Top 5 Figure Skating Routines Featuring Classical Music

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Sports and music are awkward bedfellows, often competing against each other for attention in the media or events such as the Super Bowl halftime show.

However, the two come together seamlessly in figure skating, where memorable performances are identified by the title of the accompanying music, and the perfect song can make or break a performance (the rules include deductions for “Musical Violations”). With the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi starting this week, and figure skating inevitably at the center of the action, we’re celebrating our five best uses of classical music in Olympic skating performances:

1. Torvill and Dean: Bolero (1984)

Who can argue with perfection, which is what Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean scored with their ice dancing routine to Bolero at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo. The Ravel classic with its dogged rhythm was an unusual choice, as skaters traditionally chose music with varying tempos until that time. However, the slow steady crescendo won over the crowd and judges, who all gave the couple the highest possible 6.0 score for artistic expression. The iconic routine is still a draw—this winter the team will stage a performance in Sarajevo on the 30th anniversary of their win.


2. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Mahler's Fifth Symphony (2010)

A piece of music rarely steals the attention away from a pair of fit and attractive Olympians, but the 2010 gold medal routine by Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir converted a few of their followers into Gustav Mahler fans. Skating to the utterly romantic Adagietto from the composer’s Fifth Symphony, the couple enchanted the audience with an equally dreamy program en route to a gold medal in Vancouver. WBUR critic-at-large Ed Siegel wrote in the Boston Globe, “Virtue and Moir probably did more for old Gustav than anyone since Leonard Bernstein half a century ago."


3. Battle of the Carmens (1988)

In 1988, the media went wild over the rivalry between East German skater Katerina Witt and the American Debi Thomas when the two medal contenders chose to skate to Bizet in their long programs. Dubbed the Battle of the Carmens, the drama in the ladies’ free skate escalated to operatic proportions on Calgary’s ice. At the end of the competition, Witt’s Habanera triumphed over Thomas’s Seguidilla, and won the East German her second Olympic gold.


4. Brian Boitano:  Meyerbeer’s Le prophèt (1988)

On the men’s side of the competition in Calgary, Brian Boitano presented a short program based on the classical ballet Les Patineurs, or The Skaters. The ballet was adapted from the music of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera, Le prophète. Legendary figure skating choreographer Sandra Bezic was lauded for her apropos routine, which utilized traditional skating moves and mined the sport’s lore.


5. Oksana Baiul: Swan Lake (1994)

Having a background in classical ballet, Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine opened her competition at the 1994 games with a short program to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The 16-year-old Ukrainian orphan embodied the black swan with her sylph-like movements. She even incorporated toe-work, usually reserved for pointe shoes onto the ice. However, it was her long program, to My Fair Lady, which catapulted Baiul over Nancy Kerrigan for the gold medal.

Honorable mentions: Peggy Fleming's program to Tchaikovsky in 1968; Gordeeva and Grinkov’s free skate to the Moonlight Sonata in 1994; Michelle Kwan’s short program to Rachmaninoff in 1998; Sarah Hughes’ long program to Daphnis et Chloé in 2002; and Evan Lysacek’s short program to Firebird in 2010.

Tell us your favorite in the comments box below:


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Comments [13]

Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

Figure skating routines are cheesy. Period. They are no less cheesy when set to classical music. Unlike dance choreography, skating routines are usually set to medleys or classical music arranged with an electronic drum beat.
Why can't they where Adidas track suits instead of Carmen Miranda costumes?

Feb. 18 2014 10:55 PM
StephenA from New York

"The ballet [Les Patineurs] was adapted from the music of Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera, Le prophète." This is "not quite" true, or perhaps we should say, it leaves a false impression. Boitano skates not to the music of Meyerbeer's Le prophete, but to that of Meyerbeer's opera comique "L'etoile du Nord. This music is taken from the overture to Act II of L'etoile du Nord.".

In the 1930's the English choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton combined most of the ballet music from Le prophete (having everything to do with skating) with this second act overture from L'etoile du Nord (having nothing to do with skating) and called it all "Les Patineurs"(the skaters).

Feb. 11 2014 01:58 PM
Arlene Lo

Toller Cranston: Vesti la giubba; Graduation Ball; others
Janet Lynn: L'apres-midi d'un faune

Feb. 11 2014 11:08 AM
Joanne from NYC

After last night's team figure skating competition ( i.e. Sunday, 2/9/2014) you have to add the musical score by John Williams from the film "Schindler's List" to YOUR above list. That petite 15 year old young lady from Russia i.e. "Yulia" was perfection in her free solo skating, but such heart bending music added a layer of emotional depth to her skating that put her performance on an unearthly level.

Feb. 10 2014 12:52 PM
Emma Iadanza from Long Island, NY

I think Plushenko just did one with a theme from Tosca in it - it was only for a minute, though...

Feb. 09 2014 05:51 PM
linda kemp

You left out Michele Kwan's iconic skate to Tosca.

And wait till you see Davis & White skating to Scheherazade - mama mia!

Feb. 07 2014 06:21 PM
David Chowes from The Big Apple


I have heard and seen Tchaikovski's Swan Lake ballet and score so many times -- but, never realized that the Russian composer was so prescient that he knew that Obama would be president of the U. S. over a century later.

I guess that genius is not monolithic in an individual -- but it manifests itself in many areas/

Feb. 07 2014 10:00 AM
Debbie from Louisiana

Witt's “Carmen” LP was not special enough to make this list. It didn’t have that "goose bump" factor. Kwan’s two 1998 programs–the Rachmaninoff SP and the Allwyn/Satie LP--are much more beautiful and deserving of a spot on this list. It’s an insult not to include one of them in your Top 5. Everything about them was impeccable.

Feb. 07 2014 05:56 AM
Helene Kaplan from Vancouver BC

John Curry, 1976: Long Program to Minkus' "Don Quixote" and Short Program to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

Feb. 06 2014 05:35 PM
Natalee Fogel from Ossining, NY

Torvil & Dean were a perfect pair of grace, beauty, talent, musicality, and strength. Ballet is my favorite art form and this skating entry was the closest I've seen that could come anywhere near it.

Feb. 06 2014 03:49 PM
JM from Manhattan

At the time she performed it in Albertville, the commentators called Kristi Yamaguchi's short program to Strauss's "Blue Danube Waltz" absolute perfection. I would have to agree.

Feb. 06 2014 02:26 PM
Elizabeth from East Orange, NJ

Lucinda Ruh - Largo from Chopin Piano Concert 1

Scott Hamilton - Largo al factotum

Feb. 06 2014 12:07 PM
Chris Hawkins

Janet Lynn (Nowicki)
Bronze 1972 Sapporo Jpn
Leonore #3

Feb. 06 2014 10:01 AM

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