Ice Network

Papadakis, Cizeron ready to create more magic

Now healthy, world champion ice dancers hope to defend European title
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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron say they find the short dance more constraining than the free because of the greater number of required elements. -Getty Images

France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron took the world of ice dance by surprise in 2014-15, winning both the European and world championships. They managed to create magic with their free dance to Mozart's "Adagio" from Concerto No. 23. This season, they had to withdraw from the Grand Prix Series after Papadakis suffered a concussion while practicing in Montreal in late August. Ahead of their title defense at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, the team kindly agreed to discuss the way they have approached their programs this year and how they wish to create the magic again this year.

Icenetwork: How is it going now, Gabriella, after the accident you had in late August?

Papadakis: Great!

Icenetwork: How did you approach this season, aside from working on your head injury following the concussion?

Cizeron: We started with what we had. We tried to select a musical piece that would be different than the one we had last year. We chose a non-classical one. And at the same time, we wanted to stay ourselves without radically changing.

Papadakis: Last season, I think we found the style that allowed us to move the quality of our skating forward. It had not always been the case, as several previous programs were challenging to those qualities. We did not want that to happen again this year. We decided to follow our path toward working and performing choreography and interpretation.

Icenetwork: You have mentioned several times that departing from last year's Mozart program would be difficult. How was it?

Papadakis: It was difficult. We spent months selecting the music for our free dance.

Cizeron: Even in July, we were not completely settled with it. We finally selected an American song, "To Build a Home."

Papadakis: When I first listened to it, I said to myself that it was too linear for us. Then, when we started trying to skate to it, we realized that we could do something with it. Actually, you can skate in quite different ways to this music. You can take it as linear, indeed, but you can also take it as sad music, or joyful music, or energetic music...we chose the latter.

Icenetwork: You've kept the piano line to it?

Cizeron: Yes, but it was not on purpose. What we wanted was to skate with our instinct and find the right music to adapt to it. It's just like the role of an actor. An actor will be great if the role fits him or her. We needed to find the music that would emphasize our qualities, as Gabriella mentioned.

Icenetwork: Is there any kinds of music in particular that does not make you feel at ease?

Papadakis: I suppose hard rock! (She laughs) But anyway, hard rock never sounds too great in an ice rink!

Icenetwork: Speaking of actors, last year you managed to create magic. Your performances made judges "lay their pencils down," simply to watch you, as some said afterward. What about this year?

Cizeron: That's precisely what we aim for each time, and what we're looking for.

Papadakis: Some programs are easier than others. I have to say, also, that it's easier in the free dance, as we have fewer elements to perform than in the short dance. That allows us to add more material into our routines.

Cizeron: That's our goal: leave something to the people, something like a feeling which may not be able to be described precisely but which they can't help watching.

Icenetwork: Last year, you mentioned that you needed to create a story to guide your skating. Have you created a story this year as well?

Cizeron: Yes, and no. We are not telling a story; we're dancing. All of it is a number of images that will be projected in people's minds. This year's images are completely different than the ones we projected last year, for sure.

Papadakis: We would not like to give indications as to what people should feel at a particular moment during our dance. It's just a guide for us. Yet, each one of our spectators should be able to express his or her own feelings in a completely different way than the others, according to one's own life experiences, fantasies or own projections. Our program is meant to move everyone from within, not based on understanding something precise.

Cizeron: It will, nonetheless, be very interesting for us to see what they take from it, even if it's completely different from our original intention and what we try to project. This year is far different from last year, also, in that respect: Our free dance is much more abstract than a love story and a tragedy, like the one we interpreted last year.

Even we don't necessarily feel the same emotions at the same time while we are dancing. Yet each of our emotions respond to the other person's emotions. When I'm dancing, I'm not thinking of what part of the story we're in. It's more intuitive and anchored.

Icenetwork: How did you work on interpreting something abstract then?

Papadakis: Exactly like you said! You know (she laughs), sometimes you would really wonder what we are doing in our interpretation working sessions. Even sometimes, when we come back from a three-hour session, we wonder if we've spent all that time for something, and if it's been useful at all. Then, when we go back to the rink the next morning and start dancing, we realize that something really important has happened.

Cizeron: It's a whole physical, psychological, emotional, energetical process, really.

Icenetwork: You added another piece at the start of your free dance?

Cizeron: That was absolutely necessary. We wanted that. We could not have danced to the whole piece. We wanted some crescendo. We wanted it to grow in power from start to finish. The piece we selected, "Rain, in Your Black Eyes" by Ezio Bosso, starts very gently and allows emphasizing the power of the main piece. It starts very soft and builds on.

Papadakis: It feels so great to start skating in silence. It's as if I were catching all the energies around us and we're feeling everything taking place in the arena.

Cizeron: In fact, we had to modify that music as well, so that it would comply with the rules. The beat was too subtle and could not be heard enough. The original music is very interesting and peculiar, with musical notes that come after they're expected. That could not fit with the rules, however, as in ice dance everyone has to be able to count the beats. Of course, that tends to decrease our chances to innovate. But we had to.

Icenetwork: What about your short dance?

Papadakis: We skate it to the soundtrack of a movie, Wallis & Edward, an ample and contemporary waltz. We had the march composed specifically for us, on the same basis as the waltz, to preserve the unity of the piece.

Cizeron: Choreographing a march is rather difficult, I have to admit. A march is…a march, not a dance piece!

Papadakis: It's funny. So many times I've heard, "No, this is not a march. ... This is not enough of a March." Yet, I've never received positive advice on marches. So it's been difficult for that part.

Icenetwork: How do you interpret a short dance?

Papadakis: It's much more difficult! We have more technical elements to go through, and more constraints altogether in the short dance than in the free dance. Key points are difficult to interpret, for sure.

Cizeron: At the same time, a waltz is a beautiful dance, where you need to show a lot of flow. It's also more complex than a paso doble, for instance.

Papadakis: As a spectator, you can easily see that we're all doing the same thing, with the same rhythm each time. It's more difficult to stand out. I think this year we've managed to integrate the march and waltz quite well.

Cizeron: Even though a short dance is less of a "pen laying down performance" than a free dance, I hope that people will be receptive. Waltzes makes people dream!

Icenetwork: You come into this competition as the reigning European and world champions. How does it feel?

Papadakis: The expectations are certainly higher this season. At the same time, we should never forget that we started from way below not too long ago.

Cizeron: This new status has added some pressure to it, of course. But it also makes it more interesting. It's much more interesting to work when you are challenged, as we are now, and when people take interest in what you do. It's a big honor for us to work on that challenge. Of course, it will be better if we succeed than if we don't.