…so the coaches were like: “This is really what you wanna do? Because this is gonna be hard! And you’re gonna have to take the responsibility of your choice and of your failure if it doesn’t work”.
…and we said: “Yeah! We wanna do that, we wanna take the risks!” The risks are actually the reason why we chose this music. Because we wanted to challenge ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in a difficult position.
So that was in the summer. And, of course, when we started competing, it wasn’t that easy anymore. When we started having struggles and everything, we had to remember this moment when we said: “We take the responsibility of the struggle we’re gonna have!” It was hard, but we don’t regret the decision.
And I do remember the faces of people when they first heard the music… “Uuuuh!”
This interview is many things. But it’s mostly the story of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s free dance for the season that has just ended. That intense, emotional free dance that had people on their feet in Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena, at this year’s edition of the World Championships. That consuming performance that left them completely drained, hands on their heads, catching their breath – but happy, proud, relieved they made this program, and its music, work. Because with these two, skating is always about challenge – they do challenge themselves, and people watching; it’s about authenticity and flow; about ice dancing, and not just dancing on the ice. You’ll see that for yourselves: Gabriella and Guillaume’s work philosophy is easily traceable between the lines – they question, analyze, they search for butterflies, excitement; and they don’t ever take the easy way.
by Florentina Tone/Helsinki
They came to the mixed zone – on April 2nd, 15 minutes after the exhibition – when the chaos was at its height. It’s the end of 2017 Worlds right there, and journalists are trying to make the most of this last day, of these last minutes: a meter to my left, Carolina Kostner is being interviewed by a Japanese TV, a colleague waits for Javier Fernández, and also has a judge on hold, the few chairs in this crowded space are up for grabs for future talks with skaters coming from the dressing rooms – and, back against a wall, I’m thinking how on earth am I supposed to do an in-depth interview with Gabriella and Guillaume in these hectic, feverish surroundings.
…and so when I suggest a change of place for our talk, Gabriella answers quickly: “Maybe somewhere near the ice?” – and passing by a blue wall, we end up in a small space just behind the Kiss and Cry; only later I come to realize this is the famous green room, where intermediate top 3 skaters/couples in the final group sat and waited for the rest of colleagues to compete and get their scores; and people home saw their spontaneous reactions on TV.
Except there is no green, nor any other colour in this room right now – the dismantling of different spaces in the arena has already started, and the lighting here is off, we are told by a volunteer. Three pairs of eyes smile in the dark: we’ll take it anyway. And Guillaume’s phone, on the small table in front of us, becomes a flashlight, and a trustworthy companion, for the next hour. And we can see each other. Sort of.
“Do you need to write?”, Guillaume’s worried question suddenly arises in the gloom: a potential problem has been called.
“No, fortunately the recorder will do all the work”, comes the assurance, and then a burst of laughter colours the space. “This is clearly the most interesting setting for an interview”, I just can’t help it, while Gabriella offers with a smile: “If you need to read, I can give you my phone” – she sees a sheet of paper (with loads of questions) in my hand.
But then there is another challenge to respond to: we’re just beneath the rows of chairs in the arena, and with everything being disassembled as we speak, the noise – wiry, dense, increasing, a chorus of bangs and hammerings, and metal pieces hitting one against the other – is threatening to take over. But it doesn’t – they just acknowledge its presence, and carry on.
And you won’t hear any trace of noise in their detailed, articulate answers.
Come to think of it, the interviewing place (and the interviewing situation altogether) was so them. In the world of ice dancing right now, they are different, Gabriella and Guillaume – and them finding their way through noise, through lack of light, during our talk, was, on a small scale, if you wish, almost a metaphor of their free dance.
Their voices covered the dissonance of the environment, delivering a clear, sound message – and they did just that, throughout the season, with the free dance and its music: they made themselves stand out through a vehicle that many found, at the beginning, so difficult to accept and to embrace. It was equally difficult for them, they’ll say it openly: “We felt that the program was different pieces – and it was really hard to put all of them together, and make it work as a whole”.
But as the time, the season went by, the pieces of the puzzle started to arrange themselves in the right way, becoming that: a meaningful, impressive story on the ice. And you will find this story, and so many other little (yet relevant) stories from their career so far, in our conversation below.
