So they’re back. It would be understandable to think Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France would want to hang up the skate laces after finally winning their first world medal – a bronze – last season.
After all, James is 31 years old, Cipres 27. Pair skating doesn’t get any easier when you get older.
But no, really, they’re back. And they’re back for a reason: to be better than before, to find their limits, to do things they have never done. Their focus is not to train just to get to another Olympics (the jury is out on that) but “to touch the stars,” as Cipres puts it.
And to do this, they turned to fellow countryman Guillaume Cizeron – he a three-time world dance champion and Olympic silver medalist with Gabriella Papadakis – to create the choreography for their short program.
It’s not new for James and Cipres to turn to ice dancers for choreography. For the past several seasons, they used the wellspring of John Kerr for memorable programs. “We love him,” James said. “But we needed a breath of fresh air. We’re used to John and he’s used to us, and we needed something completely different to take us out of our comfort zone,” James said. They also have used 2014 Olympic dance champion Charlie White to choreograph their free dance.
“Ice dancers are the best skaters,” James said.
They didn’t know what to expect when Cizeron showed up in Florida for a week to create the movements to “Uninvited,” a haunting song by Alanis Morrissette from the movie “City of Angels.” Aside from choreographing for himself and for shows, Cizeron really hadn’t designed a program for others, much less pair skaters.
“Let’s see how this goes, because we didn’t know,” Cipres said.
But Cizeron showed up, organized, prepared, ready, looking wildly professional. He had clocked all of their moves, the spins, the lifts, the death spirals and knew how long each would take in the program. And then he set them where he thought they belonged.
“Basically, pair skaters – from what we know because we only know ourselves – tell the choreographer where we want this twist, then the jump and the throw and this is the pattern that we are going to do,” James said. “And the choreographer would just work around it.”
Well, not their old friend Cizeron, the guy so familiar to them, he seems like a pair of fuzzy slippers.
“No,” Cizeron said to that. “I’ve seen that. Everyone does that. No.”
“This jump will go here, because it goes with the music. This spin will go here. This lift here.”
“He had everything planned out,” James said. We were like, ‘Ok-aaaay.’”
It is definitely not a normal pair skating program. This fits in with the plans of James and Cipres perfectly. They dare to be different. They want to change things. They want to matter.
“Our goal with the music is to be different and make figure skating evolve, not staying with the same classical music we hear for many years,” Cipres said. “We want something different. Not completely like a show. We want it still like figure skating.
“We don’t want to keep figure skating just in the world of figure skating,” Cipres said. “People have to know that we are not here just to dance and amuse the crowd. We are doing crazy jumps, and lifts. It’s a lot of hard things to do and we don’t want to look any more like ballerina and just like dance and that’s it.” They want to make an unforgettable impact.
So, Cizeron has put a mighty twist on it all. They will be skating patterns they have never skated before. “The patterns are not normally what we ever do,” James said. “The order of the elements and where they are on the ice are completely different. That’s what we are most excited about.”
They are doing all of this to music that is a little edgy. “It’s not rock,” James said. “But it’s kind of fierce and we throw our bodies around and there is connection, It’s very cool.”
The concept is cool, too. The “City of Angels” is a movie about an angel who falls in love with a human woman. She can’t see him, but she can sense him. Finally, he leaves his angelship and heaven to become human so that he can be with her. And then (spoiler alert) she dies the next day. “It’s quite sad and it’s torn,” James said.
They have a habit of finding compelling music, thanks to the team behind them – coaches John Zimmerman and Jeremy Barrett, Sylvia Fontana, who has been cleaning up their lines, and music arranger Maxime Rodriguez, who James calls their “genie.” He’s the guy that makes the music arrangement come alive.
“When this program is skated clean, I think it’s going to be one of our best programs ever,” James said.
With this new program, James and Cipres won the short program at the Autumn Classic International with 73.81 points, at about the level they ended last season. And they had a bit of a problem with the death spiral, so there is room to grow. They felt a little tight, James admitted. It’s normal for this point of the season.
The program is so precisely mapped that “everything has to be perfect on the music,” Cipres said. “Otherwise it doesn’t look good.”
Yes, the pattern is different. The triple toe loops are in the middle of the ice, then there is choreography done in a circular direction, right into spins. “There is no room for error,” James said.
“[Guillaume] is amazing,” James said. “It was not just a trial. It was something that he really wants to do. He gave everything he had for us.” And she added, he did it for free.
And he stayed in contact. He views videos of their program, and gives them changes to improve it. “And he’s still working on his own program,” Cipres said. “We got something really amazing from him.”
Not only that, Cizeron cut all the music himself. And he has also designed James’ costume – which we will see later in the season.
Is there anything Guillaume Cizeron cannot do?
Laura Finkelstein says
Absolutely phenomenal article!!! I mentioned something about it on the YouTube video of Vanessa and Morgan’s LP at 2018 Skate Canada (where they also got help in choreography from ice-dancer Charlie White — there’s an article in a French newspaper about James/Cipres working with both of them — but someone from YouTube saw my post, asked for the article and I found your blog post about them working on their SP with Guillaume (my favorite current ice-dancer with Gabriella Papadakis); I just “replied” on the British Eurosport YouTube video of their LP (which was just phenomenal!) and put your article on my Twitter Page. Is there any way I can “subscribe” to your Blog, and get “Alerts” in my email? I love finding people who understand ice-skating and write extremely well! (I’ve been a publicist for my own concert band (and other music ensembles) in greater-Boston area for 30 years — particularly like interviewing people and writing ‘feature’ articles for newspapers and journals, and taking photos of musicians and musical instruments — so I really appreciate people who write outstandingly in their own stories on websites or blogs.) (I don’t have my own website yet — for my photography — but I manage The Concord Band’s Facebook Page; have my own Facebook Page — Laura Finkelstein/Boston, with profile photo me me playing alto flute — and occasionally post to my Twitter account. Right now, I’m in middle of long rehab from broken leg, job-hunting, doing part-time proofreading, consulting a little about publicity, and loving watching my favorite ice-skaters (from all over the world) online.