No better place to skate a Flamenco/Paso Doble than Barcelona, in a crowded, supportive arena, tapestried with Spanish flags. I came to understand that last week, at this year’s edition of the Grand Prix Final, when the top six ice dances couples qualified for the event took the ice for their programs. The public’s response to this kind of dance, connected to Spain through tens of visible and invisible threads, has been absolutely exquisite: during the dances you could hear a lot of “Olés!” (these people really know when to intervene with their shouting; they do have it in their blood), there were wigs and flying fans, and people chanting “To-re-ro, to-re-ro!”, “Gua-pa!”, “Gua-po!”, “Gua-pi!”; and the music, oh, that music gave you goose bumps. You couldn’t resist being amazed by this incredible atmosphere in CCIB arena in Barcelona – and this particular atmosphere proved to be an additional incentive for the skaters, who felt motivated to bring their best performances to the table. As the Canadian Kaitlyn Weaver put it – she and Andrew Poje won this segment of the ice dancing event at 2014 GPF – their last thought prior to starting their routine was: “Let’s do this Paso here, for these people!”
by Florentina Tone
And they skated a marvel of a short dance, Kaitlyn and Andrew, setting a new personal best in Barcelona: 71.34 points. A stunning routine, to “La Virgen de la Macarena”, breathing power and confidence and raising the spectators in the arena to their feet; the Canadians’ short dance featured level-four twizzles and a level-four rotational lift, while the side by side footwork and the two Paso Doble parts were graded a level three. “It’s a huge honor to skate our short dance here in Barcelona. There’s an incredible atmosphere. We tried to soak it in and use it in our program. It gave us energy, feel and emotion, but I think we can still do better on the technical side”, said Kaitlyn, with a large smile, minutes after their program. And then she added: “We relate to these Latin dances, we find themselves in them. Some of the best performances of our career have been to Latin music, we’re good in showing this music’s strengths and vulnerabilities”.
Andrew tried to put the performance into context: “There’s really not been a lot of time between NHK and here, but we were able to use the little down-time we had really productively. We’re really excited by the program. We push our skating skills to the limit and we’re happy that came across in our program”.
“You know they know the real Paso Doble and you want to do it proud”
Skating last in this particular segment of the Grand Prix Final, as a top seeded couple for the first time in their career, Madison Chock and Evan Bates swept the public into their intriguing story, to music from “Don Quixote”, but, seconds prior to ending their performance, disaster struck: going into the closing pose, Madison fell, and so did Evan. A deep sigh was heard in the arena – that wonderful the program had been up to the fatidic moment and that big the disappointment – and, heading to the boards, the American skaters were still in shock; and, seated in the press stands, alongside journalists, their former coach Marina Zueva was surprised too by the fall.
Minutes later, Evan Bates tried to understand what had just happened – and find the good things in a routine that led them on the second place at the end of the day: “There are always ups and downs and we’ve had a lot of great performances, but there are always going to be bumps in the road. This will be a big learning curve for us and we can take a lot from it. We hope to rebound tomorrow and skate a great free program, that’s the plan. There is a lot to be said for skating last in the Grand Prix Final as top seed. That’s a new experience for us and tonight should serve us well in the future”. On a bitter, sadder tone, Madison added: “The scores [65.06 points] seem to indicate that we haven’t got our levels”. And, looking at the scoring sheets, one could see the Americans picked up a level four for the lift and a level three for the twizzles and the side by side step sequence, but the Paso Doble section was given only a level two.
As for them performing their short dance in Barcelona, Evan said with a smile: “It’s really awesome. I love the atmosphere of the Spanish crowd. I saw some women wearing pink wigs and there are a lot of banners”. Madison: “It’s an honor to do this dance in Spain and to be in that culture which is all around the streets. You know they know the real Paso Doble and you want to do it proud”.
“It feels like the boundaries are getting wider and wider”
Lying in third place after the short dance, Maia and Alex Shibutani nailed a wonderful routine in CCIB arena, probably my favorite of the night in terms of attitude, power, character. I do have a soft spot for their musical choice (“Asturias Variations”, “The Last Corrida”) – the first part actually stayed with me for days, keep playing in mind –, their twizzles were to die for and, all in all, I thoroughly appreciated the strength of their staccato movements, their sharpness, their preciseness. From a technical point of view, their lift (as their twizzles) was graded a level four, while the Paso Doble and the side by side step sequence were rated a level two; Maia and Alex received 63.90 points for their routine.
As everyone else skating in Barcelona, the Americans were greeted warmly by an enthusiastic crowd and Alex Shibutani felt the need to show their gratitude: “It’s amazing to be at the first major international in Spain. It feels like the boundaries are getting wider and wider and we are accepting more people into our wonderful sport. The crowd has been responding to everything. We hoped doing a Paso in Spain we’d hear a couple of «olés» and we definitely did”.