Florentina Tone: In an interview for Inside Skating in 2014, at the end of your first season in seniors, asked about your long term goals, you, Guillaume, said – and I quote you – „We would like a medal at 2018 Olympics, so we will work very hard until then”.
Probably very few people believed it then – that’s a good dream, and a bold statement altogether from such a young team –, but now, three years into that and one year before PyeongChang, that Olympic medal seems totally within your reach. Actually, no one doubts at this point that you can have it. How did this happen? For the world of ice dance – with the immobility we have seen for years – your progress, your results seem absolutely fantastic. Have you digested it yet? Have you analyzed it, figured out how it happened?
[They’re both laughing right now]
Gabriella Papadakis: Not really… [while she continues to laugh]. Not really – it’s hard to have a clear vision of what’s happening when you’re so much into it.
We didn’t look back yet to see what has happened and what were the reasons and everything, but I think… I don’t know, I think that ice dance started to change and give more chances to the skaters, and become less predictable. We could saw that this year too [in Helsinki]: there has been a lot of differences between the short dance and the free dance results, so I guess that’s one of the reasons.
But winning that World gold medal in only your second season in seniors… were you surprised by it?
Guillaume Cizeron: Actually, it’s really strange – because we were surprised, but we were kind of expecting it…
After the Grand Prix events?
Guillaume: Yeah. I think the first win in Shanghai [in 2014 Cup of China] was a really big surprise for us. That was the most surprising event, and then the second Grand Prix, and the Final, and the Europeans – and it started to grow on us this feeling that we’re capable of doing it, of actually getting a gold medal at Worlds.
Gabriella: Well, we were more expecting to be third.
During the actual event or going for it, approaching it?
Gabriella: Going into the event we were looking for a medal and, most likely, it was the bronze.
Guillaume: Yeah, we didn’t have any expectations, because the year before we had been 15 [15th at Europeans, 13th at Worlds], and so it was just like we knew we had a really good chance to be on the podium, and, OK, in a small part of our heads I think we knew that we had a small chance to win, but we were not there for that, I think.
We were just so overwhelmed with everything that was happening back then, and the progress that we made, and just discovering these new feelings of being in the top teams… So I think it was kind of a shock in the sense that we didn’t really realized what was happening, because we were not expecting that. We didn’t have the feeling to have worked for it, really, because that wasn’t the goal at all. Starting the season, we were trying to get into Top 10 [smiling].
But sitting in the Kiss in Cry in Shanghai, do you remember what you felt at the moment when the scores showed up?
Gabriella: Well, at first I didn’t really understand [smiling]. I saw the scores and I didn’t know that we were first, and I didn’t realized it, actually. But Marie and Romain were in the Kiss and Cry with us, and they really realized, so they were really, really happy, and it took us like a few long seconds to just… What’s happening here?! I guess we’re happy?! I don’t knoooow! What’s happening here?! It’s good, yeah!
[there’s laughter in the dark room, genuine, happy laughter when remembering the Worlds in Shanghai, in 2015, and the outcome of all that: Gabriella and Guillaume had just won the gold, in only their second season on senior level]
Guillaume [also with a smile]: Yeah, it was a really strange feeling. And so much has happened since then, but it still feels like yesterday. It’s funny.
Because everything happened so very fast, I assume…
Guillaume: Yeah, and because we always look on the future, you know? We always have our eyes on the future, and what we can improve, and what we can do next, and what’s our next move, and what’s gonna be our plan for the next month, the next day, the next week… We never really look back. We never really take the time to look back.
But have you somehow sensed a change of mentality during the last two years, let’s say? Because, from the outside, you clearly see it: after your win in Shanghai, every one else started to look at the rankings with much more hope. You breaking through in just one season made other skaters believe they could also do a huge leap very quickly – and that’s such a big change comparing to what ice dance was years ago…
Guillaume: We didn’t realize it, because… I think we haven’t been in the circuit for long enough to realize it, to really get a sense of that change.
Gabriella: We just came in and it was like this, you know? [smiling]
Guillaume: Yeah, we haven’t experienced the old way. In juniors it was a totally different scene, juniors are just so different…
I’m asking you that because I think the change is obvious, and it’s also obvious that you caused it. Just by talking to skaters, in different interviews, you can see they look up to you and your progress…
Guillaume [smiling]: I mean, we acknowledge [the change]…
Gabriella: I remember I received some messages from younger skaters, which broke me all, like: You both inspire me, and the big leap you did made us believe that it’s possible, and it made us want to work more… So, yeah, I didn’t realize it before, but then I was like: Oh, wow, that’s something great, to inspire younger skaters. Because it’s often that I saw junior skaters who would, not give up, but who were just like: We’re never gonna be in the top 10 for at least ten years, and we’re just gonna wait our turn…
Yes, that was pretty much it with ice dancing for a whole lot of years: you needed to wait your turn.
