Ice Network

Virtue, Moir make strong start at Autumn Classic

World champs bringing different twist to Latin, 'Moulin Rouge!' programs
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir began their run at a second Olympic title by winning the Autumn Classic International last week in Montreal. -Getty Images

When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir brought the idea for a Moulin Rouge! free dance to Marie-France Dubreuil, she wasn't enthusiastic. Not one little bit.

To her, "Tango de Roxanne" was fine -- for an up-and-coming junior team, not virtuoso ice dancers bidding for a second Olympic title. But the skaters' persistence persuaded her to play the soundtrack and workshop some ideas with the duo.

"I saw something in their eyes, and they just abandoned their bodies to the music," the coach said. "And so I had to look a little bit closer before I shut the door to the idea."

Dubreuil called on choreographer David Wilson and Sam Chouinard, the hip hop maestro who helped create Virtue and Moir's acclaimed Prince short dance last season. The three searched the soundtrack of the 2001 film for ways to tell Satine and Christian's tale of love, jealousy and death in a gritty, compelling way.

"It started to look rich in what could be done with the program," she said, and then added with a laugh, "But it was a process. I had to get past the idea (that) for me it was a little Disney-ish."

To Virtue and Moir, there was never a question. They felt they could expose the raw passion of the story and take the music places it had never been before on the ice.

"We started this year with Moulin Rouge! as a standard, and we weren't going to go with a song until it made us feel the way Moulin Rouge! made us feel," Moir, 30, said. "It comes on, we connect to it, we feel it in our souls. ... It's music that everybody knows, but I think the approach is different than what everybody else did so far.

"They (Dubreuil, Wilson and Chouinard) were so professional and kind of checked their egos at the door and came up with a really unique product giftwrapped for us," he added. "They just drew it out of us, and when that happens, it's really special. Now we have to live up to it."

The three-time world champions, who won Olympic gold in 2010 and silver in 2014, debuted the fiery program last week at the Autumn Classic International, an ISU Challenger Series event held in Montreal, near where they train under Dubreuil and her husband, Patrice Lauzon. They gained three Level 4 elements from the technical panel, with two step sequences earning Level 3, and totaled 115.80 points for the performance. When added to their short dance score of 79.96, Virtue and Moir ended the competition with 195.76 points, giving them a convincing win over fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (173.56 points) and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (172.26 points).

"The first time out is always nerve-wracking; it doesn't matter if it's your 20th year together or your first," Moir said, later adding, "We will look at technical feedback -- we need to score bigger than that, so there must be technical marks we left on the table -- but the biggest thing is growing the program and getting a bit more speed, a bit more power."

Virtue thinks a free dance with a storyline readily accessible to audiences is a plus, especially in an Olympic year.

"We wanted to avoid the classical style; we sort of feel like we've been there, done that in an Olympic setting," the 28-year-old skater said. "We wanted a more contemporary vibe but not so far out there that it was avant-garde. ... The story is fairly well known to people, yet for us it's so fun to sink our teeth into, because through the nuances, the emotional roller coaster of our characters is so deep."

The team's rumba and samba short dance -- set to a Latin classic rock medley of songs by the Eagles, Rolling Stones and Santana -- was sparked by Dubreuil, inspired by Don Felder and Joe Walsh's guitar solos in "Hotel California" and by dubbing the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" over footage of an old exhibition samba program of Virtue and Moir's.

"We couldn't just do a normal Latin -- they have already done three or four Latin programs in their lives; they know how to dance Latin ballroom -- so we needed a fresh approach," Dubreuil said. "It's edgy, and in a competition where there are 30 Latin programs, all similar, this one will come up and shake the house, because you have to keep people interested."

The short dance is key to Virtue and Moir's bid for a second Olympic gold medal. At the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, their technical prowess in twizzles and steps gave them a healthy lead over training partners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and they won the title despite placing second to the French team in the free dance. They earned 79.96 points in the short at the Autumn Classic.

"We really feel like the short dance lets us go out there and have a blast...it's not much more complicated than that," Moir said. "We love to skate, we love to skate with each other, and showing that through three pretty iconic pieces of rock music with a Latin twist is kind of a dream come true."

"Something Marie-France has done so incredibly well is translate Latin movement and feeling on to the ice," Virtue said. "It's not just about wearing skates and doing what you would do on the floor -- it's connecting it to edgework and making it glide. ... We've never worked with anybody who does that as well."

Next up for Virtue and Moir: Skate Canada, held in the Saskatchewan capital of Regina at the end of October. There, they will square off with Weaver and Poje again, as well as training partners Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the U.S. bronze medalists. Their first chance to meet Papadakis and Cizeron, as well as world bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, could come at the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, in December.

Moir isn't putting pink champagne on ice yet, but he thinks he and Virtue are right on track.

"We have that experience not all of our competitors have, Olympic wise," he said. "We know what it takes to come out on top. We were ready early in 2010, ready early in 2014, and it worked out well for us. I feel like we're pretty much on course."