Archive for the ‘The New York Observer’ Category

Clear the Ice! Oksana Is No Blue Baiul

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

On a recent Monday morning, Oksana Baiul was pulling on a pair of battered skates at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., a few miles from her top-floor high-rise apartment in Cliffside Park. (When friends come over and see her Manhattan view, she said, “they’re all like, ‘Mo-ther fu-cker!’”) She yanked off one American-flag-bespangled blade protector, then another, pushed up the sleeves of her fuzzy Tweety-yellow sweater and made her way onto the crowded ice, skating past five-time national ice dance champions Peter Tchernyshev and Naomi Lang; Ukraine’s Olympic aspirants Sergey Verbillo and Anna Zadorozniak; some pubescent skating students; and a pair of ice acrobats. Pumping her back, she did a couple laps around the ice and began to vogue to the throbbing beat of Mika’s Euro-hit of yesteryear, “Relax (Take It Easy).” At center ice, she hoisted her left blade over her right shoulder, threw her head back and began spinning.

“Talk about back compression!” said Frank D’Agostino, a former figure skater. “That’s her signature donut spin.”

Mr. D’Agostino is the reason the bubbly Ukrainian 1994 Olympic gold medalist is training again: He is the composer and librettist behind Cold as Ice, a musical about figure skaters, to be performed on a stage turned ice rink with the help of Freon tubing.

“You know, Nancy Kerrigan was thinking of doing this musical, but she had just had a baby; she wasn’t sure if she wanted to do it,” said Mr. D’Agostino. “And then Oksana came in there with her Starbucks and just stole the show—just like she stole Nancy’s gold medal!”

The producers are hoping to book a run at the Millennium Theater in Brighton Beach this December, after work-shopping in Alberta and Toronto, with hopes of landing on Broadway in 2009. (“We’re like vultures waiting for a show to die,” said Mr. D’Agostino of the search for an appropriate Broadway theater.) Cold as Ice takes six Olympic hopefuls through the stages of inspiration (“Mom turned the TV on/ And there she stood/ Like a graceful swan/ The majestic power of/ Michelle Kwan!”); tribulation (financial hardship, Soviet training regimens, frustrated homosexual teen romance—“Why can’t I let these feelings show?”); adventure (“So I skate around, I skate around, I skate around again/ And I push it and I bump it and I jump and even spin”); and triumph (“Can you believe it? The kid who was picked last in gym class is now King of the Ice!”).

Ms. Baiul, who will skate, act and sing in the production, plays Maya, a young skater trapped in the Russian system by her fur-coat-wearing, vodka-swilling coach Natalya. (“Skate like beautiful lady, not crappy monster!”) Actually, Ms. Baiul only plays half of Maya, the glamorous, triple-toeing half who twirls around the other half: a sad, bewildered “inner” Maya, played by another skater, who carefully shuffles around the ice in sneakers, singing, “Parents promised to come! They know importance to me!”

At first, Ms. Baiul, now 30, wasn’t eager to star in a Broadway musical; she went to read for the part at her manager’s urging. “She just showed up in pajamas with her Starbucks,” Mr. D’Agostino said. “She blew us all away.”

“Oh my God, Frank! I was wearing these pants!” Ms. Baiul said, tugging her ratty brown leggings. “Yes, I was wearing these pants to the audition!”

She pulled off her skates; she was done for the morning. Nearby, a Polish couple training for Vancouver 2010 were stripping down to their skivvies after practice.

In preparation for the hoped-for Broadway debut, Ms. Baiul is turning her 5-foot-4 body back into a machine. (“I can’t go out there and not be perfect,” she said. “No fucking way.”) She leaves parties early, doesn’t drink, eats “pure protein” (mostly cottage cheese and filet mignon) and tries hard to keep her energy focused because Scorpios, Ms. Baiul said, “cannibalize themselves.” She also knows that people remember her 1997 DUI bust in Connecticut, and that she spent time in rehab in 1998. “If I were really an alcoholic, it would still hurt, just like if I hurt my leg, it would still hurt, even after it healed,” she says now. “It would still bother me, you know? It’s just a story I sold them, and now they think I’m an American hero.”

Every morning she is on the ice by eight, doing jumps other skaters her age have long retired. In the afternoons, before another round on the ice, she and her intensely freckled trainer, Tim Lynch, go hard. Anaerobic Monday is followed by Plyometric Tuesday and so on.

“We’re going to start with two and a half to five miles on the bike just to get the heart rate going,” Mr. Lynch said as Ms. Baiul bounded around the Ice House in her yellow Crocs. “Then we do a dynamic warm-up with ballistic stretching and some core stuff.”

“Tim, Tim, Tim,” said Ms. Baiul, bouncing around him and grinning. “Tim, tell her how I couldn’t do shit before I came to you.” She pouted, plunked her head down on her folded arms and sent her puppy eyes skyward. “Tell her!”

“You weren’t so bad.”

“Yes, I was! I was so fucking bad,” Ms. Baiul said, lunging around and guffawing like a sugared-up kid. “I couldn’t do shit! But now look! Look at these!” She yanked up her shirt to reveal bronzed abdominal muscles like copper rivets.

“But I’m not coming today, Tim, my energy is all off. I don’t want to hurt myself.”

Instead she got into her Mercedes-Benz sedan (“I only drive Mercedes”) and prowled around Hackensack looking for a copy of the New York Post: She’d heard a Page Six item had come out about her that day. “I was on a date on Saturday and we went to a party and all the Sopranos were there,” she said, referring to the HBO cast. “And I was talking to my buddy Paulie”—actor Tony Sirico—“and I’m afraid those fuckers wrote that we’re together.” (They’re not.)

During a pit stop at Starbucks, she talked about her last long-term relationship. “He was totally fucking sick,” she said. First, she said, he didn’t invite her to dinner with his mother, who was in town from Moscow for the winter holidays; so she refused to go out with him on New Year’s Eve. Soon, she was returning the ring. Ms. Baiul suspects that he was interested only in using her name to further his family’s entertainment business in Russia. A year and a half later, he still phones and she still screens. “Totally fucking sick.”

She put Mariah Carey on the car stereo. “Do you like Mariah? The bitch is all plastic fantastic.

“See, Britney was manufactured, like all those stars are manufactured,” she continued. “That’s why she’s going to shit right now. Madonna is a genius. That’s why she’s still around.” She turned the Mercedes into a Shop Rite; inside, no New York Post.

She drove through Teaneck, passing the bakery where she’d had gotten a kosher birthday cake for her 30th birthday party. (Raised by a series of coaches after being essentially orphaned at 13—her mom died, and dad had left years before—she recently discovered her mother’s Jewish roots.) The Merecedes purred onward; the sun was setting as she drove past the Hudson River cliffs. “Beyoncé and Jay-Z live around here,” she said. “I always see them in their white Bentley, and they’re always going up there.” She pointed up a winding road. “Who knows what the fuck they do up there?”