Gabriella: Yeah, and so it’s great that it has changed.
Looking back at these past three seasons, this one included, how these experiences changed you? How are you now comparing to, let’s say, 2014? As individuals, as athletes approaching training…
Guillaume [smiling]: Oh, wow, it is so different, I think. Although the essence of the work is the same – it hasn’t really been a big shift [there], I feel like we’re still on our tracks, our own paths – but we’ve grown so much, and it’s really funny to… like to start to become adults, and have this kind of look back on: Wow, we’ve grown up!, you know? Because when you’re younger you don’t realize that you’re growing up, you’re just growing up! And now we acknowledge all the experience that we get, and all the work that we’re doing – we know why we do it, we know how to do it, we always try to improve –, but I think we’re even more aware of what we’re doing in a professional way.
To me, you also acted maturely when you decided to follow Romain to Montreal and to completely change your way of life…
Gabriella [smiling]: Yeah, but we didn’t feel like: Oh, my God, this is very mature of us! We just came and… [shrugging her shoulders]
Guillaume: It’s like growing up! You still feel like yourself, but, if you look back, if you take one step away and look at it from a different angle, you realize how much you’ve changed and how much your approach has changed and evolved, and how much we’ve grown as a team, as athletes, as persons, as interprets, as artists.
And the experience of winning all these competitions… has this changed you? Because there must be expectations, there must be pressure…
Gabriella: Yes, of course there is pressure, because we’re not the outsiders anymore – we’re the ones to beat… And for sure pressure is hard to deal with. Even if you tell yourself: It doesn’t matter, we skate just for the performance, there is still a little part of you that wants to win, and not disappoint anybody, and do your job. Mostly that – because you don’t wanna work for nothing, so you wanna give a performance that you’re gonna be proud of too.
So, yes, there is a lot of pressure, and I think that was our downfall this season, mostly on the short dance. That’s why we did so many mistakes, so many times, in so many competitions.
„IN BETWEEN FOCUSING ON THE TECHNIQUE AND SKATING HOW WE FEEL LIKE”
Have you analyzed it in particular, the short dance? Because when it comes to Marie-France, she says that you, guys, have so much freedom and it’s difficult to put a stop to that in the short dance…
Guillaume: It’s one thing…
Gabriella: Yeah, we like to skate very fast, sometimes not so much into the details, but more…
Guillaume: …with the feeling, and with your body…
Gabriella: Which is why, in the short dance, where there are very specific steps and key points like every second, it’s very hard to do that. And so that’s why we’re a little bit in between: in between focusing on the technique and skating how we feel like. We’re in between that, and sometimes that’s the problem.
Guillaume: I think it’s always difficult to get in the competition – we have to really work on that point. Because the practices are always good, most of the time. And it’s true that the short dance is not our strong point, it’s not what we do best. For now. We’re working on it [laughing] – but I think it’s hard for us to get in the competition, because we skate our best when we don’t have this kind of pressure.
So I think we’re good at what we do, but… the competition doesn’t lift us. It’s kind of an energy that puts us down a little bit, this pressure. We haven’t found a way, for now, to put that aside and just be ourselves, no matter what, in the short dance. Because when the short dance is done, it’s like relief [smiling] – it’s almost a relief to be second, because you don’t have this pressure anymore, you’re just like: Ok, so now I’m not competing anymore!
Gabriella: Now I’m excited!
Guillaume: Now I’m excited ’cause I don’t have to compete! I can just be myself and have a show out there, and not be so freaked out about losing points, you know?
With that in mind, how do you feel about next season’s short dance? Latin rhythms, right?
Guillaume [smiling]: It’s exciting.
