interview by Florentina Tone/Bergamo
So many things have changed since we last talked, in Ostrava, at 2017 Europeans. You had your final Europeans a year later, in Moscow, and then decided to make a fundamental change and represent Canada. So… where should we start?
Nikolaj [looking at Laurence]: Do you wanna do the whole thing? [she smiles and nods in agreement]
Well, we can definitely have a sequel here, like they do in the movies. And you seem to like movies – you have a very cinematographic rhythm dance this season, embodying Bonnie and Clyde. And so we can try a Part Two of the first and very detailed interview for Inside Skating…
We all laugh – and the interview starts on this particular note. Nikolaj is the narrator, meticulously describing the new chapters in their career after the change, and Laurence brings depth, and layers, and colours, and music to the conversation – she’s a true alchemist of sound.
Add here the very generous sun of Bergamo – we talk just outside IceLab, the rink hosting 2019 Lombardia Trophy, at the end of the short dance – and the result is a very enjoyable, relaxed interview, more like the weather, full of smiles, but mostly full of insights into their journey and their short & long term goals.
And their goals are clearly stated, and they revolve around the Grand Prix Series, Canadian Nationals, Worlds in Montreal and, surely, Olympics. The distance to their “ultimate goal”? They know it by heart: “two years and five months” – but when it comes to that, Laurence voices a wish that makes our talk even more vivid (you’ll find it, loud and clear, towards the end).
Remember, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen are “in it for the long haul”, they said it themselves, and their career continues (and flourishes) with the maple leaf now on their backs.
When we last talked you still represented Denmark. Then the change happened, and now that you’ve embraced that change, what might be your thoughts about it, looking back?
Nikolaj: We spoke to you last time in Ostrava 2017 – it was the same year with the Worlds in Helsinki, when we qualified for the Olympics. And we didn’t really…
Laurence: We didn’t realize we could qualify…
Nikolaj: …and when we saw that, we tried really hard with the federation, to see if there was anything we could do. And, you know, there were no loopholes in Danish politics, for residency, or passport, or citizenship…
So that was pretty clear…
Nikolaj: That was very clear.
Laurence: So then our coaches were asking us: What’s your main goal? ’Cause now you know you have the potential to go [to the Olympics]. Of course, from Canada is harder to go, because we’re a lot of good teams. They said: Reflect about that.
And we had a long time reflecting of what we wanted and we realized that we would try everything we can in order to achieve our goal.
And so Olympics were a clear goal – it was, and still is, on your mind?
Laurence: Yeah! [large smile]
Nikolaj: Olympics were the starter to this whole change-thing – this is where the idea came from. Besides the fact that Laurence is Canadian, we’ve been training in Canada for our entire career, and I will be Canadian next summer.
So it was a natural choice, but it took us a long time to figure it out how we wanna proceed, and how to do it in a respectful manner also. Because the Danish Federation had really done a lot for us, and we didn’t want to leave them high and dry. And we had sort of aired the idea with them and, finally, right after Europeans, in 2018, we sat down with the vice-president and our coaches and had a very good conversation…
Laurence: A really honest conversation.
Nikolaj: About how we felt about everything.
Decided to skip Worlds in Milan, in 2018…
Laurence: That was hard.
Nikolaj: This is always hard, but Laurence did the math on it really fast. And we figured if we skipped Worlds, we can at least train really hard, and really be motivated for this change, where we wouldn’t be doing Grand Prix-s for a season, and sit out – but train really hard for Nationals and really make that the highlight of the season!
And then whatever comes after that, Four Continents and Worlds, we took that as a bonus last year. ’Cause we really didn’t know what to expect.
Laurence: You never know – you do Nationals and then Top 3 qualify. And you have to be in the Top 3.
That was your plan?
Laurence: Yeah, that was the plan.
Nikolaj: That was definitely the plan. And it’s been very overwhelming, the whole change.
We were really nervous about it, but everybody just went above and beyond for us. The Danish Federation was so supportive, Mike Slipchuk and the whole team from Skate Canada were just amazing from the beginning, and took into consideration all the results we had from Denmark… which I don’t know if that’s normal practice or not, because I don’t think anybody had done it before. We were assuming that no help was gonna be given until we had done Nationals, till we had done results – because usually in countries where you have to qualify, that’s how it works.
