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'Wild Spirits' Gilles, Poirier fuse styles, win dance

Paul, Islam move up to claim silver; U.S. teams finish third, fourth

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier climbed from third to first in the free dance.
Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier climbed from third to first in the free dance. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/15/2012) - Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and their teammates, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, turned the tables on the U.S. in the free dance, climbing from third and fourth, respectively, after the short dance to take gold and silver at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic.

Gilles and Poirier fused an eclectic mix of music and styles in their "Wild Spirits" program, showing a blazing three-part twizzle sequence and high-energy steps as well as unusual lifts and an innovative spin that has a horizontal Gilles rotating just over the ice.

"It took us a bit to get used to [the spin]; I have to grab so low and hopefully I catch his leg, because if I don't catch it, I fly out," Gilles said of the daring maneuver. "It's a big risk, but we've done it enough to have the consistency on it."

Canada's bronze medalists gained six Level 4 elements, a fine achievement so early in the season, and earned 90.92 points for their free dance. Their overall tally was 146.90.

"Everyone has told us something different about this program: 'Oh, it looks Egyptian' or 'Oh, it looks Gypsy,'" Poirier said. "To be honest, we don't know what it is. All of the music is modern, some Baltic influences, some Gypsy influences. We've left it up to interpretation."

"Wild Spirits" was choreographed by the team's coaches, Carol Lane and Yuri Razgulajevs, with additional input from 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean.

"We wanted to do something a little bit different, [because] I don't think they're your generic dance team," Lane said. "They've got their own look and style, and it's so early on [in their partnership] that we feel we want to explore. I said, 'Be prepared; it will be a very polarizing number. People will either love it or hate it,' but so far it's been very well received."

Gilles and Poirier teamed up 14 months ago, after Poirier split with former partner Vanessa Crone, with whom he won the 2011 Canadian title. Gilles is the 2009 U.S. junior bronze medalist with Zach Donohue and recently received her release from U.S. Figure Skating to compete internationally for Canada.

"I think our skating skills match very well, and we're very athletic; when we skate, we're very powerful," Gilles said. "During our tryout, we knew in the first five minutes we wanted to skate together. Of course, we still have to work on our unison; we've been focusing on that this summer."

"Perfect unison takes years to acquire, but if you're naturally suited to each other, it makes that step easier," Poirier said.

Paul and Islam, who recently moved to train at the Detroit Skating Club, evoked the days of tintypes, player pianos and silent movies in their free dance to The Legend of 1900, choreographed by one of their new coaches, Pasquale Camerlengo.

The young Canadians gained Level 4 for all three of their graded lifts and for their spin and three-part twizzle sequence. They finished with 143.76 points.

"We really nailed our twizzles in both programs here, so we're very happy about that," Islam said.

"We've changed our twizzles from previous years, and at first it was difficult to get them in sync because they were new," Paul said. "We've been working a lot to make them even better than [they were] before."

Massimo Scali, who with Camerlengo, Anjelika Krylova, Natalia Deller and Liz Punsalan coaches the team in Detroit, said they have reached only half of their potential.

"I think they have the ability to represent any kind of music, from dramatic to romantic to fun," he said. "This free dance is a little bit of everything; it has romance and fun and passion."

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, fourth in the U.S. last season, took a contemporary approach in their program to an Adele medley, including "Turning Tables" and "Rumor Has It."

The program's highlight was a Level 4 straight-line lift that had Giulietti-Schmitt, in a spread eagle position, lifting Kriengkrairut vertical to the ice by one ankle. All told, they had six Level 4 elements and gained 84.37 for their free dance, which amounted to 140.86 overall.

"That lift is something we've developed over the last couple of years; actually, the first year we tried it out I was having some thumb problems, and we couldn't do it," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "We kind of like the pendulum look."

"At first it was scary, but I trust this guy; he's strong," Kriengkrairut said.

Yuri Chesnichenko, who with Yaroslava Nechaeva coaches the team in Ann Arbor, Mich., thinks his skaters have cultivated a natural, contemporary style all their own.

"Over the years, they've developed their own feel for music, their own expression, and they have matured, so they can demonstrate the feelings and emotions adults experience," he said. "We had some reservations [about the Adele medley] because it is such popular music. Everybody has it in their heads, but at the same time, we couldn't find anything better or more moving, so we just had to go for it."

Overnight leaders Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who won the short dance, had a few missteps in their otherwise romantic and elegant free dance to music from Dr. Zhivago, including a fall from Bates toward the end of their diagonal step sequence. They placed fourth with 139.84 points.

"It was shaky, not our best skate," Chock said. "Now we know what it feels like and we can continue to work out the kinks. It was an off day, which happens sometimes. We will train through it."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, sixth at the 2012 U.S. Championships, had an entertaining skate to a bluesy rock medley with an incarceration theme, including "Please Mr. Jailer" and "Jailhouse Rock."

"The story is, we're kind of in this underground gang, and I'm the head honcho guy, and she's my girl," he said. "In the second piece ("Please Mr. Jailer"), I go to jail, and she has to come get me out."

The program built to an exciting finish, with an "illusion" rotational lift. It scored 70.98 points, and they placed sixth with 113.08.

"We call it the 'now you have it, now you don't' lift, because it's up and it's down," Cannuscio said. "It's a choreographed lift, and it's just something we came up with one day. Our coach, Karen Ludington, said it looked cool, and we wanted to end the program with a high note."