World Champion and two-time Japanese Ladies Champion Yuka Sato, left, will pairs skate with two-time reigning U.S. National Champion and 2010 Olympian Jeremy Abbott with Stars on Ice on May 9 at the Xcel.
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Yuka Sato has a new perspective and greater appreciation for her place in professional figure skating.
After six years of competing as an amateur – winning the 1994 World Championships, making two Olympic appearances; then 16 years as a professional skater, eight of them with Stars on Ice, Sato has spent most of the past year as a coach and steps back onto the rink because of her respect for the Stars on Ice tour.
“I really appreciate the skill of the skating and the quality of the performance,” said Sato. “That only comes in time with the mileage and the experiences which I do have and I still feel like I have a lot to offer.”
Ms. Sato, in a call from a tour stop in Hershey, Pennsylvania last Friday, said the 2010 tour is different and exciting for many reasons, and not to miss them in St. Paul on May 9, 4:00 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.
Sato has many versatile roles in this year’s show, with the theme, “Concert”, with the concept of a very live show where the skaters talk to the audience directly at points, said Sato. One of those surprises will be a guitar playing Olympian Benjamin Agosto showing another side of his many talents.
Sato has two solo performances. She was immediately drawn to the percussions of a contemporary version of ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing’, by Club des Belugas, and spoke to choreographers Cindy Stuart and Renee Roca about making it a really fun performance.
“I still love it, and I love performing it, and each time it gets better,” she said.
In her second solo, Sato chose the timeless Debussy classic, ‘Clair de Lune’.
“I’ve always thought that this would be a good piece for me to skate to since I turned pro 16 years ago,” she said, adding that she put it aside until she could internalize the music and skate to it in her own way.
“Going into this season, I felt like I was finally ready to pull this out and my choreographer brought the music,” she added. “I always liked this music anyway and I thought this might be a really special piece for me to skate to this year.”
To open the second act, Sato is joined by Jeremy Abbott, Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss in “War”, which is music from the James Newton Howard soundtrack to the motion picture, “Duplicity” that was give a special revision for skating.
The eclectic but upbeat song could be described as James Bond with an added brass section, electric guitar and a Gypsy violin. She said the choreography has not been attempted before this tour and that it involves the three male skaters building on one-another’s footwork until Sato comes in for “a big skate” at the end.
“I think this is a really cool idea and I feel that the collaboration of the four of us and the styles of the skating really work well with this kind of a show,” she said.
One of the ensemble pieces, “Rock the Runway” has garnered the biggest ovations in the show so far, according to Sato, for its vivid costumes and skating to upbeat music. Other cast ensembles include “The Best of Times”, to the song by Dream Theater; and “I’ve Got the Music in Me” to the song by the Kiki Dee Band.
Sato is a Tokyo native who now lives in Waterford, Michigan where she coaches at the Detroit Figure Skating Club with husband Jason Dungjen, a former U.S. Pairs Champion. She had been coaching Jeremy Abbott full time prior to his appearances in the U.S. Nationals and the 2010 Olympics when she got the invitation to re-join Stars on Ice.
Sato said it was good to be invited back on the tour but that she misses her pairs partner and husband Dungjen, who has decided to continue coaching full time.
It took some time but Sato said she now has a new perspective and a greater appreciation for the beauty of skating. She cherishes each moment on the ice and with the tour. She is focused on performance but said it is now enhanced with a sense of appreciation for the opportunity she has to continue skating.
Sato, 37, said she and the older cast members understand how Stars on Ice became one of the premier family entertainment events in the United States, and attributes that to founding skater and producer Scott Hamilton.
“We have learned so much from his wisdom and experience and his appearance alone was just unreal for me, to be able to share and to watch him perform day in and day out,” said Sato. “He is just a special star quality person on the ice and off the ice.”
Sato said that early leadership model set a tone that she and the older skaters try to live up to and share with the younger cast. It was part of the reason she accepted the invitation to stay on with the tour.
“He (Hamilton) was an amazing leader, along with Kristi Yamaguchi, and those are the people I always looked up to and respected, and whatever the stuff is that I learned from them I like to really pass that along to the next generation.
The dynamics of older skaters nearing forty, skating with teenagers still in competition is a mutually beneficial experience that makes for a better tour, Sato said.
The older skaters have a lot to share with the younger skaters and are there for them as mentors. At the same time, she said the younger skaters keeps things fresh and fun with an incredible energy and passion without fear – “they just go and go and go!”
“It is something that we might have forgotten and this is a reminder,” she added. “That energy is incredible. They are so driven and just come at you like a storm!”
The tour started on April 1, 2010, just as many of the skaters returned from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. They prepared for many months leading up to the competition and bring their medal-winning style to Stars on Ice.
Other tour skaters includes 2010 Olympic Silver Medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White; 2006 Olympic Silver Medalists and 2010 Olympians Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto; and 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist Sasha Cohen. The men include past World Champion and six-time National Champion Todd Eldredge; two-time World Bronze Medalist and three-time National Champion Michael Weiss; and World Champion and 2009 U.S. National Champion Alissa Czisny.
The 2010 Olympics had some of the most memorable performances in Olympic history. Sato said that the level of figure skating has gone up tremendously and that although good coaching is important – it is not so much different as it is focusing on the things that skaters are asked to do to get the high scores.
The core of today’s top skaters can do everything to win with technical and artistic skills, with great edges, jumping skills and flexibility.
“It takes a tremendous amount of stamina and skill,” said Sato.
The top men’s champions such as Evan Lysacek and women, Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada, can accomplish the difficult routines winning the top competitions is about handling the pressure and making the fewest mistakes.
Kim Yu-Na came out on top in the Olympics because when she executes a perfect routine she is unbeatable, said Sato.
She said Masata came into 2010 with technical issues and lacked consistency in the free skate. However, when Masata put it all together she came out on top in the 2010 World Championships and the Four Continents Championships.
“Nowadays, on any given day, anybody can win,” she said. “Yao Masata is also in her prime as a competitive skater with grace, charm and personality out there – along with the jumps and the triple axel.” www.starsonice.com