This is the second and final part of my overview of Shoma Uno’s best skates. Those who did not read the first part are more than welcome to fill in the blanks by clicking this link.
Interlude: “Tzigane” (2010-12), “Tanguera” (2012-13).
At the end of the first part of our journey that broke off after Shoma “Kreutzer Sonata,” I promised, as a short respite before the final push, to turn away a little bit from the wide, paved road of our narrative. And since with the «Kreutzer Sonata» we found ourselves in Shoma’s junior years, I suggest we go even deeper into the past and look closer at a crucial period of Shoma’s formation: where one can observe both a strong influence of some of Shoma’s idols and, at the same time, many ‘Shoma-esque’ motives and styles that foreshadow future developments.
The first program that I suggest to have a closer look at is Ravel’s «Tzigane».
This is a landmark for the figure skater’s early junior period (2010-12). With it, he entered the international scene for the first time, making his appearance in his first Junior World Championships (2012) and winning his first Olympic medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck (2012). 2011-12 was also the season of his debut at the All-Japan Figure Skating Championships, where he finished within the top ten.
Even though Shoma was still very young and inexperienced in the video above, it is endlessly fascinating to see just how well his skating style matches the warmer and more expressive timbre of the violin. With this performance in mind, it is easier to understand the success of so many of Shoma’s more mature programs to various pieces taken from the violin repertoire: from the 2014-15 “Kreutzer Sonata” mentioned at the end of the first part to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons» (2017-18), and from the «Ladies in Lavender» soundtrack performed by Joshua Bell to the 2015-16 and 2017-18 «Turandot», whose entire first half is played by Vanessa Mae. Already back then, in 2011, the violin had become one of the leading “timbres” of Shoma’s skating.
The second is «Tanguera»: the short program for the 2012-13 season. The first video below is from Shoma’s second World Junior Championships of his career (2013). And for comparison, the second video includes the step sequence and the final double axel only from the Japanese national championships, where Shoma had a cleaner skate.
(I thank Lidia Shaikhutdinova for sending me the full video of Shoma’s skate at the All-Japan Championships, which was available neither on YouTube nor on any other online platforms.)
“Tanguera” is a very different kind of program. It is, in a way, the first seed of a characteristic dramatic style, which will yield numerous fruits and flourish in Shoma’s future programs, especially in programs with Spanish or Latin-American music: «Don Juan de Marco» from the last junior season, «Loco» (2016-17), «Stairway to Heaven» (2018-19) and the recent «Bolero» (2021-22).
In the early stages of this style’s formation, it is easy to see who was Shoma’s main inspiration and idol: it was, of course, Daisuke Takahashi. The expressiveness and intensity in the way Shoma moves his upper body and hands immediately remind me of Takahashi’s iconic skates at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
As here, for example: a sudden stop on the toe picks, followed by an explosive and extremely dramatic gesture that propels the skater forward — the specific movements may not be completely identical, but it is not too difficult to see a common pattern in them.
Shoma had long been considered an emulator of Daisuke Takahashi’s expressive skating style — and not without reason. Shoma himself made no secret of his love for Daisuke’s skating. And there is nothing to be ashamed of — like plant seeds, original styles grow only on a fertile soil, absorbing and eventually transforming numerous influences along the way. Without the key ingredient of Daisuke Takahashi’s influence, Shoma Uno’s original style would have never been quite the same.
Well, it seems like we have finished our sandwiches and gained some strength for the final push towards the top of the rankings. Then let’s hit the road!
V. «La vie en rose» (Medalists on ice-2019, Gala)
Remember how in the first part of our journey I noted that «Dancing on my own» became a kind of “confession” and a chronicle of the crisis years? The exhibition number «La vie en rose», choreographed to one of Edith Piaf’s most well-known songs, is another case in point: a program that is much more than just skating to beautiful music.
Originally, the program was choreographed by Stéphane Lambiel for the 2016-17 season, when nothing foretold future dramatic events: Shoma’s breakup with his previous coaching team and eventual relocation to Champéry, to Stéphane himself (a more detailed analysis of the earlier version of this program is available here). There was nothing remotely ‘dramatic’ in this program, nothing particularly prophetic. Shoma’s performance at the Medalists on ice Gala in December 2019, however, gave this program a new life and certainly a new meaning.
