Thursday, the 17th of October, 2019: broadcast day for the fifth episode of the fifth season of “Battle of the Blades” — and birthday of contestant Natalie Spooner. Multiple causes for celebration here in our little corner of the internet.
The musical theme for the week was rhythm and blues, and the pairs we’re watching — Natalie Spooner and Andrew Poje, and Colton Orr and Amanda Evora — had yet again earned enough fan votes to be safe from elimination.
Spooner and Poje were up first, skating to “Powerful” by Major Lazer feat. Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley.
Before I talk about their program, though, I have to digress: I know I rarely get bogged down in analysis of the pairs’ costuming, but this week I just cannot ignore it. Why is Natalie Spooner wearing a black dress with mesh cutouts and brass-buckled leather straps all around the torso? Is that ... powerful? Or is it just the design that seemed most different from last week’s baby-pink crop top?
Moving on. In this week’s routine, Spooner showed off some graceful lines and terpsichorean extensions (and, at 5’ 10”, she has long limbs to extend). The program was lighter on figure skating skills and heavier on dance steps — seemingly in the foxtrot and/or rumba style, or maybe some ice dancing form that I’m not even familiar with — but they didn’t omit the big lifts. (Spooner had been nervous about the lifts. In the rehearsal interview, she said, “It feels like I’m going to go head first right over into the ground and nose-dive behind him.”)
Head judge Kurt Browning noted that they weren’t as good as they had been in previous weeks. However, he observed that — rather than running on instinct as they tend to do — the pair had done “real choreography, and that takes bravery.” He made a point to applaud Poje for his work at “carrying someone who’s as tall as you are!”
Guest judge Meagan Duhamel recalled that when she and Poje had tried to do an overhead lift two years prior, they couldn’t manage it. “That’s a testament to your team’s hard work,” she said.
Permanent resident judge Colby Armstrong praised Spooner’s expressiveness — “faceography, if you will.” (Sure, we will.) “You guys have such a chemistry together ... the speed, element to element ... and I loved the spread eagle lift [pictured].”
Spooner and Poje earned a combined 17.0 from the judges.
The next pair to skate was Orr and Evora. Choreographer Michael Seibert, in the pre-performance interview, said, “What I’d like Colton and Amanda to do this week is show their tender side.”
It was, in Orr’s words, a “softer, slower” program. Yet the performance, to ”Rise Up” by Andra Day, still had some flash — it included a throw much like the one that caused Evora to fall back in episode two, and wrapped up with a lift that saw her put her skate blade on Orr’s shoulder. (It didn’t go perfectly smoothly, but it did happen. And Orr’s “whew, we did it” smile when they pulled it off was truly sweet.)
Duhamel noted that the lift was “among the most difficult lifts done in pairs skating” and praised Orr for learning the technique necessary to provide a foundation for the challenging moves.
Whereas Armstrong said, “I can’t believe you let Amanda step on your jugular. Are you cray?” “A little bit,” Orr replied.
Browning observed that in figure skating, the performance that’s judged best isn’t always the one that the audience finds most affecting. “When that lift was struggling, and you put it up anyways ... I had an actual tear in my eye, and I want to thank you for that moment. You killed it.”
Orr and Evora earned a combined 17.2 from the judges.
Based on the judges’ scores, Spooner/Poje and Orr/Evora were in the lower half of the four remaining pairs. Will they be saved by the fan vote yet again and avoid the dreaded skate-off?
As the show concluded, host Ron MacLean announced that next week’s episode will start with the skate-off. And, what’s even more exciting, he said Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir would be back as guest judges.
And then, because it was Spooner’s birthday, she got surprised by a cream pie to the face as MacLean and the contestants were signing off.