DiManno: For Virtue and Moir, risqué is all in the eye of the beholder
Virtue has been around the sport long enough to sense what might not be well-received judge-wise, despite the duo racking up career-best scores with their sensuous rendition performed to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, writes Rosie DiManno.
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Pyeongchang, South Korea—They put the sultry into ice dancing. But now they’ve downscaled from rated-X to PG.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, on the prowl for a second Olympic gold medal in ice dancing, have decided to modify an ultra risqué lift to take the heat off the hot-hot-hot.
Gone is the neck straddle where Virtue comes out of an up-thrust with her legs hooked around Moir’s shoulders, hands clasping the back of his head — a kind of sex-chokehold. “Porno?” Moir had teased about the erotic move at nationals last month, where the couple copped their eighth national title.
In the slightly altered version to be unwrapped in the free skate here, Virtue still executes the legs-around but only fleetingly before dipping one limb down and then dismounting. There’s no pose-hold as there’d been all season long, so suggestive that The Canadian Press had initially been leery about moving photos on the wire that freeze-framed the moment.
“What it came down to actually was that when we slowed it down and looked on the video, it wasn’t esthetically that beautiful of a position,” said Moir of the original lift, following practice Wednesday at the Gangneung Ice Arena. “So we wanted to change it, make it a little bit better.”
New and improved and slightly subdued.
“I think we liked that it made a statement, and it was different,” explained Virtue of the provocative draping silhouette, now ditched. “And that was great for the start of the season. But for the overall vision of the program, we hope that this new position fits a little better.”
The 28-year-old has been around the sport long enough to sense what might not be well-received judge-wise, despite the duo racking up career-best scores with their sensuous rendition of a routine performed to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She’s also wise enough to frame the explanation as artistically driven rather than capitulation to prissy and potentially censorious judges.
It’s all in the eye of the beholder, of course. But the eyes beholding at Pyeongchang, at least those that count most, belong to those magistrates of the marks. And they’re a conservative lot. Although it was the International Skating Union, the sport’s governing body, that imposed the “Katarina Rule” after the 1988 Games, named for Katarina Witt — basically a butt-cheek check, forbidding scandalously high-cut leg-holes and making it mandatory for females to wear a skirt, unless the costume is a body suit, no bare midriff, buttocks completely covered.
At nationals, Virtue had deftly cut off her partner’s looming exposition on porn. While Moir described it as “suggestive,” Virtue countered with “edgy” and not that lift specifically but the whole envelope-pushing routine.
“We wanted to make a bit of a different statement, and if that was bringing a certain edge or sexuality or darkness or a contemporary feeling to it, mission accomplished I guess.”
Mission aborted here, a tad.
Moulin Rouge, the wildly over-the-top 2001 musical by Baz Luhrmann starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, tells the story of a poet who falls in love with a cabaret chanteuse and courtesan in Paris. On ice, Moir plays the part of Christian, Virtue is Satine. The program, even in its gentler variation, still takes ice dancing drama to keen heights, reflecting a ripened, more mature tandem who’ll be delivering the last dance of their competitive career. And they want it to be memorable.
But they’re no longer the sweet, somewhat demure couple who charmed judges in innocent days of yore with “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and, at the Vancouver Games, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 — first ice dancers ever win gold at their Olympic debut.
Combining exquisite artistry and powerful athleticism, the three-time world champions have taken the sport into the outer realms of expression and generally to the judges’ approval. It’s still a somewhat stuffy world, though, especially in the dance division. And of course the sport has been riven with judging controversies — downright score-rigging on notorious occasions — in the past.
After silver in Sochi — surpassed by training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S., the Canadians admitting some displeasure over the imbalance of attention by shared coach Marina Zueva — the couple stepped away from competition for two years, though never terming it a “retirement.” In 2016, announcing they were back in competitive harness, the team moved to Montreal, under the coaching tutelage of Mare-France Dubreuil and Patrize Lauzon. They went undefeated that season, collecting their third world title, and were pure gold this season until the Grand Prix final in December, edged by another set of training stablemates, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
They’ve spent their time since tweaking, enhancing transitions, seeking every possible point-added angle, both to Moulin Rouge and their Rolling Stones/Eagles/Santana mélange in the short. The team event short goes Sunday, the long on Monday.
“We’ll take the ice with programs where we’re confident in every single second, we’re in the love with the movement every second,” assures Moir, 30. “Hopefully that will show through and we’ll be able to capitalize on that.”
At these, their third Olympics, Virtue and Moir — flag-bearers for Canada at Friday night’s opening ceremonies — can lean on experience, lessons learned and the mutual trust built up over two decades skating together. But it’s still the Olympics and that makes everybody tense.
“Taking the ice at the Olympics is filled with pressure,” Virtue admits, “and every kind of emotion you can possibly image’’
Canada is hell-bent on seizing gold in the team event, a recent addition to the Games menu. Bit of a medals gimmick, actually, but also an opportunity to get the scoring lay of the land before the individual events competition begins.
“For us to just have an extra opportunity to practice the minds that we need to get in, physically, mentally, emotionally, set ourselves up for that, and go through these emotions, that can only help us,” Virtue adds.
And a couple of extra skates at their last Olympics as the curtain falls on their competitive career.
Go out with gold, the way they came in.