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Stars come out for 'An Evening with Champions'

Wylie, Emily Hughes perform hosting duties; Abbott debuts programs

Jason Brown did his best MC Hammer impersonation at "An Evening with Champions."
Jason Brown did his best MC Hammer impersonation at "An Evening with Champions." (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(10/01/2012) - The 42nd annual "An Evening with Champions" show at Harvard University brought a cast of established and rising stars to the Bright Arena in Boston. A rainy New England weekend failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the skaters, all of whom donate their time for the Jimmy Fund, which supports cancer research and patient care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Harvard graduates Paul Wylie and Emily Hughes co-hosted the show; Hughes told the audience that this year's show was the 30th held since Wylie's first "Evening with Champions" appearance. Tim LeBlanc directed the show, and Jason Wong, who also performed with the Act I of Boston Theater On Ice group, choreographed the opening and closing numbers.

Since the show usually takes place just before the start of the Grand Prix season, skaters sometimes debut their competitive programs here. Jeremy Abbott performed his slow and soulful new free skate to "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables on Saturday, and a snappy and fun short program to Nathan Lanier's "Spy" on Sunday. Abbott went for a quad toe to open the short program, although he fell on it; he landed solid triple Axels in his free skate and his encore.

He said when he does the free skate in competition, it will start with a triple Lutz followed by a quad toe. Just after the midway point, he does back-to-back triple Axels, to great effect.

"The long program is really comfortable for me," he said. "I'm really happy with both programs; they feel right. It's a good prep for Skate America -- it's coming up and I need to get out the programs and work out the glitches, and this was a great venue to do that."

Christina Gao also performed her new short program, to a classical-sounding violin piece she said was called "Close Without Touching." She watered down the content a bit under the spotlights but said the plan is for a triple toe-triple toe combination followed by a double Axel and triple loop.

Gao has just started her freshman year at Harvard.

"I love school, and I like training at the Skating Club of Boston with Mark [Mitchell] and Peter [Johansson]," she said. "They're amazing, and so far it's going really well.

Gao says she is taking economics, math and Chinese, but she hasn't yet decided what field she will concentrate in. She skates in the morning, takes class in the afternoon and then, three days a week, goes back to the rink for an hour.

"It's really not that bad," she said. "So far, everything is working out well. I have a lot of time to do homework and still train well."

Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 world champion, performed her "Skinny Love" exhibition program, days before traveling to Tokyo for the Medal Winners Open. She said she hasn't skated competitively for three or four years, although she skated in some shows this summer.

"It's a weird thought to even consider judges watching me again," Meissner said. "They asked me [to do the competition] maybe a month ago. I've been skating really well, but just this Thursday I strained my hip flexor, so I'm trying to take it easy this weekend and hopefully by next week I'll be back to 100 percent."

Ryan Bradley, who hasn't appeared in the show for seven years, skated to Footloose and was a big hit with the crowd, as always. He said his schedule has calmed down slightly, after a year and a half of having a show every week.

"I had three weeks off without a show, and that was big!" he said. "I could get a lot of things done in that amount of time. It was nice to start training and get things going again. It's nice to be able to practice jumps and feel like you're getting better again."

Jason Brown, just back from winning a gold medal at the Junior Grand Prix event in Istanbul, showed off a hilarious and delightful hip-hop program to "You Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer.

"Rohene [Ward] and Kori [Ade] wanted me to do something I have never done before, that will push my boundaries," Brown said. "It was definitely really fun. I want to do more things like that."

Brown said he was excited to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, which he won last year. Asked if he is hoping to win again, he said, "I hope so! That's the plan!"

He says his triple Axels are getting better.

"Seventy percent of the ones I do are like a quarter-turn under-rotated," he said. "And then 30 percent are clean. So that's really exciting."

The Haydenettes showed off their new short program, which includes a fast and exciting back intersection, to "Good Luck" by Basement Jaxx. Dancers Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, who are also preparing for Skate America, skated a passionate program to Adele's "Turning Tables."

Kylie Duarte and Colin Grafton performed an elegant and lovely program to "Turning Page" by Sleeping at Last. Dancing on Ice stars Melanie Lambert and Fred Palascak skated a lively number to "Mas Que Nada," complete with their breathtaking headbanger. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir also thrilled the crowd with daring pairs moves in their "Feelin' Good" program. Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre performed a funny program to "Mercy."

Doug Razzano skated a powerful program, with some great triple jumps, to "Walk Like a Man," and Ross Miner was suave and debonair to Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady." Agnes Zawadzki, who skated to Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," said it was her first visit to Boston.

"It's for a good cause," Zawadzki said. "You always need to give back."

Harrison Choate, who will attend Harvard next year, Yasmin Siraj, Bennett Gottlieb and Harvard student Blake Rosenthal also performed.

Hughes, who is now working as a consultant in New York, took the ice in "Paint It Black" and then egged on Wylie to perform a little. He didn't do a program, but he did show off some of his classic moves in inimitable style.

Audience favorites Oleg and Liudmila Protopopov, who had planned to skate in the show for the 21st time, were unable to attend; Wylie told the audience that Oleg was under doctor's orders not to skate. Hughes filmed a round of applause by the crowd, which Wylie will send to the two-time Olympic champions at their home in Switzerland.

Look for video of the show to be available on icenetwork.com in the near future.