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2019 NHK Trophy Dance

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany


(26 November 2019)  Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France who have been training in the Ice Academy of Montreal (IAM) mainly with Romain Haguenauer and Marie-France Dubreuil since the summer of 2014, won the NHK Trophy with a great distance to the other couples. This time they had 226.61 overall points, a new world record. Their level of dance is so much above every other ice dance couple in the world that some people call them “The Torvill & Dean of the 21st century“. Especially Cizeron is more an extremely flexible artist and ballet dancer than an ice dancer. But they have to keep to the rules to win. Some elements are better than a level 4 for other ice dance couples, and therefore they would merit a level 5 if this level existed.

In their Rhythm Dance to two Disco dances and a Blues from the musical “Fame“, according to the film they play would-be actors and artists in the Hollywood of the 1990ies who have not much work and try to keep fit by doing aerobic exercises every day. Their funny and bold costumes in light pink and mint green candy color is a perfect ironical satire for this period. Cizeron says: “If you google aerobic in the 1990ies, you get exactly these costumes. It needs courage to wear them but it is fun to skate in them.“ For the first time in ice dance history they had more than 90 points in the Rhythm Dance, exactly 90.03, which is s new world record.

Their first element was the Finnstep sequence which got a level 4 because all four key points were positive and they had mainly GOEs of +4.The Pattern Dance Step Sequence (lady and man separated) had two levels 4 and three GOEs of +5. The midline step sequence had “only“ a level 3, but mainly GOEs of +4 as well. The twizzle sequence was rewarded with two levels 4 (lady and men separated) and the stationary lift (which requires extreme strength of Cizeron) with six GOEs of +5. The components had an average of 9.7, with seven 10.0 from four different judges.

“Every year the Pattern Dance is quite challenging“, Papadakis said. „Last year the Tango was really, really hard, and it was long, too. This year the Finnstep is much shorter, but it's hard, too. Actually this year it's the first time that we're doing a Pattern Dance that we have done in the past, we did it I think five or six years ago in our first senior year. So it's fun to reinvent it and see how to make it different and better.” Cizeron added: “It was a challenge for us to work on that Rhythm Dance because it is completely out of our comfort zone and it's really different from what we've been doing before.”

In their free dance, they interpreted the rhythmical poem “Find You“ by Canadian poet and musician Forest Blakk and added music by the Islandic composer Olafur Arnalds only later in order to keep to the rules. Six level elements had a level 4, one step sequence a level 3. The three non-level elements got as many GOEs of +5 as the other seven elements. 22 of the 45 components were 10.0. Footwork which seemed effortless melted with other elements and the words. It was a piece of art and you saw that they live in a multicultural city. But is it still sport? Yes, because it is difficult to perform everything, there is a competition and it is technically measurable by the Jury. Cizeron commented: “We're really happy about our scores here. There has been a lot of improvement on both programs since Grenoble in France. I think we're really starting to impersonate all of the characters of our programs. We had a great feeling on the ice and I think we were able to connect with the audience, so it was a really good feeling.”

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin from Russia won the silver medal with 208.81 points. In their Rhythm Dance, they used the Quickstep “Sparkling Diamonds“ and the Blues “Your Song“, both from the soundtrack of “Moulin Rouge“. They had the same levels as Papadakis & Cizeron, but mainly GOEs of +3 and +4 for their elements, not a single +5. Their components were around 9.1. Stepanova commented: “Overall the performance was good. We're very happy that we showed a better version of our RD than at our first Grand Prix. We lost some time at the beginning of the season and our first Grand Prix was a bit tense and we were able to work more globally on the Rhythm Dance in between the first and the second Grand Prix. It is quite a tough dance with many small steps and you have to hold each edge and there is still something left to work on.”

For their free dance they had chosen “Primavera“ by Ludovico Einaudi and “Cry Me a River“ by Justin Timberlake. All elements were at least very good, some like the Choreo Steps outstanding. GOEs of +4 dominated and there were some +5. Their components were around 9.2. Both dances looked more self-confident and dynamic than at their first Grand Prix in Las Vegas five weeks before. “We're happy with both programs and we want to thank the audience for their warm support,” Stepanova said. “I think when we get home, we'll discuss all our mistakes and deficits with our coaches and will work on fixing them,” she continued. The two first couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri from Italy took the bronze medal with 198.06 points. This was not enough for the Final after being third as well in their first Grand Prix in France. They arrived with a totally new Rhythm Dance to “Grease“ because their first one to music from the Cirque du Soleil was not peppy enough. They had the same levels as the top two and almost the same GOEs. Fabbri explained: “We're satisfied with our performance today considering that it was a new Rhythm Dance for us. We decided to change it after the first Grand Prix. So we didn't have a lot of time to do run-throughs. We skated quite a clean program. Many things have to be improved, of course.”

In their modern free dance, they played space people using the musics of “Space Oddity“ and “Life on Mars“ by David Bowie. Most elements were excellent, including the Stationaly Lift which he still did with his left hand after he injured his right hand in September which he usually uses for lifts. But Guignard had a small fall on the exit of the Rotational Lift, which cost them some points and a spot in the free dance, but no spot overall. Fabbri said: “We felt pretty disappointed with the performance today. We did a quite big mistake on the lift. We know we didn't have a lot of time to work on our free dance because we changed the Rhythm Dance, so the free dance was not really ready for this competition.“

Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson from Britain, who train in the IAM, finished fourth, earning 193.01 points. In their very dynamic Rhythm Dance to Swing and Quickstep from “The Blues Brothers“, the levels were mixed and GOEs of +2 and +3 were in the majority. Their entertaining and very rhythmical free dance to a Madonna medley is a highlight for the spectators because of many little tricks. The Chinese couple of Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, also from the IAM, was technically excellent, but had lower levels and were less entertaining and therefore are fifth with 183.11 points.

Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko of Novi, Michigan, came on sixth place with 182.26 points. Their Rhythm Dance to “Too Darn Hot“ from “Kiss Me Kate“ was successful, but in the free dance to a Flamenco medley some elements did not look as easy as they should. Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko from Russia are seventh with 178.08 points. Even if Eremenko had a small slip in the Pattern Dance Step Sequence, they have improved much since Skate America, especially in the contemporary free dance where they performed several excellent elements.

Canadians Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus from IAM are ninth with 172.01 points. In the Rhythm Dance, they had relatively low levels and in their flawless free dance, their elements had mainly GOEs of +2. Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter of Rockville, Maryland, did their first competition after Carpenter’s injury had healed. Therefore their shape was not yet very good. The Japanese couple Misato Komatsubara & Tim Koleto (he is an American) withdrew because she had a concussion in August and new symptoms came back after the Cup of China. They were not replaced.

Besides the top two couples of the NHK Trophy, Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock & Evan Bates qualified for the Grand Prix Final. First alternates are Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, third in Japan.