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Rabbitt reports on 'An Evening on Ice'

Star-studded event hits Burbank

Kimmie Meissner, Nicholas LaRoche and Alissa Czisny hang out at an "An Evening on Ice."
Kimmie Meissner, Nicholas LaRoche and Alissa Czisny hang out at an "An Evening on Ice." (Sean Rabbitt)

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By Sean Rabbitt, special to icenetwork.com
(08/15/2011) - Lights, camera, action.

Hello from Burbank, Calif., known for its movie studios, movie stars, some of TV's greatest hits, palm trees, and of course that beautiful California sunshine. But, this past Friday evening, not only were there movie stars in the local area, but some of the biggest skating stars in the United States came together and shined brightly for two causes, The US Athletic Foundation and Los Angeles Ice Theater's "An Evening On Ice."

Before I fly full throttle into Friday night's fun festivities, let me give you some background on what the US Athletic Foundation is all about.

The US Athletic Foundation is the creation of the 2002 U.S. junior men's champion Nicholas LaRoche and his sister Tricia LaRoche. Started in 2007, and gaining momentum and interest in 2008 after the passing of their late mother, Nick and Tricia decided it was time to give back to the sport that had given Nick so much, and one way they knew how was to help other skaters, and by doing so chose to create a non-profit organization to help promising skaters whose financial hardships are holding them back from making that next step in their competitive career. In 2009 after Nick's decision to retire from competitive skating the duo took the organization to the next level and put a full time effort into turning the foundation to what it is today. To help raise money for these promising skaters and the L.A. Ice Theater, the US Athletic Foundation and Los Angeles Ice Theater joined forces together to create Friday evening's show; "An Evening On Ice."

"When people read the organizations name: US Athletic Foundation, they think US means United States, but it actually means us, myself and Tricia" says Nicholas LaRoche. Neither Nick nor Tricia seemed at all frazzled. A lot of the behind the scenes activities happening were a team effort from the L.A. Ice Theater, and this allowed Nick and Tricia to stay calm and focus on the skaters.

Now that you have a little background information, let's take you back to the show and what was going down on the ice.

Being a Southern California native, its pretty normal to expect traffic no matter where you go. So knowing this, I gave myself plenty of time to get to the show, which was being held at the Pickwick Gardens Ice Arena in Burbank, Calif. From my neck of the woods the total drive time ended up being an hour and a half, instead of the normal fourty-five-minutes-to-an-hour drive. Having given myself two hours to get to the show, I arrived early and was able to get good parking, which at a skating show is always nice!

Soon after my arrival to the arena, a super stretch hummer limo pulled up to the front doors carrying the cast...the entire cast! This limo was very long, but little did I realize the amount of people it was holding inside. The doors opened and out jumped former U.S. national champions and Olympians Rachael Flatt and Kimmie Meissner; soon to follow was 2011 U.S. pairs silver medalist and 2010 Olympian Amanda Evora. As I stood there watching, more and more skaters where jumping out of the limo. Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon, Alissa Czisny, Alexe Gilles, Caydee Denney, Mark Ladwig, Lynn Kriengkrairut the list goes on and on, and it was much to my amusement to stand there watching along side Bebe Liang and her dog Kaiya as we decided this was a lot like watching a cartoon with the clown car; people just kept appearing!

Once all the skaters were inside they changed and hit the ice for a quick warm up. The men were flying, girls were spinning, and pairs and dancers were lifting left and right, what a sight! While everyone warmed up for the show I took the opportunity to meet up with Los Angeles Ice Theater's head coach Danelle Cole.

Nick LaRoche and Cole have been long-time friends, and Nick has been a long-time supporter of the L.A. Ice Theater, with several of his own students being a part of the team.

"This year Nick traveled with the L.A. Ice Theater team to our national championships; there we discussed joining forces and using each others' strengths to create on night filled with amazing skating." said Cole.

Each year the L.A. Ice Theater, with the help of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club puts together their annual show. "We have so many great parents who are always willing to help and are so supportive that with LA Ice Theater, LAFSC, and US Athletic Foundation, it was clear that we were going to be able to team up and help make Nick and Tricia's dream show come true."

Did I mention the LA Ice Theater team is the four-time and current U.S. Ice Theater Champions? They also hold the current World Ice Theater silver medal and are well known for their creativity with choreography, props and costumes, all of which are made possible because of Cole and her team of parents that are very committed to their kids and team.

"Tonight the L.A. Ice Theater will be performing its free skate to "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen which is set during the French Revolution," Cole informed me.

