One, two, three, bend! One, two, three, stretch! A (photo) journey into 2019 Internationaux de France

“I’m gonna learn how to fly… High!”

Among (so) many other stories, this is the Grand Prix event that saw the debut of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s new programs (along with the amazement that followed) – but, also, the golden debut of the 16-year-old Alena Kostornaia on the senior Grand Prix stage.

And you’ll all agree, we’re sure: she is a natural born talent.

Plus: Kévin Aymoz’s emotional free skate, and his first Grand Prix medal, on home ground atop of everything. And Shoma Uno proving he is a fighter – and then his heartbreaking tears in the Kiss and Cry, and the incredible support he received in Grenoble.

You’ll find them all below, as seen through the lens of Alberto Ponti, Inside Skating photographer in Grenoble.

by Florentina Tone

Even the TV camera can’t keep up with Kévin Aymoz’s energy and speed – we’re a little bit dizzy watching him, really. And that Lutz, very tilted from the take-off, couldn’t be saved, unfortunately – and it surprised him as well. But all the rest was just great – so much attack in this “Question of U” short program from Kévin. In the Kiss and Cry, he’s so very upset – but, by the end of men’s SP, he’ll have all reasons to be happy.


“Can’t barely stand on my feet”, Freddie Mercury sings – while Sergei Voronov jumps and lands a quad Toe-triple Toe at the beginning of his short program in Grenoble. He struggles with the next two jumping passes – but that stays as an enjoyable performance altogether.

And we love that he’s still out there, embracing the music, enjoying his time on the ice.


Those falls in Shoma Uno’s “Great Spirit” short program were rough – especially the one on the Axel. And worrying, at the same time. But what a warrior Shoma is – he didn’t allow that program to escape him for a second; he was fully there, 100 % invested.

And the audience is fully invested in supporting Shoma as well – and that’s really heartwarming to see.


Nathan Chen made La Bohème his – it’s so very obvious here, in his second Grand Prix event. And Grenoble is such a good home to a program with music so iconic. And in spite of Nathan hurrying on that Axel, the program breathes now. And we loved the air of it. Shae-Lynn Bourne chose the music right: it highlights Nathan’s balletic qualities, it puts them, it puts him under spotlight.


All the big guns for Alexander Samarin in his short program in Grenoble: quad Lutz-triple Toe, quad Flip as well. And music with a story, with history already imprinted on it: “Blues for Klook”. And he skates big, Alexander, he does. And he gets nearer and nearer to 100 points for his SP – now it’s 98.48, a season’s best.


This “Grease” rhythm dance is a trademark dance already, we know the moves. Olivia Smart and Adrián Diaz: electrifying skate at 2019 Internationaux de France. The energy of it is just fantastic – and we think they might have hit the jackpot with this program, it’s so them. And we love Olivia Newton-Smart.


It’s too darn hot with these two on the ice of Grenoble. Lots of attitude, sparkles, character in Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ rhythm dance – and details highlighted to the fullest. And she is such a seller of the dance! Oh, wait, he is too!


Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri: literally skating on the edge in their “Paramour” rhythm dance, as if they were flying even. You could see some glitches here in there, quite understandably, but this is a fantastic program for them. Plus: doing what they did without Marco being able to use his right hand? We’re amazed.


Hypnotized with the dance, the moves, the colours in their costumes. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, skating to the sound of the applause, to the enthusiasm of the audience in Grenoble.

And, remember, you ain’t seen the best of them yet.

Their rhythm dance, to iconic music from iconic movie (“Fame”), was so fun to watch. And even though they almost seemed too enthusiast at times – hence, prone to small wobbles – that’s how you sell a program like this.

Are the costumes, the colours too distracting? We don’t know – and, frankly, we don’t care. We love the overall package – we wanted to get up and dance.


Such a beautiful, starry skate, to Christina Aguilera’s “You Lost Me”, from Starr Andrews at 2019 Internationaux de France. She nailed it – and she’ll finish the Ladies SP event on the fourth place.


Alena Kostornaia: she is not skating, she is flying, she is floating. And we love to watch her, we do. She looked a bit stressed, she didn’t allow the program to breathe in places, but that was a great skate overall, to music by Max Richter. And that stunning triple Axel, debuted in the short program – Alena surely wants to fly high this season.