It was in the latter part of 2019 that all the major dramatic events took place: first the breakup with the Nagoya Skating Club, then the short-term summer camp in Moscow, Shoma’s decision to train alone, and finally the first two competitions of the 2019-20 season, the Finlandia Trophy and the Internationaux de France in Grenoble. This drama culminated in the astonishing Grenoble meltdown and Shoma’s talks about retirement…. Yet it was precisely during that dark period of his career that the skater found a new coach in Stéphane Lambiel. Then came a completely unexpected win over Yuzuru Hanyu at the All-Japan Championships. Over the skater who was Shoma’s reference point and North Star throughout his entire career. In light of all these events, it’s not hard to understand the surprising reemergence of «La vie en rose» during the post-Nationals Gala: it was a gesture of gratitude. Shoma’s ‘thank you!’ to the person that saved Shoma’s career at that crucial moment.
This is why this performance is so heartfelt, so genuine, so poetic. It oozes skilfulness and artistic prowess. It also shows just how much of Stéphane’s own style was absorbed by Shoma. At times, it can be hard to understand who is skating on the ice: is it Stéphane, or is it Shoma? Or is it an archetypal romantic hero?
To me, this particular skate is one of Shoma’s strongest lyrical revelations. One of those performances to which you are constantly coming back. It gives me peace and quiet pleasure. It immerses me in a deeply emotional world of melancholy, sadness, yearning, vague desires and regrets — it reminds me about opportunities that are now gone forever, of roads never taken and desires never fulfilled.
Fifth place in the ranking is deceptive — it could have been second place, or even first place, had it not been just one specific performance of an exhibition number in one particular Gala. In fact, the same is true for all the five programs of Part II — they are all crème de la crème of Shoma Uno’s skating.
IV. «Loco» (GPF-2016, FS)
No top ten list of Shoma’s programs can ever be complete without «Loco» — this unique reading of tango is part and parcel of his skating and the most complete and fullest expression of his ‘dramatic style’.
Performance- and scoring-wise, «Loco» is perhaps one of the most fortunate free programs of his entire career. It was consistently performed at the highest level and won many a medal for the skater: his second GPF medal (second bronze), his first Four Continent Championships medal (bronze), and his first World Championships medal (silver). When Shoma learned a quadruple loop, «Loco» was the first to accommodate this new jump. With it, he also set a new personal best at the 2017 World Championships (214.45), surpassed only once before the introduction of the new judging system in 2018, and then only by less than a point.
Finally, my first live impressions of Shoma’s skating and the final ‘shomification’ of my consciousness are also inextricably linked to «Loco»: I saw his skating live for the first time at the 2016 Rostelecom cup (in the free), and then at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, and again in the free. We have quite a history of relationships.
As far as the best performance of «Loco» is concerned, many would probably point to the historic 4-quad Helsinki skate. I prefer the GPF-16 version, however. It did not feature the quad loop at the beginning, and some combinations were missed, and the total score was less impressive… But there was something very special about his determination, his perseverance, about him coming back after an extremely painful fall in the short and then performing like that on the very next day. Performing a nearly perfect spin at the end of the program which received the unanimous +3 from all judges. Performing this triple axel: not his best triple axel from a technical point of view, but one that showcases a phenomenal coordination between a technical element and music.
If I were ever invited to an ISU seminar and asked to show what jumping to music really means, I would just silently turn on this video.
«Loco» is one of the ‘happiest’ and luckiest programs in Shoma’s career. It was showered with high scores and medals. And it brought many smiles and much happiness to Shoma’s fans, too.
III. «Great spirit» (Japan Nationals-19, SP)
My top three opens with «The Great Spirit» — the last of the triad of programs that tell us the story of the skater’s revival after the crisis of the two post-Olympic seasons. While «Dancing on my own» is associated primarily with the dramatic events of that period, and «La vie en rose» with the skater’s gratitude for the help that he received, «The Great Spirit», I believe, portrays the rebirth as such: the newly found motivation and strength.
Remembering Shoma’s performance of Shae-Lynn Bourne’s masterpiece at the Japanese nationals in December 2019, one cannot escape the sense of overwhelming joy which manifested itself in how the audience reacted to Shoma’s skate, as well as in the emotions of the skater himself. It is still hard to believe that this skate was real. After all the struggles of the Grenoble disaster, and all the tears shed and all the triple axels and quads botched — after all that, this skate feels like a miracle: a miracle of transformation and rebirth.
