Author's Note: If you see a link in this Blog, it will either take you to a web page or video link related to whatever is contained in the link. For example, a link attached to a skater's name will either take you to their Twitter page, their official website, or some website in some way related to them. I can sometimes be very link happy!
All That Skate Odyssey, Part Two
I hopped on the Number 60 bus headed west down 7th Street and asked the driver if he went to Figueroa Street, and the answer was yes. I know the employee at Greyhound had already told me what bus to take, however I just wanted to make sure. I paid my $1.50 and found myself a seat. There was a woman in a wheelchair trying to get on the bus, and the driver could not get the poor woman on! He tried repeatedly to get her on, but his lift was just not working properly. She finally had to wait for the next bus, and we departed. The bus we were on was quite beat up looking, and I would guess several years old, which may have something to do with why the driver had trouble with his wheelchair lift.
Los Angeles is my hometown, and ordinarily I would have been looking at everything and everyone we passed like a tourist; however in this case I was more interested in making sure I did not go past my stop. Therefore I peered intently at every street sign we passed or approached. A few minutes after I got on the bus my cell phone rang. I looked at the Caller I.D. and did not recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. It was Michael, and he told me he was with Judith (or was it Deborah? EEK!) and asked me where I was. I was excited to talk to him, because I had only ever talked to him online previously. It was really wonderful to finally put a live voice, and later a face; to the person I had only spoken to online previously! I think that is the best thing about the first time you meet a pen pal or an online friend in person, putting a voice and face to the person you've been talking to or writing to. I indicated to Michael I was on my way on the bus and that it should not be too much longer until I arrived.
As we approached Figueroa I signaled I needed to get off, and got off the bus just before the driver turned right. I had more or less forgotten what the man back at Greyhound had told me about the driver turning right and how I was supposed to go left, so I crossed Figueroa and started heading straight or west, when I should have been heading south or left. After walking a couple of blocks I started thinking I must be doing something wrong, and trying to figure out who I could call to help me figure it out. I called two people I had exchanged cell phone numbers with and could not reach either of them. I left a voicemail with one (can't remember who, sorry! Ila maybe?), and sent a text to the other, which happened to be Deborah. I called Michael back and asked him the address of the hotel. He wasn't sure, so he tried to find I believe Julie or someone else who lived in the area and might have a better idea of how to tell me to get where I needed to be. He finally put a hotel employee on the line, who helped me to figure out what I had done wrong and turned me in the correct direction.
I have to say, the difference between the part of town near the Staples Center and where the Greyhound bus depot is located only three miles away is like night and day. As you turn down 7th Street and head east toward Greyhound and away from the revitalized area around L.A. Live and the Staples Center, the neighborhood gets less and less 'revitalized'. By the time you reach the Greyhound station let's just say you don't appear to be in the best area of town, lol!
Anyway, I made my way back to 7th Street and headed south toward the J.W. Marriott where my friends were waiting in the lobby to meet up with other Johnny Weir fans we had met on Facebook, Twitter and other places. Several of the fans, plus the skaters were staying at the J.W. Marriott due to its proximity to the Staples Center. Some fans, such as Deborah and Lauri and me were staying across the street at the Luxe City Center Hotel; and others like Judith were staying at the Ritz-Carlton, which is part of the same tower as the J.W. Marriott, but located on different floors with separate access.
When I walked into the lobby of the J.W. Marriott I thought I had an advantage over the others in that I knew what several of them looked like, but I didn't think they knew what I looked like. I did not have any current photographs of myself, so the only photo anyone had seen of me was an old elementary school photo I had put up at Facebook at one time. However, as someone later told me, I haven't changed that much, so she was able to recognize me from my old photo; so that meant she recognized me as fast as I recognized the friends I had seen pictures of. I looked around for someone I either recognized or who looked like they were there to see Johnny. To my left I saw several people either wearing pink, or with signs in pink and black! I didn't want to walk up to strangers who were not connected to my group, so I looked to see if I could recognize anyone. This is one of the points where I am probably going to mess up on a name or two, so please forgive me if and when I do!