Oh my, we love the choice of music and the overall packaging of Yuna Shiraiwa’s short program.

She skates to “Concertino Bianco for Piano” by Georg Pelecis this season, a program choreographed by Stéphane Lambiel, and we love her ability to portray it. And those arms of hers? We are sold. Always a joy, an immense joy to watch her skate. So soft, so beautiful.


We finally get to see Mariah Bell’s short program to Britney Spears – in Oberstdorf, at 2019 Nebelhorn Trophy, the stream broke during her skate – and she has just the right attitude to make it work. Adam Rippon, the choreographer, “read” her right, and that is a sparkling skate in Grenoble, at this year’s edition of Internationaux de France.


Wakaba Higuchi has made this program hers. She is the bird set free, the one that Sia sings about. And she flies with our hearts as well. We’re impressed with her resilience, with her being one with the music.

Goose bumps watching her skate in Grenoble.


Kaori Sakamoto is the very definition of power – and this program suits this quality of hers like no other.

One thing is sure: with or without that double Axel, her skate gave us joy. And we love how she embraced this program, to “No Roots” by Alice Merton.


Finally, Alina Zagitova has a program where she can breathe. The music (“Me Voy”, by Yasmin Levy), the Spanish theme allow it. Still, the program is so very full, more or less like in her previous seasons. But she became such a wonderful performer, and she tries to check all the boxes and still feel the music. For that she deserves all the credit.

At the end of her skate, tens of people in the arena hold small red banners with Alina’s name on them – and two plushy hearts find their way into her arms.


Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier: they look completely changed this season. And that medal in Skate America gave them wings to fly. And we can definitely hear Silvia Fontana supporting them during the skate.


High quality elements in Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov’s short program in Grenoble, to “Je suis malade” by Lara Fabian. And they have dancing skills as well, and the scores should be high. And they are.


Daria’s beaming smile after the throw – and then she becomes serious and focused again, until the very end. Oh, what a pair Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin are – they compliment each other so well, and he seems to be the rock in the partnership. Great skate in Grenoble: top quality in everything they do, the unison on the side by side spins – as if they were one a mirror of the other.


Where to insert not one, but two stunning Russian split jumps if not in a Petrushka free skate? Wonderfully detailed program, to the unique sound of Stravinsky, by Tomoki Hiwatashi in Grenoble. You, clockwise jumpers and spinners, pay attention to Tomoki – so much to learn from him.


Composition-wise, we think this is one of the best programs Sergei Voronov ever had – it carries him, it carries us. And we’re still very excited with his skating – too bad he gave up on some of the final jumps of his “I Belong to You” long program (choreo. by Anna Bilibina and, pay attention, Dmitri Soloviev).


Shoma Uno looks like a jewel on the ice of Patinoire Polesud. We saw it from the morning practice: he was wearing a costume made of sparkles even, made of fireflies. And the start of the program seems denser, thicker, and Shoma tries to take us with him in the story.

Unfortunately, jumping-wise, this is not his day. And the whole program seems such a struggle.

He’s dancing on his own this season – and, from where we stand, he needs a companion at the boards as soon as possible. The audience will carry him, but only to a point. Loneliness is a good lesson, he learned it, now he has to move on.

But the amount of support he receives from the audience is absolutely huge. No other man more loved in Grenoble.

At the end, there’s that: Shoma, head down in the Kiss and Cry, surrounded by plushy toys – and then raising his head, you see, he’s crying. And this might just be one of the most heartbreaking images of this Grand Prix event.

And while images from the program are on repeat, Rafael Arutyunyan pushes towards him some flowers and a plushy toy, thrown by fans. He claps, an encouraging clap, and heads to the boards; next skater, his student Romain Ponsart, is ready to take the ice.

No doubt about it: 2019 Internationaux de France has been a roller coaster of emotions for Japan’s Shoma Uno. Backstage, he’ll try to describe his state of mind: “I cried because of the crowd. I usually apologize after bad performances, but today I want to say Thank you”.

A day later, in the exhibition, skating to “This Town”, he’ll say farewell to Grenoble on better terms; as if, suddenly, the clouds vanished and the sun was shining again.

