In a Vancouver rink last night, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier unleashed a flood of pink, billowing loveliness with an ominous undertone and created art out of a free dance.
The two-time world bronze medalists displayed their new “Wuthering Heights” free dance for the first time this season, and judges responded by awarding them the highest score this season: 131.46 for the free dance alone (as compared to the free dance of world champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who got 128.09 the previous week at Skate America.)
The Canadians’ total score of 219.01 also is higher than Chock and Bates’ 212.96 as they romped to their fourth Skate Canada International win, almost 10 points higher than their closest competitors, Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, who finished a slot behind them in fourth at the world championships.
Same with the funkalicious rhythm dance, done on Friday. Gilles and Poirier earned almost a personal best score of 87. 55 (Chock and Bates got 84.87 at Skate America.) It’s early in the season and Chock and Bates still hold all the world records.
It seemed last season that Gilles and Poirier were on their way to a world title as they chocked up the season’s highest scores early in the year – until Gilles’ illness threw them off their path.
And their vehicle is unprecedented; who on the planet would use the intense and frightening theme of “Wuthering Heights?” Who does that? But for Gilles and Poirier, it looks like the perfect clothesline to peg an exploration of movement and emotion.
While their rhythm dance centered around love, “Wuthering Heights” is about love, too, but it comes at it from a completely different point. “We wanted to really explore the theme of love and hatred and how it exists,” Poirier said. “And in some cases they can coexist. You can deeply love someone and deeply hate them at the same time. And the tension between those two emotions is really what we are trying to explore.”
The movement of the piece “is a really interesting ride,” Poirier said. There is endless variety of movement that contrasts to the music at times. “We wanted to continue to tell a story because that is something we enjoy doing,” Poirier said. “I think we wanted to take a different route musically because it’s a movie soundtrack. It’s very classical, but it has a lot of angularity and the undertone of darkness that I think is really interesting to play around with.”
There is not a moment in the free dance that is not novel and interesting and often unexpected. They gently settle into a hydro move, a position that harkens back to the Duchesnays’ short-lived Reflections program. After their first twizzle, they stop, before they continue to the rest. The element almost disappears into the story. During a lift, they turn one way, then the other. Who does that? The relationship between the two is sometimes frightening, Gilles flying up against the judges’ dais, fear in her face, as Poirier snatches her back. Their final pose, unusual and uncomfortable, tells the entire story. It’s an intense ride.
The music by the inestimable Ryuichi Sakamoto, is a masterpiece of subtle and not-so-subtle emotion. Coming up with music to match that is wonderful for those who like to explore. “The process of choreography is tricky,” Poirier said. “You’re always caught in this tension: You want to do something unexpected. You want to surprise people. You want to delight people, but you don’t want to do something so unexpected that it sticks out and seems incongruous with what you’re doing.
“You are always caught in this tension,” he said. “Even if you are skating to slow music, you don’t want every single step to be slow because it gets monotonous and boring over a long period of time.”
Despite the fear and the tension, the forward chase of the piece is seamless, floating, Gilles said they learned from doing “Evita” last year and they used their knowledge to tackle this routine.
“I think this program has felt harder,” she said. “It’s a different kind of skating. It’s sharper. It’s more passionate, and we really have to find moments to create power going into some of the bigger elements. So it’s in between this slow and powerful. It’s hard to pace.”
Their training has been working for them, and there is so much more for them to do with the piece, still more power and flow that they can develop going into the big elements.
“I feel like this is a great start,” she said. Interesting that the scores for the piece in its infancy are almost as high as their top marks last season.
Emily Bronte created all sorts of chatter when she wrote Wuthering Heights in 1847. Some say it is the greatest novel ever written. Some say it’s incongruous at every step, with characters shifting. Few of the characters in the book are likeable or heroic. Heathcliff, a spoiled foster son from the Yorkshire moors, is inhospitable, selfish and destructive, governed by fierce passions and revenge. His love interest Catherine feels they are the same, but marries someone else, repulsed by Heathcliffe. It’s a haunting tale. A book you cannot put down.
Gilles and Poirier’s newest masterpiece may have the same effect.
Back behind this drama was another one: all of the flower girls at Skate Canada were dressed in costumes that were a version of the red Olympic free dance outfit worn by Alexandra Paul, who was killed in a car crash in August. The costumes had “AP” stitched on them. Paul’s mother-in-law, Debbie Islam was at Skate Canada, working as a technical controller for the women’s event. As she sat down to watch the rhythm dance, a friend told her about the outfits so that she wasn’t caught unaware. It was a lovely tribute. The skating family spreads from coast to coast.