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The Inside Edge: YAS returns for fourth edition

Halverson, Mok, McSwain pumped to be returning competitors; Aiken gets hitched; Corwin expecting
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Eliot Halverson, the 2007 U.S. junior champion, and Kate McSwain will once again take part in the YAS competition. -Lynn Rutherford

(08/05/2013) - The fourth edition of the choreography competition Young Artists Showcase, now known as MK YAS4, gets underway Friday. Audrey Weisiger, founder of the competition, told us she hopes a new partnership with MK Blades will allow for greater opportunity and exposure for participants and viewers.

Roger Margereson, managing director for HDSports, the company that owns MK Blades, said, "I'm looking forward to taking this first step in a long and fruitful relationship."

The competition runs through Sept. 6, and the live final is slated for Dec. 1 in Washington, D.C. The competitors in the champions division are Yebin Mok, Eliot Halverson, Kate McSwain, Katherine Hill, Stephanie Roth, Nanoha Sato, Justine Kelleher and Zabato Bebe. There is also a "grassroots" division for younger competitors. The top two finishers in each division will compete in the final.

There are five challenges: ethnic dance/global cultures; a program using a piece of cloth; a piece to the song "Oh Earth, Oh Earth, Return;" a mythological person/creature; and a piece to music for a solo instrument from the baroque, classical or romantic periods. All the skaters are instructed to wear basic black practice wear. Each competitor will be assigned a mentor.

Judges include Kurt Browning, Sara Kawahara, Caryn Kadavy, Kim Navarro, Brent Bommentre, Anita Hartshorn, Frank Sweiding, Craig Heath, Scott Williams, Rohene Ward and Dan Hollander.

For links to the videos, which began going up Friday, visit youngartistsshowcase.net.

Eliot Halverson

Mok and Halverson were popular skaters in their competitive years, and we're excited to see their work as choreographers. Halverson, the 2007 U.S. junior champion, last competed in 2009 at the Midwestern Sectional Championships. His competitive career ground to a halt due to persistent back injuries. Halverson was known for his Biellmann spins, which pull the spine into challenging positions, and he has said that doing the spins while he was still growing contributed to the injuries.

"I had some pinched nerves and arthritis in my back," he said. "Every time I tried to come back, I knew my body wasn't able to do it any more. Losing the competitive skating side of my life was really hard. It's been a long road, but I'm happy with where I am right now."

After spending a couple of years coaching in Ann Arbor, Mich., Halverson moved to New York City a year ago. He coaches in Central Park in the winter, and at the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in the spring and summer.

"When I stopped skating, I told people I was done with it," he said. "I wanted to distance myself from skating, because I was really hurt and I wanted to put up a wall. I wanted to be an actor; I wanted to move on. But in the last year, I've embraced my love for skating. It's been part of my life for a reason, and I want to be a coach and a choreographer."

In Ann Arbor, Halverson choreographed for the Hockettes' junior synchronized team. He's looking forward to stretching himself in different directions in Young Artists Showcase.

"I was debating signing up last year," he said. "I was really impressed by all the work, so I vowed I would sign up this year. Justine Kelleher, one of my friends in New York, and I motivated each other to sign up."

Halverson said he is looking forward to the first challenge, which will be a duet to ethnic music.

"I got really excited about it because I loved doing ethnic programs when I competed," he said. "I wanted to do something unexpected. I chose to do a Colombian piece, a little tribute to where I was born. I think it's one of the coolest things I've ever come up with."

Some of the challenges are solo pieces, and Halverson said he would be performing all of those himself.

"My dream is to choreograph for international-level freestyle skaters, so I wanted to capitalize on that," he said. "I think the exposure will be really great. I'm looking forward to all the feedback from the judges -- they're people I respect and admire. The challenges are stretching my abilities and my comfort level, so the competition is helping me grow as a choreographer."

Yebin Mok

Mok, who finished fifth at the 2003 World Junior Championships, last competed in 2008. After touring for five years, with Holiday on Ice and in Willy Bietak productions, she is coaching in El Segundo, Calif.

"I found out about YAS in 2011," she said. "When I saw it, I was like, 'Oh my god, I want to do this so bad!' I wanted to do it that season, but my entry was too late.

"I think YAS is so awesome," she went on. "Anyone can go back and see what people have done in the past. There's a lot of self-study in choreography, and self-exploration. Knowing what all the challenges are is an advantage, to simmer it and visualize it in my head."

Mok likens choreography to sculpture.

"You have this clay and you sort of sculpt it," she said. "As you dive into the piece, you create more details that you didn't even think of in the first draft -- they get revealed to you."

For the first challenge, Mok has created a piece based on the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi order of the Sufi, from Turkey.

"They spin for love, so I really like that," Mok said. "My skaters are going to be spinning for days. They're going to hate me and probably puke."

Second time around

McSwain and Hill participated in earlier editions of the competition. McSwain, who competed in the first season, has been pursuing a career as a choreographer ever since.

"YAS was a launch pad," McSwaid said. "It gave me the courage and the opportunity and platform to prove to myself that I was capable of creating works in a limited time frame, with different skaters and in different styles. And it gave me a lot of exposure."

McSwain said she wasn't sure, at first, that she wanted to compete in YAS again.

"I decided to do it because I feel as if I've grown a lot in the last three years," she said. "I'm a lot more educated and a lot more confident in my work. Three years ago, I was starting out, and I was unsure. I'm excited about putting more mature choreography out there."

McSwain revealed that Adam Rippon will be skating her last challenge. For the first, global music program, Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt will be the skaters.

"It's very much an honor to work with them," she said.

Weisiger is eager to see all the programs.

"I have been very impressed by the caliber of pieces choreographed in previous YAS seasons, and this group of contestants looks like another step up," Weisiger said. "MK YAS is a labor of love for me. I love the young, courageous choreographers that are willing to risk showing their works globally and being judged, and I love being able to view their creativity. Most of all, MK YAS has created a family of artists that support each other."

Asked to name some of her favorite programs from the first three seasons, Weisiger struggled. She finally, albeit reluctantly, named Joel Dear's Fosse program, Heather McLaughlin's On Golden Pond program and Garrett Kling's "Word" program, which was skated by Jason Brown.

"The blending of music and movement was perfect," she said. "I honestly love them all."

Wedding bells

Alexander Aiken, the 2011 U.S. junior bronze medalist, married Michelle Pennington on July 27 in St. Augustine, Fla., at the World Golf Hall of Fame Museum. Among the skating personalities in attendance were Paul Wylie, Mary and Evy Scotvold, Michael Chau, Karl Kurtz, Rachel Tibbetts and Andrea Varraux. The couple plans to live in Florida.

Amber Corwin has announced that she is expecting a baby girl with fiancé Franklin Farrow, an entrepreneur from Yorkshire, England. The due date is Dec. 7. The couple is planning a spring wedding at their home in Palos Verdes, Calif.

Congratulations!

Sarah and Drew
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