So our coaches were: Listen, guys, this might be a tough year financially – now you won’t have help from the Danish federation, the Canadian federation will not be able to help you till you actually had a result with the Canadian flag on your back…
And just being invited to High Performance Camp…
Laurence: And we did many competitions inside the country as well, and they’re pretty well organized…
Nikolaj: They’re amazing!
Laurence: I mean, we felt like we didn’t stop competing!
We went to summer competitions, we went to another competition that was the same time as Senior B, and then we went to another competition that was at the same time with the Grand Prix. We just kept going!
Nikolaj: You know, we trained with all those other teams that do the international competitions, and we really just tried to ride the same wave of training, and ups and downs in the season, not losing the momentum from event to event, even though the events were a little bit different.
Laurence: We were lucky of having this training center, and we’re still lucky to just be with the other teams who were building up for their competitions, and we were just following them…
Nikolaj: And so when they were leaving for Grand Prix-s, we would be leaving for Sectionals.
We were training for competitions, just going to different competitions than them, and I think it really helped us a lot. I mean, we are professional athletes, we know how to train well, but, at the same time, it really helps a lot and it keeps the energy.
So that was a big help, and the season flew by, and everything went so fast!
Looking back at this season already, what do you remember, what’s the first thing you see, the most vivid memory?
Nikolaj and Laurence [with one voice]: Nationals.
Nikolaj: Definitely Nationals.
It was a very special event – I think it’s something that you can’t even begin to imagine as a European, and especially as a European who’s only competed for a small country for his whole life.
The amount of organization that goes into big events, the support that we felt on the ice from the Canadian fans… It was very overwhelming, very emotional, very cool – and very stressful at the same time.
Laurence: He told me: I think this is the most stressful competition I did in my entire life!
Nikolaj: Because it’s the first time that you realize this could be the last one!
And last year we didn’t know how to sort of… You wanna do your best at Nationals, but two months later you have Worlds!
Yes, they have this “problem” in other big skating countries as well…
Nikolaj: Yes, and the training is very different, ’cause you wanna peak at Nationals, but you don’t wanna peak at Nationals at the same time.
But you need to peak at Nationals, in a way…
Nikolaj: You need to do your best at Nationals, whatever the best is the 15th of January.
And that goes the same for everybody – it’s tough to get out there two weeks after New Year’s and then hit it out the park. And so, yes, it’s been a roller coaster.
But, luckily, the road continued last season.
Nikolaj: Definitely – it’s luck, and hard training, and hard work, and commitment.
Laurence: We also started believing that if some doors don’t open, then it’s because they were not meant to open at that moment. And we just have to get through and find another way. And maybe we were not ready in our mindsets either. Now we really know what we want – we want to go to the Olympics.
I mean, before the change, we were skating, we love skating, we wanted to get higher in the world rankings, but then when you see you have the potential to go to the Olympics, and you can qualify, only then you realize: Oh, actually I can really go.
THIS SEASON: BONNIE AND CLYDE
Watching your brand new rhythm dance for the first time, here, in Bergamo, it’s obvious that you, Laurence, had a say in it – I remember from our previous conversation that you want to have a memorable beginning, that the opening sequence, the music are very important to you… [Laurence is nodding and smiling] But how did this Bonnie and Clyde program come to life?
Laurence: It’s an idea we had in…?
Nikolaj: We wanted to skate to it in 2014, the last time it was the Finnstep. And I think we were not in a place where we could really make it work.
Laurence: We had just started our career together.
Nikolaj: And when we heard that it was going to be Finnstep this year, we knew straight away the music we were going to use.
Laurence: Actually, this year, there was Broadway, and the Finnstep! One plus one equals two, and so we knew it’s going to be the Broadway musical “Bonnie and Clyde”.
Nikolaj: But even though we knew what we were going to do straight away, it was quite hard to actually choose the music. Because there’s a lot of good music in the musical – but how do you cut it, how do you keep a good rhythm, how do you build momentum in the program with the pieces that there are, instead of making it sort of a generic short dance, with three pieces of music, a quick, a slow and a quick?
