What do you do for an encore, after you’ve won a bronze medal at the world figure skating championships after years of toiling in the shadows?
When you’re Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, you go out and nail the highest score of the season for the rhythm dance at Skate Canada in Vancouver, in front of a home crowd.
Gilles and Poirier, lifted by Elton John’s classics “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” and “I’m Still Standing,” earned a score of 85.65 points, their best ever in the rhythm dance.
And most significantly, this score was higher than the 85.58 that four-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron posted at the recent Finlandia Trophy. The Canadian dance team outfooted the French on the technical mark (48.08 to 47.02). But the French edged them on the component mark (38.56 to 37.52). Mind, the French took all last season off and did not compete at the world championships.
Granted, it is said you can’t always compare the marks from one competition to another, although the scoring system was originally intended to do just so. But it puts Gilles and Poirier in the highest sphere, leading to the Olympics in Beijing next February.
Gilles and Poirier had diligently worked on changing their rhythm dance after winning the Autumn Classic in September, even though they won with a score of 83.35. It just wasn’t good enough.
After Autumn Classic, they had heard, by word of mouth, that the judges wanted the rhythm dance to show more of a street-dance feel. More urban, youthful. They had read the rules, and had gone more in a ballroom direction. But “I think they are trying to move away from what would have been developed in the ballroom,” Gilles said.
They changed the flavoring of their transitions to capture what ISU judges want. “The elements have stayed pretty much the same,” Gilles said. “We changed the lifts. We think the changes that we made will really get people going and get them on their feet, whereas maybe the jive didn’t. We hope the changes that we made will be exactly what they want.”
Poirier said they felt the lift they chose for the rhythm dance “didn’t capture the energy that we wanted, heading into the faster piece of music [which marks a transition in the music.] So we chose a lift that is a little more dynamic and that has changes of position so that it will be a little more exciting.”
Scores aside, Gilles and Poirier are thankful that they are going in this new direction. “It allows us to capture more of the Elton John essence,” Poirier said. “We’re excited about that opportunity. That is more what we would like to do in any case. It’s given us the opportunity stepping away from the more ice-dance ballroom style to create more movements with character and create more of a dynamic energy throughout the program.”
Gilles and Poirier achieved the highest level of four seen this season for their compulsory Midnight Blues section. It’s been difficult to attain for every team. Papadakis and Cizeron got a level two at Finlandia, although they got huge bonus marks of 2.94 for it. Gilles and Poirier got 2.68 bonus points. The Canadians also got higher levels for their twizzles and pattern dance step sequences.
“Piper and I are so proud of our performance today,” Poirier said. “This is a program we’ve made a lot of changes to since the last competition, Autumn Classic. It’s been a scramble in a few weeks really trying to nail everything down and get it as ready as possible for this Grand Prix.”
Skate Canada was their first performance in front of a crowd in almost two years and they knew they had to manage their energy and not have excitement boil over. “I think we accomplished that pretty well,” Poirier said. “We were able to stay focused and deliver a strong performance. It was nice to be able to entertain people.”
Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri turned to a Michael Jackson medley to finish second, 6.83 points behind the Canadians. The Italians were European bronze medalists in 2019, and scored 84.66 in the rhythm dance at Europeans in 2020, when they finished fourth overall. They got huge marks at their most recent competition, Lombardia Trophy in Italy. Fabbri said:” We don’t know why we lost levels basically everywhere” at Skate Canada.
Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz – in a tight race for the lone dance spot for Spaniards at the Olympics – finished third with 76.97 points – a personal best – while skating to Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” They have room to grow: Officials gave them only a level one for their midline steps. Already this is their fourth competition of the season.