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Satin, sequins on blades; Champion skaters put style and showmanship ahead of competition in Smucker's Stars on Ice.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

Go figure. Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen's best number in the Smucker's Stars on Ice show Saturday night didn't involve skates at all. Cohen led an all-star cast of some of the finest skaters in the world into the DCU Center for a show that left the audience on its feet after the last lutz jump had been landed and the final ice-grazing spiral was spun.

For a change of pace, Cohen swapped her skates for a pair of ballet shoes for one number as three male skaters from the cast took turns hoisting her overhead while she struck graceful, rubber-jointed poses that highlighted her incredible flexibility. The piece was done to the operatically ethereal sounds of soprano Darlene Koldenhoven's "Canto Invierno." It was tres Cirque du Soleil.

In addition to the customary visions of sequin-clad skaters gliding by with unerring grace, there were other inventive touches that lent a freshness to the show, even though the tour is now in its 22nd season. They included a rousing rock 'n' roll number featuring skating heartthrob John Zimmerman in a fright wig, Olympic gold medalist Ilia Kulik taking a turn playing keyboards and a special song for the home crowd: "Todd in White Satin."

For Todd Eldredge, who grew up in Chatham, the DCU Center is as close to home ice as he gets on the Smucker's tour. His parents and friends come up from the Cape when the tour is in town and the cheers and applause go up several decibels whenever he takes the ice. He often plays the clown role, following in the footsteps of the "Stars on Ice" impresario (and still its producer), skating icon Scott Hamilton.

While there was clowning, Eldredge also let his serious side shine. To a Spanish language version of "Nights in White Satin" and dressed in a vivid white satin shirt, Eldredge danced with a passion and pliancy that showed just what made him a world champion and six-time U.S. national champion.

The cast also included world champion and two-time Japanese national ladies' champion Yuka Sato; two-time world bronze medalist and three-time U.S. national men's champion Michael Weiss; six-time Canadian national ladies' champion Jennifer Robinson; three-time world pair champions and two-time Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao; two-time world silver medalists and five-time Canadian national dance champions Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon; Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto; and two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek, who is expected to be a contender at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The level of difficulty in an ice show never approaches that of a competition. The focus is more on showmanship and style, which this talented cast had in abundance. Still, they are among the best in the world at what they do and although no state-of-the-sport quadruple jumps were attempted, there were a couple of breathtaking throw spins and a healthy smattering of triples. Kulik and Weiss were the triple-jump kings of the night, landing them left and right. The always electrifying Weiss threw in a couple of back flips for good measure.

Another high point of the night was 2006 world champion and 2007 U.S. national champion Kimmie Meissner's performance. Meissner has been struggling a bit the past year. In late March, she fell twice during her free skating routine at the World Figure Skating Championships, earning a disappointing seventh-place finish.

At practice before Saturday's show, Meissner could be seen sitting at the ice's edge, her chin resting in her hands, a frown on the face of a normally very upbeat 18-year-old. After a moment she took to the ice and tried her turns, falling several times. Then she went over it again, slowly - first a single jump, then doubling it with some serious wobbles on the landing. But true champion that she is, at showtime she landed her leaps without a hitch and gave a smile that indicated her world championship confidence might soon be back.


CUTLINE: Sasha Cohen, U.S. Olympic silver medalist, skates Saturday in the Smucker's Stars on Ice show at the DCU Center.

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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 7, 2008
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