We like to do stuff a little bit different, and I think, finally, this year, five years later, we have the skills to really work on this.
Laurence: I think I listened to the album a thousand times, trying to figure it out: How can we start? How can we go? We started with something, and then we changed it, and we really wanted to make the story as clear as possible.
Nikolaj: Yeah, because we had the music in April, but then we didn’t have the music till June [there’s laughter from all sides].
It took a long time to make it right, and many tries, and then we listened, and then we choreographed stuff, and then we didn’t want that song, and then we showed it to the coaches on another music [from the same musical], and we kept going like that for a while.
But Laurence is doing our music every year, and she’s doing an amazing job. I think I can quote Hugo Chouinard on this, the music guru – every time we come to him, he’s like: “Laurence, if you need work after skating, you can definitely work with me”.
Laurence: We go to his place every year and he takes the time to really sit down with us and see how we want our project to evolve. And it’s nice, because I know what I want, but, at the same time, there’s some stuff I’m not able to do, and he’s always there, with the right thing, at the right time!
Nikolaj: Just making that 10% extra of magic that we’re not able to exactly do. I say we, it’s Laurence.
But it’s always amazing to go to his place, ’cause I say it’s Laurence making the music, but really Hugo makes it all come together. He deserves a lot of credit – and the two of them work really well together, and they’re always: “Oh, we need a little bit of this…”, and he pulls stuff up, adding all that magic that goes into it.
You can definitely feel it in your programs: there’s always something about the music accompanying you on the ice – it’s very catchy, very clever, very clear…
Nikolaj: Thank you. And, yes, we spend a lot of energy on the music, we think it’s very important to have that base.
Laurence: It’s what we’re gonna listen e-ve-ry day – we’re gonna train to it over and over again, so if you don’t like it…
And the choreography was done by…?
Laurence: We did it with Romain [Haguenauer], our coach who’s here with us.
Nikolaj: We also worked with our ballroom teacher, Gigi [Ginette Cournoyer] – a little bit less this year so far, but hopefully we will start working even more, to just refine everything.
This is your first international competition this season?
Laurence: It’s our first-first of the season.
Nikolaj: Usually, we always do a little one in Canada.
Laurence: We subscribed to a little one, but we withdrew…
Nikolaj: I’ve had some knee trouble this year. My knee, my right knee. I had surgery on it in 2009 and pain just started coming back. And I didn’t know what was happening; we have had a lot of shows in May and by the end of our shows my knee was really bothering me.
So everything moved at a little bit slower pace and I took some days off – not really long periods, but more like long weekends here and there. And I saw some doctors, and now it’s really, really good. I don’t feel pain and it’s getting better by the day.
But this just made everything take a little bit longer this summer, though we managed to do choreography with Romain for the short.
“THE LONG WAS QUITE LONG TO FIGURE IT OUT…”
What about the long?
Laurence: The long was quite long to figure out which music we wanted. We loved so much our program from last year…
And from the last-last year…
Nikolaj: It was very hard to let go.
Laurence: Yes, we really liked it. And then we said: What do we wanna do, who do we wanna be, what do we wanna bring to the world?
Nikolaj: And we listened to a looot of music, on and off the ice, we tried moving to it…
But you didn’t have any idea, even the slightest one?
Laurence: We had no direction! Like we were going from this side to this side! We knew we didn’t want to do another flamenco – that we knew.
Nikolaj: It was like… going from Frank Sinatra to AD/DC! That’s the spectrum. We explored everything.
Laurence: And then Worlds are in Montreal, and we were thinking: Shall we skate on something that’s Canadian, that’s famous? We brainstormed, we went to Hugo’s place – I think we stayed for five hours there, going around ideas….
Nikolaj: And we came with an idea, we were ready to go, and he was like: I’m not sure about it. And we came back, and then Marie was: Well, guys, I really think there’s something here, like we should commit to this. Let’s see how we can make it work, and how we can build momentum with the music that you found.
And so, finally, you cut it [to Laurence], we did the choreography and, a month after we had it finished, we went to Hugo again, to finally have it done, and he was like: Wait, so you’re skating on that finally? It was a long road, yes, but it was funny.
