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Dance teams make senior GP debuts

Skaters hope to build on medals at Nebelhorn Trophy

Reigning world junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are in their first season in the Grand Prix Series.
Reigning world junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are in their first season in the Grand Prix Series. (courtesy of Evan Bates)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2008) - When two U.S. dance teams make their senior Grand Prix debuts at Skate America in Everett, Wash., next week, they'll put Hollywood classics on the ice.

World junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates are channeling Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' exuberant "Let Yourself Go" tap number from Follow the Fleet (1936) for their original dance.

"I'm in a sailor's outfit and Emily is in a bright red halter dress," said the 19-year-old Bates. "I'm in the Navy and going out to sea with the idea of a beautiful woman in my head. I take her out for a night of dancing. It's a fun number; we love it."

Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles, who placed sixth at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, also chose a tap number, albeit one that was done on roller skates. They'll perform their OD to "I'd Rather Be Blue," from Barbra Streisand's 1968 Oscar-winning turn as comedienne Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.

"Everyone told me the personality of the [Streisand] character really fits me," said the 20-year-old Summersett. "I try to make a joke out of everything, kind of like she does in the movie."

"Jane definitely has a bubbly personality," the 23-year-old Gilles agreed.

Both couples are coming off successful outings at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, last month. Samuelson and Bates brought home gold, with Summersett and Gilles claiming bronze.

"We were actually thankful to go back to Oberstdorf a second time," Bates, who teamed up with Samuelson in 2000, said. "When we were there the first time, for the 2007 world juniors, we had a rough competition. [Emily] sustained a major injury."

That's putting it mildly. Samuelson severed a tendon during the free dance when she slipped on a step sequence and Bates skated over her hand. After missing two months of training, they came back strong with a fourth-place finish at the 2008 U.S. Championships and gold at world juniors.

"[At Nebelhorn], we enjoyed ourselves and got some redemption," Bates said. "We skated well and made our senior debut at an event other than Skate America. It gave us a chance to get our feet under us and go to Skate America and not be so overwhelmed."

The skaters, both students at the University of Michigan, are coached by Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Iaroslava Netchaeva in Ann Arbor, Mich. They seek to transition for the top junior spot to the international senior ranks, a move that has tripped up many before them.

"That's the biggest challenge, especially coming in [to seniors] the year before the Olympics," Bates said. "We're the new kids on the block trying to play spoilers. We want to be in the top three at nationals and on the world team.

"Nationals will be very deep; there are eight U.S. dance teams who have all done international assignments. Everyone else wants to climb the world rankings, too. We think we will make it if we keep doing the things we believe in."

The couple's free dance, choreographed by their coaches, is set to music from Russian pianist Maksim Mrvica.

"It's very powerful," said Bates. "The ISU bio forms ask for themes, and the theme of this program is I am an artist and Emily is the masterpiece. I'm striving to create this perfect piece of art.

"We've gotten a lot of good feedback on it so far. Mostly, we're working on our program components scores. We want to present ourselves as a mature team, not as skaters who are 18 and 19 years old."

Summersett and Gilles also hope to crack the top three of U.S. ice dance this season despite skating together for a far shorter time. Gilles' five-year partnership with Trina Pratt, with whom he won the 2005 U.S. junior title, ended in December 2006. He teamed with Summersett, who won the 2006 U.S. junior bronze medal with Elliott Pennington, in April 2007.

Since then, they've won titles at the last two Lake Placid Ice Dance Competitions, as well as their bronze at Nebelhorn.

"We were definitely satisfied with our programs in Oberstdorf," Gilles said. "We wanted to medal; we wanted to show we could be up there.

"Over the summer we decided this was the season to really pick it up and try for that Olympic spot next year. We wanted to come out with good programs and it feels like we did. We've just been plugging away, working on our expression and developing our skating."

The couple also turned to the world of film for their free dance, although it was to the Italian cinema rather than Hollywood. They'll skate to Nino Rota's soundtrack from La Strata (1954), the tale of a traveling circus strongman who buys a girl to assist in his act.

"In the movie she was kind of in love with him, and he kind of realized that after he did all of these crazy things," Gilles explained. "He loved her back, but he only found out after it was too late. So it's got a circus feel, drama, and heart break - all those types of emotions."

Summersett, who hails from L'Anse, Mich., moved to Colorado Springs to train with Gilles under Patti Gottwein at the World Arena. There, they share the ice with two of Gilles' younger siblings: Piper, 16, an ice dancer who recently won the Junior Grand Prix in Czech Republic with partner Zach Donohue; and her twin Alexe, the U.S. junior ladies' champion.

"I live in the Strawberry Fields complex, right by Cheyenne Mountain, a few minutes from the rink," Summersett said. "At lot of skaters live there; Rockne [Brubaker] and his brother Collin live there, Keauna [McLaughlin] used to live there."

Gilles, who lives with his family, says there is little rivalry among the siblings so far.

"I think it helps that Alexe is free style and Piper is at the junior level," he said. "At times we poke fun at each other, but we're all doing different things. Obviously it's great to see my sisters do so well. It's been crazy; one member of my family is always out of the country these last few months."

Both skaters attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Gilles is leaning toward an anthropology major; Summersett is looking into pre-dental courses. They're sharing a class this semester.

"We're taking experimental archaeology, doing projects like tanning an antelope hide and making moccasins," Gilles said. "I'm also researching how they made the first ice skates from stone and bone. We're talking old."