But it is not only this sense of joy, of course, that secured «Great spirit» its place in my top three, but also the quality of the choreography itself that I discussed in a separate essay some time ago. «The Great Spirit» is a two-faced Janus: one face is the exuberant Gala version of the program,
the other is the polished and slightly less provocative competitive version. The former is a pure ‘fauvism’, Shoma’s «Rite of the Spring» if you will — a feast of the senses, filled to the brim with unrestrained energy bursting forth in sharp and spasmatic, almost animalistic, movements. But even in its smoothed out competitive shape, the boundless energy that this program channels is truly overwhelming, making the audience applaud and cheer for the skater right from the beginning to the very end.
It is also one of Shoma’s more impactful and widely received programs, with its popularity stepping far beyond the narrow confines not just of the skater’s inner circle of fans, but even of figure skating more generally. The Nationals-19 performance has the highest number of views on YouTube among all Shoma’s videos (almost 2 million views to date); and it found its fans even outside of figure skating: for example, in this routine.
II. «Ladies in lavender» (Worlds-17, SP)
Have you ever felt the pang of vague longing and sadness from remembering the days gone by, the missed opportunities, the lost feelings, the nostalgia for childhood or homeland: the muffled pain over something that is even hard to define, hard to articulate? Every time I watch «Ladies in Lavender», I am immersed in a world of these feelings and emotions (the reader can also dive deeper in them — headfirst — by following this link).
In some of his interviews, Shoma said that he doesn’t skate ‘stories’. His programs cannot be narrated or explained. In this regard «Ladies in Lavender» is both the best proof and the best refutation of his own words. On the one hand, it is in fact a great example of music-based approach — Shoma interprets the music, not the story of the young Polish violinist whose beauty captivated the two English ‘ladies in lavender’. On the other, the skater’s nuanced and sensuous interpretation of music makes it possible for the viewer to relive the story anew and to experience the same emotions. This program thus does tell the story, perhaps even unbeknownst to the skater himself — the story of irrevocable feelings and eternal longing for beauty: the beauty of the body, the beauty of the soul.
Tatiana Tarasova’s commentary after the skate shows just how impactful that story truly was. It shows how in less than three minutes Shoma turned the famous figure skating coach and choreographer — and all those who watched this performance with an open heart — into a ‘lady in lavender’. How it made us all yearn for beauty.
For me, this performance will forever be one of the most intimate and poetic pages of Shoma’s career — the heart of the heart of his skating.
I. «Oboe concerto» (Worlds-22, SP)
In the creative output of many great composers there often exist early masterpieces that strike us with their sensuality and freshness, and leave a deep scar in our hearts. And then there are masterpieces of a more mature period. Listening to them could be less emotionally draining and we may never choose to seek for their help in our weaker moments of inner crisis or depression, but they are always out there available for us, constantly admired by generations of listeners — like perfectly shaped diamonds that remind us of the beauty of music, and of the beauty of this world. In the same way, Shoma’s «Ladies in lavender» can be called a masterpiece of his early period, whereas the «Oboe concerto» shows us a glimpse of a more mature and masterful Shoma (the exhibition to the «Oboe concerto» is still open, by the way — for tickets, click this link).
Choreographed by Kenji Miyamoto (another important name in a long line of Shoma’s choreographers, and one of the main creators of Daisuke Takahashi’s style), this program crystallizes the best qualities of the unique world of Shoma. It highlights a lot of the things that we have already seen so many times during our long journey: the smoothness of his skating, the expressiveness of his upper body and arms, his ability to be both sharp and smooth, and switch from one to the other when needed, his predilection to dramatic posing, and so on. All of this is brought to its limit, to its end, in this skate.
This performance of «Oboe concerto» does not strike me quite in the same way as «Ladies in lavender» five years prior. It does not bring tears, it does not plunge me into the depths of my own feelings and emotions. It is quite that personal, not quite that intimate. And yet it is a true masterpiece — the kind of skating that, I believe, will remain in the history of this sport, that will become an important part of Shoma Uno’s legacy. Something that will be long remembered for in the future.
It has the perfection of a crystal: there is nothing superfluous there, nothing that requires change or correction, nothing that needs to be improved. Watching this skate is like admiring outstanding paintings or sculptures in a museum, or listening to Mozart’s «The Magic Flute» or Vivaldi’s concerts. For me, there is no doubt that this is the highest point (so far) of Shoma’s career, both in purely athletic and artistic terms.
