The Margaret Garrison show: 2015

In the early morning light – say 7 a.m –  a battalion of choreographers showed up at the Powerade Centre in Brampton, Ont. Their job? To create moving, arresting, complicated routines for the sixth Margaret Garrison Ice Show. In one day. In all, 29 choreographers lent their talents to this show.

This show held extra significance because it also marked the 60th anniversary of the Central Ontario Section of Skate Canada – a sizable area in the mostly highly populated section of the country. It’s a highly influential section that has spawned 10 level-four coaches, (24 per cent of the total Canadian coach population at this level), six level-five coaches (half of this top-rank in the country), and 11 Olympic medals.

Its skaters have produced the first triple Salchow by a woman (Petra Burka), the first triple Lutz (Donald Jackson), the first triple Axel (Vern Taylor) and the first quad combo at a world championship (Elvis Stojko.) The section has had nine world champions.

The Central Ontario Section or shall we say simply the COS, has muscled its way around the national championships, producing 20 women’s champions, 21 ice dancing champs, 24 pair titlists, eight synchro skating victors and – get this – 40 men’s champions over the past 60 years. Currently it has 94 clubs, two of them with more than 2,000 members and of course, the show is never complete without skaters flying the flags of each club in undulating formations.

Here’s another cool fact, brought up by COS chairman/MC Paul Cotter. Of the 92 members of the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame, 46 of them fly the flag of the mighty COS.

So at one end of the lively complex, which features Brampton’s Hall of Fame, rippled an elegant black curtain with “COS” and “ 60” detailed in bright white lights. The tables floated around the ice surface, ringed in lights. The folks that filed in saw two hours of non-stop skating, from tiny CanSkaters to Canada’s newest hero, Nam Nguyen, the 40th COS men’s champion, who at age 16, finished fifth at the world championships in Shanghai in March.

There wasn’t a dull moment. There never is. There were plenty of falls and skids and hats flying off.  All hugely entertaining. And all in honour of Madame Margaret, who buzzed her way into the section and did it all for 25 years: prepared meals in the kitchen, and making sure everybody had their teacups full before a board meeting. She was the vice-president of administration before she died of cancer May 15, 2009. Surely Margaret was somewhere behind that big black curtain in the Powerade Centre, directing traffic, at least in spirit. It was also an awards night for volunteers. The number of volunteers who had a hand in producing the show was staggering.

One skater was missing. Dylan Moscovitch, the Canadian pair silver medalist with his new Russian-born partner Lubov Ilyushechkina, broke a finger in practice last week and at the moment can do no lifts, no throws, nothing. Ilyushechkina performed by herself in a group number, now an honoured member of the COS. This twosome won the Standing Ovation Bursary Award, given to skaters that share Garrison’s “passion for figure skating, selfless attitude and perseverance,” and this bursary couldn’t have rained in a drier spot, with Moscovitch and Ilyushechkina having to turn to crowd funding last season to finance their incredible journey. They are celebrating their first anniversary of being together.

The show started on a high note. First out of the box, from behind the black curtain came 10-year-old Stephen Gogolev, gold medalist in pre-novice at Skate Canada Challenge and also the champ at the pre-novice level at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C. At that event, Gogolev got valuable experience: the stands were packed and they were loud. “I was pretty scared when I got out there,” he said.

Not apparently so at the Garrison show. Gogolev astonished spectators with his crisp spins and his arm movements and his body awareness and his flying blond hair, all there for a boy so young. Troll through some YouTube videos, and you can see him landing triple Axels under the watchful eye of coach Brian Orser. He could be a treat in years to come. (And that’s one benefit  of getting to a Margaret G. show.)

And another treat: pre-novice women’s bronze medalist NatalieD’Allessandro, who came out in petal pink and skated with lovely body movement too. She’s 10.

Floods of skaters came out: STARskaters, Future Champions, two little ice dancers looking for all the world like tiny versions of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, all of them en masse, in a huddle, out of the huddle, and then a CanSkater of the year award came up: to 4-year-old Clark Paton, a little peanut under the “60” lights. (This to a skater who shows enthusiasm and dedication to the CanSKate program throughout the season.)

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a CanSkate demonstration, with toddlers finding their feet. They had the same presence at this show as did Carol Hopper, who earned a 50-year pin for her work in the section, and also the Peter Hunt Memorial Award (named for a long-time volunteer). You have to be a cherished volunteer to get this award. Hopper has passed the acid test, many times. She has been ubiquitous over the years.

Other highlights: Roman Sadovsky, now seemingly a regular, slipping around the rink in his jeans with inimitable style; (coach Tracey Wainman tells me he’s sprouted some more inches, even since we last saw him at the Canadian championships in January); Michelle Long, who finished 7th in senior women at her very first Canadian championship last January at age 22 (didn’t start competing until she was a 15-year-old pre-novice skater), floated out, dressed in rich orchid and skated to an iconic Leonard Cohen tune:  “Hallelujah.” However, unlike Jeremy Ten, who used Jeff Buckley’s version to win the silver medal at the Canadian championships from his B.C. perch, Long used k.d. lang’s powerful one. (In the 30th anniversary of the song, Newsweek ranked 60 version of the song, from worst to best. Lang ranked fifth. Buckley was second. Cohen himself was eighth. Susan Boyle faded away at 56th place. Yikes, the Canadian Tenors were 59th).

Junior dance national silver medalists Lauren Collins and Shane Firus were winsome, skating to the haunting and heartbreaking “Say Something:” Two Special Olympics skaters dressed in black velvet may have been the best-dressed of the night. Some adult skaters showed off cheek while skating to “Fly Me to the Moon.” (And don’t we  love it when skaters slap their rumps on the way out?). Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam did what they do best: something lyrical and lovely with long edges. Team Elite featured Gabby Daleman coming out in a long cloak: Leaside’s synchro club offered up some talented newbies in Meraki, the novice version, making “I Love Lucy” come alive. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier showed up at their third Garrison, fresh from a sixth-place finish at the world championships and gave us gorgeous moves, including one in which Poirier picks up Gilles on the fly, and then replayed a beautiful move done by Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay years ago in their Reflections number.

And then there was Nguyen, who showed us a side we haven’t seen before, a routine choreographed by Shin Amano, otherwise known as a tough technical specialist, but obviously a program designer with enchanting vision. All of the cheekiness and showmanship of Nguyen disappeared and in its place was a lovely, classical and emotive routine. Stay tuned for more of this in the coming season.







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