‘Rain in your black eyes’: The four elements of Sui-Han’s free program

Air

The first three notes of this program, still unable to shape a meaningful musical phrase, fall into silence. In the pregnant pause that follows, Wenjing Sui curls up in Cong Han’s hands—and then straightens her body with the first sounds of the emerging melody. This first contraction and expansion of the body signals the first breath, the first sensible utterance of the program whose birth we just witnessed. It coincides with the first musical gesture that pushes this program ahead: the resolution of its silent tension into the first sounds of the main theme. Music makes its first full breath.

Or here: when Wenjing lands her first throw (3S) and then completes an intricate combination of one-foot steps and turns, the music gradually fades away, leaving but a faint trace and distant echo of what was before. While music breathes out its last sounds, the pair begins their death spiral. At this point, the tension produced by their arms resonates with the musical tension that awaits its resolution, and when it finally does come, the element ends and a new musical phrase takes over. Music and choreography breathe together.

The death spiral is followed by a combination spin whose overall structure, smaller internal divisions, and the pair’s up- and downward motion within these segments are yet again synchronized with how the music breathes in and out.

The synchronicity of choreographic and musical breath, of their inhaling and exhaling rhythms, immediately draws us into the program from the very beginning. It makes us breathe in unison with the music and with the skaters.

Fire

Breathing is the beginning and the essential part of this program’s life. Yet what constantly pushes it forward and gives it the sense of development is its internal fire: the spectacular growth of this program and its musical accompaniment. The growth which Wenjing Sui and Cong Han articulate with the rising intensity of their movements.

The turning moment that witnesses a transition from a more static and meditative first part to a dynamic and louder second is the second throw (3F). The musical phrase exhales its last sounds on the entry to this throw, only to switch to a higher dynamic level emphasized by the beginning of the throw itself.

All three lifts are crucial in articulating this internal growth throughout the program. The first underlines the melodic profile, echoing its ascent with an upward motion of the partner’s arm, so as to make the beginning of the lift proper coincide with the highest note in the melody.

The next two lifts occur in the second half of the program, their amplitude and dynamics corresponding to the rising musical intensity.

The stillness and motionless of the beginning ultimately leads to the burst of energy near the end of this program, in which the last remains of its life are finally consumed and burned out.

Earth

The whole program is effectively focused on Wenjing Sui, accentuating her brilliance and telling us a troubled story of her injuries and recoveries, of retreats and returns. She remains the main focus of this story throughout the program, and rightly so. Her partner Cong Han remains in shadow, and yet what would become of this program without his endless patience, his undying devotion to his partner, his ability to wait, value, and love?

Before and after this skate, as well as throughout the program, he left multiple signs of his devotion: in how he looked at Wenjing; how all of a sudden he kissed her stomach after the short program, 

how he carefully put her on the top of the podium and gave her his flower bouquet; how tender and cautious he was during throws and lifts. How he extended his hand to Wenjing before the element that is her main nemesis, triple salchow.

The help he offered and the passion he brought were a true foundation of their success: the soil on which the program grew and developed, breathed and burned.

Water

They missed the entire first half of the season recovering from multiple injuries. Right before the world championships, another alarming news about their condition came from their coach Hongbo Zhao: Wenjing suffered a new injury at one of their practice sessions—as a result, the pair had to miss another week of training. Hardly anyone believed in them at this point, let alone expected them to win the title.

And yet they went on the ice and silenced the critics. They made us quiet, made us think, feel, and breathe together. We spent an important part of our lives with them, way more than just some fleeting four minutes: we thought through months and years, and perhaps even whole lives. We spent our time together with the people that we don’t know, but that seemed so close to us at this moment, and so familiar.

They went on the ice and skated to ‘Rain in your black eyes’.

And our eyes were full of tears.

There is a Chinese translation of this post on weibo. The original (in Russian) was posted March 21st 2019 in my blog on sports.ru.

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