Gabriella: I’m not a big fan of Latin for skating. I love Latin dances, I love watching Latin dances, on the floor. But on the ice… I think it’s such a different dynamic in the body that cannot really be translated on the ice, so it’s always gonna look kind of… cheap…
Gabriella: Cheap and cliché, Latin dances on the ice. Plus, there are no much possible different choices for themes and musics. Latin music always kind of sounds the same for me, with the same kind of instruments, and rhythms and… Not like this season – you could’ve had the 20ties, the 30ties, the 40ties, the 60ties, rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, there was so many difference choices you could have! Latin music? Iiiih, not so many! [she makes a squeaking sound, and then starts laughing]. So it’s hard to be original on these things.
Guillaume: The thing about the free dance is that you get to really ice dance, and not dance on the ice. You know what I mean? And the short dance is more about dancing on the ice. All those ballroom positions don’t really fit to the ice, to the material that we have. I think it’s always gonna be a struggle, because we are ice dancers, we’re not ballroom dancers.
And for me the short dance kind of feels like Dancing with the stars. You pick skaters, and you try to make them ballroom dancers, but it’s never gonna… Like if you wanna see Latin dance, go watch a ballroom… ball, you know? [laughing] So I think it always kind of looks cheap.
And I think it’s really hard to make the short dance authentic. There are some dances though, like the Waltz, for example: it just flows, because it fits with the ice. That’s the material that we have, and we have to work with it. And it’s not stiff – and skating is always about flow, and curves, and… nobody wants to dance on a straight line.
Gabriella: A lot of dances are about the bounces on the floor, a lot of dances use the floor so much! In Swing, for example, the floor is like the main thing you use, to bounce and everything… How can you translate that on the ice, when you glide? This is such a different [dynamic].
Well, you tried… [Gabriella and Guillaume chose Swing as a part of their short dance in 2016/2017 season]
[there’s laughter from all sides]
Gabriella: Yeah, but it’s just so different! It doesn’t really work.
Guillaume: I think we went as far as we could. But it still stays skating with a Swing theme. It’s not ice dance… for me.
So it will be a bit of a challenge, this Latin theme for next season…
Guillaume: It’s a real challenge for us. We haven’t figured out yet a way to do that, but I think that’s the next step: take the short dance to ice dance, and not just dancing on the ice. I think that’s the challenge for next year.
“THIS IS SO WEIRD, BUT IT COULD BE SO FANTASTIC, YOU KNOW?”
Last time we talked you also said that you try to break new ground through choreography, through costumes, and just be yourselves. And in the course of the last three seasons, you did just that: you stood by your own rules, you remained true to yourselves.
So would you lead me a bit into the choice of music for your free dance this season? I know that you talked about it here and there, but I believe there’s still plenty to be said… For example, have you sometimes felt the music was risky, or too risky? Have you ever felt tempted to give up on it? Have you ever given up on a piece of music because you thought the judges, the public would consider it too original…?
Guillaume: We never gave up on something that we wanted because of the judges. I think that we always tried to stay true to what we’re looking for in ice dance, and I think we have to trust also that the judges will go on that journey with us.
At a certain point at least…
Guillaume [nods]: At a certain point. I know it was a struggle at the beginning of the year, because it was a really hard program to approach….
This was a music coming from you? Or from your team of coaches?
Guillaume: It was from us [both smiling right now]. We suggested the music, and it wasn’t easy…
…the coaches said: Oh, My God!
Guillaume [laughing]: No, let’s just say they were not thrilled.
Gabriella: Yeah, they were not thrilled, they were really sceptic, and it was a long, long, long process… But it was already a few weeks, maybe months, and we were trying to find a music, and proposing, and not agreeing on anything [Gabriella’s prolonging some of the words, and that gives an idea of the length, the struggles, of the process], and this was kind of, I don’t know, the only thing that we proposed, and maybe they were tired of us saying No to everything… [both laughing]
So they were like: This is really what you wanna do? Because this is gonna be hard! And you’re gonna have to take the responsibility of your choice and of your failure if it doesn’t work.
So you were kind of aware of what might happen… They pointed that out to you…
Guillaume: Yeah, they pointed the risks and…
Gabriella: …and we said: Yeah! We wanna do that, we wanna take the risks! The risks are actually the reason why we chose this music. Because we wanted to challenge ourselves, and we wanted to put ourselves in a difficult position.
So that was in the summer. And, of course, when we started competing, it wasn’t that easy anymore [smiling]. When we started having struggles and everything, we had to remember this moment when we said: We take the responsibility of the struggle we’re gonna have! It was hard, but we don’t regret the decision.