I wandered over to the group and I honestly cannot remember if I or one of the ladies there spoke first, but within a couple of minutes we were introducing ourselves. I remember Gary sitting on a chair and was introduced to him, as well as Lizzy and Teresa and a few other ladies. I asked if anyone knew where Judith, Deborah and Michael were and was told Judith and Michael had gone up to Judith's room to grab something. They thought Deborah might be outside, but were not sure.
Unfortunately things become a little bit of a blur for me. I do have some difficulty remembering exactly who said what, and I do apologize for that! I know that Lizzy gave me a lovely hand-made button to wear to the rehearsal, and she also showed me the beautiful Johnny themed hat she had made in person! She also made a Lady Gaga themed hat she was able to give to Johnny at the hotel.
Judith and Michael came down and I finally met both of them. There were hugs all around, and then Deborah came in from outside and I met her as well. Deborah showed me where Johnny had signed her leg above her tattoo and told me she was going to have the signature itself tattooed after she returned home. He even told her she had gorgeous legs!
L.A. Market, and how Johnny had come by and met the group. Of course I could not get there early enough for the lunch which also meant I had missed meeting Johnny early that afternoon and also in the lobby, sniffle, sniffle!
By this time it was getting close to the time we needed to head over the Staples Center for the dress rehearsal. We got ourselves organized with signs to wave at Johnny so he knew we were there, and Ila quickly brought me upstairs and let me leave my two bags in her hotel room temporarily while we went over to the dress rehearsal. The Staples Center is basically just across the street from the hotel, but we wanted to allow a few minutes to get over to the arena and find our seats.
We all started walking over to the Staples Center as a group, talking and joking as we went. I walked with Judith, Michael, Lisa, Lizzy and I am so sorry I can't remember everyone who was right there with us at this point! As we were crossing the street, while talking to some members of our group, Judith went to step up on to the curb with her left leg, and her foot slipped off and she overextended her calf muscle. She said she felt a tearing pain and a 'pop' and her leg started to hurt with what turned out to be a muscle strain in her left calf (Judith later said she was grateful it had not been her ankle). She had to sit down for a while, but insisted she could make it over to the Staples Center.
We started walking more slowly with Judith between Michael and someone else the entire way. Lizzy and several others either stopped or came back to us and asked what was wrong or if Judith was okay. We found ourselves talking about how fans always have a long distance to walk no matter what event they are attending or where it is held. Based on the size of arenas or stadiums, and how much area they need to have around them, I suppose this only makes sense. Of course stadiums and arenas also must accommodate the use of wheelchairs and provide access for them.
I remember when I attended the first World Professional Figure Skating Championship at the then brand new MCI Arena (now known as the Verizon Center) in Washington, D.C. one of my friends also attending, a lovely woman named Miriam, used a wheelchair. She was thrilled because wheelchair access involved taking the fans down a special elevator and through the backstage area to their rink side seats. In her short time passing through the backstage area she was able to catch glimpses of several skaters including our hero Brian Boitano!
Poor Judith was in pain, and we only walked as fast as she could walk, even though she insisted we could go ahead if we wanted to. Once we arrived at the Staples Center we had to pass through security and have our bags and/or purses searched. I had placed my RCA Small Wonder digital video camera in its small velvet bag in my purse and put my keys and cell phone in the bowl as instructed. I was afraid I would set the scanner off with my barrette (I've done that before at the local courthouse, for example!), or that my video camera would be discovered; however neither of these things happened. Michael, however, set off the scanner several times as did a few other fans entering the Staples Center.
Once inside Judith asked some arena personnel if she could get some ice for her leg, and one of the security personnel sent for a customer service person to try and help us. As it turned out no concessions or anything were open, and they were unable to provide her with any ice at that point. (I was hungry since I hadn't eaten since six am, and was disappointed to not be able to at least grab a snack or a drink; and since our dinner had been changed to a lunch, I did not know when I would have a chance to eat. However, I was more concerned about Judith at this point and really did not understand why the Staples Center could not find some ice for an injured patron. They were very nice, however.)
We proceeded slowly from the entrance doors and into the arena itself. All of us 'Ultimate Skate Experience' VIP ticket holders were first given lanyards announcing us as VIPs, and then we turned in our tickets at a special table and were given copies of the souvenir program. The program came with our 'Ultimate Skate Experience' ticket package along with the lanyard and the dress rehearsal, which we had been told would include a question and answer session; other fans had to purchase the programs separately, and no one other than VIP ticket holders was given the lanyards.
