Ice Network

Shibutanis soar with mash-up of Sinatra, Jay-Z

Bobrova, Soloview unhappy with low levels; Hubbell, Donohue sit third
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Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani received a top score of 73.04 during Saturday's short dance competition at Skate America. -Getty Images

The debut of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani's short dance at Skate America on Saturday had just about everything.

Novelty, courtesy of a Frank Sinatra/Jay-Z combination of blues and hip hop. Authenticity, gained from collaboration with Hok, Ryan "Ryanimay" Conferido and other members of the Los Angeles-based Quest Crew. And, a dazzling twizzle sequence that built speed and excitement.

Maia even rocked a black bodysuit and high ponytail.

Just about the only thing it didn't have was some of the Level 4's the Shibutanis so often receive from technical panels. The team earned Level 2 on two step sequences, and a thrilling closing rotational lift gained Level 3.

But it's early yet. They still netted 73.04 points and a solid lead, and as the song goes, that's life.

"It felt like a million bucks out there," Alex said, adding, "We're happy with the execution of our partial step (sequence), for example, our midline (steps) and our lift. That's four more points of base value right there. Toss that off with a little more work, whatever we have to do, and I think we'll be in a really great spot."

"That's one of our best qualities -- we always show improvement," Maia said.

Marina Zoueva, who coaches the siblings in Canton, Michigan, is similarly unconcerned.

"We're very glad about everything, the marks are fine," she said. "They performed at a very rich level. Even though it was hip hop, they didn't look like they were trying too hard. They let people enjoy the movements. You can't see them working hard, you see them truly dance."

The Shibutanis, who won a world silver medal in Boston last season, always strive to assemble experts to help them and their coaching team -- which also includes Massimo Scali and Oleg Epstein -- put out the most genuine creative product possible. This season was no exception.

"We're just trying to take everything we do in our skating to the next level," Alex said. "We're really excited about the work we put in. We're so excited by our idea to blend these two artists (Sinatra and Jay-Z) together. It makes us really confident about what we're doing on the ice. Then there's all the additional help we've gotten from the best crew we've ever gathered."

Zoueva endorsed their trips to L.A. this off season to work with Hok.

"A real hip hop dancer knows exactly the technique," she said. "This is not a ballet school, with years to learn something different. They have five months and they have to perform nicely. It's necessary and very important to work with experts."

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev of Russia, who sit second with 68.92 points, performed a sleek and sexy blues routine combined with faster-paced swing. Three of their elements received Level 2's from the technical panel, and the former European champions were a bit more upset than the Shibutanis.

"This is not our first performance in this season and we, unfortunately, are not happy," Soloviev said. "We will have to investigate why the levels are so low. In some places, we do agree, and in some places, we are surprised. We will need to figure out what's going on."

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue ignited the audience with an electric program set to Nina Simone's bluesy "Feeling Good," paired with a medley of well-known hip hop tunes. They sit close behind the Russians with 68.78 points, although they, too, spoke of wanting higher levels.

"You need that energy and stamina to get the Level 4 on footwork at the end of the program, but it is getting better and better, so we're just happy it's growing with us," Hubbell said, adding that they planned to book additional sessions with hip hop dancer and choreographer Samuel Chouinard.

"One thing you really can't translate to the ice in hip hop is the way they do all the popping and locking and the very static things," Hubbell said. "We've played with it, we've tried, and it does have to be a hit and then a move, because there is no way to be static on the ice. The judges don't tend to reward that."

Making their Grand Prix debut, two-time U.S. junior bronze medalists Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit sit eighth with 58.18 points. Their entertaining program to a blues and swing Elvis Presley medley opened with a fine curve lift, but later in the routine they had a small glitch on their twizzle sequence.

"We're so glad to be at Skate America," Benoit said. "Skating with all of these top senior teams is a great experience. We want to skate like we belong here, and I think we're doing that."