Friday, January 02, 2004, 12:00 A.M. Pacific Permission to reprint or copy this article/photo must be obtained from The Seattle Times. Call 206-464-3113 or e-mail resale@seattletimes.com with your request. Heads will spin: Browning, Baiul take their turn in 'Ice' spotlight By Tina Potterf Seattle Times staff reporter Canadian ice skater Kurt Browning's accomplishments on the ice are considerable. In addition to multiple world and Canadian championship titles and trips to the Winter Olympics of '88, '92 and '94, Browning bears the distinction as the first skater to land the daunting quadruple jump in competition. Browning, who got his first taste of the ice playing hockey as a kid, takes his greatest pride in just doing, at age 37, what he loves. "My greatest achievement is that I'm still here, the fact that I'm still performing," he said during a telephone interview last week from his home in Toronto. Browning joins Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul as special guests for "Stars on Ice," which skates into Seattle for one show Sunday at KeyArena. "Stars on Ice" is produced by Olympians Scott Hamilton and Christopher Dean, who is also directing the production, now in its 18th year. The theme of this year's show, "Time," will be carried out through dramatic and whimsical routines, familiar and original musical scores, shimmery costumes and high-wattage ice stars. Event preview "Smucker's Stars on Ice," featuring guest skaters Kurt Browning and Oksana Baiul, 4 p.m. Sunday, KeyArena, Seattle Center, Seattle; $25-$58 (206-628-0888, www.ticketmaster.com; information: www.starsonice.com). The production's ensemble cast reads like a "who's who" of professional figure skating. Olympic gold medalist Alexei Yagudin, and pairs gold medalists Jamie Salè and David Pelletier (Canada) and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze (Russia) from the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City will perform, along with popular world and national champion Todd Eldredge, world champion Yuka Sato, world silver medalists and national pair champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, and world bronze medalists and national pair champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman. Throughout the tour, audiences will get to see some of their favorite skaters perform as part of a rotating lineup of special guests, which include Kristi Yamaguchi, Paul Wylie, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Baiul and Browning. Each of the guests perform two solo numbers, which for Browning means an opportunity to show off his trademark charisma and comedic timing, along with his agility on the ice. Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul is a member of the cast. This is the ninth year Browning has skated with "Stars on Ice." The production's devotion to the craft, coupled with an element of the unknown, keeps him coming back. "Every year when I went to rehearsals, I didn't know if I was going to be asked to work with props, carry a girl in a dance lift, every year it was something new," Browning said. "As a creative entertainer, that's the kind of challenge that keeps you going. That's what keeps 'Stars on Ice' the best tour out there." The beauty of a show like "Stars on Ice," Browning said, is the balance it achieves between technique and creativity; it also fosters an environment where individuality can thrive and skaters can continue to excel. "Stars on Ice" is a show for the fans, above all, he said. "If they are skating fans, they get to see their favorite skaters. You can see your skaters in a different way and different light," Browning said. " 'Stars on Ice' brings personality traits out." The controversy surrounding the pairs competition at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City hasn't diminished the public's interest in figure skating, Browning said. A French judge was reportedly pressured into giving higher marks to the Russian skaters, who were awarded the gold over Canadian skaters Salè and Pelletier. The Canadians were later awarded gold medals as well after the scandal surfaced. "It wasn't like people were being misled for years and years" about voting practices, Browning said. "Skating is an interesting combination of sports, politics and art." The audience plays a critical role in every performance, said Browning, who feeds off the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. He knows that if he misses his mark, the audience will respond. "When the audience isn't reacting to the person in front of you, you get more nervous. When the audience is pumped up, it's like rock concert-ish (and) you can't wait to get out there," he said. "I do a lot of comedy work, and if I don't get the audience it sucks." One of skating's most intriguing figures of the past decade, and a favorite of American audiences, is Oksana Baiul, who is participating in "Stars on Ice" for the first time. The 26-year-old has seen her share of triumph and tragedy. When Baiul was 10 years old, she lost both her grandparents, and three years later lost her mother to cancer. The success and fame that enveloped Baiul following her gold medal win at the 1994 Olympics were often overshadowed by personal problems, from a much publicized car crash in 1997 and reports that Baiul was intoxicated at the time of the wreck, to a stint in rehab for alcohol abuse. In the past few years, Baiul has rebounded both personally and professionally. For her part in "Stars on Ice," Baiul will perform the first piece that introduced her to the world, "Swan Lake," along with an upbeat, danceable number set to a Jennifer Lopez song. Like Browning, Baiul connects with audiences on a very personal level. Every time Baiul steps onto the ice, she gives audiences everything she's got. "When I go on the ice, I don't pretend," Baiul said during a recent telephone interview from her home in New Jersey. "I came to America when I was 16 and people fell in love with my story. My story is a Cinderella story. From an unknown I went way up, then fell down and now I'm back on my feet again." Baiul's path to becoming one of the world's top figure skaters began when she was just a few years old and her grandmother took her to an ice rink. Though Baiul's mother wanted her to become a ballerina, it was hard to deny the natural ease and poise she possessed on the ice. "It came very naturally. They told me that from the first moment when I stepped on the ice I loved it very much," she recalled. The opportunity to participate in "Stars on Ice," and the chance to work with Hamilton and Dean, was one Baiul said she couldn't pass up. "Scott Hamilton is the glue in the show, and Christopher Dean is an incredible choreographer. What you'll see in that show is the best of the best," she said. "What you see in this show is that everybody skates like Olympic champions." Tina Potterf: 206-464-8214 or tpotterf@seattletimes.com Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company
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