…and not just any kind of doves, but those doves Pablo Picasso used to watch as a child, in Plaza de la Merced, in Málaga, from the windows of his family’s apartment. Later on, he drew those doves, in simple, clear, blue lines, just four or five touches – and, for whatever reason, I’m thinking at Picasso’s palomas while watching Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron skating their free dance in Ostrava. We’re on January 28, the fourth day of the Europeans, and these particular doves run away with my attention, my wonder, my emotion. Because this program is about freedom above all; about barriers that break and fall, about being free in a world that tries to push into little squares. „I think there’s no limit to what we can do in ice dance”, Guillaume will say in the post-event press conference – and their free dance this season is just a way of putting their words, their credo, onto the ice.
by Florentina Tone/Ostrava
It’s the first day of competition in Ostrava, the first groups of ladies are on the ice of Ostravar Arena – and, here I am, in the practice rink, watching the dancers. What brought me here? Well, they did. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. These French dancers that, at 21 and 22 respectively, are already two-time European and World champions – and on the quest to win their third continental crown. These dancers that have instilled hope into the world of ice dancing. Yes, hope. Their skyrocketing ascent in the rankings made everyone hope – hope they can breakthrough in just one season.
Over the last two years I remember reading countless interviews with dancers that looked up to the French – and not only to their talent and abilities, but also to them managing to bring themselves into the limelight in such a short period of time; short, considering the unwritten rules of dancing and its legendary immobility. There was this huge, hardly believable, change of mentality following the Worlds in Shanghai, in 2015 – and we need to thank Gabriella and Guillaume for that. To put it even clearer: after the French’s success, all the other dancers started to look at the rankings, and their own progress and possibilities, with a lot more trust and optimism. And right after the short dance in Ostrava, when asked to commentate on the fact that he and Ekaterina were ahead of the French, Dmitri Soloviev put it simply: “[This] is just an intermediate result. The competition is not over yet”. And then: “Figure skating has become so unpredictable now”. A line that says it all.
A short dance creating sweet addiction
But we’re still here, in the practice rink, on January 25 – and I get to see a preview of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s short dance, to Blues (“Bittersweet”, performed by Club des Belugas) and Swing (“Diga Diga Doo”, performed by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy) – and be again amazed by their lines, their buttery flow. They’ve changed the costumes, the two, with the golden embroidery much more visible on dark blue than on the creamy white they used before – “We just wanted to do something new, just to please ourselves” – and they seem ready to rumble as the competition approaches. As for the music, Guillaume will talk about it with a laugh during a press conference in Ostrava. “Our whole team decides about the music, but I think the Blues was brought by Marie-France, and the Swing was brought by Gabriella…”. She makes a No sign with her head. “No?”, he smiles in disbelief; and tries again: “Romain?”. They both laugh now, as everyone else in the press conference room. Guillaume regroups: “I can’t really recall, but we choose it together”.
And it was a really good choice, emphasizing their strong points, their fluidity and unison – I’m even more convinced on competition day. A fun, light routine, that seems to go so well with both their personalities – a joyful mixture of slow and fast, one turning into another even without noticing. A short dance creating sweet addiction.
But first there’s that: a seemingly nervous Gabriella during the warm-up. The French will be first to take the ice in this last group of competitors, so they spend their final minute gliding slowly, near the boards. And she’s nervous, you can tell: as she moves, she stretches her palms, to let the wind enter in between her fingers. And then they look at each other, as they usually do, they enter their bubble, waiting for their names to be called. And then there’s this lovely short dance, full of nuances – her right hand over his head, and then resting on his shoulder –, a subtle, discrete program, just like the way they are; one that grows on you with every competition.
Exiting the ice, they don’t look as thrilled as the audience though – they know they left some points on the table. She’ll say quickly in the mixed zone: “I am bit frustrated with the two mistakes that I did in the last element [the side by side step sequence – they’ll only get a level two for that]. It was more on the details, but it made us lose a few points”. By the time of press conference, she’ll widen the picture and put everything into context: “Overall, the performance was still really good and we improved a lot since our last competition, but there is still room to improve for the World Championships, the technical part”.
