It might be a coincidence, but it seems very interesting that I've seen two interviews of young Russian skaters recently in which both talk about how techniques are more important and "emotions" only get in the way, or something to that effect.
One interview is with Monko:
The other is with Lipniskaya:
I'm sure they are not the only ones who feel this way, although we rarely hear North American skaters talk about it. There may be some truth in the theory that focusing on expressing emotions in a skating program distracts the skater from completing the technical elements to the best of their ability. In fact the conflict between technical competitiveness and performance is one of the fundamental tensions in figure skating. It is often observed that the most "artistic" skaters are by and large not the same ones as the best "jumpers."
Is there a biological (including mental) basis for the apparent dichotomy or incompatibility of the expression of emotions (ie, performance) --- strong enough to move the audience without relying on jump-related excitement or nationalistic sentiments --- and technical difficulties? The technical difficulties obviously do not exclude ice dancing, although ice dancers have a bit more mental energy to devote to interpreting and expressing the music. I suspect that there is something underlying the argument. Since I recently started learning to skate as a middle-aged person, it finally dawned on me that skating in itself (no music, no program, no choreography, just trying to stay on my feet!) requires as much mental energy as doing sudoku or word puzzle or something. It's highly demanding. The mind and the body are connected in the most immediate way possible. To accomplish the most challenging and risky techniques, I can imagine, would take all your mental energy. There is not a sliver of room for distraction. Perhaps this is why performance for the purpose of moving the audience is so hard for nearly everyone. Only the gifted few, for whom performing comes so naturally that it takes almost no additional extra cognitive reserve, or perhaps the emotional interaction they have with the audience is so elating and infectious that they can't help themselves. Two examples I can think of are Oksana Baiul and Ryan Bradley.
Then are we doomed to the dichotomy of sport ("higher, faster, stronger") and performance? Ah but I don't think that is the whole story. First of all I suspect the effect of music on physical or technical accomplishment might have been neglected by many. We sort of know, empirically, that rousing music can spur one on, give him a burst of energy, and creates an excitement that could push him toward the final double Axel!
Lately I am reading a book about the history of ballet ("Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans). Ballet also demands tip-top physical conditions and utmost mastery of techniques. Yet, it is a performance. The best ballets move the audience's emotions, while the mediocre ones win them over with bravado tricks and leaps and amazing athleticism. Sounds familiar? From the way she describes some of the story-less modern work by Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, and George Balanchine, a thought occurred to me that physical technicality and performance (with the aim of moving the viewers' emotions) are not necessarily mutually exclusive or present competing demands on the dancers. It is possible to train dancers in a way that they do not need to think about expressing their emotions. For example, the dances Robbins choreographed to Chopin's piano pieces. The dancers can focus on doing the choreography without working to project their own emotions onto the audience, yet the audience is moved.
So perhaps technicality and expression/performance can be somehow merged into the same mental process for the dancer/skater so that they do not compete for energy and attention. Is it possible? Keep in mind that ballet is highly physical and technical but not a competitive sport, and the choreographic power and expertise in skating are not even on the same magnitude as ballet. Nevertheless, I wonder if there is some way to converge music, techniques, and performance into one whole ... thing, rather than separate compartments that require separate attention.