Art vs. Sport

Last night, I found myself in front of the TV, watching Olympic figure skating: specifically, the men’s short program. I tuned in partway through, so I missed some of the more inspired performances. However, in amongst all the guys who bailed on their triple (and quad) jumps and just generally phoned it in, there was one skater whose program really captivated me.

In looking for a video of Evan Lysacek’s performance, i found this short but interesting AP video interview with his choreographer.

Before I watched this “behind the scenes” news bit this evening, I thought I was going to be writing an amateur commentary about male figure skating in general, and Evan in particular.* Instead, my thoughts have turned to the parallels between figure skating and drum & bugle corps (which, for those who may not know, is an activity in which I was involved for five years total: 1995-1997 in “junior” corps, and 2004-2005 in “senior” corps).

Besides the similarities in judging, there also seems to be debate in both fields whether the activity in question a.) actually qualifies as a sport; and b.) should be designed for the judges, the audience, or both. Ms. Nichol’s opinion is very close to my own:

I’m trying to appeal to those that I know have spent the hours and the time, and really understand the incredible difficulty of some of the things we’re doing on the ice; and then I try to do it so that anyone can enjoy it. I think of what my Mom’s watching, I think of what my neighbor’s watching, and how do I make this program enjoyable for them? And how do I make it so that it’s something the judges will be able to understand and respect — and especially my colleagues?

There are a lot of people saying right now that you need to choreograph to the lowest common denominator, you have to be able to grab people in two seconds…. I still have to believe that the essence of figure skating is the most important thing, the progression of the sport through that.

This is very much like the delicate balance of drum and bugle corps. Where is the line between pleasing the judges and pleasing the audience? As a former corps member, I can appreciate difficult drill moves and musical passages and such; as an audience member, I also appreciate the blow-your-face-off company fronts and the ballads and the tunes you’ve never heard before but still get stuck in your head as you’re leaving the stadium after the show.

As soon as I stopped having those awesome audience-member moments, I stopped attending drum corps shows. I stopped seeking out the pre-season recordings of Memorial Day camps, when the show is just about complete. I stopped caring about the activity as I once did.

I watched more figure skating last night on network television and tonight on the internet than the amount of drum corps I’ve watched in the past two years, either live or online. And I enjoyed it more.

Appropriate, somehow, that Evan skated to The Firebird, a piece I know only from its popularity as a drum corps staple, most notably performed by the Cavaliers in 1976 and 1997.

* As far as my commentary on male figure skaters, and Evan in particular: Details matter. Watch the video of Evan’s short program performance and note his arm position, his hand position, the extension of his body. He uses his long, slender body type to his advantage, making every inch of his height and wingspan count. Even his choreographed head snaps add to the overall effect. He makes the most of every movement, paying close attention to each detail. The multiple daily runthroughs of his program have obviously paid off.