Our dress rehearsal tickets (issued separately from tickets for the show) had row and seat numbers printed on them so we were all under the impression there would be assigned seating. Once we arrived at the Staples Center, however, we discovered it actually was not assigned seating. All the V.I.P. ticket holders attending the dress rehearsal were directed to two sections on the lower level at the far end of the ice surface (opposite where the skaters came out) on a first come, first served basis as far as the seating went. Had we known this we might have left the hotel sooner so we could have arrived at the arena earlier, however we decided to make do.
With Judith's leg bothering her she, Michael and I sat in the highest row of one of the sections set aside for the dress rehearsal. We could see Lisa and Deborah waving at us from a lower row where they had saved us some seats; however we told them we were sitting in the higher row so Judith would not have to walk down any steps. Once again Judith told Michael and me we could go ahead and sit in the lower row and she would be fine; however both of us said we were fine with sitting in the upper row with her. A nearby usher started a conversation with Judith, and I have to say, most of the arena personnel I personally ran into were very nice people.
In an attempt to make Judith more comfortable Michael and she switched places so she could try and prop her leg up on his leg. It was not as comfortable as Judith hoped it would be, so the two of them switched back; putting Judith on the aisle, Michael to her right, and me to Michael's right. We looked around the arena before the rehearsal began and spotted Johnny's agent Tara Modlin as well as his mother Patti Weir in a section to the right of where the audience was sitting. Tara was in and out of the seats several times, and we could see she was talking on her cell phone frequently throughout the afternoon. The woman is always working!
Before the dress rehearsal began David Wilson, the show's Artistic Director and Choreographer, came out on to the ice surface and explained what would be happening during the dress rehearsal. There would be a question and answer session with Michelle Kwan and Yu Na Kim, then the skaters would run through the opening number twice, then they would skate their individual numbers, and then the second half of the show would begin. There would also be two run throughs of the closing number, and most of the skaters would be marking jumps, places and certain moves in their numbers and not performing all of the actual moves as they would in the show performances later that evening. All performances would be in full costume the same as the show that evening. The cameras filming the show for a broadcast on NBC October 10th, as well as the cameras filming the show for a live stream to Korea that evening were also in place for the rehearsal, marking their shots, but not actually filming at this point.
We knew there was to be a rinkside Question and Answer session as part of the dress rehearsal; however I, at least, was not aware it would only involve YuNa Kim and Michelle Kwan until it actually started. Some of us were hoping for the opportunity to ask Johnny Weir or one of the other skaters a question; but this show was primarily about YuNa Kim and Michelle Kwan, and there certainly were plenty of questions we could ask those two ladies!
David introduced Michelle Kwan and YuNa Kim and indicated there were people in the aisles with microphones who would come over to audience members who had questions they wanted to ask the two skaters. Several questions were asked, including one woman who asked two questions of YuNa Kim, one of which was why did she leave her coach Brian Orser. She gracefully answered the woman's other question while not answering the question about Brian Orser. When the question was asked I can't say the audience booed, but it was not a question the audience seemed comfortable with as a group. I remember turning to Michael and Judith and saying I did not feel it was an appropriate question for the woman in the audience to have asked, and they both agreed with me. Deborah was able to ask a question regarding whether the show would go on tour to other large cities; but she pretty much had to stand up on her chair and wave at the show representatives to get their attention! I honestly do not remember what the answer was; but I believe it might have been something like 'I hope so'.
The dress rehearsal began with a group number to 'Get the Party Started' by Pink. We were first treated to a video on a large screen at the far end of the rink with YuNa Kim and Michelle Kwan talking about their skating inspirations and then the number began. All the cast members except for Michelle and YuNa came out in pastel colored pants and white shirts with rainbow streaks on them and then the two ladies skated out. After performing a few group moves in unison the two dance teams skated across the ice together, followed by the two pairs, then the three male skaters, and then the three ladies. The group finished with a group pose in the middle of the ice. Then the announcement was made the opening number would be run again. Once the number was run for a second time each of the skaters was introduced individually and skated out on to the ice.
