Can Seal Make Figure Skating Cool?

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Ed. note: Last night, the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., hosted “The Music Of Seal On Ice,” which would bring together the songs of the deep-voiced, Heidi Klum-attached crooner and the ice-skating prowess of Brian Boitano, Todd Eldredge, and Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman (who look like they’re attacking Seal with Ina’s skate above). And lucky for us, former Idolator guestblogger Maria Sciarrino happens to be an expert on both figure skating and pop music, so we bundled her up and sent her down to the nation’s capital for a report on just what would happen when one tried to combine a Seal concert with a few jumps and spins on the ice.

Around 4 p.m. yesterday I was dealing with the fact that I was not going to see “The Music of Seal on Ice,” a benefit for Autism Speaks that’ll air on TV next month, down in D.C. Tickets appeared to have sold out and Craiglist’s scalpers were asking upwards of $300. (This was “Seal on Ice,” not the Arcade Fire at Randall’s Island!) But then, the gods of figure skating (Bill Klingbeil, perhaps?) smiled upon me and within minutes I was in a car, hoping the notoriously awful D.C. traffic wouldn’t thwart this opportunity to marry two of my hobbies: figure skating and music. The two have a strange relationship. Figure skating is a sport that originated with royalty, and is now commonly associated with well-to-do families; so it comes as no surprise when the sport carts out music deeply coded with privilege. It’s probably the only place George Bizet’s Carmen is continously touted as cool and inspiring, where “trends” are thirty years behind the curve.

Even though the phrase “Seal on Ice” sounds ridiculous (even moreso to me; I IMed Maura this phrase endlessly over the past two days, mostly in caps), last night’s performance–featuring, among others, Olympic gold medalists Brian Boitano and Kristi Yamaguchi–combined skating’s stodgy-yet-luminescent demeanor and an artist known for brooding, uneasy music with mostly successful results. First of all, it sounded good; the Verizon Center managed to avoid the tinny, canned sound design of most rinks. More importantly, the choreography avoided overloading skaters with jumps and other bombastic gestures (except for Michael Weiss, who must be overcompensating for something given his backflip-laden performance), opting for moves that matched the music’s muted nature. Performers like Boitano and Todd Eldredge (swoon) were impressive, but Caryn Kadavy and Yuka Sato’s programs achieved breathtaking symbiosis with the darker moments in Seal’s songs. Their strong control over their speed and power really separated them from the pack. Also impressive was the smoky performance of Silvia Fontana and John Zimmerman, whom many might recall from an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. There were a few moments of somewhat blah choreography, but I have a feeling it worked well for the camera.

Which is important, because last night was taped for television (first broadcast goes to NBC, then to the Style Network). So there were small gaps for editing in commercials, recording extra audience applause, and retakes. (Yes, retakes. This explains why you never see skaters fall on televised programs; at the end of the performance, producers make any skaters who flubbed their program re-skate any segments that contained errors.) Taped programs are filmed on smaller rinks to make it seem like skaters are covering large expanses of ice quickly (even if they’re moving a bit slower than usual) and to conserve their energy. But it’s still pretty fun; a lot happens in these situations that never make it to the final cut, like crazed fans being held back by security when they try to climb on the ice to give Kristi Yamaguchi flowers, or a cheering/heckling section for Michael Weiss getting a little overzealous, or Seal performing extra takes of particular songs (and hamming it up even more).

Seal sang five songs (“Wedding Day,” “Kiss From A Rose,” “Crazy,” “System,” and “Don’t Cry”); otherwise, the skaters performed to recorded tracks. And even though the show was all scripted and stuff, I was impressed with Seal’s decision to handle vocal duties live. There were some backing tracks, but otherwise it was all him. The biggest, most hilarious, and unfortunately never-to-be-televised moment came during “Don’t Cry,” which featured Brian Boitano. When the music started up, Seal’s microphone wasn’t on, and he was completely unaware of the situation due to his in-ear monitors. Just like a scene plucked from South Park, Brian saved the day by going up to Seal and tapping him on the shoulder to let him know the mic was dead. And then that happened two more times, causing the Michael Weiss hecklers to scream “WHAT WOULD BRIAN BOITANO DO?!?!” I came this close to wetting my pants from laughing so hard. Confidential to the companies who produce skating events: I really hope you’ll consider putting these bloopers on DVD, because they are too hilarious to leave on the cutting room floor.

As for those hecklers: typically I would try and find cameraphone so as to include them in “Hey Asshole!,” but those crazy fans really kept the audience energy up when the scripted pauses threatened to break up the show’s flow. Best line of the night to rise out of the crowd, right before the start of Yuka Sato’s program: “You sparkle so well!” All of last night’s other performers–who were up to the task of transforming the moodiness of Seal into something quite effortless–did, too.

[Photo: Carrie Devorah / WENN]

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