By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
The 2019 Stars on Ice tour presented by Musselman’s skated through Everett in May. The theme was “Unity” — written in large, rainbow-colored letters on the program cover. The performance line-up appeared to pay tribute through its costuming and choreography to the LGBTQ community and working Americans.
The show’s cast included award-winning, record-setting Asian American skaters Alex and Maia Shibutani, Mirai Nagasu, and Nathan Chen.
The theme of unity was present in the conversation of the skaters pre-show, who were generous in their acknowledgment of the legacy of previous skaters, such as Scott Hamilton (co-founder of Stars on Ice), Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, and Brian Boitano, while also speaking warmly of the connections they have formed with their peers and audiences around the world.
“It’s a huge honor to be a part of Stars on Ice. It’s got such an incredible history of amazing skaters,” said Maia Shibutani, the sister half of “The ShibSibs,” the first U.S. sibling team to win a medal in the Olympics, scoring two bronzes at PyeongChang, South Korea in 2018. Speaking of the guidance they have had and the friendships they have made, Alex, her brother, commented, “It’s really great how this iconic generation of skaters has made themselves available to mentor and support upcoming skaters, and we try to do the same…and not just U.S. skaters, but international skaters as well, because the skating community is a global one.”
Nagasu, who made history for being the only woman so far besides Tonya Harding to accomplish the triple axel during competition, spoke to the unity of the cast of the show.
“I really enjoy that when I’m here, I’m skating with my competitors and I get to know them, instead of just faces that I want to compete against and beat,” she laughs. “They become my friends because there isn’t anyone else who truly understands the sport of figure skating like your competitors.”
The show gave the audience the heart-thumping fun expected from Stars on Ice, with impressive moves, dazzling outfits, and breathtaking routines that matched perfectly with the music. Chen, “The Quad King,” entered to roars of applause, and Jeremy Abbott executed a back flip that took the air out of the room. Transitions, where offgoing cast welcomed the oncoming, helped solidify the overall theme.
There were elements of nostalgia, heartbreak, diversity awareness, and appreciation for workers. Queen was honored more than once with medleys and Freddie Mercury-style outfits. The first half was a tribute to the MTV era. The second half infused tradition with moving classical numbers. In a group number, members of the cast wore rainbow-colored tie-dye. In another, they dressed as both blue- and white-collar workers. Romantic couples’ dances took viewers to a dream world of floating on ice.
Both the ShibSibs and Nagasu gave voice to the artistry and hard work involved in the show. “There are a lot of things that people don’t see,” explained Maia, “which is the creative process, and developing and training very hard…we really thrive when there’s that pressure and ability to perform and share something with an audience.” She continued, “We’re both driven people, and so we’re always pushing ourselves to improve. There’s something so special that figure skating has where you can really blend storytelling and artistry with athleticism, so I think that it works well with our competitive nature while also allowing us to be very creative.”
Nagasu also described the unique way in which figure skating combines athletics, dance, and art.
“It’s not like any other sport at all. It’s really a performing art that we put rules to — and I love that because I like seeing where I rank, and I like that when I pull up a protocol, I can see where I can improve and it’s all written down for me. It’s not always easy.” Alex agreed, “It’s that balance between being process-oriented and then also goal-oriented, and having the ability to deliver under — I wouldn’t say immense pressure, because there are far more high pressure experiences that people experience in life — but given the amount of time that we commit to our practice and our preparation, and in a 3-minute or 4-minute routine being able to deliver that is something that we enjoy and take pride in.”
Like other athletes and dancers, figure skaters spend hours each day preparing for a show or competition. There is a tremendous amount of responsibility they take on, knowing who is watching and looking up to them.
“We represent our family and our parents, our trusted group of coaches and friends and advisers that are really with us on this journey, but then…we represent the United States and I guess to a lesser extent, or equal extent, the Asian American community,” said Alex, who along with his sister recognized that first they represent each other. “It started with the two of us.” Maia spoke of the sense of magic that still inspires.
“I think a lot of it goes back to the pure reason why we started, which is just the amazing feeling that we have.”
“I’m really lucky that I found a sport that I really enjoy that’s great for my health and is something that I’m really passionate about,” echoed Nagasu. “The great thing about being an American is that we’re all representative of different cultures.
Although I feel a connection to Japan, I also feel a strong connection to being Japanese American. To represent the Asian American community is really important to me because I grew up not seeing people who looked like me on television, especially in sports. Asian Americans, we’re always told that we need to be more book smart than athletic, so for me, it’s really important to me to represent my sport and to represent the kids who want to be dreamers.”
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.