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Sandra Bezic keeps up the dialogue

Award-winning choreographer commentates on NBC

Sandra Bezic is among the 2010 Skate Canada Hall of Fame class.
Sandra Bezic is among the 2010 Skate Canada Hall of Fame class. (courtesy of Michael Bernadsky)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(12/11/2008) - She is best known for creating programs for Olympic gold medalists such as Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tara Lipinski, but award-winning choreographer Sandra Bezic has also been doing TV commentary for nearly two decades. There aren't many skating competitions on American television these days (of course you can see them on icenetwork.com), but when skating does hit the airwaves, Bezic is there to offer her insight into the sport.

"We have such a great team," said Bezic, who shares the NBC booth with Scott Hamilton. "I think we all complement each other -- right through to the production people, everyone in the truck and the research people. We really get along and respect each other. We have a rhythm.

"The thing that really strikes me about the group is they really care about the product. They care about what kind of show they put on. They care about the skaters and the sport."

For Bezic, caring about the sport extends to expressing her displeasure with the International Judging System. She says it leaves little room to create artistically expressive programs, like the free skate she choreographed for Lu Chen, who won an emotional bronze medal in 1998.

"It's really hard for the choreographers and extraordinarily hard for the skaters, because there isn't a second where you can let up," she explained, offering words of praise for choreographers Lori Nichol and David Wilson. "To educate the public, we try to keep as uncomplicated as possible and try not to go into the detail of what's required, but still try and inform the public that detail is required. The little nuances are hugely important in this system. So when we have an opportunity to point that out, we do.

"Our time is limited, and the skater is the most important," she added. "The performance of the moment is the most important thing. You don't want to step on them. Yet, it is our responsibility to put things in perspective for the average viewer. We need to obviously give the information that the die-hard skating fan wants, needs and demands, but we also have to put it into words that the average viewer can kind of catch up to where the sport has gone -- in 10-second sound bites."

She sees the rules eroding skaters' individuality.

"By narrowing the requirements to such a finely tuned place, it is stripping the individuality out of the performance," Bezic said. "The second mark is not fully baked yet."

Despite her honest critiques of the IJS, Bezic refuses to bash it. She wants to see it developed to allow for both fairness and creativity.

"We have to remember that we're all on the same side," she noted. "Even the people who developed the system have their hearts in the right place. They really were trying to do something good for the sport -- make it more legitimate in the eyes of the general public and fairer.

"Somehow, we've got to all remember that, even those of us who disagree with some of the rules. We're all trying to figure out how to make this sport more viable."

Because of her commentary work, Bezic is not choreographing any eligible competitors' programs at this time. She did do an exhibition piece for Takahiko Kozuka, who has had a breakthrough season in 2008. She also does some consulting work and, of course, she continues to work with longtime pro clients such as Kurt Browning.

She and Browning, with whom she won Canada's Gemini Award for the unforgettable TV special "You Must Remember This," are currently developing some skating projects that they hope to announce in 2009.

"He and I have a couple of things up our sleeves," she said. "The sport's been so good to us. We both feel a sense of responsibility. At least we have to try to turn things around a little bit and change the tide if we can. Maybe that will inspire more people."

Bezic and Browning recently worked together off the ice on Canada's "Walk of Fame" TV show. Browning hosted the awards ceremony on CTV, as well as a 10th-anniversary DVD that Bezic produced. It's a 90-minute show that includes special moments from the award ceremonies, biographies of some of the inductees and an overall look at the 108 inductees.

"I asked Kurt to be host since he is a recipient and also someone who embodies the Canadian personality -- self-effacing, humble and fun," said Bezic. "It was a fascinating project for me, because it gave me the opportunity to learn so much about the history of so many great Canadians. It was fun for me to write the show and tell a story that wasn't on ice, although directing Kurt, of course, was my comfort zone."