The Inside Edge is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
In an era when the technical demands of the International Judging System (IJS) continually encroach on singles skaters' creative freedom and artistic development, skating purists like myself often turn to ice dance to get our fix of quality edges and emotive skating.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch an ice dance competition in more than half a year. Over the weekend, though, the skating gods bestowed upon us a delightful gift: Marie-France Dubruiel and Patrice Lauzon — five-time Canadian champions, married couple and founders of the Ice Academy of Montréal — hosted a live-streamed practice session showcasing their students' new or revamped programs. The coaching team, already known for its efforts to push the sport forward, introduced another innovation in a time of relative silence in the skating world.
Participants included four-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, world bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donahue and Four Continents champions Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. U.S. national champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates were scheduled to take part but opted out due to minor injury.
The headliner teams gave the skating world an exclusive look at their new material for the 2020-21 season.
Hubbell/Donahue performed a rhythm dance to “Burlesque” that was so sexy and so them. They enhanced Dubreuil’s complex choreography with such passion that I could feel their energy from the other side of Jordan Cowan’s traveling camera. While many other teams performing at the session showed more junior qualities, Hubbell/Donahue’s big skating and masterful movement distinguished them as an elite senior team gunning for the world podium.
Papadakis/Cizeron have been landing on the world podium for half a decade — at this point, they’re competing against themselves and their own creativity. Their avant-garde, contemporary style sometimes lends itself to obscure music choices, so I was surprised when the team came out to the well-known Latin piece, “Tango Jalousie.”
Before showing their free dance on Friday, Papadakis admitted she and Cizeron had never revealed a program so early in the season. Even Lauzon pulled them to the side during the English-language broadcast to tell the team — in French — to not reveal too much. Despite that fact, the French team displayed effortless precision in the sections they chose to show, including their stunning twizzle sequence and superlative choreographic spin. The nuanced and perfectly executed choreography reminded viewers that this couple is in an echelon of its own.
Some up-and-coming teams put their rhythm dances on display as well, but most of them repeated music from the 2019-20 season. Australian national champions Holly Harris and Jason Chen gave fun energy and great facial expressions in their “A Chorus Line” number, while world junior champions Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha presented a sharp rendition of “West Side Story.”
Resident dance coach and I.AM Live host Sam Chouinard took breaks throughout the broadcast, introducing viewers to several personalities around the rink. These included Dubreiul, Lauzon, Chock and Bates, dance coach Ginette (Gigi) Cournoyer, acting/dance coach Emilie Josset and cameraman Jordan Cowan, also known on Instagram as @oniceperspectives.
Chouinard continually emphasized the rink’s family-like atmosphere, promoting excellence while having fun at the same time. The innovative broadcast gave its virtual audience a behind-the-scenes look at the world’s most successful ice dance school, and with a $15 admission fee to access the stream, raised some money for the academy as well. Dubreuil found a way to connect with skating fans around the world despite the pandemic conditions, showing that on top of being a genius choreographer she’s a genius businesswoman as well.
It’s been a while since good news has come out of Montréal. After all, this year’s World Championships were scheduled to take place there at the end of March but were canceled only a week in advance due to rapidly tightening COVID-19 restrictions. Thankfully, Dubreuil and the team at Ice Academy of Montréal gave us an exciting broadcast to watch and rewatch as we wait for international competition to get underway.
Until then, don’t forget to ask the skating gods for a senior Grand Prix season this fall.
The Inside Edge runs every other Monday.