Team Papadakis-Cizeron-Haguenauer. Journey to the Top



Looking back at Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s post-Olympic season, with the softness brought by their free dance, from music to costumes to arms in the air, it almost feels like it’s the calm after the storm.

Waters returning to their river bed after what had been a turbulent, emotional Olympic year.

But how did that free dance, to the soothing voice of Rachael Yamagata (and Ray LaMontagne), come to life? And how did Stéphane Lambiel become a part of the creative team?

Well, they had done it before, Gabriella and Guillaume, when asking ballet dancer Jeffrey Cirio to add touches here and there, and enhance the essence, the intention of movements in their Moonlight Sonata free dance.

For this particular season, they suggested adding Stéphane Lambiel to the process, Romain remembers: “Gaby and Guillaume did a show with Stéphane somewhere, they discussed, and Guillaume came back and said: What do you think about working with Stéphane…? I said: Yeah, it’s a good idea, because I like the style and also the fact that Stéphane doesn’t usually work with ice dancers”.

There is this tiny detail though: Romain’s two sides, coach and choreographer, brought to the (same) table.

And so while choreographer Romain is happy to have a fresh perspective on things (“You always want something new – and, also, with Marie-France, we’re choreographers too, but we don’t say: We are the best, just do everything with us. We do what we can, but many people can do a good job”), coach Romain is rather cautious, eyes on the goal: “As a coach, I don’t want using someone else – to make the program from A to Z – to bring more work than if we were to do it ourselves. And this doesn’t mean we’re lazy, or we don’t want to work – but, from my experience, when working with someone new, or totally new in the sport, you may have the program… and nothing works. It can be nice, but it may not work with the skaters, and sometimes you just lose time”.

Now that’s something the coach always considers: the danger of losing precious time making a program work, when time is so limited, so mathematically framed. “It’s a balance – you have to be balanced. I am always open to work with different people, but I am always very careful when we make the choice”.

And working with Stéphane, integrating him in the process, proved a great choice, no doubt about it.

And the free dance itself was literally free, and literally a team work, all minds serving a common purpose: Gabriella, Guillaume, Stéphane in Toronto, trying, experimenting, their creativity into motion – and then having the pieces put together, gluing them, finalizing the program in Montreal with Romain, Marie-France, Patrice.

When it comes to the choreographing process, all of them did their part.

But first there was this sense of hurry that Romain recreates, jokes included, a couple of years apart.

“Stéphane was coming to Toronto for a camp, but it was very early – and we didn’t have the music yet!


And so the story of this particular program starts with a smile – and tons of insights.

“The day after, Gaby and Guillaume had to leave to Toronto to work with Stéphane. And we had no music, but we had a list of ideas, so we said: Now you have to choose, because tomorrow you are starting to work… And so it pushed them to choose the music!”

Earlier than they would have thought.

Faster than they would have normally done it.

One of the options was Rachael Yamagata – “and we said: This is nice, it’s soft, it’s different. It’s you, but it’s different… We all agreed – we all agreed [laughing] because we had no choice, we had to agree… today! We had a deadline! Which was good, because sometimes you can…”

Still amused by that particular day, Romain emphasizes the layers of the story: “It was not a random choice, not at all!, but it helped us to make a decision. And we all agreed on that, and they went to work with Stéphane… but with no cuts”.

So they had the two songs – “Duet” and “Sunday Afternoon” – but no cuts whatsoever.

“I said to Stéphane and to Gabriella and Guillaume: Do whatever you want on the music, some sequences, some steps and everything, and we’ll use them after, when we put everything together.

And this is what Stéphane did, this is what they all did: they created some cool movements, very-Stéphane, but at the same time very them, because they worked together-. Gabriella and Guillaume were not waiting [to having it done], it was a project, so they were also involved.

Because for Gaby and Guillaume, Stéphane is more than a choreographer, he’s a friend, and they respect him. And so they worked together and came back with some sections, they worked on some lifts, some entries for the elements, all very interesting – and, after that, we did the whole choreography in Montreal, Marie-France, me, Patrice, based on what Stéphane created, on the feeling of the movement, the spirit of it”.

The circle closes with Romain’s smile again: “We didn’t waste any time – it worked well, we were happy”.


As for that stunning tango as the rhythm dance, subtle yet striking and explosive – to “Oblivion” and “Primavera Porteña” by Astor Piazzolla, as performed by Gidon Kremer – it was another masterpiece imagined by Christopher Dean.

“Christopher Dean, bah, he worked super well the previous year and I was sure he could do more for Gaby and Guillaume. And in the future too. The tango was very good – we made some changes, but all the spirit was there, it was fantastique! And I was very happy with that”.


Looking at that particular season, one surely remembers Gabriella and Guillaume’s teal tango at the Europeans: the perfect lines, the unison, the sparkling yet tense energy in Minsk, while going for their fifth consecutive crown.

Up until that point, they had won gold at 2018 Internationaux de France, setting new world records in both rhythm dance (84.13 points) and free (132.65 points), and also overall (216.78 points). It had been their only international event before Europeans, having to withdraw, at the beginning of the season, from NHK Trophy in Japan.

In Minsk, they did it again, world records for each and every segment: 84.79 – 133.19 – 217.98 points.

But who cares about the scores, anyway, since they have such a short lifespan when it comes to the French. What stayed after the tango was a strong, definitive impression: they didn’t look like a team that would ever lose a rhythm dance to someone else. And their heartwarming duet at the Europeans remained as one of the big moments of the competition.

But the epitome of that free dance, calm, and sweet, and warm, the exquisite version of it, was skated in Saitama Super Arena, at 2019 Worlds: Gabriella and Guillaume, flowers of sakura, carried by the spring breeze.

Breaking their own records again, as if this were their trademark (88.42 – 134.23 – 222.65), only to do it again, at World Team Trophy, for the free dance and overall (135.82 – 223.13).

The waters had returned to the source.

© International Skating Union (ISU)