But are you happy with it? And here’s me asking that without having a clue what it is… [laughter from all sides]
Nikolaj: I think it’s a program that’s really gonna develop in the season. So much stuff was moving [in the program] just in the last month of working on it.
There’s so much room in that program to grow the interpretation to something really spectacular. But, you know, it takes time. And like the coaches say: It’s only September right now, we go out and we do what we do right now. Like, if we peaked in September, we probably trained very wrong.
So the music, the theme is…?
[and Nikolaj brings some imaginary drums into the conversation]
Laurence: It’s a jazz-tango fusion that we decided to do. We’re skating to “Summertime”, by Chris Botti – he’s a famous trumpet player.
Nikolaj: It’s sort of a contemporary-jazz version of “Summertime”. We interpret it a little bit like a tango…
Laurence: It’s like sitting in a bar, with a Martini…
Nikolaj: Yeah, and hopefully it will give you chills too when watching it.
And then it moves into something that I love to do, and I’ve always wanted to skate on: Michael Bublé, “Cry Me a River”, which also has some elements of tango and jazz – and it builds really well, and the finish is strong.
And we’re having fun with it – and because we didn’t want to do a medley of one artist, Laurence came into play and got really creative with the music. ’Cause there are other songs in there as well, parts of other songs that you will never know they’re there…
Laurence is laughing: We needed a bridge in between the two songs, and I couldn’t find it, so then finally I found two songs that I mixed together in between another bridge… Anyway, it was a big process…
Nikolaj: And that’s why it’s so amazing, because I feel the pieces of music are so homogenous – you don’t hear the cuts, you don’t hear the change of music as much, one becomes the next, and [to Laurence] that’s what I like with the way that you do music, and the way we do it together.
So jazz, tango, chills – looking forward to seeing it. And the costumes to that? Are there intermediate or…?
Nikolaj: No, they’re done. They might change a bit, but…
Laurence is categorical: I hope not. We make our designs for costumes, we choose our fabrics and go to the seamstress…
Nikolaj: Wait a minute, if you want to go into the creative process of the costumes also, we actually do everything! We go out and choose the fabrics…
Laurence is laughing: We don’t sew!
Nikolaj: We don’t sew yet!
Laurence: He wants to start sewing! Because he’s very meticulous, and he sees all the good fabrics for the programs. Let’s say you need a fabric for the short, That’s a good style of fabric. And our seamstress told him: You would be a very good seamstress, I could teach you! And he said: I wanna start learning…
So each of you has her/his future assured – whether is making music for programs, or making costumes… [there’s laughter again, of course]
Nikolaj: Yeah, and the costume-process always starts with Laurence’s dress and us finding the piece of fabric that we like – and then we build on that idea.
Laurence: I have the dress already – it’s dark blue and my seamstress said it’s the dress in her life that took the longest to make. ’Cause it’s all stripes of laces that she had to sew by hand, so it was a very long process.
Nikolaj: I may be a little bit conservative with men’s wear, but I like the classic look: a good pair of fitting pants and whatever shirt it is. Maybe you can go fancy on the design, but it doesn’t need to be anything fancy. And we don’t really like the too much of the matchy-matchy, like they did back in the ’90ties either. I’m wearing black pants and a white shirt for right now, and it works great.
CLEARLY STATED GOALS FROM LAURENCE AND NIKOLAJ
Creative process done, tell me a bit about your plans, your thoughts this season. Where do you see yourselves?
Laurence: We would really want to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.
Nikolaj: That’s our goal for the first half of the season.
I think our mentality changed a little bit, and we’ve been talking about it this summer. As any professional athlete, we really do believe we train to win – we’re on the ice every day, working the best we can.
And then “win”, interpret it however you want – sometimes winning is going out and doing the best performance on the day, sometimes winning could be being third for us, if we felt like we really did the best, and sometimes winning is winning, literally going to the peak of the podium.
Laurence: We know when we come out of the ice if we did our job, if we felt good in what we did, or if we didn’t do as much as we did in practice. And I think really reproducing what we practiced, and being able to do that with the little magical touch of the competition, is what we want.