And we’re sure Shoma Uno will find his way.


Alexander Samarin skates big – that’s his trademark even. And when you skate big, jumps are big too, but so are the errors. It’s like watching everything through a magnifying glass. And Alexander skates – literally – on the edge: it’s like take it or leave it, now or never.

And this big skate, with errors and all (which are inevitable in this kind of skating), will get him a medal in Grenoble. Some people love it, some might like it less – but you have to appreciate what he does on the ice. Plus: the music choices are always very peculiar – this one is “Good News” by Apashe.


Such a wonderful feel for the music Kévin Aymoz has – and he looks so free, so at ease with this lyrical music, suiting him to the fingertips. With him, what you see is what you get – he is a heart on skates.

And he’s embracing us all in the step sequence of his “Lighthouse” free skate, and he starts to cry as soon as the music finishes.

At the boards, Silvia Fontana is in tears as well.

He’s done it – Kevin wins his first Grand Prix medal, the bronze, on home ground, in France. And what a huge moment this is.


Rocketman Nathan Chen has – once again and maybe even more than last season – the perfect vehicle in this free skate choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil and Samuel Chouinard. And though there were parts he still needs to work on, this free skate wins the audience, and wins him the gold medal in Grenoble.

But the mood this program creates, the energy of it is just fantastic: the smoother, quieter parts, where we can see the ballet dancer that he is, and then, quite unexpectedly, more like a surprise, also the hip hop dancer that he is. It’s rather uncommon to have two different facets in the same program, but there you have them, showing just how much versatility lies in this young man, two-time World champion.

And just how much more is there to discover.

Because, surely, Nathan is on a discovery road these seasons heading to the next Olympics, and, as he modestly said in the winner’s interview in Grenoble, “The quest for improvement never ends”.


Crazy free dance from Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus in Grenoble. So much speed, so much enthusiasm put into the story. This might be Ice Academy of Montreal’s effect: you train with the good ones, you become one of them.


The audience really gets behind this Survivor free dance – great choice for Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro this season. And she is fire. Literally.


Olivia Smart and Adrián Diaz have become such a great team – and this free dance featuring two clowns is such a gem. And we are moved. Marvelous interpreters – they allowed the program to breathe, they added accents, smiles, and everything flows now.


We saw this program a month and a half ago in Lombardia Trophy – Marco’s right hand was healthy then – and we fell in love with it. Such a bold choice, such an innovative concept – Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri skate to “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars” – and we love the story they tell, we love their costumes and Charlène’s make-up as well.

And so courageous of them to even come here and skate like that, with Marco’s hand in a splint, modifying the program, the elements, in order not to use the hand, but the wrist, the lower arm.

Their embrace at the end, the relief that comes with it? Heartwarming. And the audience in Grenoble loves them.



Traces of Lost Love. Traces of Re-found Love.

As always, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s free dances are metaphors. And this one might be the most touching of all.

This season, more than ever, they’re going with simplicity. Simplicity in terms of costumes, all black, even in terms of hair and make-up.

They only put their bodies in the superior interest of movement – their bodies, as the storytellers.

Just that.

And lyrics are embodied to the fullest. What you hear is literally what you see – words and body movements, each a mirror of the other.

The way we see it, this dance forces your mind to be ready for two different layers, but receive them as one. And so here they are, innovating again – for all of those finding the words distracting, this is the very definition of innovation in this dance by Gabriella and Guillaume.

You might not like it now, find it uncommon, unfamiliar – but your mind will adapt to it eventually; and be ready to receive other performances like this one in the future.

And with this dance in particular, after a while – and that while is not even that long – you’ll know the lyrics by heart. And be readier to receive the story in full. And for all those watching this dance for the first time, you’ll be readier to fully receive it by the Worlds in Montreal.

Because that’s (also) the thing with Gabriella and Guillaume’s dances: they grow – in meaning, in thickness – throughout the season. And only become complete (a form of completeness set in a year) only when they are performed for the last time. Usually, at Worlds, with a bonus, a sequel at the World Team Trophy.

By then, this dance will become attached to you like a second layer of skin.


Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ free dance this season is like a string of precious beads – where the beads are made of gestures, poses, head movements, arm movements, beauty – and a lot of courage. Because it takes a lot of courage for some of those elements, really.

