This is the story of “G and G”, Gabriella and Guillaume, as told by Marie-France. From the moment they arrived in Montreal, for choreography, in June 2014, to present times, in Ostrava, at Europeans. It is a history in layers, you’ll see that for yourselves: season after season, challenge after challenge. It was Mozart, the colours and the lightness in their first year in Canada, it was Gabriella’s concussion in the second, and now there’s that, during the pre-Olympic season: the French skating alongside Tessa and Scott in practice, and against them in competitions.
It might also comprise the essence of their career so far, with top notes, middle notes, and base notes, this interview with Marie-France. Cause her answers are exactly like the programs she creates: they’re rich, and warm, and generous, with tiny, subtle details, and then with heights, with elevations. And her enthusiasm is truly catching – you feel it in the programs, but also in her words. And at the end of this genuinely candid talk you realize why Montreal is such a good home for many skaters, the French included. Cause home is where the heart is – and Marie-France Dubreuil is definitely the heart of Gadbois Center.
by Florentina Tone/Ostrava
It’s the fourth day of the Europeans, here, in Ostrava – and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron have just won their third consecutive gold medal in the continental competition. No small feat by any standards – especially when you’re only 21 and 22, and a long line of European crowns might still be within reach the years to come. And in the press conference after the event, they’re asked exactly that: do they know the names of their predecessors? The ones having won gold in three straight Europeans? They smile while looking at each other: No, they don’t. And so from somewhere in the middle of the room, Romain Haguenauer comes to their rescue: “Je crois que Navka&Kostomarov”.
Minutes later, I’ll have the answer to them not knowing whose record they have equalled, or the history of skating altogether. It’s just who they are, Gabriella and Guillaume – young, and innocent, and fresh, and “very detached from all the skating world”, as Marie-France Dubreuil says, during our talk. She has entered the room towards the end of the press conference, and she recalls, for Inside Skating, the moment she first saw the French, at 2013 Golden Spin of Zagreb, and then the first three days she worked with them, in Montreal, when putting together the pieces of their Mozart free dance: “It was easy to paint colours without them trying to copy anybody else”. And soon after, Montreal became Gabriella and Guillaume’s new home – so the story becomes richer, and beautifully adorned. You’ll notice for yourselves, cause Marie-France is an excellent raconteur.
Florentina Tone: Marie-France, how do you do it? Your teams aren’t just gliding on the ice – they all stand out, and are liked by the audience; and it’s not only about the teams that medal, it’s about all teams that you have or had. Is there a secret formula to do that, a trademark of your school? Is it as if every team that arrives in Montreal somehow finds its inner rhythm…
Marie-France Dubreuil [smiling before answering]: I think it’s just an overall how we are as people, the coaches. We founded this school, my husband and I, and we were always really in tune with feeling positive, feeling good, what’s the right rhythm for things, and Patrice is, technically, I think a wizard, a guru [laughing], but also very artistic. I’m mostly artistic, but I also have a good vision on how to make art evolve in a technical way… So when Romain joined us – he coached us before –, he brought the experience of coaching, cause he’s been coaching for like 18-20 years, and for us, we just started 6 years ago. So our school is still very young…
But we think as a group we’re much stronger, and we respect the other ones’ visions, and we really empower each other to create that – we want a feeling of excellence in our school: when the kids walk in, it’s like a temple where you work and you search for excellence. We don’t accept anybody fighting, any negativity, because it’s a temple where people get to become their best, or search for the best versions of themselves.
But when a new team arrives at you school, how long does it take to discover the strengths, the weaknesses, the possibilities, how to work with them?
Marie-France: You know what, the analysis for us is very fast, but then it depends on the commitment of the couple to fully submerge into what needs to be done, or the resistance to stay how they are.
And if they resist…?
If they resist, then there’s nothing we can do. But if they just open their vision and dive into the process, then the improvement can be really fast.
Were there any cases when you rejected a team because you noticed some resistance in changing?
No, I never refused a team for that reason. It’s just that as we start… You know, all of them, when they come to us, they say: Yes, we’re open, we wanna change the way we skate, because we’ve been struggling... And I say: If you really wanna work, let’s go. But then as you come closer to competitions, you see the couples that are really embracing the change, or the ones that are hanging on to what they used to do.