And I do remember the faces of people when they first heard the music… Uuuuh!
Guillaume: But I don’t blame them, because when I first heard the music…
Gabriella: I don’t blame them either! What is that?!?!?!
Guillaume: Because it’s 16 minutes long, the piece [“Oddudua” by Aldo López-Gavilán], and I remember when I first heard it I was like: Uuuuh, what is this?! And then I got intrigued, and I was like: Ok, I’m just gonna listen to the whole thing and see what I feel like. And then I was like: Ok, I really like this piece, but I don’t think anyone else is gonna love it. Like: There’s no way anyone else but me is gonna like this piece! So I just put it aside.
And then, one day, we were just desperate, we were together trying to find musics, and I’m just: Ok, so… don’t judge, but I have this music, and I think it’s pretty interesting, but I don’t think it’s ever gonna make a program. So I made her listen to it, and she was like: You know what? I really like it too! [Gabriella laughs heartily] I think it’s just so different to everything we’ve heard before! You know when you have those… butterflies in the stomach, that excitement?
Gabriella: And this was what we were looking for.
Guillaume: Like: This is so weird, but it could be so fantastic, you know?
Gabriella: Fantastic, yeah! [you can sense the excitement in both their voices]
Guillaume: And then we brought that to the coaches. And they were like…
Gabriella: But first all the skaters in the rink were just like…
Guillaume: Oh, my God! What is this?!
Gabriella: What is that?! Please, stop this!
Guillaume: And we had to rearrange the music, it was made by Karl Hugo, a composer from Montreal. So it’s not quite the original piece….
Gabriella: We didn’t even stick to all the original ideas, because of the rules…
Guillaume: Yeah, it was kind of a compromise.
Gabriella: It was a huge compromise.
Guillaume: We have kind of this radical vision, and we’re really stubborn…
Gabriella: Yeah, if we hadn’t had three coaches who were worried about, you know, the judges, the scores and everything, we would have done something super crazy! [laughing]
Guillaume [nods in agreement]: It would have been much more intense than that, I think.
Gabriella: Yeah, much more!
Guillaume: But it’s a good thing that we didn’t, because I think it would have taken like years of work to get there. It’s kind of a compromise, I think… [to Gabriella:] Is compromise a good word?
Gabriella: Yeah, compromise.
Guillaume: We didn’t go as far as we wanted to take it in the radical way, but it still has the essence of what we wanted to bring. And it is a program that needs to grow on everyone. The first time that you see it, you’re not gonna like it.
It was first skated in France, right?
Gabriella: Yes, we first skated in the French Masters.
And have you changed it a bit after…?
Guillaume: We didn’t change it that much. It was like a puzzle, we just changed the puzzle. But it’s pretty much the original idea.
And now, remembering the reaction of the audience last night in Helsinki? [the interview took place a day after their World record performance, which was given a standing ovation in Hartwall Arena] How do you feel now about what you did with the program this season? Because it definitely grew on the public since you first showed it…
Gabriella: At first… I remember that after almost each competition, maybe not Europeans, but I heard comments like: Oh, I really like your program but… mostly the second part. The first one…? Aaah, it’s hard. I heard that so many times.
Guillaume: Everybody liked the second part.
Gabriella: And here I didn’t hear that at all. People were just saying: I like your program. Not in parts, but the program as a whole. That was something that was really hard to achieve. Like we felt that the program was different pieces – and it was really hard to put all of them together, and make it work as a whole.
”WE REALLY WANT TO CHALLENGE OURSELVES STILL”
What about next year’s choice ? I might have read that somewhere: you said something about going for a safer choice in the Olympic season…
Guillaume: We’re not quite sure…
Gabriella: And by “safer” you mean less weird, and less risky than this one…? [both laughing]
Less risky, yes – that might be the question…
Gabriella: We’ll try to choose a music that everybody is gonna like [smiling], that nobody’s gonna be like: Uuuuu, aaaa, iiiii, aaaa, my ear bleeds! [laughing heartily] That’s what we mean when we say “safer”.
Yeah, because Olympics are somehow different than the rest of competitions…
Guillaume: Yeah, it’s so different – because it has to represent really who you are, I think, as a skater, as an artist. So, it’s really hard, it’s like an anthem – it’s your experience that you bring. It’s not just one program, it has to take the last three programs, take everything that’s good on those programs, and take it into a new program, still [showing] improvement, still new.
