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Shibutanis make senior debut with a smile

Sibling team talks about their music choices

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are ready to show off a lighter side of their personalities.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are ready to show off a lighter side of their personalities. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(06/24/2010) - 2010 U.S. junior dance champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani will make their senior debut next season skating to "Carousel Waltz" from Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel for their short dance. For their free dance, the duo and choreographer Marina Zoueva have chosen Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance," both performed by Nat King Cole.

"When we first heard of the format for the short dance, Maia immediately knew what she wanted to skate to," Alex said.

"I wanted to skate to Carousel since I was very young," Maia added. "It was definitely the first piece that I thought of. I'm excited that we're getting to use this great piece of music for a competitive program."

Alex said that the siblings have been working very hard on the Golden Waltz since the world junior championships; he noted that elements from the compulsory dance would be placed within the new short dance, which both Zoueva and coach Igor Shpilband have been working on. "It's going to be an interesting year, and we're looking forward to putting out a memorable performance!"

Alex went on that the music for the free dance is something new for them.

"It's something that we haven't done before. We haven't shown this style. Our goal is to make people, no pun intended, smile."

"We're having fun with it," Maia said. "It plays to our strengths. We want to show an uplifting dance, pure entertainment. Marina has been really excited about this program ever since we started working on it."

Next season the compulsory dance and original dance will be combined into a sort of hybrid short dance. Once the Shibutanis and their coaches heard about it, Maia said they started working on the Golden Waltz. "We didn't compete this dance last year unlike some of the other senior teams," she said.

"We feel that the compulsories are such a great measuring stick for the skills that make up ice dance," Alex said.

"It's a new rule, especially for the free dance there are really new rules," Zoueva said. "The judges look for happy and light and like a dance. That's why we picked foxtrot and quickstep for the free dance. It's complimentary for the temperament Alex and Maia have: A young man and a young woman can dance together and move with the rhythm. I enjoy to choreograph this program and it was choreographed very fast because it was so easy."

Zoueva added that they are now working on the nuances of the free dance. She said that the short dance would tell some of the story of the musical Carousel, with the skaters portraying characters.

"Maia and Alex are absolutely unique," she said. "Their bodies follow the music. They have musician's bodies - they can explore and feel the music."

The Shibutanis are both students in Michigan. Alex, 19, is a freshman at the University of Michigan, and Maia, who will turn 16 next month, attends Huron High School in Ann Arbor.

The siblings won the silver medal at the 2009 World Junior Championships and came in fourth last season.

"We feel that this past year was very competitive. We have no regrets about how we skated last year, and we made many improvements. The experience has made us stronger. As soon as we got back from junior worlds, we began working on our new programs. In fact, we are having our first costume-fitting this weekend," Maia said.

The siblings are excited to move up to the senior ranks. They will compete at Skate America and the NHK Trophy in Japan in the fall.

"We're making the big step," said Alex. "We feel that we're definitely ready and we've been working really hard. We learned a lot last season and finally to compete on the Grand Prix this fall is very exciting. When we competed at the Junior Grand Prix Final the fans in Japan were terrific to us. We want to perform for them this fall!"

"We're thinking that this year we have nothing to lose," added Maia. We just want to focus on enjoying the programs and enjoying the experience.