By Hiro Yoshida
As the first half of the 2015/2016 season has unfolded and with the Grand Prix Final beginning this week in Barcelona, many of the questions we had about how certain events would play out and certain skaters would perform have been answered. However, in ice dance there is a still one big question waiting for an answer. How will Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron follow up on their stunning victory at the World Championships in Shanghai earlier this year?
The French team burst forth into the figure skating world’s consciousness with their sublime free dance to Mozart’s “Adagio from Concerto No. 23” last season and it was such an overwhelming masterpiece that the judges had no choice, but to acknowledge its innovation and creativity and crown them European and World champions.
As their start to the new season rapidly approached, they were training at their base in Montreal, Canada on 28 August when Papadakis suffered a cerebral concussion.
“They fell on a simple transition and not during a lift or anything like that,” their coach Romain Haguenauer recalled when I talked to him and Marie-France Dubreuil at the recent Trophee Eric Bompard in Bordeaux. “She did not hit her head directly to the ice, so it was a casual fall you could say. Her head hit the ice as she fell on her back. She felt really weird which is normal after a shock to the head.”
Initially the skaters and their coaches did not have much cause for concern as Papadakis did not seem to have been adversely affected, but when her symptoms did not dissipate alarm bells began ringing.
“After it happened she had some vertigo and felt really strange,” Haguenauer said. “Everything was spinning around. So we said, ‘OK, you look fine. We don’t need to go to hospital. You just need rest.’ It happened on a Friday and on the Saturday we called her and she said, ‘I don’t feel better.’ So we decided to take her to the hospital to check things out. At the hospital they said everything looked fine, but it’s the structure of the brain. The symptoms kept going for weeks so she went to a specific clinic in Montreal for sportsmen specialising in head injuries. It was a serious concussion with big symptoms.”
Naturally, Papadakis was ordered by her doctors to cease training, but she was also forbidden from doing such mundane activities as reading and watching television so that her brain could rest and recover.
“Guillaume continued to practice by himself. It was maybe more difficult for Gabriella because she had to do nothing. She couldn’t read. She couldn’t watch TV. She needed rest. At the beginning she was OK, but after a while she was a bit anxious about what happened. The specialist in Montreal analysed precisely every part of her brain until when she knew what exactly she had to do. She then started the treatment and the process of coming back. She had to be patient of course.”
Papadakis and Cizeron withdrew from the French Masters event at the beginning of October and, following a discussion between the skaters, their coaching team, the doctors and the French federation, they also pulled from the Trophee Eric Bompard in November just days before the event.
“The decision was to protect her for the short and the long term,” Haguenauer stated. “They could have competed, but if they’d have come here to Bordeaux it would be to do the Grand Prix. In another two weeks, they would have needed to compete at NHK Trophy, then the Grand Prix Final and French Nationals. Now she has more time to completely recover and they can polish the programmes and some technical things which I think is good.”
“Health comes first for them and it’s a lot of fatigue and jet lag,” Dubreuil added.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron
The World champions will debut their new programmes at the French National Championships in Epinal later this month. They have chosen “Charms” by Abel Korzeniowski from the “W.E.” film soundtrack for their short dance and “Rain, In Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso and “To Build A Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra for their free dance this season. The routines were choreographed in July.
“The process to make programmes is about two weeks,” Dubreuil said. “It depends because sometimes we make decisions about the music and we have to wait for the music to be edited.”
“We changed the music for the free dance,” Haguenauer revealed. “The short dance was quite quick to do and we were confident with the choice, but for the free we had many options so we wanted to be sure. We tried. We listened. We listened again and finally we came back to our first choice.”
