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Keeping Their Edge

'Champions on Ice Summer Tour' brings some of the premier skaters in the world to the Pond of Anaheim on Sunday.

May 11, 2000|LIBBY SLATE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Several generations of figure skating's elite will be in the spotlights Sunday afternoon when the "Champions on Ice Summer Tour" glides into Anaheim.

The 32 singles and pair skaters and ice dancers range in age from 43-year-old 1976 Olympic Champion Dorothy Hamill to Costa Mesa-based new-kids-on-the-ice Sasha Cohen, 15, the current U.S. silver medalist, and Naomi Nari Nam, 14, last year's national silver medalist.

Also on the roster are such luminaries as current World and U.S. champion Michelle Kwan; Olympic champions Oksana Baiul and Viktor Petrenko; pairs team Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitriev; ice dancers Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, and Maya Usova and Evgeny Platov; Rudy Galindo, Todd Eldredge, Nicole Bobek, Elvis Stojko, Michael Weiss; and pairs team Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler.

For some of the cast, "Champions on Ice"--presented since 1975 under various names by former Canadian skater Tom Collins--represents more than a performing opportunity. Hamill, who first participated 25 years ago, returned for its winter tour in 1997 after suffering through a bad experience with the sale of Ice Capades, which she owned.

"I'd gotten to the point where I hated skating," she said by phone from the tour bus. "I wanted to get the love back. Tommy's tour was the perfect place. You could be beautifully lit and costumed. It was an escape."

Of her senior status among the cast, Hamill said, "I face it every day, when I'm in the dressing room with these beautiful young women, and on the practice ice with them. It's fun. I like being with them."

One of those youngsters, Sasha Cohen, is performing about a third of the itinerary. "I like all the people--they're really inspiring," she said of her first time on tour. "I'm learning how to prepare quickly--a lot of time, there's no practice."

She is also picking up helpful experience for the competitive season. "I'm learning some consistency, being able to do jumps and the program at times without any warmup, in front of a big audience," she said.

It is the mix of people that sets "Champions on Ice" apart from other skating shows, Hamill believes. "You have all the unique styles of skating, an interesting array of talent," she said. "It's a really friendly group. Everybody knows they have something entirely different to offer--that's why they're here."

The skaters join forces for a closing production number, set to Ravel's "Bolero," choreographed by the show's Emmy-winning director of staging Sarah Kawahara, a Westlake Village resident. For the opening and finale they sport costumes by noted designer Pete Menefee. And those spotlights, among 500 to 600 cues provided by two state-of-the-art lighting systems, are designed by Emmy-winning lighting designer Marilyn Lowey, who is currently working on Diana Ross' tour.

Skating in the show is perhaps most meaningful this time around to Galindo, 30, the 1996 U.S. champion and World bronze medalist: Having lost a brother and two coaches to AIDS, he was diagnosed on March 1 as HIV-positive.

Determined to resume skating as soon as possible, he made it for the tour's opening night April 6, later missing five shows for medical tests and to be with his sister Laura and newborn niece, Marina. But now he's back. "I'm doing great," he said.

His fellow skaters have been supportive. "They've been really nice," Galindo said. "The Russians smile at me, put their arms around me. People are not afraid of it." As for the audiences, "When I'm skating around waiting to start, I hear, 'Keep the faith' and 'We love you.' They inspire me to continue."

He is reprising an older program, "Send in the Clowns," performed with a prop hoop because, he says, "When I came out, my fans really liked that number. The hoop totally represents the circle of life to me--I've taken care of my brother, and now I have it."

Most of the skaters have new numbers for the tour, noted Kwan, who is skating to music from the James Bond film "The World is Not Enough."

"People call me 'Michelle Bond' now," she said with a laugh. Known for her soft classical style, she added, "I was a little nervous about how people would react, but I wanted to do something different, totally unexpected. That's how you keep changing. It's not just satisfying others, but yourself."

At the ripe age of 19, Kwan, who is from Torrance, attends UCLA and trains in El Segundo, is aware that the tour's younger skaters look up to her.

"It's generation to generation, moving on," she said. "I looked up to Nancy [Kerrigan] and Oksana [Baiul]. I always look up to people on the tour."

BE THERE

"Champions on Ice Summer Tour" plays the Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave. Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets are $30-$55. For information call the box office at (714) 704-2500 or Ticketmaster at (714) 740-2000.

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