Now looking at that particular moment when Gabriella and Guillaume came to your school, what do you see, what do you remember from the very first moment you saw them? I’m trying to come at present times, but digging into their story, their history a bit…
[she nods, she understands my intentions]: They came to us in June 2014.
They had been 13th at Worlds the season prior to coming to Montreal…
Yeah, they were 13th at Worlds – but the first international competition that I saw them was in Zagreb, I think [2013 Golden Spin of Zagreb]. They were there, and I was there too with the Spanish team [Sara Hurtado&Adrià Díaz]. And after  Worlds, we were going into the season of flamenco, so I called Romain and said: You know, let’s [go to]…, because we work for the Spanish Federation also, and the Spanish Federation organized a whole seminar on flamenco in Madrid, with Antonio Najarro. And we all went there – so that’s where I really could see Gabriella and Guillaume: how they are, how they move, how they improve, how connected they were.
I saw in this team very good speed, good technical skills, but… very cold. To me they were very cold [and her tone tries to replicate that first impression].
So when they came to me for choreography, cause Romain said: You really have to help them with choreography, because people are not really getting connected to them, they’re very good, but very cold… And their technical levels on steps and some stuff was not up to par with their qualities of skating – so when they came to me, I just looked at them, backed up, and started to paint a picture of what I would like to see with these two bodies, with these two persons. How I wanted her hair and her emotion, and how I wanted him to be strong, and her more vulnerable, how could she become all that… So, you know, for the first three days, I pulled some strings, I was just like playing with [ideas, possibilities], and they were great, because I did a first music edit that was with their Mozart…
They wanted the first piece of Mozart, the Concerto no. 23 – and then I listened to six albums, because I wanted to find a piece to go with it. And I didn’t want a piece that would disturb the moment the Concerto no. 23 brought, because in Mozart you have pieces that are so high and so intense that it would kill the other one… So, six albums later, driving to Toronto and back, I remember correctly, I found this perfect, little piece, and I thought: This is like just perfect, this is what it needs to just make things light in the middle and finish with the intensity of the Concerto. Cause it’s intense in emotion, but it’s very quiet in music, so it’s very subtle to play with it – but I knew this piece needed a lot of emotion, and a lot of effortless gliding, which is one of their force…
But the real challenge was the connection. The man-woman, and the contrast of the guy being really strong and still poetic, and her being very vulnerable… So, yeah, that was the shift for them.
But were you surprised with their success, with their incredible ascent into the rankings? In only their second season in seniors, and first season in Montreal, they became World champions. I mean, their talent was there, for everyone to see it, no doubt about it – but ice dance can prove a very static, unmovable discipline, and you must know that from your own experience…
Surprised? At first we were surprised… but I think they had the talent, but they also had the innocence. They never watch skating on TV. We call them “G and G”, cause it’s Gaby and Guillaume, and when we started calling them “G and G”, I said: You’re paralleling some very strong names, those of Gordeeva/Grinkov. They were always an inspiration for me, probably one of the reasons why I ever did ice dance was because of Gordeeva/Grinkov… [smiling]
That’s somehow unusual, with them being pair skaters and not dancers…
Yeah, but their connection together was more like dancers, and it was effortless, and it created magic – and, you know, I couldn’t jump, so I had to… [laughing heartily]. I like the lifts and everything, but the jumps was something else… So I told them: You’re going after Gordeeva/Grinkov, and they didn’t even know who Gordeeva and Grinkov were… They’re very innocent. They’re only 21 and 22 right now, three-time European champions. And they never watched any skating, so it was easy to paint colours without them trying to copy anybody else. That made it easier.
When I think about them and their success, I believe that many people, many skaters look at Gabriella and Guillaume with so much hope. After 2015 Worlds, they kinda of believe…
…Yeah, that it’s possible! That is possible to make a huge leap.
And to me this is a huge change of mentality when it comes to ice dancing, and I think even only for that they should be praised, and appreciated…
[She nods all the way]. Yeah, and they’re young, and they’re fresh, and they’re very fun and approachable, and they’re very detached from all the skating world, so I think they’re a very positive influence for everybody.
