Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha could have been devastated by missing out on competing at the world championships last season.
They were Canada’s No. 3 team and Canada had only two spots for dancers at the event.
Was it difficult to face that music and watch others do what you wanted so much to do? Their goal had been to dance the night away at the event in Saitama, Japan. They knew the odds were against them from the start.
“Not really,” said Lagha, quickly, negatives dissolved.
For one thing, they reasoned, there is no way that they would have won a medal at worlds. And their entire season leading up to that had been a triumph all the way with a medal at every event they contested: bronze at both Grand Prix assignments, silver at nationals, gold at two Challenger events.
They spent their time not only taking a little holiday, but searching and searching for the perfect free dance music, considering that worlds this season is in Montreal, where they live. They needed something special for the occasion. (They knew Canada would get three ice dance spots back and it did.) The music just had to be right, and it had to be a minstrel from home.
Finally, they settled on a most remarkable Montreal musician, Jean-Michel Blais, who created a most remarkable composition: “Roses.”
At Skate America yesterday, their first Grand Prix assignment this season, Lajoie and Lagha came up roses, winning a silver medal with their Michael Jackson “Thriller” rhythm dance and that “Roses” free dance. They finished second only to world champs Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who were skating in their home country.
Lajoie and Lagha’s free dance last year was the exquisite “Nureyev” routine. “Roses” is a bit like it, Lagha said, but better, and with a more contemporary vibe. You have to see it to understand: Lajoie drenched in rose colours; a bit peach, a bit pink, with Lagha in bold emerald green, like the stem of the blossom. They move like petals floating in the wind.
Blais is a most unlikely star. But a star he is in the music world and not just in Quebec. He was born in rural Quebec, and only started playing the family organ late in life. This led him to take up composition and then piano studies, eventually at the Trois Rivieres Conservatory of Music. After a time, he quit, deciding that the academic part of this world was too restrictive.
He worked for several months at an orphanage in Guatemala. He moved to Berlin for a year. He finally settled back in Montreal, and worked for five years at the Fondation du Dr. Julien, an organization that helps disadvantaged children. He also worked as a teacher in special education at a Cegep school.
In the midst of all this, he began to compose music, and completed his first album, II, eight years ago. With a friend, he mixed and recorded this album in his own apartment, and it was released in 2016.
This humble, brilliant creation was chosen as one of the top 10 best albums of 2016, as reported in Time magazine and his work was described as having pieced together astonishing improvisations and pieces that recalled Chopin, but also minimalist Eric Satie, inviting you to take a moment to realize that there is still much beauty in this world.
The album was also included in the 2016 Polaris Prize long list, and “Exclaim!” a magazine dedicated to the arts in Canada, gave the album a score of 9/10, proclaiming it a masterpiece. Two other albums have followed, with similar acclaim. His third album was nominated as album of the year at the 2023 Juno Awards.
Blais would often play at masses, weddings and funerals. “Roses” fits right into this. It’s a funeral piece dedicated to a friend’s mother who died from cancer. The repeating single note in the introduction represents her beating heart. Montreal’s Karl Hugo rearranged the piece to fit the needs of the ice dancers.
Lajoie and Lagha finished fifth at their first event of the year, the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava, with “Roses.” But that was weeks ago. They’ve been busy since and their scores at Skate America blew their scores at Nepela out of the water.
Rhythm dance at Nepela? 70.00. At Skate America: 77.80. Lagha said they will focus on this dance in the coming weeks.
Free dance at Nepela? 109.18. At Skate America? 119.19.
Total at Nepela? 179 pts. At Skate America? Their total score of 196.99 points was almost 16 points behind the world champions.
Lajoie and Lagha admitted they were as nervous as kittens at Skate America. But they focused on the connection between them and let the world around them disappear, until they realized they had finished.
The road to Montreal leads through Allen, Texas. And this team could not have hoped for a better beginning to the Grand Prix season. It was a tough event.
And they aren’t the type to wait their turn to leapfrog over other more established skaters. They know the veterans of the sport are 10 years older than they. “They have touched the ice for a longer period than us,” Lagha said. “They have 10 more years of touching the ice and learning how to feel it and how to use the glide. A lot of it is going to come from experience.”
But Lajoie said they are not willing to wait their turn. “Some say: ‘We want to wait for those other ones to leave.’ But it’s our time. Even if they are older, we will still try and try to [skip over them] and beat the older. We were so close [at nationals].
“That was a win for us, even if we didn’t get the goal. We were pretty happy with that.”