The French are third after the short dance (75.48 points) – and they’ll remain third after the switch in between the top two teams. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte had won the short dance, with 76.65 points, ahead of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (76.18 points) – but during the evening rumours start to twirl: apparently the Italians had performed an additional element, a rotational lift, in their dance – and so the performance is revised, a one point deduction, for the extra element, is applied, and, by the time the day ends, the Russians go into the lead.
Other highlights of the short dance – as seen by Inside Skating. After a 1-year break, Sara Hurtado takes the ice alongside Kirill Khaliavian, in their first Europeans as a team, and I can’t help but noticing how good they already are – and their music for the short dance is clearly addictive (“Sweet Dreams” by Térez Montcalm). * Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov definitely got the swing – and a long line of Russian journalists leaves the media tribune at the end of their skate and heads for the mixed zone. * Kavita Lorenz and Joti Polizoakis set the house on fire with their Michael Jackson routine and, seconds after, a totally different MJ routine follows, performed by the French Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac; and have you seen their edges? Mind-blowing. * We just love Alexandra Nazarova and Maxim Nikitin’s little complicities before being introduced to the audience: head in head, they wait for their names to be called. And then their innovations, you can’t really say No to those. *
Just that: Isabella Tobias knows how to sell a routine. Someone writes on twitter: “They slayed”. They did – and the music choice (“Real Life” and “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weekend) worked perfectly for them. And her bodysuit, of, my. * They have fun, lots of fun, Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen while skating their Elvis short dance in Ostravar Arena, and he does look like a boss, Nikolaj, while heading for the Kiss and Cry in between Laurence and Marie-France Dubreuil. * Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin’s short dance this season, to blues and hip hop, is a bubble of energy, enthusiasm – following the French, they step up to the plate and show the best version of themselves. *
Barbara Fusar Poli dancing behind the boards, high heels included, while her students, Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, fully enter their “Grease” characters. * During the draw for the free dance, later on, a surprised and joyous Barbara will congratulate Luca Lanotte and then say: “We’re in the same group as you! We’re 4th, I thought we were 5th… * No doubt about it: Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte are a joy to the eyes. And I feel like watching (and rewatching) their short dance this season, to “Cry For Me” and “Choo Choo Boogie” – he, in his red jacket, she, wearing a white dress full of dots. She’ll talk about their music choice in the press conference: “Luca found the «Jersey Boys» and, after the World Championships last year, I went to New York and saw the musical. It was the first time I saw a musical live and I was mesmerized. I immediately knew that it should be our music”. * Ekaterina Bobrova during the press conference, while smilingly talking about the sensuality of their short dance, to blues and swing: “I have a very good practice of the relation between a man and a woman as I have a husband now”. *
Creating shapes and stories with their bodies
It’s 16:41 on Saturday – and I’m sure we’re in for an absolute treat in Ostravar Arena: everyone else in the last group has skated, except for them, the European champions en titre. And there’s this almost tangible sense of anticipation in the audience: thousands of hearts waiting to be moved in unison by these two young skaters that have changed the world of dancing.
And like in Stockholm and Shanghai in 2015, Bratislava and Boston in 2016, the magic happens once more – and for the following 4 minutes, Gabriella and Guillaume create shapes and stories with their arms, their bodies. They own the air, the ice – hungry hands claiming the space and each other – while skating to “Stillness” by Nest, “Happiness Does Not Wait” by Ólafur Arnalds and “Oddudua” by Aldo López-Gavilan. And if these names don’t seem at all familiar it’s because no one has ever used them before in ice skating. No better time to turn to an interview Inside Skating has published with Guillaume in 2014, at the end of their first season in seniors – they had just ended the Europeans on 15th place and the Worlds on 13th. At 18 and 19, they had already made up their minds – they knew what kind of skaters they wanted to be. Guillaume: „We always try to be the most sincere in our interpretation, to really give something true to the public. We also try to break new ground through choreography, costumes, and just be ourselves”.