During their second season in Montreal, and third season in seniors, Gabriella had a concussion. From their recollections here and there, we know how was it for her, for them, but how was it for you, the team behind them, to support this and make them ready for competitions – and, once again, be European and World champions?
Well, it was a different situation, and it was a little bit… hard to see, because when it happened it was the end of August, at a time where there was not the right time [to happen]… But I’ve myself had a couple of concussions and I know the effect and the aftermath of not taking care of that. So for me them being really young and Olympics being two years away, our priority was getting her healed. And make sure that she had no more leftovers of the concussion before we started to skate again. Because it wasn’t worth it, it’s not worth it.
This season, that’s another challenge for them: they skate alongside Tessa and Scott in practice – and not just everyone, but two-time Olympic medalists – and then against them in competitions. How is this going, how is this working for them?
Well, it’s the first time in two years they’ve been challenged that way. And it’s a different situation, but for them, I mean, they’re super young and they still have a lot of experience to grow, to take, and they’re in a safe environment in our school where they can experience being on the ice with very good skaters, with champions. And nobody else in the world probably understands what they’re going through than Tessa and Scott. They were also training in US with Meryl and Charlie, and they know all this – so if there’s any team that understands that, there’s them. And they’re very nice and sweet people…
…and they always praise Gabriella and Guillaume.
Always, always. They appreciate them, and so I think if there was a safe environment to learn how to train with other champions, this is the opportunity for Gaby and Guillaume to learn from people with more experience. Cause Tessa and Scott are going to be at their third Olympics, right? And for Gaby and Guillaume it’s gonna be their first one, so I really encourage that friendship for that reason. And I know Tessa and Scott as champions they’re very willing to share and to invite them into their space and train together and so I do think it’s a win-win situation for both of them to be training together.
The way I see it, the way lots of people see it, the Olympic gold medal from next year in Pyeongchang is in your group.
[laughing] Oh, thank you! But it’s not done yet, there’s still 12 months to go!
Well, you do have the goods, that’s a sure thing. But does this bring additional pressure?
There’s always pressure. When there’s competition, when there are expectations, there’s pressure. But my only pressure is to make sure that all the kids stay healthy, train well, stay positive and do their job. That’s my biggest pressure. If this happens, I know we’ll have the top teams, like the two top teams in the world. That’s it, right? Like there’s training, and you gotta stay fit, no accidents, and no outside drama that can get in the way, and I do believe I have the best skaters in the world. [she’s proud, Marie-France, you can sense that in her tone]
And if we brought Olympics in our talk, are you already listening to perfect music for perfect programs, putting it in your computer?
Always, I never rest. I never rest on that. I drive my car, there’s radio, I’m listening if there’s something interesting. I’m on My Place, Spotify or iTunes and I’m listening. I don’t ever, right now, in this moment, listen to music just to relax. [laughing] This is impossible.
You might have taught Sara Hurtado the same thing, cause I talked to her and Kirill yesterday, and he mentioned that Sara was always bringing music to the rink…
[Smiling] Yeah? Well, she was my little protégé for a long time.
What about these Europeans? Any thoughts prior to starting working towards World Championships?
I think this was a very successful European Championship. We had Gabriella et Guillaume [notice the French particle inserting itself into our talk], of course, winning, with a mistake in the short dance, but I think everything is really evolving in a good, positive way for them, we had the Danish team that did really well, high technical score [Laurence Fournier Beaudry/Nikolaj Sørensen, 7th place in Ostrava], and then we have our little second French team that did really, really well [Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac, 12th place], and that qualifies three French teams for next year, because of their good results. So it’s all positive.
Because you mentioned that, let’s just stop for a second on Gabriella and Guillaume’s short dance. And I’m not saying it isn’t their forte – but they were third going in the free dance here, in Ostrava, they were second after the short dance last year, in Bratislava…
At Europeans last year, yes, second, but at Worlds they did win the short dance. No, but I think the short dance is very restrictive pattern-wise, and Gaby and Guillaume have so much flow and speed, that to restrict them in space and everything it’s always been tricky – because they like to expand and be very fluid. And all of this, and what’s required in a short dance to be contained between the midline and these lines, and all that pattern-thing, is not allowing them right now to grow to their full potential. But we have a strategy for Worlds to just shift a little bit things in their short dance, so it can fully grow.