|Coach/choreographers evaluate skaters to inform their choices of music and choreography for the coming season. Because skaters' programmes need to be choreographed so far in advance evaluations are also instrumental in goal setting both technically and artistically. Goals must be established so an appropriate vehicle can be chosen to help the skater achieve them. Evaluations of skaters include:
1. Technical Skill
4. Energy systems
8. History- (choking, injury)
9. Time & money
But there are more factors to be taken into consideration than just the potential of the skater. A Coach/Choreographer must also evaluate her own:
6. Relationship with the skater
The type of programme needed should also be considered. There are 'Art' programmes such as those sometimes found in shows and 'Sport' programmes which are found in competitions. Each may inform the other and certain elements may contribute to both but attempts to satisfy both in one performance will almost certainly fail; their aims are too diverse.
Sport programmes are constrained by rules. Rules mean limitations in movement choices. STARSkate rules include:
"(I) Harmonious Composition and Conformity with the Music...a programme planned and skated in time to
the music shall receive a higher rating than a similar program to which the music is incidental...the
program as a whole shall be in conformity with the music chosen.
(iv) Easy Movement and Sureness in Time to the Music...the high points in the programme should be
placed to coincide with the high points in the music. Rhythm and easy movements to the music shall be observed.
(vii) Expression of the Character of the Music."1 (no further detail provided)
These rules assume that music selection comes first and indicate a preference for programmes that match the music. Although the music is almost always chosen before the choreography takes place it is the skater's evaluation that determines what music is chosen. The skater and the skater's style are the real motivation for the musical choice and the programme's design. Music is used to support the skater's presentation of skill, it is not chosen arbitrarily for the purpose of being interpreted.
Art programmes have many more options- the length of the piece, the subject and the performer for that matter, whether the movement will be in keeping with the period and/or quality of the music and how the movements will relate to the composer’s treatment and development of the score. These choices allow for a juxtaposition of music and movement to make a statement different to the musical or movement statement alone. When movement consciously runs counter to the music an entirely new experience can be created- one that may be much more than a mere musical interpretation. Such programmes have the capacity to explain feeling. These feelings are to be contemplated though which is not the same as feeling humour and pity from watching a pathetic or wretched performance.
A choreographer’s inspiration is wide and varied. A work of art, a musical composition, nature, emotions, literature, poetry, theatre, national customs, history or human movement itself may inspire her. Not all sources of inspiration, however artful themselves, transfer well to the competitive setting. Consider the circumstances in which the performance takes place. A contest is held in which each skater has, in turn, a maximum of 4˝ minutes to convince the judges that his performance merits the highest marks. In that time he must demonstrate speed, power, grace, agility, flexibility, strength, co-ordination, endurance, balance, rhythm, efficiency, vitality and fortitude. When a performer chooses to present his technical repertoire in a programme that portrays a weak character he is likely to undermine his technical skill and be unsuccessful in his artistic aspiration. Psychology does not transfer well to the competitive setting. Interpretations of weak characters do not make sense if they are executed with the command and authority the contest requires. Which is precisely why figure skaters have such a long tradition of heroes, goddesses and imps.
These characters allow skaters to present themselves in keeping with the competitive reality where success is measured by the strength, grace and virtuosity of the performance. Unfortunately many skaters unintentionally drift into stereotypes - two-dimensional, melodramatic superheroes, fair maidens and clowns. These choices thwart artistic success when skaters confuse them with legitimate portrayals of heroes, goddesses and imps and when performed by well-known skaters they diminish the sport’s reputation as a vehicle for artistic expression. Types have life. Stereotypes however, are devoid of life and conflict with the vitality of the performance.
Free skating programmes are of three basic types- programmes based on stories; programmes based on external themes and pure skating programmes.
Programmes Based on Stories
These programmes are more successful when an extended period of time is available and complete artistic freedom is allowed such as in shows and television specials. In such a format they can take advantage of any skaters, sets, time, costumes, props or lighting necessary to reveal the plot and characters or retell them as desired. Stories are best told in their entirety. Condensed versions such as those sometimes attempted in competitive performances can become inscrutable. The time limit of these programmes is insufficient to actually tell the story and so the performance becomes confusing as a series of unrelated actions and reactions are presented without any discernible motivation. This is one avenue for stereotyping.
Excerpting characters is usually a more successful approach to popular movies and stories but can become sentimental walks down memory lane if all they do is review the original plot. Most of the ammunition these programmes pack is in the viewer’s memory so they rely heavily on the choice of music and costumes and gesture. Because strict adherence to the original treatment facilitates recognition, skaters must subordinate themselves to that image. They usually salute rather than develop the character. Bringing popular icons to life appeals to many audiences and some judges and so they are often hailed as great entertainment. Although individual competitive performances must provide immediate gratification there are other ways to achieve it.
Programmes Based on External Themes
These lend themselves better to performances of short duration like competitive performances because they are quickly understood. An external theme somewhat limits movement choices but it can also focus the performance of a skater with limited expressive ability. An external theme is recognizable immediately through the choice of music, costume and introductory steps and in good programmes is further revealed through the development of the movement. The theme can come from a variety of sources-folk dances, dance styles, the world of fantasy, games and pastimes or moods and more. It is usually quite well known and so generates a lot of audience involvement and empathy. An external theme is useful for a skater who need help capturing and retaining the attention of the audience. Done well they can reach well beyond this to extend audience’s appreciation of the theme. When done poorly they can degenerate into cliches and confusion.
Competitive figure skating performances with technical and artistic parameters do not exist solely to render a theme. What they can do though is use the theme to inform the performance, unite it and provide a common well-spring for the movement. Themes in keeping with the sports experience are more successful. Denying the sport experience often means dismissing that which is potentially best in the performance. Themes that rely too heavily on illusion or intellect in conflict with the ongoing sporting reality usually fail because the gap is too great to bridge. Skaters are advised to reserve their political and social commentary for a more conducive environment.
Pure Skating Programmes
When a choreographer wants to make a statement about skating or a skater with the support of a piece of music she creates a pure skating programme. The theme that holds and defines this type of programme is not outwardly apparent through costumes and makeup or even the music. It is revealed as the programme unfolds through the choice of movement and its juxtaposition to the music. Pure skating programmes are excellent vehicles for showcasing excellent skating. They require a high degree of proficiency from the skater and the choreographer and a commitment to artistic excellence because, if they are to be successful, they must display exquisite musical understanding as well as flawless skating. Some, however, are so complex they fail to convey their message- they are inaccessible and therefore, failures. Sometimes this complexity is born out of a tendency to want to say too much; other times, the programme includes superfluous moves just to prove one’s ability to execute them. This actually creates a form of technical rather than artistic programme.
The choice to use a program based on stories, external themes or pure skating will be somewhat influenced by whether it is a long or a short programme. Programmes based on stories have more chance of success in a long programme. They are not often well suited to short programmes because the length of time necessary to develop the plot or character, even an excerpt, conflicts with the amount of time available and may interfere with the main objective of the event- the presentation of technical elements. Programmes based on external themes can work in a long programme but must develop the material or they can become boring. A pure skating programme is an excellent option for a Long programme because it gives the most time and the least restrictions in developing the choreographic statement. Pure skating programmes are also an excellent choice for a Short. Programmes based on external themes and pure skating programmes are well suited to provide a framework for the technical elements.
Accurate and ongoing evaluations of the skater and his performances should guide the choice and treatment of all programmes.
1 Skate Canada. Skate Canada Rule Book. Revised Edition 2001