With their free from last season becoming one of the most talked about programmes of the past few years, there has been a sense of anticipation as to what Papadakis and Cizeron and their coaching team in Montreal would come up with next. A conscious decision was made not to drift too far away from the lyrical and flowing style of choreography that took them to the World title.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron
“Gabriella and Guillaume created the masterpiece with the choreography and the music. The music by itself is of course fantastic. It’s Mozart,” Haguenauer said. “But they are the ones who made it all happen. I think that the fact they won was so unexpected maybe created this impression that this programme was the top of the top. I think with the choice we made for this year we didn’t want them to completely change because we wanted them to stay with what they are. It’s like an improvement and more modern. It’s different, but it’s up the same street.”
“We worked on other aspects in the new programme because they are so young we cannot stop the evolution at the masterpiece,” Dubreuil concurred. “We have to push them to go perhaps a bit on the uncomfortable side to develop other aspects of their performance and movement because these kids can fly on the ice and move like nobody can. We’re trying to push that to really set them apart.”
A happy side effect of the success that the skaters and coaches at the Gadbois Centre enjoyed last season is that a number of new teams have joined the group this year, including Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam. When many teams train under the same set of coaches, the danger is that often programmes will begin to look similar. In order to avoid this, Haguenauer, Dubreuil and her husband Patrice Lauzon make a point of involving each of the individual teams in the creative process right from the start.
“Getting the kids involved in choosing the music is the only way we can actually conserve everybody’s different style,” Dubreuil said. “If only we made the choices, all our teams would look the same. We get the kids involved and they can really keep their identity, style and individuality.”
“We’re very busy in Montreal. We had a very successful season last year with Gabriella and Guillaume getting 15 spots higher than they did at Worlds the previous year and for our Danish team (Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen) a similar huge rise. We have a lot of teams that are in the same bracket at Worlds which creates a good training environment for everybody.”
Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen
Rather than clearly defined roles, all the coaches work together instinctively to offer assistance in the best interests of each of their students goals and this is what they feel is their greatest strength.
“Everybody says I am their choreographer, but all of us do talk about music and concept and then when we make a choice,” Dubreuil said. “Patrice will choreograph some elements and Romain is also very good. We all feed into the programmes.”
“Technically we also work together which is good,” Haguenauer agreed. “Everyone could be by themselves a good coach, but the success is down to the collaboration.”
“It’s the collaboration and we fully trust each other,” Dubreuil concluded. “Also with some skaters I know I can make them do anything. With other skaters, Romain has an ease at making them do what they need. Patrice is sort of the head coach and he is the one who analyses who works best with whom. Then we do a rotation.”
While Papadakis and Cizeron will not contest the Grand Prix Final where they won bronze last year, Haguenauer and Dubreuil will both be in Barcelona with two of their other teams. The aforementioned Hubbell and Donohue finished top of the standings at Trophee Eric Bompard and came third at NHK Trophy. France’s Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac will participate in the Junior Grand Prix Final.
“For Maddie and Zach, we’ve had them now for five months,” Dubreuil said. “We worked on some stuff. It’s many layers of work, but we’re in this for three years so little by little they’ll really start to show improvement.”
“Marie Jade and Romain are also very good,” Haguenauer continued. “They are improving fast.”
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue
“We’re lucky that we work with pretty great kids,” Dubreuil said. “They all have their own little story and their own thing going on, but they are interesting people and very committed so that’s fun.”
Outside of coaching their skating kids, Dubreuil and Lauzon are also busy with raising their daughter Billie-Rose who will be 5 years old later this month. With her parents possessing such thoroughbred skating DNA, I asked Dubreuil if she showed any signs of wanting to become an ice dancer like her mother and father.
“Oh my God, I don’t know,” Dubreuil exclaimed. “She is showing more interest in becoming a singer or an entertainer right now. She just started skating.”
“You don’t ask about my kid,” Haguenauer playfully interjected.
18 months on from making the move to Montreal, Haguenauer has no regrets about his decision to join forces with Dubreuil and Lauzon in Canada.
“Not even about the -25 degrees in winter,” he joked. “I’m very happy to work with Patrice and Marie France. In life it’s very important be happy at work, especially when your work is your passion.”