Minutes later in the press conference, asked about the changes they would like to see in the rules of ice dance, Alex Shibutani said on a serious note: “All the changes add to the growth of the sport. What the top teams have been able to do has pushed the sport forward”; and then he jokingly added: “We will continue to push the boundaries, so they can continue to change the rules and make our lives miserable”.
“We both enjoy a step up and a challenge”
Not that far behind Maia and Alex were the Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who were awarded a season best score for their routine: 62.49 points. And what a program they skated in Barcelona, looking absolutely stunning and sweeping the audience into their short dance. 30 years after Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated to “Capriccio Espagnol”, the Canadians showed the skating world their own version of the dance, pushing the boundaries in their quest for newer, inovative movements. And, actually, Christopher Dean himself choreographed the program, and Piper was wearing a black-mauve cape reminding of that worn by Jayne three decades ago.
Leaving the Kiss and Cry area, the Canadians were absolutely thrilled with their skating at the Grand Prix Final. Piper: “We are proud that we finally skated super clean and super polished. We definitely took the program up a notch from our performance at Trophée Eric Bompard. We both enjoy a step up and a challenge and doing something new and something different, and this is what we’re doing with these programs”. Asked about working with Christopher Dean on this particular dance, Paul added: “It’s a very challenging program and Christopher Dean helped us choreograph it and he wanted us to use the music he’d used skating the Paso Doble. It was an honor for us to skate and I hope we did it justice”.
“We are skating for a public that knows the Paso, so they make good judges”
In May this year, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were in Madrid, learning the defining movements of Flamenco/Paso Doble with the director of the National Ballet of Spain, Antonio Najarro; more than that, they visited a tablao flamenco and went to a corrida de toros, to get a full Spanish experience. That’s why, after skating their short dance, Guillaume Cizeron stated: “We skated in Madrid at the beginning of the season, so it’s a bit like coming back to where it started. We are skating for a public that knows the Paso, so they make good judges”. In Barcelona, this incredibly talented French ice dance couple performed an intense, flirtatious dance, all eyes, all movements, to music that gave you shivers (“Escobilla” and “Farruca” by Christina Hoyos), but you could sense, here and there, they were very tense.
The biggest surprise of the season, coming almost from nowhere and winning the gold at both Cup of China and Trophée Eric Bompard, Gabriella and Guillaume entered the Grand Prix Final with a seemingly immense pressure on their shoulders – they needed to show the skating world their victories were not merely accidents; but during their short dance, their twizzles were a little off and Gabriella’s knees looked jellified at certain moments. At the end of the program, they just couldn’t hide their disappointment. Gabriella: “I thought we skated good, I made a little mistake on the twizzles, which is why we got level three for those, but I don’t know why we didn’t get the other levels”. Guillaume: “We gave a good dance performance, but the levels and the technical score were not what we expected, so we are little bit disappointed”. All in all, such a warm welcome for this couple in Barcelona: “Guapoooo!”, the girls in the arena shouted to Guillaume when the French were heading to the boards at the end of their dance. And, of course, the ubiquitous “Olé, olé y olé!”. 61.48 points for Gabriella and Guillaume – and a fifth place for them entering the free program.
“It’s like a little celebration for us to skate Carmen here in Spain”
At the end of the day, the Russians Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin lied in the sixth place – but with a score over 60 points (60.25, actually) – and, to me, this is quite a performance given the fact that prior to the month of April this team didn’t even exist. As we all know, Elena and Ruslan teamed up as a case of force majeure, after Nikita Katsalapov’s decision to part ways with Elena and start a new partnership with Ruslan’s former partner, Victoria Sinitsina. Sounds complicated? It really isn’t – and, to everyone watching, Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin seemed to take their previous bitter experiences and turn them into gold. Because their short dance is truly golden, trust my words.
Choreographed by Antonio Najarro – the National Ballet of Spain’s director choreographed also Madison and Evan’s short dance – this program to music from “Carmen” suits Elena and Ruslan like a glove and they did skate it with power and conviction. They made some little mistakes in Barcelona – Ruslan seemed to be a little wobbly, trodding on his own foot – but, all in all, it was a great performance and the public loved it, waving Russian flags and singing “Olé!”. “The crowd has been amazing, not just the Russians, but everyone has supported us”, said Ruslan, and Elena couldn’t hide her enthusiasm: “We are very happy to be here. It’s like a present for an athlete to make it here. It’s a great experience and I would even say it’s like a little celebration for us to skate Carmen here in Spain”.
All in all, a wonderful event in Barcelona – and, in my turn, I feel the need to say “Olé, olé y olé!” to the amazing audience in CCIB arena.