Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier had the best of seasons and the worst of seasons last year.
The Canadian ice dancers swept through with wins in both of their Grand Prix events and won the Grand Prix Final, too.
Then the wheels came off for Gilles, who found she suffered from stage one ovarian cancer, necessitating surgery to remove her left ovary and she had an appendectomy too. They withdrew from the national championships and the Four Continents, saying only that she had had an appendectomy. But they returned for the world championships in Saitama, Japan, where they took the bronze medal, a triumph, considering all.
They are off to a brilliant start this season, after winning the rhythm dance at Skate Canada International with a score – 87.55 that came close to their personal best (.82 short of it). In the event Friday night, Gilles and Poirier were a healthy 4.04 points ahead of second-placed Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Britain, who ranked one slot below them at the world championships last year.
Gilles and Poirier showed off for the first time their rhythm dance, which was unexpectedly them: Piper dressed in shiny green pants, and slouchy purple sweater; Paul more buttoned-up dark. They were the only team to get a level four in the pattern dance step. And they racked up high levels and high GOE for every move. It was wicked.
Apparently all about love. “It just captures what moment we are in right now,” Gilles said. “We love what we are doing and we love what we are creating.”
After the world championships last season, Gilles and Poirier toured in Japan, Canada and the United States like never before – 36 shows in all – but it wasn’t until they had finished, that Gilles really reflected on what had happened to her.
“I really started to digest the severity of everything I had been through,” she said. A competitor, she had always needed to get back into competition, but when it ended, she realized: “That was hard.”
During the off-season, Gilles had to make changes, because all of the surgery had taken a toll on her body. “I wasn’t really capable of doing workouts or core exercises again because I could reinjure my abs that had been opened up,” she said on a conference call.
She had to figure out how to get her body ready for competitive season again. “I can’t say that it was easy,” she said. “It took a lot longer than other season, The work has been rewarding and I can finally feel my body coming back to me. “
Her entire life is different now. She has to continue with doctor’s appointments. That makes her stop and realize she’s still ‘’so lucky to be able to skate every single day, to be with my husband and walk my dog,” she said. “You look at like a little bit different, which is also great. I enjoy the small things a little bit more.”
After all of this, she and her partner decided to continue to compete. They weren’t finished yet. They had reached the heights at the Grand Prix Final, but they didn’t feel complete at the world championships. “We wanted a little bit more and obviously circumstances that are out of our control left us feeling that we didn’t fully accomplish what we set out to do.”
The tours they experienced in places far afield made them fall in love with skating all over again. They not only did Stars on Ice, they did half of Fantasy on Ice, with moving stages and musicians. It was a different world to Scarborough, Ont.
“I think we felt that there was more for us to create, amore stories for us to tell,” she said. “I think ultimately that was our decision why we wanted to come back – plus having the world championships in Montreal.”
This was not a decision that came in an epiphany. In the spring, they just started looking at music, and talking about ideas. “That was really it,” Poirier said. “There really wasn’t a hard conversation where we just kept going with everything that we were doing and we kept being interested by the process.”
“I think we’ll stop when we feel like we have no more to accomplish, Gilles said. “Or we don’t feel inspired enough to do something. At this point, we felt that there was more for us to play around with, it felt right, and we still felt trained because of all the shows we did.”
For their rhythm dance, they decided to do a love-love theme, with “No More I Love You,” by Lovers Speak (Annie Lennox did a version of it in the 1990s) and “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer.
The movement is interesting, Giles said, they start with the slower piece and built to Addicted to Love .
The rhythm dance this year really had no set rhythm. It was just eighties music. “It was really hard to figure out where to go, because there are different avenues,” Gilles said. “There’s rock, there’s 80s pop,, there’s also 80s theme songs. There’s all of these things, so for us, we found that difficult.”
But they happy with what they created. The movement is unusual.
With Gilles being 31 and Poirier being 32, and born in the early 1990s, eighties music isn’t as foreign to them as it might be for younger skaters: especially music from the later eighties, Porier said. “I think for us, it was fun, but it was hard because there was so much music we liked. Sometimes you’d find a piece of music you liked, but it was really hard to find what to put it with, and then you have all of these choreographic restrictions and music has to work for the choreography you need to do.
“So it was really challenging to make something that is cohesive and representative of the era and is something you want to skate to and that allows you to do everything you want to do or that you need to do,” Poirier said.
If anybody can do it, they can. Jokingly, Gilles said at some point their creativity may dry out. “It may never. I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe we’ll be 60 and still thinking of our next free dance.”
She thought again, and said: “I definitely will not be skating at 60.“