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A Guide to Figure Skating's Carmen

Illustration for article titled A Guide to Figure Skatings Carmen

I mentioned during Saturday Night Social that I was spending the night watching skating programs on YouTube. Other commenters recommended other skaters. Almost all of those skaters had something in common: Carmen. There are number of musical pieces that are used repeatedly by figure skaters. Romeo and Juliet, Phantom of the Opera, and Swan Lake all come to mind. Carmen is the queen of overused songs. At least two skaters and one dance pair (Rika Hongo, Samantha Cesario, and Ilinykh/Zhiganshin) are skating to Carmen this season. Cesario has skated to Carmen twice. And no piece about ice skating and Carmen is complete without mentioning the Battle of the Carmens (pictured above). At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, top skaters Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas both skated to Carmen. Witt won the gold medal while Thomas won the bronze.


I wondered what would happen if I watched all of the Carmens. Would I understand why Carmen is so popular? Would I have the ability to pinpoint what makes a perfect Carmen program? Would I go insane? I decided to try, because I am a masochist. I found 40 programs. I watched all of them in one day. There might be more I didn't find. I made a list of the ones that I did find (with links) here.


I have observed patterns. I have gained insights. I have chosen my top Carmens. And if I ever hear Habanera again I will probably cry.

Carmen Basics

Music: Despite the fact that Carmen is a very long opera, most programs use some combination of these parts: Habanera, Toreador Song, and the finale. For most people, these are the most recognizable songs. There are outliers. Debi Thomas included music from the sweeter, more playful part of Carmen in her program, and Yuna Kim skated a program to a totally different section of Carmen.


Costumes: Costumes are almost universally red and/or black. Lace is often involved. Sometimes the men go for matador costumes. Costume's that aren't red and black stick out, like Mao Asada's orange dress, Gordeeva and Grinko's white spandex costumes with sparkly matador accents, and Victor Petrenko's lilac matador costume. Fumie Suguri's costume is black with lace, but it is notable because she's wearing pants.

Style: The two most common attitudes expressed in Carmen are sassy and tragic, sometimes in combination. Good Carmen programs are dramatic. On the sassy side there's lots of arms akimbo, sharp hand movements, even hair twirling. On the tragic side there's collapsing to the ice at the end of the program, arms outstretched, and, most commonly, dramatic stabbing motions. This can involve pretending to be stabbed (Witt, Slutskaya, Suguri, Cappellini/Lanotte, Cesario, Hongo, Aaron, Ando, and Gedevanishvili) or pretending to do the stabbing (Plushenko).


Notable Carmens

Most Attitude- Evgeni Plushenko, 2002

Look at him throw his hands in the air at 1:02. Watch him wiggle his head and flirt with the judges. See him jump before his body had to be held together with pins and hope. This is Plushenko at his finest (never forget that it was followed by this).


Most Melodramatic- Bestemianova and Bukin, 1985

They have longing reaches and pained expressions. He carries around Carmen's lifeless body for approximately twenty seconds of the program. This is over the top in a way that only Russian ice dancers can achieve.


My Favorite Carmen- Michelle Kwan, year of the pixie cut

Michelle Kwan has a great Carmen. Her program is dramatic without resorting to some of the more overused elements of Carmen programs. It's interesting to watch even when you've already heard the music 30 times. It includes her trademark inside-outside spiral. I love everything about it.


Surreal Carmen- Krylova and Ovsyannikov, 2002

I'm not sure what is happening here, but I can't stop watching it. I can't decide if I like it or not. I'm not sure if this program actually exists or if it's just the product of an Habanera fueled fever dream.


Other Notable Carmens

Most Interesting Carmen- Virtue and Moir, 2013

Happiest Carmen- Mirai Nagasu, 2010

Best Dressed Carmen- Ilinykh and Zhiganshin, 2015 (runner up, Fumie Suguri, 2005)


Worst Dressed Carmen- This is a tie between Katarina Witt, 1988 and Gordeeva and Grinkov, 1988

What do you think? Do you have a favorite Carmen? Did I miss someone? Again, a list of all the programs I watched can be found here.

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