Soon, the show was to start and Cole had to go round up the troops. The doors opened and the spectators poured in. From the doors to the bleachers it was a sea of people. Once everyone settled in their spots I spotted several coaches from the area including Tammy Gambill and her daughter Nicole.

The lights dimmed and the show started. The opening was set to a song by Susan Boyle which was a great way of setting the tone of the show. Everyone hit their jumps, spins and lifts in the opening, and there was a great moment when all the singles, dancers, and pairs combined and met for a little waltz.

Soon after the opening skaters were running backstage to change and the first of the acts was to go, Joshua Farris skated to "Gravity" by John Mayer and was followed by Alexe Gilles' rendition of "The Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machine.

More and more amazing acts followed including, Lindsay Davis and Themi Leftheris skating to "Across the Universe" by the Beatles, Courtney Hicks who landed three solid triples and the comedic styling of Braden Overett, who busted out a wig and rose when skating to Carmen's "Jabenero and Toreador."

I caught a moment to talk to Derrick Delmore who is a very good friend of Tricia and Nick, and, when asked how long he'd known Nick and his family, responded with an "O-M-G" and chuckle. The answer? At least a decade.

As the skaters kept skating more and more jumps and throws were landed and the audience just kept getting more and more into it. Newly paired Caydee Denney and John Coughlin skated to "Mambo Number Five" which got the audience dancing. I asked them what its been like recently pairing up, having to learn two competitive programs, a show program, train for their new season and still be able to come to California and skate.

"Any opportunity to perform together is a great opportunity. Having only been together for several months each time we are able to perform its just another building block to a stronger partnership."

Many of the skaters here are soon headed off to U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp, and they too made time in their busy training schedules to perform. Last week Richard Dornbush, and U.S. dance team Lynn Kriengkrairut & Long Guilletti-Schmitt skated at Parker Pennington's "Skate Dance Dream" show, and Rachael Flatt was six hours north from Burbank checking out the new college town she was soon to be entering. I asked her how she is going to balance everything and make it work because training, competing, and school can be quite the balancing act.

"Right now we are figuring out everything, skating, school, moving into school! But I think once its all laid out, and I have a schedule its just a matter of sticking with that schedule." said a smiling Flatt. Quickly Richard Dornbush added, "You should make the Rachael Flatt goes to college check list."

Another skater who partook in the show and is doing the well known college balancing act was Kimmie Meisner. She, too, is skating, going to school and working, in a physical therapy office in Maryland. I asked her, along with many of the other athletes who broke out of their busy schedules and donated their time, how they were able fit it in the schedule. For many ,they were training and getting ready to head off to Colorado for Team USA's Champs Camp, and some, like Kimmie, were just busy. But the response from everyone was the same. With a smile everyone said something all the same lines as what was said by Rachael Flatt, "You make time for things important to you." Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig shared similar thoughts saying, "Nick is such a wonderful person always wanting to help others. When asked to skate in the show, it was an automatic yes. Its such an amazing feeling to display something you love for an audience who is there sharing that same love and feeling."

As I ventured back out to the arena from the backstage area it was time for Jeremy Abbott to take the ice. Jeremy, along with a good amount of the other skaters, took this opportunity of having a show a few weeks before the season's start to debut their programs. Jeremy skated to his newly choreographed swing program, which really got the crowd going.

Nicholas skated a tribute to his late mother with Meghan Knight singing live. The passion that Nick displayed along side the beautiful voice of Meghan was, in my opinion, the most heartfelt of all. Nick and Tricia put everything they could into making this show what it was, and it turned out to be exactly what they wanted. Towards the end of the program Nick showed off his trade mark hydro-blade which got the crowd to their feet before he even finished skating. Nick, I just know your mother is proud!

As the night kept going more and more skaters skated their hearts out and received hoops and hollers from the very supportive audience. There were even some standing ovations; Alissa Czisny, Richard Dornbush, and, of course, Nicholas himself were just a few of many who received standing ovations. This audience definitely got a leg work out, but, I mean, who wouldn't want to give these skaters standing ovations. They were amazing and brought their A-game to prove it.

Finally it was time for the finale' which was choreographed by Braden Overett and was set to Lady Gaga's "On the Edge of Glory," which put a nice pun on things considering they were using their edges to be glorious! Ba-dump-pshh! Again the jumps were flying everywhere, lifts were circling around, and Courtney Hicks' scratch spin made you dizzy. The show was amazing, and the skaters came through to help Nick, Tricia, and L.A. Ice Theater's dream night come true.

From Burbank, I'm Sean Rabbitt, and this was definitely a great "Evening On Ice!"