The World of Shoma Uno
Our journey has come to an end. But the career of our protagonist is still far from over: new programs for the 2022-23 season have already been choreographed and skated under competition lights, new goals for the season have already being formulated. Fans of Shoma Uno — and figure skating fans in general — still have a lot of exciting things ahead of them. I hope there are many more masterpieces to come. One day, I am sure, we will see a masterpiece of Shoma’s ‘late style’ that will complete the circle and complement the emotional openness of the early «Ladies in lavender» and the maturity of the «Oboe concerto».
Let me end our long journey by quoting the letter that Shoma sent to the NICU ward of the JRC Nagoya Daini Hospital:
When I heard from a friend that the children gathered here were born prematurely just like I was, I wanted to send a message of support immediately.
21 years ago, I was born weighing only 900 grams. I grew to be who I am today because of my parents’ positive, hopeful, and unwavering love for me. My growth was very slow, which caused my parents a lot of worry. Though I couldn’t speak until quite late, I still remember a bit of my childhood.
Don’t see your child being born small as a handicap, but rather think of it as a part of their personality and look forward to their growth. I think the children will feel very happy if they can always remember their mother’s smile in their childhood memories.
When I was born, it was said that the fact that I was alive was enough. And now, I am continuing to grow as an athlete, I am cheering for your children’s future possibilities.
— 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Silver Medalist, Shoma UnoSource for English translation (reproduced here with light revisions)
Shoma Uno was born weighing only 900 grams — and now his Olympic medals alone weigh more than that.
He was told at birth that the fact that he was alive ‘was enough’ — and now he has become an outstanding athlete.
His growth was slow and he could not speak until quite late — and yet he has said so much and so beautifully with his skating.
From a very young age, Shoma and his parents had to fight hard to keep him in this world. And now his world — the world of Shoma Uno — is populated by hundreds of thousands of his fans.
8 thoughts on “The World of Shoma Uno: Part II”
La vie en rose in 2019，showed more mood than in 2016. I would like to say rose blooming in 2019. It’s very interesting to see skaters perform the same program in different age.
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It looked completely different, I agree! Just shows you how much he improved in terms of artistic skills and skating quality between 2016 and 2019!
This is overwhelmingly beautiful. I will come back to write more when I am not so emotional. You have captured my innermost thoughts about Shoma and his amazing journey. Thank you. I bow to you.
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Thank you so much for your very kind comment – and I’ll be eagerly waiting for more! 🙂
Doc, thank you so much for this! My top 3 are the ones you listed, although with the wealth of amazing skates Shoma has had, it’s tough to pick! Usually, my favorites are ones I have seen live. I was so happy to see Lavender Worlds 2017 and Shoboe Worlds 2022 live. Worlds Lavender (especially with Tat’s utter delight!) will always be a favorite. The perfectly skated Shoboe at Montpelier was amazing! Although Great Spirit has never been a huge favorite of mine, the electricity in the air during his 2019 Nats, along with the energy of the crowd, drew me in from the very first beat. I have no idea how many times I have watched that program! I also loved his Lavender at 4CC 2017. Although his scores weren’t the best there, I felt it was one of his most heartfelt and soulful performances of it. Add to that Mark Hanretty’s joy as Sho jumped a glorious 3A – I’ll never forget that one! I’ve been along for the journey and the roller coaster ride since 2015, and I hope it lasts for a lot more years! Thank you so much for your thoughtful, detailed analyses, Doc, and for all you do for us Shoma fans. You are truly a super fan!
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OMG Arriba, thank you so much for your comment! For some reason, it ended up in the spam folder.
Such a shame that I did not see the Worlds-17 Lavender and the Worlds-22 Oboe live, even though in both cases I was on my way to the competition — just did not have the tickets for the short program, only for the free!
Thank you for being such a devoted Shoma fan for all these years and sharing so much with us on different platforms! The ‘super fan’ award is rightfully yours. 🙂
Ha! I wondered why I didn’t see my comment. I was beginning to get a complex! LOL. I always love reading your thoughts, and you always show the best examples!
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Thank you so much for youre works. So excited to know how Shoma performs whith these music. He is a really artistical athlete.
’Thank you soooooo much!
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