Let me just come back to this: Grand Prix Final among your goals this season…
Nikolaj: Well, now we’re 10 in the world, and so the next step is Top 5 in the world. And if we’re just taking it step by step, in order to be Top 5 in the world, that involves being at the Grand Prix Final.
We looked a bit on the list and it’s a tough competition out there, but, at the end of the day, it comes down to what people do on that day. So you never know what can happen.
I think we just really wanted to aim high this year.
We’ve also been talking about a little side goal this season. We’ve been talking about winning a lot, in whatever sense it might be, but now that we’re part of a family, and a big skating team in Canada, and really having felt the support of that team behind you, what we want going into Worlds is to place high enough, to get it with Piper and Paul to make sure that Canada gets to send three teams to the next Worlds.
To sort of gapping the bridge in between our generation and the newer teams that are coming up in Canada. We have the junior teams, and we’re training with Marjorie and Zach…
Laurence: There are a lot of good teams, so it would a shame not to have three spots.
Nikolaj: Yeah, and then working really hard, trying to maybe win Canadian Championships this year. That would be really something.
So winning the Canadian Nationals is there, somewhere – you’re thinking about it…
Nikolaj: Yes, it’s there. I think we’re at a point in our career to where we wanna go out and try to train like that every day – that’s what we really do.
NOT JUST GOING TO THE OLYMPICS – DOING REALLY WELL AT THE OLYMPICS. AND LAURENCE’S WISH.
One more thing: the road to Beijing. [Nikolaj exclaims: Yes!] How do you see it, how do you envision it? How do you plan to attack it…? It’s not that far…
Nikolaj: It is not that far, no.
Laurence: It goes very quick, one season goes bye already.
Is this the ultimate goal, Beijing?
Nikolaj: Right now, Olympics is the ultimate goal. But so the ultimate goal is to do really well at the Olympics.
Going to the Olympics, I don’t know how it’s going to feel. I know how it felt not going to the Olympics. And that was not cool, especially when you see all your friends going.
Laurence: But, you know, at the end, yes, it’s Olympics, but it’s also all the journey you had to get there. And we had a path that’s not necessarily the normal one, so I guess just having the year we had brought us more together, it brought us more support, and we are very grateful of where we are right now, and where we wanna go.
I think we’ll go day by day.
Nikolaj: We’ve always taken it one season at a time, and it does take planning for the years to come, and [heading to this season], we’ve just talking about it: Ok, you have three free dances left. What do you wanna do? What are we doing this year? What is this year going to turn into next year?
Laurence: And I was telling him: It’s ok, if there’s three left, we can go till ’26! [smiling]
Nikolaj: Yeah, and then Laurence wants to continue, you know. And I’ll be 33 in 2022, probably on the day of the free dance, ’cause I’m born on 18th of February, and usually the closing ceremony is around 20. So is somewhere around there.
And 2026 [Olympics in Milan-Cortina] is a little bit far, but we’ll cross the bridge when we get there, in 2022 [joyful laughter].
You know, people might call us crazy, especially our coaches might call us really crazy… No, but I mean, we live together, and we work together, and we skate together, and we do everything together. So our dialogue about planning is constant.
And so have we written out the plan yet? No. Do we make a yearly plan, with when we take breaks and how we work in between competitions? Yes! [one voice, and then laughter].
Laurence: Vacations are the ones we usually don’t plan.
Nikolaj: Yeah, vacations we haven’t been very good at planning, but we also realize getting… younger – well, older, but I don’t like to say it – that restitution becomes a vital part of skating.
So a specific plan [for the Olympics], no. But we do have ideas of what we want to create the next couple of years.
Did you put some special music in a folder on your computer?
Nikolaj is smiling: Nothing that we wanna talk about yet, but we’re trying to stay ahead of ourselves. For me it was a tough year this one, not knowing the direction of the free dance and getting what I felt was a late start. So we want to just be ahead a little bit and make sure we know, going into a new year, what we’re going to do. If not before Worlds, very shortly after. And just having the general idea.
’Cause Olympics have this habit of coming really fast…
Nikolaj: Yeah, it’s not even… Two years and five months.
[interview by Florentina Tone at 2019 Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo/opening photo by Florentina Tone in Bergamo/all other photos by Alberto Ponti at 2019 Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf]