "sublime", "senusal" and "explicit". i wasn't able to get a proper translation, but i surmissed from google translator that the journalist mentioned how much care was put into the program and admired their desire to be different.

praise even came from the upper echelons of the ice dance patheon. maxim stavisky, a two-time world ice dance champion with albena denkova, said in an articled entitled maxim staviski: only with pure skating it is possible to fight against refereeing (translated for me via email by my twitter friend alexandra) that "i like their free dance based on carmen. there have been many attempts to present a classic theme in certain modern way. such things are not always acceptable, especially when we're used to the classics and any other interpretation looks, let's say, unusual. it gets uncomfortable. but in the canadian's choreography, you can see their own approach and their own vision. it has maybe more sexuality, more rough movements for tessa and unnatural positions in dance [than we're used to]. it was a very interesting dance to watch. and i can't even say that virtue and moir performed all elements as they should be done. i consider them the leaders today. they are strongest in choreography and skating."

"you cannot go out the first time and perform a program like that error free. the risks that they have in this program -- oh my goodness, i am blown away by it. yeah, a little bit rough in places but i don't think i've ever been as excited by a free dance as i am by this carmen." tracy wilson

"wow. from the oft, she was carmen. ... sensuous, languid, tempting, seductive. i forgot to watch the elements. the difficulty and the danger of those elements going wrong. a couple of glitches perhaps, but my god they acted the part. she's spectacular in this. it's the best carmen on ice i've ever seen." eurosport guys.

and let's not forget the way the practice video ignited the forums. other tessa and scott fans were fanning themselves, positively giddy, because this carmen was so, so hot. over at fsu, sarahararainfall cried, "oh my. sweet mother and child" and bue was stunned: "holy hell, the last minute of the program! the lifts!" golightly pointed out that, "steaminess aside, this is a SOUND program. carmen is destructive lust and pure madness. you cannot hint at things with carmen, you must do them. it is complex as hell and the movements just show you that. i know it is tough not to focus on the characters, but let's talk about the step sequences? so glorious." and varbar wrote, "finally a program which is choreographically worthy of tessa and scott's talent and skills. i'd been waiting for it to come up ever since umbrellas and pink floyd." many forum commentors who had previously complained that tessa and scott could only skate to romantic schtick were thoroughly and completely satisfied. that night was epic and i can't help but grin when i recall it.

yes, there were critics, like sonia bianchetti garbato writing for ice skating international, who wanted those stereotypes that elena wrote of, namely the carmen and don josé that anna and luca portrayed. but even she had to tip her hat to tessa and scott's undeniable mastery. "there is no doubt that the canadians technically were superior but from the artistic point of view, i must say that for me anna and luca were the best. anyhow, i found them both breathtaking."

not only do i remember my original thoughts about carmen, but i also remember the original reaction. and i want to make note of it. actually, i want to underline it, circle it and tap my pen against this white scroll for emphasis. lest we forget, when people saw first it with fresh eyes and had nothing guiding their opinions but their emotions and expectations about what the highest level of ice dance requires, this was how they reacted. even in its early season rawness, fellow skaters, photographers, figure skating fans and journalists gave it unequivocal praise. to them, it wasn't a mistake nor was it anything short of brilliant.