Ice Network

Papadakis, Cizeron find comfort in discomfort

French skaters dig into artistic backgrounds to create new programs
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron incorporate a lot of abstract ideas into their skating. -Getty Images

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the two-time reigning world ice dance champions, enter this year's Grand Prix with two new dances: a blues/swing short dance and a contemporary piece, loaded with emotions and incredible skating and movement, for their free dance. They talked about these programs with icenetwork.

Icenetwork: Your short dance is very concrete this year.

Guillaume Cizeron: Oh, yes. Let's say, it's not quite a movie, but the energies are clearer to receive than (they are in) our free dance. There is no mystery. It calls to everyone's consciousness, and it allows us to pass our emotions much more easily to the spectators.

It's a really fun piece to dance to. A choreographer came for 1 1/2 weeks last July, and we learned a lot about the attitudes, arms and moves that give swing its character. Gabriella loves swing, which she used to practice outside of skating.

It's like a feast to us. We take a real pleasure to skate to it. The technical level we are developing allows us to really let it go during the program. It leaves the audience -- at least we hope -- something very authentic, very polished, and they have fun with us. We love it, and that brings them along with us.

Icenetwork: The free dance is so different. Would you say it's more abstract and cerebral?

Gabriella Papadakis: We're not clowns all the time! But that's also a part of our personalities. People who don't know us are just surprised. People who know us a little know that we like partying and love to have fun and to laugh, and recognize us mostly in our short dance. People who know us really well will recognize us in the free dance.

Icenetwork: How did you find the music?

Cizeron: I was just watching a fashion show from Chanel in Cuba. A Cuban musician and composer, Aldo López-Gavilán, was playing it on the piano. I found his album on the internet, and I added it to my playlist. The piece is 16 minutes long, and it's not the kind of music you can play when you are jogging. You need to really listen to it. When the time came for finding a new program, we had a hard time, and I proposed it to Gabriella. She found it interesting. Now, how would we make a competitive program out of it remained to be seen. We imagined a concept and we proposed it to Marie-France [Dubreuil] (who coaches the team along with Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal). She was a bit surprised at first, but she got used to the idea. She devised the competitive program we needed.

More important than the music itself is what it translates to in terms of energy. Each piece of music bears an essence, an intention the composer had as he composed his piece. That intention will mobilize us and induce a way of moving, an energy, an intensity.

Icenetwork: How did you build the program?

Papadakis: Even before we found the music, we wanted to find emotions that would be more challenging than the ones we've portrayed before. Love and friendship are really plain emotions. But there are many others which we all go through every day and which may be harder to live. Sometimes you feel chaos in your lives; you don't know why you're there and why you're doing what you're doing; you wonder why you're devoting so much of your life to futilities. Sometimes you feel lonely. You may feel distressed because you've lost some values or loved ones. You may feel hurt by all kinds of happenings. So many things are happening in today's world that people are wondering more and more how to cope with them. Sometimes you deal with them, sometimes not. That's what we wanted to portray.

Cizeron: The program is about stillness and chaos and life energy, tenderness, sweetness, and the way we combine all these feelings into real life. It's not an easy work to do, and sometimes we get lost in searching for them. It's a real challenge. But we are OK to find comfort in discomfort. Our goal is to have everyone embark on the program and embrace those feelings.

Papadakis: It's difficult for us to work in such directions, of course, because it wakes things up deep within us. We need to put ourselves in that mood every day, especially as the season is starting. Later on in the season, things will be easier. We work on the transmission of emotions on the state of the body and muscles. You know, this is just incredible and so impressive: You may think that these are very tiny things you barely feel yourself and which you think are only yours. In reality, they project a huge energy to the outside because they play onto your body and expend far more than you'd think or expect. That's why body language says so much more than words.

Icenetwork: You both have been very much involved with the arts. How does it influence your approach to ice dance?

Papadakis: Guillaume and I are artistic people. He is very much into the arts (Cizeron designed his and Papadakis' costumes again this year), while I am more concentrated on literature. But we derive from all arts, music and painting included. They are part of my personal, artistic and, hopefully, at a later stage, my professional life. Philosophy, for instance, plays a big role in the work we do in our programs.

Cizeron: Of course, our interests in life do interact with our programs. The artistic side of the sport has always appealed to both of us. Even though we feel far from the great choreographers, we strive at approaching something closer to art. We have an artistic approach to each one of our programs. We have technical and skating qualities that support our artistic work. It allows us to free ourselves from these technical elements and to introduce them into essentially artistic choices. Our choices have to make it through the mold of competition.

Icenetwork: How does this blend into your new free dance?

Cizeron: Gavilán's music has a mysterious effect, which sets an ambiance, similar to the one you could find at the beginning of a movie. It can be somewhat disturbing and stressful at first. We thought it might be interesting to work on that, by moving faster on more linear musical movements and then slower on more lively sequences. Our goal is still to tell a story, although this one is more abstract. We like the duality of more linear and more chaotic parts. They induce contrasts within body expression and music.

Icenetwork: What kind of a story did you want to tell on the ice, then?

Cizeron: As usual, there is not a particular storyline. But we know what we want to work on. We have one sentence in mind: "Soul, body and mind." That's what we are playing with. Some parts are more cerebral, others are just absence, while others are totally physical and full of the energy of life.

We don't want to give too many keys to our program, as they might look too intellectual, but basically our inspiration comes from this: We want to show life, full and busy with all kinds of activities and thoughts, and then just simple and soft and sweet things you remember.

The second piece of music is "Happiness Does Not Wait" by Olafur Arnalds. That title means a lot in the message we want to convey this year. We wanted a lively second part to our program. If some people feel impressed by the energy of the first music, then the softness of the second part should reconcile them. That has become somewhat of our trademark: The way the two musical parts are connected to one another leads to a specific way to hear our program.

Icenetwork: Are you afraid that your style might be copied?

Cizeron: Oh, no! Several have tried to copy, but it doesn't work. We want to convey emotions while working on choreographies that move us. If you want to copy, you need to dig into who you are. It won't be everyone's approach to ice dance. Many will prefer to stick to more theatrical pieces, which can be really nice, too, but which don't interest us as much.

Icenetwork: You seem to be more into the movement than into the multiplicity of gestures. Is that deliberate?

Cizeron: Ice dance programs are always so fast. When you watch a choreographic piece, the number of movements per second is just totally impressive, as if people wanted to show off and add even more. We want to work on the essence of movement and what emotion it can transmit, without any trompe l'oeil. The work we're doing pushes a lot toward discovering ourselves.

Icenetwork: Do you feel you're taking risk with this dance?

Cizeron: Yes, of course! And at the same time, no, absolutely not. Risk would be to walk on a string suspended 1,000 feet above the ground. We may lose; at worst, we won't medal -- but we're not going to die tomorrow! Everybody thinks that you should limit yourselves all the time. Why would you? The main risk we take, actually, is to be criticized. We're ready for it. We are here for that reason, even. If you don't take risks, you are criticized. If you do, you are as well. I prefer being criticized for good reasons. We're anxious to see how people will react to our dance.