Immediately after the introductory number Ashley Wagner skated out on the ice for her first individual number to 'Ain't No Other Man' by Christina Aguilera. I did not record her rehearsal number, and I honestly do not remember much information about it, and I do apologize for that! She was followed by German pairs team and 2010 Olympic Bronze Medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skating to 'Barbie Girl' by Aqua. They did not perform any of their difficult moves; they just marked where they would occur later that evening.
When Johnny Weir had skated in the opening number he had already been wearing the makeup he uses for his first number, and when he came out right after the German pair we understood why. It takes time to apply makeup properly, and his first number was ten minutes tops after the opening number ended; therefore it made sense for him to already have the makeup on. The music for his first number is 'A Comme Amour' by Richard Clayderman, but it is known as 'Heartbroken' to his fans due to his choreographing it as a response to what happened to him at the Vancouver Olympics. Although he performed the beautiful balletic turns, his final scratch spin and the ending fetal position down on the ice, Johnny only marked the position of his jumps, other spins and his trademark slide across the ice. (We found out later that evening that he had injured his hip during an earlier practice session which made his performances more difficult for him not to mention painful.) I had never seen Johnny Weir skate live before this show, and even though it was only the dress rehearsal and he did not perform all of his moves, I still was greatly moved by this program.
Johnny was followed on the ice by his good friends Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto skating a fun number to 'If It Kills Me' by Jason Mraz. I put my video camera down and later turned it off for a while during this number because there were two ushers nearby and I thought they were watching me and I did not want to risk having my camera confiscated. At one point Deborah came by where we were sitting and was standing next to Judith dancing along as Gary waited for her so they could go back to their seats. It was so much fun!
Tanith and Ben were followed by Patrick Chan, who skated to 'Take Five' by Paul Desmond. He was followed by 2010 Olympic Ice Dance Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who skated to 'Schenkst Du Beim Tango Min Dein Herz' by Dajos Bela & Nights and Days by Waldemar Kazanecki. They were followed by the wonderful 2010 Olympic Champion Chinese pair Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo who skated to 'Who Wants To Live Forever' by Queen. They were one of the few skaters that actually performed some of their moves and did not just mark the places for them. They are a beautiful pair, wonderfully in sync and they seldom make a mistake.
Immediately following Shen and Zhao came 2010 Ladies Olympic Champion YuNa Kim. She skated to 'Méditation' from Thaïs by Jules Massenet. This is a beautiful piece of music that I've seen skaters use a number of times, and YuNa Kim makes very good use of it. I think I tweeted from the arena about a beautiful lay back spin she had done in this number. She is not perfect, but she is a lovely skater, there's no doubt about it.
She was followed by two-time Olympic Medalist Michelle Kwan who skated to 'No One' by Alicia Keys. I am a fan of Michelle's, but I honestly do not remember a lot about her skates from the rehearsal. Michelle was followed by 2006 Olympic Champion Stephane Lambiel, who skated to 'Let the Good Times Roll' by Ray Charles. As seems to be the case with most of the Swiss born skaters, Lambiel's spins are wonderful, and the dress rehearsal was no exception. As he finished his number Ashley, Aliona, Tanith, Tessa, and Shen Xue came out on to the ice and skated briefly with Stephane. The girls pulled his jacket off and threw it on to the ice, and then Stephane skated off and YuNa Kim and Michelle skated out. The ladies skated together briefly to 'She's So Lovely' by Scouting For Girls; and then YuNa and Michelle spoke to the audience before skating a lovely number to 'Hero' by Mariah Carey.
The duet by YuNa Kim and Michelle Kwan ended the first half of the dress rehearsal, and the announcer indicated there would be a twenty minute intermission during which the Zamboni would resurface the ice. A lot of people started to stand up and stretch; however the announcer then indicated there would not be a twenty minute intermission during the rehearsal, only during the show itself that evening. There was a short break for a few minutes and then the second half of the dress rehearsal began.
The second half of the dress rehearsal began with the number Skaters vs BBoys. Five of the male skaters (Johnny Weir, Stephane Lambiel, Patrick Chan, Robin Szolkowy and Ben Agosto*) came out on to the ice and did a fun 'battle' with a group of five male hip hop dancers. One of the skaters would perform a move, then one of the 'BBoy's, another of the skaters and so on. One of the hip hop dancers came out on to the ice and did a break dancing spin that drew a lot of applause from the audience. Stephane did a wonderful set of spins for his 'challenge', and Johnny performed his trademark knee slide followed by a series of hip swiveling knee spins. The fun battle ended with the two groups slapping hands and giving each other high fives.
