Not To Be Missed: the Garrison show

The lights dimmed. The sun was warming outside, but still, about 3,400 people sought the chill of the Powerade Centre in Brampton, Ont., outside Toronto. And they were about to witness a happening of the Canadian-skating-community kind.

No little backwoods skating show, this, the Margaret Garrison Awards Ceremony and Ice Show.  It follows the tradition of Canadian skating back to the 1940s, when carnivals were lavish productions. This one was engineered by one of Canada’s skating sections (Central Ontario), in honour of Garrison, a section administrator, who devoted many hours to the sport, doing everything at one time or another, preparing meals in the kitchen, and from October to May working at rinks all over the section, which has 96 clubs. It is said that when Garrison called a meeting, she made sure everybody had their tea cup topped up.

Garrison lost her battle with cancer five years ago, and ever since, her section has played host to this show, distributing more than $76,000 from the Skaters` Trust Fund to more than 75 athletes and 16 synchro teams in recognition of accomplishments during the season.

All those who saw this show got an eyeful. There were spotlights, a string of LED lights along the ice edge, in front of tables, covered in white table clothes. David Dore, vice president of the ISU attended. (He received a lifetime achievement award, but he also handed out other awards). Canada`s chief executive office, Dan Thompson was there, too. They all watched the play of colourful lights across the ice: purples, blues, greens.

And they saw an ice surface (rather wet for the first half), populated by all manner of blades and boots and little skaters and some Olympians and a few who hope to be. Who couldn`t help but warm to the tiny girl in the Thailand group number (theme of the show was “Exploring Our Culture”) when tiny little CanSkaters were led out hand-in-hand by the program assistants, and the ice filled with a wave of tiny beings. She was part of it all, shaggy white fur coat, gauzy red skirt, black skates, and blue legwarmers to her knees – and don`t forget the helmet. She had a little trouble skating backwards, but she was where she should be. Somewhere behind the curtain were choreographers who had mapped out all the complicated comings and goings of a mob of skaters. Rehearsals and program creations took the day. You know that somewhere in this mix will come Canada`s future stars. For now, they were just adorable.

One of the top highlights for me was Roman Sadovsky, 14, who slid from behind the curtain in blue jeans, and skated to “Stairway to Heaven.” He looked like a rock star, and yet, out of his bag of tricks came some big triples. Sadovksy made the water from the ice fly in front the lights, like ribbons from a rhythmic gymnast.  Wish I had the camera to catch that sight.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam made the small ice surface seem large when they skated to “I Wanna Be Loved by You” – the song notably sung by movie icon Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot.” They were charming, in a piece choreographed just that morning. They captivated. They looked mature, in command, but at the same time playful.

Nam Nguyen, the reigning world junior champion, used every note to high effect with his chutzpah in “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and to show that it didn’t matter what time it was, he landed his biggest new toy, the triple Axel.

Gabby Daleman, 16, youngest member of the Canadian Olympic skating team in Sochi, skated with exuberance, dressed in shock-pink glitter. No half-way measures from her. Read her tweets, and they are all inspiring. There doesn`t seem to be a gram of negative self-talk in her.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier skated to intriguing music, with rhythmic, repetitive words: “I noticed you and I find you very attractive” and turned it into a sassy tour de force. One lift aborted and Gilles emerged with a scraped shoulder.

Others: Alexandra Najarro’s beautiful routine to Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” was memorable and so was Andrei Rogozine, who cast off the ball and chain of competition and skated with verve and snap. It was actually the best I’ve ever seen him. He threw a little fist at the end. No wonder.

We didn’t get to see Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, because Ralph was ill. It might have been their final performance. Ralph has stepped away from skating and Hill is in search of a new partner. Hill skated with Lauren Collins in a dance group number.

And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the adult skaters perform to Bollywood, the Gold Ice elementary synchronized skaters skating to a race car theme with “Born to Be Wild” with complex choreography and a peanut-sized member who skated with joy; and a group of Special Olympians who performed to an ABBA medley.

There was plenty more to see and Garrison would have been proud. Yes, Canadians know how to do a big show. Skating is in the blood, here.

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