It’s kind of a hard process, I think, because we don’t want to do anything too risky… because we don’t have a lot of time. Olympics are in February, so we don’t have enough time [me adding: for the program to grow on everyone]. Yeah, it has to…
Gabriella: It has to work early in the season.
Guillaume: Yeah, it has to work right away. And we know we can do that with a lot of pieces, the choice is so large, but I think we really want to challenge ourselves still. Like we don’t want it to be easy, because it’s not exciting, for anyone.
…and for you in particular… [they smilingly agree]
Guillaume: Yeah, we need to have those kind of… bubbles, you know, in the stomach… Like: Oh, I need to discover that! But it has to stay in a range that doesn’t take too much time. Because I think it’s really about time, it’s about timing [in the Olympic season].
But when have you decided – if you decided or verbalized that at a certain point in your life – that you wanted to be different than the rest? I mean, did you have, in your younger years, your Swan Lake & Romeo and Juliet-phase? Have you danced to those?
Guillaume [laughing]: No. Not ever.
Gabriella: We were not always super edgy, you know? But… – and maybe that’s because we’re French, and in France every couple had their own style, and always worked to be very unique – I think that we always grew up with this idea that if you want to be in the top skaters you have to have your own style.
Guillaume: Yeah, and stand out.
Gabriella: And that’s why we’ve been trying to explore things, and trying to really find our style, instead of copying other skaters.
Coming here, to Worlds, how did you approach this competition? How do you usually approach a competition? And we can also talk here about rituals, about what you do, what you don’t do once the event has started…
Guillaume: Well, the process is one thing, and then there’s the mental process of it. And this year has been so different, in so many ways, and I think it’s been really hard mentally. Because we had so many challenges this year: the program was already one big challenge [smiling], and then there’s Tessa and Scott coming back, and the fact that they’re coming back to Montreal…
And, of course, we are very inspired by them, and we really like them as persons, and we really respect their art and them as athletes, but it adds [to] the pressure, to compete against such a good couple. Because they are very good, and they’re very popular, and… you have all this experience that is intimidating in some way, because we’re so young and new to this world that is very challenging, I think, to compete against them.
…and I forgot the original question… [laughing]
I forgot it too… [there’s laughter from all sides at this point of our conversation]
But since you brought up Tessa and Scott, it might be a good idea to talk about the dynamics of your training now in Montreal… Because I remember listening to what Tessa and Scott feel about you – they’ve been asked that more than once, and they say they feel inspired, motivated – but I don’t remember hearing or reading that much about the other way around, you training with them…
Gabriella: They are very professional, you can see that, compared to a lot of other teams, and they always come to the rink and have their own habits, their own [routines]… After all, they have been in this world for a long time and, of course, you can see they have their own things, more than a lot of other skaters. And that’s very interesting to see – it’s interesting to see how other succeeding couples work.
But is there something you feel you can take from them? Because I see it as a win-win situation, you training with Tessa and Scott, but I’m not in your shoes…
Gabriella: They spend a lot of time working on their relationship – because they know that’s the most important [thing] for success. And it’s true that a lot of couples neglect that – but they understood this was really important, and you can really see that [on them].
Guillaume: …but, I mean, it’s hard to tell, because, you know, you don’t come to the rink and be like: Oh, so what can I learn from you today? [smiling]
It’s kind of… we learn from the situation a lot, because we never had this kind of competition before – so I think it makes us really grow as athletes, competitors – but it’s hard to tell really what we learn from them. And our partnership has just begun, so it’s still really fresh…
But it is refreshing to have them at the rink, they definitely add an over-dynamic to the team – and it does push us, it pushes us and the coaches, I think it challenges everyone, really, and I think we mostly learn from that.
Because I think what they have that is the most valuable is their experience and their work ethic – and it’s something that is really hard to share with other skaters. Not only because we’re competitors – because I’m pretty sure they would be happy to share their experience – but experience is not something you can share. You can’t share that, you have to make your own experience. You can’t take years from somebody else, you just watch it – and it’s interesting to watch and see, but it’s hard to…
And we’re not looking for stealing anything from them, you know? [smiling] We have our own path, and we respect their path, and if we get inspired, and if we learn things about them, it’s always in the positive way, with the positive energy, it’s never with the thought of beating them… I think it’s something more beautiful than that in our partnership.
