Surely, this year’s edition of Cup of China will be mostly remembered for the terrible accident involving Yuzuru Hanyu and Han Yan – and Inside Skating discussed here the dramatic unfolding of the events. Letting this aside, we’ll do a recap of the notable moments of 2014 Chinese Grand Prix, starting with Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin’s debut on the international stage (probably one of the most awaited moments of the ice dancing event in Shanghai), continuing with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva’s strong performances at Cup of China (she did come back to her old winning self – what a joy!), but mostly focusing on the golden performance of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
To everyone’s amazement, this talented French ice dance couple won the trophy in Shanghai after a mesmerizing routine – their first ever Grand Prix medal is a gold one! – outscoring more experienced teams, like the Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani, but also the World champions, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. With this totally unexpected victory – you knew their talent was there, but would you have bet they’d get the trophy?! – the gold in the ice dancing event at Cup of China stays in the family, becoming more or less a French affair: Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won the event in 2010, 2012 and 2013 and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron did the same thing in Shanghai, less than a week ago. And I’d say this is (already) one of the biggest surprises of the ongoing figure skating season…
by Florentina Tone
Elena Ilinykh and… Ruslan Zhiganshin. The pause is there because my mind still associates Elena with Nikita Katsalapov – but the reality is that Cup of China witnessed the powerful debut of this particular new couple in the ice dancing discipline: in spring, Elena teamed up with Ruslan Zhiganshin, formerly skating with Viktoria Sinitsina, and Shanghai was their first step together in their road to (a desired) success. And the truth is that I thoroughly enjoyed their short dance to music from „Carmen”. I did love the routine, the costumes, their unison and attention to every detail of the music; as if they have been skating together for more than 8 months. And with that „almost kissing” pose from the beginning of the routine they definitely got everyone’s attention – and the „almost kissing” was, more or less, the leitmotif of their dance.
In terms of attitude and character of the music I felt they were definitely leading the ball – and, looking at them, looking at her, it struck me: the ice dancing discipline wouldn’t have been the same without that gorgeous smile of Elena, without her strength and confidence she/they would succeed. I’m thrilled she didn’t quit skating after Nikita’s sudden decision to end their partnership and I do hope she and Ruslan will find their way to the top. In Shanghai, they shined in the short program – but not so much in the free: their power and unison are there – and they do seem very well trained – but the choice of music („Appassionata” by Secret Garden, “Anthony and Cleopatra Theme” by Ferrante and Teicher) left me a little bit confused: I wish they’d have chosen a more coherent story to tell, I wish they’d have delivered a more powerful routine; something more similar to the short one. But all in all, this was definitely a strong debut, giving them lots of confidence for their second Grand Prix, 2014 Rostelecom Cup, where they’ll be meeting their former partners: Nikita Katsalapov and Viktoria Sinitsina. What an encounter this will be!
Welcome back, Ms. Tuktamysheva! I remember Elizaveta during the 2011-2012 season, when she competed for the first time in the senior Grand Prix circuit. A smiling 14-year-old girl, wearing a red-orange dress, flying in the air and winning the gold at both Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard, her assignments for that particular season. „What a talent!”, I said to myself, more or less exactly like her coach, Alexei Mishin, who was confident enough to state that his student was Russia’s „main hope for the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics”. Well, a few years have passed, Elizaveta won a couple more medals on the international stage, but failed to make the Russian Olympic team for Sochi – and I have been missing her strength and confidence ever since her senior debut.
In Shanghai, at this year’s edition of Cup of China, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva took the gold medal, after a truly convincing set of programs, and I was finally relieved: she’s back! And I’m as pleased as Mr. Mishin holding that giant plushy broccoli in the Kiss and Cry after the free program – as if the broccoli were a golden trophy for Elizaveta and himself – and I wish her all the best in Barcelona: the 17-year-old Russian skater is the first one to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. I only hope she’s not already too tired to shine in December: up to this point, Elizaveta entered in no more than five events: Cup of Nice (gold), Nebelhorn Trophy (gold), Finlandia (gold), Skate America (silver) and Cup of China (gold). One more thing: her jumps are text-book jumps. No signs of effort, no obvious weaknesses – just mastering the technique and breathing confidence from the second one until the very end of her routines. She’s definitely a winner, Evgeni Plushenko’s type of winner: she even borrowed one of Plushenko’s trademark gesture – that „shhh” index finger at her lips.
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron: they are the future and the future is now. Of course, on November 7th, at the end of their short dance, you still wouldn’t have dared to think about a potential gold medal for the French couple in Shanghai: Gabriella and Guillaume themselves were totally happy with their (intermediate) third place, thinking probably they’d get the bronze medal after all, if their free program was good enough for that. Well, it was; it definitely was. But before discussing this amazing routine, let me start with that flirting, convincing short dance, to „Escobilla” and „Farruca” by Christina Hoyos, a program choreographed by Romain Haguenauer. I must say this if one of my favorite short dances of the season – if not, indeed, the one I like the most. I first saw it in Barrie, at Skate Canada Autumn Classic, and I instantly fell in love with a routine that puts Gabriella under the spotlight. After a season in which the figure skating journalists mostly applauded Guillaume’s dancing skills, well, this time, during this particular type of dance, I just couldn’t take my eyes of her.
All in all, this short dance is powerful and intense; you can almost feel that intensity in the air: she looks at him defiantly, he looks at her, and you’re totally swept into their story. I love the overall atmosphere of the program, their straight, proud posture on the ice – so many things remind me of the trademark flamenco skated by Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat at the Olympics in Salt Lake City. There’s something about these French skaters – they really know how to dance a flamenco! „C’est genial!”, said Gabriella with a smile seeing the scores (62.12 points, a season best for them) and Guillaume approved her with delight: „Super!”
A day after it was super indeed. And watching them skate to Adagio from Concerto No. 23 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart I travelled back in time, on September 13, 2013, at the Romanian Athenaeum: Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, conducted by the amazing Christian Zacharias, played selections of Mozart and I was there listening, living, breathing every note. This time, I was once again amazed by Mozart, as it was brought to life by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in Shanghai: a smooth, vivid, touching performance, as if the music flew through their bodies… The scores were absolutely (and deservedly) huge: 98.00 points for their free program and 160.12 overall – and 15 minutes later those scores proved to be golden.
A shocker that result was – the French won the event over the more experienced Maia and Alex Shibutani and the World champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte – and to me this overwhelming performance was by far the biggest moment of this year’s edition of Cup of China. “Magnifique le programme libre de Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron!!!”, wrote Nathalie Pechalat on twitter and Guillaume shared too his joy, enthusiasm, amazement: “1st place!!!! Just no words to say how proud and thankful I am… Merci Romain Haguenauer, Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, Gabriella Papadakis”. In the end, just a detail: that masterpiece of a program was choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil, one of the most creative choreographers out there at the moment…