With Ashley Wagner, it’s the performance skills that clearly set her apart – and she knows that, and uses them to the maximum. Her presence at the 2015 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona made a great impression on the 14-year-old Marin Honda, and the Japanese recalled that in Debrecen, two weeks ago, prior to winning the gold medal at 2016 Junior Worlds. Asked about her figure skating heroes, who she looked up to, Marin Honda said simply: “Ms. Ashley Wagner. It was my first [time] to see her live performance in the ISU Grand Prix Final 2015, and I was very impressed by her”.
This particular (photo) story is exactly about Ashley’s powerful presence on the ice, about her amazing acting skills, during both competition and practices, about Ashley setting herself as a role model for her younger colleagues when it comes to embracing the music and fully entering the characters she is portraying. The following photos were taken during the practice sessions in Barcelona, last December, and I’m under the impression you’ll love what you see.
by Florentina Tone
Wednesday, December 9. Twenty minutes past 15:00 p.m., the ladies are taking the ice for their first official practice in CCIB arena in Barcelona. Ashley looks serious, focused, she heads to the boards from time to time to talk to her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, and then she becomes the sassy, bold dancer of Samba. For the 2 minutes and 50 seconds of the run-through, she’s in her (dancing) bubble, while she’s skating to “Hip Hip Chin Chin” by Club des Belugas, a short program that fits her like a glove, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne.
Thursday, December 10. A day later, during practice, Ashley is Satine, from Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!” – a second life for this long program, choreographed, as the short, by Shae-Lynn Bourne. Last season, when she performed the program for the first time, she more than clearly told its story – and the bouquet of strings that connected her with musical pieces like “One Day I’ll Fly Away” or “The Show Must Go On”: “My choreographer suggested it to me and she put together [the music] – and I think that I related to it right away, because it speaks very much to how my career has gone… This crazy world of skating is so big and it’s something that I love so much, and it’s hard to get away from it, because it’s always that pole and I would always want to perform. And there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day the show must go on. I’m 23 [in December 2014, when she told the story of the program] and going after an Olympic podium, that’s my dream, and even though it’s difficult I still have to keep on pushing, so I think that’s why the music speaks so clearly to me“.
Saturday, December 12. The 6th place after the short program in Barcelona, a night before, had surely hurt Ashley – minutes after her unsatisfying skate, she’d tell the journalists in the mixed zone: “I think it’s hard for people, when they have been watching me for so many years, to see what I’m looking towards in the bigger picture. […] If it’s frustrating for the audience to see, it’s ten trillion times more frustrating for me. Skating is a very emotional sport for me and that’s what makes me vulnerable under pressure”.
But as the song says, the show must go on, and Ashley will do just that in the free skate, having the third long program of the night, and finishing the overall event on the 4th place. Until then, it’s still 11 in the morning in CCIB arena, and Ashley Wagner is a thoroughly convincing Satine during practice, spreading her arms in the air and looking to end the fifth Grand Prix Final of her career on a high note.
8 hours later she’ll skate her heart out – and draw the overall conclusion in the mixed zone after her long program: “This competition shows I’m human and make mistakes under pressure. But to beat my Personal Best by eight plus points shows I’m an improved athlete even from October in Canada. But there’s a long road ahead because I can’t afford to have a horrific program and then do OK. I think the long program is less daunting for me because there’s more room for error and more room to put those errors right. But you can’t be a long or short program skater. You have to be the whole package”.