…I think we can come back now to that lost, forgotten question: habits, rituals during competition. Do you have any? Because you always talk about your bubble, entering the bubble… How do you enter that bubble?
Gabriella: I think everything we do is kind of… ritual.
Guillaume [laughing]: Kind of everything, every step we take…
Gabriella: Everything we do, all day. But it’s hard to say, because it’s not a few big things – it’s just so many little things. And, yeah, we’re trying to stay focused, but not being too stressed out… And, for example, right before skating, there are skaters that like to sit, there are skaters that like to walk… Everybody has their own different things – there are skaters that like to go alone in a place and hide themselves, and tie their skates…
And you are…? What kind of skaters are you?
Gabriella: We like to walk.
Guillaume [smiling, to Gabriella:] I think she wants more details. [we’re all laughing right now, while I’m also trying to defend myself: I want to know as much as you can share]
Of course, there’s a schedule that’s already planned for us during the competition day, but, around that, we try to add our own little details – and, like she said, between the warm-up and our performance, we like to walk, hand in hand, and… we just walk. We never sit [laughing], no, we never sit down, we rarely re-tie our skates, even if we skate last. I don’t know why, it’s just like that.
And I think we have like an eye-contact ritual, at every step of the way. I think it makes us feel stronger, because we share a lot just by looking at each other. It’s also because we have such a long history together: 12 years of partnership is already very long, even if we’re still young. And it’s so simple, but just by looking at each other we feel like we get stronger. Because we are stronger together than separate.
That would make for a very good ending right there [smiles in the dark room], but there’s still one more thing I wanna ask you: looking back at these last three seasons, is there a competition, a medal, a performance, a moment that you remember more?
Guillaume: From the last three years? We don’t have just one better, because…
Gabriella: It just happened?! [laughing] I don’t know, I remember a lot of moments.
I think the one I’ll remember… In fact, two things I’ll remember the most. And both were in China. The first one was in Shanghai, in the first Grand Prix we won. I think it’s mostly this competition that I remember. Because it’s the first we won.
And I remember I was sooo happy after the short dance: we were third or something, we beat Elena and Ruslan, I think, in the short dance. And I was soooo happy, I was like: Oh, My God! It’s probably not gonna stay like that, but I’m just gonna enjoy being third after the short dance!
And then we were first after the free dance, and I was like: Whaat!? It was so much to handle, it was so fast, and we didn’t expect it! Yeah, I really remember these moments! Seeing the scores, and being on the podium – I was like a child at Disneyland! Just amazed at everything.
And then, of course, the first Worlds we won. We didn’t expect it at all. And that’s something I think I’ll remember all my life.
And the World record for the free dance last night – is it thrilling or…?
Gabriella: It’s a bonus.
Guillaume: Yeah, it’s a great bonus. But it’s not like in other sports where, you know, you jump, it’s always been the same sport, and you just jump higher. Here, the judging is so different from a couple of years ago that you can’t really compare. But I think it gives us a sense of what kind of a performance was, and it still feels like an achievement. And we’re proud of it.
…and I will only ask that [Gabriella is laughing, she doesn’t trust me anymore]: having here this incredible free dance, what are your thoughts going into the Olympic season? Is this a boost of confidence, what is it?
Gabriella: …I mean, we are not talking about the short dance, we know we have to work on that – but the free dance, yeah, it gave us… It was really like: if we made this free dance work, and being so appreciated, and having such a connection with the audience with this free dance, which was really hard, for everybody, for us, for the audience… Yeah, it definitely gave us a boost of confidence for the future programs that we will do, and, hopefully, the next one. And we will carry all the efforts for this free dance and put them in the next one.
When, tens of minutes later, we leave the dark room hosting us, we notice there’s no mixed zone to come back to. No fret, no fuss, no journalists, just people taking down the plastic walls, the white, strong light, as a reward (“Liiiight!”, Guillaume looks thrilled with the discovery), and a volunteer who has been waiting for so long and now comes running, asking for a picture. “I love your programs!”, she rushes, and you can sense her excitement. And that’s the (real) end of Worlds right there: a happy fan, sharing a joyous moment with her favorites. And me pressing the photo-button thrice, to make sure the girl will have her souvenir.