It takes a lot of courage to embark on a program that’s so incredibly rich and detailed, but it can also be very difficult to put yourself in a distant era, in the very core of it.

But they take this risk, they place themselves in a space, in a time where this particular set of movements was iconic. And so, from where we stand, this Egyptian Snake dance is like a fresco from ancient times – and what we see is the exquisite quality of movement, the portrayal (to the fingertips, to Madison’s hair, to Madison’s golden dress) of the theme. And we are SO impressed.


Jumps aside, Yuna Shiraiwa is a marvelous story teller – we at Inside Skating are fans. And she manages to portray such a dense, dramatic music, as the one from the soundtrack of the movie “Amen”. And that dress is so telling.


Kaori Sakamoto is skating to “Matrix” and we are stunned with the character, the power of this program – she is the program.

And this is such an empowering skate from her in Grenoble – we are thrilled. And she is too. And her programs this season are the exact opposite of the ones last season – and she makes them hers. And that fantastic step sequence, and the spirals under the nose of the judges? A master stroke.


Alina Zagitova: a fierce Cleopatra on the ice of Grenoble – she really tries to not let the crown escape her. And her free skate is full of details and, good for all us watching, it also includes a spiral. Plus: this is a program she seems to genuinely enjoy. And the audience adores her – she is a beauty.


Lightness, smoothness – and power to the fingertips. Alena Kostornaia is the real deal. And her skating skills, and her performance skills are TO DIE FOR. Yes, we need captions for Alena Kostornaia – that huge it’s what she did in Grenoble.

And that’s how you debut on the Grand Prix stage.

And we’re not forgetting about the two triple Axel jumps, we are just stunned with her overall qualities. She is the complete package – no doubt about it.

And she knows that people are here not only for the jumps, but for the overall program, “for the show” – she says it loud and clear in the winner’s interview. And age has nothing to do with what she does on the ice – she’s so outspoken also, she definitely has a philosophy of skating. And she has so many fans already – from the hardcore lovers of the sport.

And we’ll say it again, to make sure you all read it: we are mostly impressed with the easiness she moves across the ice, with the speed, the flow, the effortlessness, and she’s as fast as impressive in her overall movements. She’s airy, she’s floating, you have the impression she was born on skates.

She is a natural born talent, exactly that.

…and she’s also that little nugget you’re thrilled it got discovered – and you hope her skating years won’t be over very soon. She has the potential to be something really big in skating. She is already.


Mariah Bell: white butterfly skating to “Hallelujah”. And her jumps have never looked more secure, and her skating, more beautiful, more meaningful. And those spirals, those spins, that large smile? We are amazed with Mariah’s skate in Grenoble. She seems a brand new skater.

And she’s happy, she is thrilled, and she jumps into Rafael’s arms. And she is going to medal.

And that’s the second free skate of the day, you read that right.


Oh my, this “Lion King Returns” free skate is just a marvelous vehicle for Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and they put their heart and soul into it. Your heart stops for a second or two here and there in the program – so impressive are the lifts, the exits from the lifts, and even the throws themselves.

Actually, this program is all about highlights, you watch it with eyes amazed from second one till the very end. Very well done, Haven and Brandon, and another well deserved medal in the Grand Prix circuit.


“One day, I got in” – and we got to enter into the unknown world that Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin tell us about in their free skate. Small wobbles here and there, but still an enjoyable, intriguing skate in Grenoble from the two.


This skate, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov’s free skate, has Russian soul imprinted all over it – you hear the chorus, the bells, the music is so powerful, and they embody two iconic characters, Master and Margarita. We loved the program in Finlandia Trophy, we loved it in Grenoble as well. And this is their first medal – and a gold one atop of that – in the Grand Prix circuit, in their very debut.

And, remember: Anastasia and Aleksandr are the World Junior champions, Junior Grand Prix Final champions, Russian National Junior champions – but, coming here, they didn’t think about placement. But now they’d won, they’re happy – and that means “we’re not juniors anymore”, Anastasia summarizes with a smile in the winners’ interview.

[stories by Florentina Tone/photos by Alberto Ponti, Grenoble/homepage photo by Wilma Alberti, Grenoble]


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