As a manic Asian skating fan, I couldn’t stop tracing the oriental features in the world of skating dominated mainly by western culture. Although there is an array of programs that are inspired by Asian culture, most of them fall under the categories of warhorses like Miss Saigon and Madama Butterfly. Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to these pieces. But they are just too overrepresented. In the following, I hope I can show some of my favorite masterworks in figure skating that incorporate oriental aesthetics.
“Spring Breeze” – Chen Lu
Speaking of the legendary world champion, Chen Lu, “Spring Breeze” is probably the last work that would come up to people’s minds. This Chinese pioneer skater has countless classic programs such as “The Last Emperor”, “Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2”, and “Butterfly Lovers”, that fans almost forget about this masterful program with the famous Taiwanese folk song, “Spring Breeze”.
True to the title of this music, the program choreography was designed to present the exquisiteness and gentleness of Chen’s upper body movement. Like many choreographers back in those good old days, Sandra Bezic tried to keep the choreography neat and clean without depriving the implicit beauty of oriental aesthetics.
It’s true that new skating fans might feel adverse to technical deficiencies under the 6.0 judging system. But I’m sure that no one would deny that it is a breathtaking performance when they see this 20-year-old skater glide on the ice rink with such gracefulness.
“Homage to Korea’ – Kim Yuna
This sensation and pure art performed by “Queen Yuna”, one of the most revered athletes in this sport, is undoubtedly the most successful redemption of Korean folk song “Arirang” on ice. David Wilson, a genius choreographer who has worked with Kim since she was 16, delivered another unique and inspirational program featuring many symbolic traditional Korean dance gestures.
This program has only been skated once in the competition due to Kim’s busy schedule of being a bid ambassador for the Pyeongchang 2018 Games at the time. And it is far from perfection in terms of technique compared to her other gold-winning programs due to two major flaws. Yet it still becomes one of the most favored programs to many skating fans. Scores become mere numbers when the skater can win audiences’ hearts with every single delicate move. The moment when the Queen stretched her body doing the spiral sequence, looking up with a beaming smile, many audiences burst into tears with pride and sentimentality.
As the first Korean skater ever to win the Olympic gold medal and the first figure skater to achieve a Career Super Grand Slam, Yuna Kim has already become a partial embodiment of Korean spirit and culture. There would be hardly anything more mesmerizing to Koreans than Yuna Kim skating her “love letter” to her homeland.
“Seimei” – Yuzuru Hanyu
The most searched figure skater in recent years is likely Yuzuru Hanyu, the first male Asian skater to win the title of Olympic champion, and a living legend who continues compelling audiences and his fans in the ice arena. “Seimei” is considered by many as Hanyu’s most iconic program. He personally adores it and has skated it for three seasons including the most important 2017-2018 season when he got his second gold medal at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games.
The music of “Seimei” is chosen from the Japanese fantasy movie “Onmyoji”, which tells the story of an exploit of famed, onmyōji Abe no Seimei.
Skating to “Seimei” is Yuzuru’s own idea and it surprises its choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne. And in an interview with JapanTimes, she admitted that it’s not something she would have found unless she had really immersed herself into the Japanese culture. Using pieces of music from an Asian film that has little recognition among western judges and audiences would be risky since it might affect program component scores if the choreographer failed to deliver the message.
It turned out to be the masterpiece we see today with a joint effort from Hanyu and Shae-Lynn. As the sound of breathing recorded by Hanyu himself releases in the arena, the skater moves as if he were the movie character himself, spelling his own magic on the audience with his crossovers and rockets.
“Yugao from the Tale of Genji” – Arakawa Shizuka
Arakawa Shizuka is often an underappreciated skater despite being the first Asian skater to win the Olympic gold in 2006. Some critics might downplay her techniques due to her reserved tactics that helped her win in the 2006 Olympics when all her major rivals made huge mistakes. But judging from her previous trial for the triple-lutz and triple-loop combination which is still commonly used today by top skaters and all those high-quality spins and spirals, she deserves much more respect and recognition.
Apart from her most iconic element of “Ina Bauer”, she’s also blessed with dazzling artistry and musicality that any artistic skater possesses. She can bring various styles of music to life. Whether it’s tango, flamenco, or opera, her performances are always classy and convincing.
This “Yugao from the Tale of Genji” is definitely a must-watch program if you can only watch one program of Shizuka. Even if you haven’t read the classic Japanese literature “Tale of Genji”, it wouldn’t make you feel anything less from the plaintive fate of “Yugao”, one of the female characters in the story.