Immediately following the battle were Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto skating to 'Use Somebody' by Kings of Leon. I really like this number a lot, but I am a fan of theirs anyway! Following Tanith and Ben was Ashley Wagner's second number 'Speechless' by Lady Gaga. I remember us looking at the program and commenting there was another Lady Gaga number in the show besides Johnny's. Following Ashley was Patrick Chan skating to 'Viva la Vida' by Coldplay and then Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy skating to 'Nella Fantasia' by Garðar Thór Cortes. I enjoyed their second number a lot more than I enjoyed their first number. They are definitely fun to watch!
One of the numbers I was looking forward to was the one following Aliona and Robin; Stephane Lambiel skating to 'William Tell Overture' by Gioachino Rossini. It's always great to see his wonderful spins and his beautiful smile out on the ice! After Stephane came Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo skating their beautiful 'Turandot' program by Giacomo Puccini. This is a beautiful and spectacular number finishing with a bit of 'Nessun Dorma'. I leaned over to Michael and Judith and said I couldn't help myself, but no matter who skated to that aria, and no matter how well they did it, I could not watch it without thinking of Brian Boitano skating to it.
Right after the Chinese pair came Johnny Weir skating his second number to 'Poker Face' by Lady GaGa. We saw right away he was wearing his newer costume for this number as opposed to the one he had worn when he first began skating this number. The announcer introduced him this way; 'He's a fashion designer, author, and has his own television show. He is an original in every sense of the word. Ladies and gentleman, Johnny Weir!' Johnny only marked most of the moves including the knee slide and jumps except for his final spin. However Judith and Michael realized he would be a mere couple of feet in front of them while he played to the audience during the show when they were in their regular seats, so they were both quite excited about that. When Johnny skated around our end of the rink most of us made sure we waved our signs and called out his name, again so he would know we were there for him. At one point Michael, Judith and I were laughing at several of our friends in the lower rows and how they were reacting. What fun! We could see exactly what they were doing because we were above and behind them, but they could not see us without turning around to look!
Right after Johnny, Michelle Kwan came out again to skate her number 'Winter Song' by Sara Bareilles with Ingrid Michaelson. Following Michelle were Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skating a number to a medley of three songs: 'Hip Hip Chindchin' by Club des Belugas,
'Temptation' by Diana Krall and 'Mujer Latina' by Thalia. They are definitely a beautiful dance team, and there is no doubt they deserved a medal in Vancouver. YuNa Kim followed the Canadian gold medalists skating to 'Bulletproof' by La Roux. She was introduced as YuNa Kim 'disco girl'!
YuNa Kim's number was the last of the individual skater's numbers. After her skate a 'special guest' was introduced to the audience. A young Korean female singer named 윤하 (Younha) came out to sing 'Just Can't Get Enough', originally sung by Depeche Mode. No skaters were on the ice while she sang this number. She spoke briefly telling us she was nervous, but she was actually quite good. Once she finished this number the finale began. 윤하 Younha sang 'Dream On' by Aerosmith as the skaters were introduced and came out for a group number. When 'Dream On' was finished the finale with an encore was run again. The encore was performed to 'Tik Tok' by Ke$ha.
Once the show was over Judith, Michael and I made our way out into the hall where we waited for the rest of our group. Judith again spoke to Staples Center personnel about her leg, which was still hurting, and they arranged for an employee to bring a wheelchair. We proceeded slowly down the wheelchair ramp and out the front door. The employee wheeled Judith all the way out to the curb where she got out of the chair and thanked him. After that we headed back for the hotel talking about the rehearsal and the show later that evening.
To be continued...
* I was never positive Ben was the fifth male skater, but I am assuming he was. If I find out differently I will change and update my Blog!
All That Skate Odyssey, Part One
All That Skate Odyssey Picture and Video Links
My Videos From Oct 2, 2010 Rehearsal (You may be able to hear me talking to my friends Michael and Judith during several of these videos.)
My Videos From Oct 2, 2010 ATS L.A. Show
All of the skaters in the show had banners hanging on columns outside the arenas. This was Johnny's banner.