Review - The Passion to Skate
by Sandra Bezic with David Hayes

by Lorrie Kim
Originally posted to on November 7, 1996

I admit it grudgingly: this book is near perfect. Unassailable. The coffeetable format is glossy and sumptuous, the photos a feast. They are chosen for richness, a certain evocative tautness that floods the reader with awareness that a skater's body in that position means something.

Since the book is aimed at a general audience it doesn't go into full detail, but essentially Bezic describes the choreographic process exactly the way I want as a reader. For example, she describes what some moves mean and why they are appropriate for some programs: in thinking through Browning's "Casablanca," she determined that a macho 40's guy like Bogey would never have raised his arms above his head (an unwritten reference to Viktor "The Competition" Petrenko here, I think). She amazes me by explaining how she labors over music edits to match a skater's cardiovascular capacity (Browning can go for two minutes without a rest, but the much larger Boitano cannot), and edits the exact number of beats to match strokes between tricks (such as the steps for 'Tano lutz into triple axel combination for Boitano's "Napoleon").

Oh, the photos. You can tell Bezic feels a powerful kinship with Katarina Witt, who commands your attention with arched brows all over this book. There is also a great "storytelling" shot of Brian Orser on the set of Carmen on Ice, gussied up in toreador duds and skates, standing in the sawdust observing a bunch of real toreadors.

The book is full of interesting tidbits. Bezic's favorite Yamaguchi program is "Fantaisie Impromptu." Katarina Witt's pensive expression during Carmen on Ice's fortune-telling scene is due partly to her real-life pensive mood, because they were filming in East Berlin and the Wall had just come down that day. Some of Jef Billings' signed and stamped costume designs are included (he has cool handwriting).

Naturally, non-Bezic quantities such as Kwan, Eldredge, Baiul and Stojko aren't covered much. Kwan is represented by two photos and a caption stressing that in Edmonton she beat Chen Lu's "flawless" long program, a Bezic creation. Baiul -- well, Bezic stops short of saying the Lillehammer title should have gone to Kerrigan, and adroitly handles the topic of Baiul and judging by praising the Prague judges for giving the '93 title to a newcomer. Smooth. The oddest omission is of Josée Chouinard, who I think has performed some of Bezic's most captivating work, but is mentioned only peripherally as a prop in Kurt Browning's special.

So why I do begrudge praise? Because I find Sandra Bezic so annoying and patronizing! One self-indulgent passage giggles breathlessly over how sexy it is to choreograph Underhill and Martini -- it's a mercy she doesn't go on to give details about any ménages à trois that might have come next. Another passage heaps thinly veiled derision on the "bad taste" of homemade skating costumes, as though skaters wear them on purpose to blemish the image of the sport and offend Bezic's delicate sensibilities. (For all that, I think Bezic is a fashion trend follower, not a setter -- I predict one-shouldered dresses for this year's SOI.) The whole book smacks not only of "damn I'm good," which is at least true, but also "I am smug and have no time for less talented people." It got to the point that when the text misused a word, I thought spitefully, "Ha! That's 'elegy,' Sandra, not 'eulogy,' and 'a cappella' has two p's!"

Yes, I'm getting petty. Bezic has that effect on me. Self-consciously clever, self-congratulatory, sometimes formulaic, not particularly interested in breaking new ground or challenging outdated notions -- but she does know process, she is conscientious, she is a critical thinker, and she can deliver on a regular basis. And her best trick: she always uses the best ingredients, no apology. I look forward to many years of complaining about her as I ooh and aah over her programs and pay big bucks for Stars on Ice.

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