For the defending champions, Marika Humphreys and Justin Lanning, who finished second, there could be only sympathy. Lanning was one year old when Torvill and Dean first skated together in 1975; Humphreys was unborn. Yesterday their chances disappeared in a blizzard of maximum marks as the judges joined the 7,000-strong audience in the acclaim for Torvill and Dean's return to competition. For technical merit, they received one 6.0 and eight 5.9s, which at least leaves them something to work on.
'It wasn't a formality,' Dean insisted afterwards. 'It's a very difficult routine. It was the first time we've put it on show, and we had to do it well.'
'I don't think we could have skated any better than we did today,' Torvill said, 'although there were other areas that we can improve.' She was thinking of Thursday's compulsory dances, for which she inadvertently left off the lucky earrings she has worn at every competition since her 16th birthday.
The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers number from Follow the Fleet is Dean's choreographic response to the International Skating Union's view that the 'Bolero' era is over and that ice dancing should return to its original values, based on those of social dancing rather than ballet. Yesterday, however, as they skipped nimbly through their ballroom steps, there was a nagging sense that the return to a more prosaic style may be at the expense of dramatic intensity.
In a world whose aesthetic horizon barely extends beyond that of a Piccadilly Circus souvenir stall, the selection of a Fred-and-Ginger routine hardly represents original thought. Cy Payne's specially devised four-minute arrangement takes 'Let's Face the Music and Dance' on a rapid tour through swing-time, ragtime, oom-pah waltz-time, a tango sequence and a zippy Broadway glide, keeping the skaters' blades busy and the audience's attention riveted in place - particularly when the couple toss in their own greatest hits, Mack and Mabel (Copenhagen 1982) and Barnum (Helsinki 1983), flattering their audience and themselves. But there might have been a bit more resonance to the piece had Payne opted to exploit the emotional ambiguity Berlin built into the song when he placed a change from minor to major in the eighth bar.
In Friday night's original dance programme, though, Torvill and Dean's interpretation of the rhumba clearly demonstrated the gulf between the Nottingham veterans and their successors. The rhumba, the ISU says, must be danced 'in a sultry, sensuous and smooth manner, with deep edges and synchronised hip motion'. Which can only mean one thing, even more explicitly than usual. Humphreys and Lanning did their best, but they were up against a pair whose lives have given them the resources with which to express a richer and more complex physicality.
Five of the judges saw enough of a flaw to dock them a tenth in the marks for artistic impression. Even to the layman's eye, their neck-holds were less Fonteyn and Nureyev than 007 versus Oddjob, while Torvill's climactic stare of haughty passion seemed closer to the glare of a dowager whose poodle has just peed on her stockings. She never was much of an actor, though, and that was the point. It was what really did link them to Astaire and Rogers: the dreamy, romantic, lighter-than-air man and the wry, practical, solid girl. Air and earth. Still works, too.
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