…even back then, some considered their musical choice for the free dance “too original” – it was “Iron” and “Run Boy Run” by Woodkid and “Brotsjor” by the same Ólafur Arnalds – and, three years later, they meet again with this label, given their out of ordinary music for the free skate. A German journalist puts it bluntly in the press conference after the event: “I have a problem if there is no rhythm in the music, or only in the underground where you don’t feel it. I think we have no modern dance, no stage dance – it should be real ice dancing, I think…”. There’s a pause, then Gabriella takes the mic: “Ok”, she nods. And then she adds: “Are you interested in being a judge?”. There are seconds of buzz in the room, the journalist explains his way of seeing things, while Guillaume chooses a somehow more diplomatic approach: “I think what we’re trying to do is just make people see further about what ice dance should or could be. I think there’s no limit to what we can do in ice dance”.
Minutes later, Gabriella will come back to the topic – their apparently rhythmless music, them skating to silence: “First, we had to make some modifications in the music… There is a rhythm, otherwise we wouldn’t have been allowed to skate on it. So, yes, there is a rhythm. It’s not easy to count, but there is one. And then we worked on what the music spoke to us, what it meant to us. We tried to incorporate that in the way we were dancing, in the way we were doing the elements, the movements, everything. It’s not just about the rhythm, it’s about the meaning, the flow, the emotion, about all of that. And that’s what we were really trying to do”.
The truth is originality has become one of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s trademarks – and they keep feeding it, defending it, with every season’s choices. It was Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in their first season in Montreal – an out of the box choice for ice dance (but what a success), it was “Rain, in Your Black Eyes” and “To Build a Home” last season – and there’s this one of a kind free dance during pre-Olympic season. All of them, if you may, an expression of (their) freedom. No wonder Guillaume has posted on social media, days after the Europeans, a glimpse of their free skate – alongside a simple yet revealing quote from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion”.
Some other highlights of the free dance. Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin’s first ever free dance gives you that sureness they’ll do good together – huge potential, wonderful matching lines, in short, a very elegant pair skating to a very interesting piece of music: “Two Men in Love” by The Irrepressibles; and Sara’s years in Montreal, under the tutelage of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, might have something to do with this particular choice. * With Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev’s free dance, we travel instantly to the sets of “Dirty Dancing” – she’s Baby, he’s Johnny, and everyone in the arena seems to want to dance, dance, dance… * Every season there are dances that shine through – and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin’s tango, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev, is definitely one of those. No doubt about it, this free dance is a jewel, one capturing attention and running away with it, whether they skate it in practice or during the actual event. A wow program, in terms of choreography, interpretation, red-black costumes – and one of Inside Skating’s favorite dances this season. *
Take Denmark’s Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen and their emotions, add Patricia Kaas’ unmistakable voice – and you’ll get a free dance touching the hearts. They’re good, Laurence and Nikolaj, and their ascension has just started – they finished the 2017 Europeans on the 7th place. * That lift, defying gravity, in Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev’s free dance to Chopin and Vivaldi: feet up, head down, spinning and twirling, to (so convincingly) illustrate the chaos in Katia’s mind. Dmitri will talk about the story of the free dance in the press conference: “For each classical piece, you can make your own story, and we did make our story. It sort of starts with Katia’s tragedy and then it culminates into the happiness of life”. *
Luca Lanotte’s faces, gestures – he’s Charlie Chaplin to the fingertips – and their joy of a free dance: such a wonderful choice of music, suiting their style, their personalities. The Italians’ trademark? Telling stories – and they might have hit the jackpot with this one: the program flows, in spite of Anna’s error on the twizzle at the beginning. That could have taken the wind out of their sails – but, luckily, it didn’t, and the audience responded with great enthusiasm. They win the silver by a very small margin, 0.08 of a point – this might also be their trademark, winning in such manner; remember 2014 Worlds? – and in the mixed zone, Luca breathe a sigh of relief, then says: “I am really happy. This is our fifth time on the podium at Europeans and the third time we finish in second place”. *
A journalist asks the French in the press conference: “Do you know who were the last dancers to win the European title for three years in a row?” Gabriella and Guillaume look at each other with a smile: no, they don’t. No one from the table knows. Except for Romain Haguenauer – his answer comes from somewhere in the middle of the room: “Je crois que Navka&Kostomarov”. He is right, Tatiana and Roman did it, between 2004-2006, and, earlier on, it was Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov who’d also won three consecutive Europeans, between 1996-1998. *