Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron: "This year we put more of ourselves in the program"
February 24, 2015
By Titanilla Bőd (Új Szó)
Photos © Joy, Johanna Welnicki , Anna Bertoloni, Mireille Geurts
A year ago they placed 15th, now they won the title. Just a few days after their great victory in Stockholm, the new European ice dancing champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, spoke about their success and plans, programs and coaches and much more.
Was this European title beyond your expectations, or did you secretly hope you might achieve it?
Guillaume: The past few months we have known we could reach that goal. But it is sports, so anything can happen! You cannot be sure you will perform as you want to until it's done and there is always a lot of pressure. Since we won the two Grand Prix events, we kind of knew that we could potentially be at the top, but we still had to achieve it. And it doesn't sink in until it's done.
Gabriella: We hoped to be in the top three and secretly also hoped to be European champions. It was a big achievement, but not such a big surprise.
You were first after the short dance; did you feel any pressure or responsibility to keep this position?
Guillaume: I think there would have been a bit more pressure if we had been second or third. Then you always have to earn more points. But we were first and we had a gap. Two points can be assuring in ice dancing; it will be easier to win the competition. And we know we have a strong free dance.
Gabriella: Since the beginning of the year the short dance has always been our weak point. The free dance has always been better. So after placing first in the short dance we were confident. We believed our free dance would be good and there was nothing to worry about.
Last season you were 15th at Europeans, now you are the champions. This is such a huge progress!
Guillaume: It hasn't sunk in yet. I know we've improved a lot, and we changed a lot in our training, our coaches… but it's still a surprise. This was unexpected! If you had told me last year I would win the European Championships 2015 I would not have believed you. Maybe in four years, okay, but not in such a short time. It's amazing! I'm so happy that we've improved so much, and that the audience and the judges appreciate what we do. Everybody is on our side, I hope it's going to last.
France has always had very good ice dance couples. Last year you were only third in the French ranking, now you are the top team. Do you feel the expectations are bigger in a country with so much ice dancing tradition?
Guillaume: We are proud to represent France and to be one of the top French couples. There have been so many great ones in French ice dancing history. It's not very common for one to come so quickly after such great skaters [as Nathalie and Fabian]. We have to create something new, add something, and leave our mark. We are not at that point yet; this is only the beginning for us. We are twenty and nineteen, but it's still comfortable to be the first couple because we get more attention. But there is also more pressure.
Do you feel it's hard to create a new, different style than what Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, or the other French ice dancers, had?
Guillaume: Every couple is unique; we all have our style. We are all different; we all have different stories and different ways to feel our skating. That's why we try to be different in a good way. Our coaches lead us on this path too.
Young champions are not very common in ice dancing; you usually have to wait a long time to reach the top. For example both Isabelle Delobel/ Olivier Schoenfelder and Nathalie Pechalat/ Fabian Bourzat had to wait forever for their first major medal.
Guillaume: Yes, we are young, but we've been skating together for eleven years. We have reached a sort of maturity as a couple, something every couple tries to do. In our case it happened fast because we've been together for so long.
How much of your big progress was thanks to the change you made last summer; moving to Canada to train with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, along with your original coach, Romain Haguenauer, who decided to stay in Montreal?
Gabriella: We decided to follow Romain. We improved a lot because of that.
Guillaume: Basically everything changed. We changed our location, our coaches, our teammates... We skate more and we take dance classes, the approach is a lot more professional. Deciding to move was also a choice to put our careers first. We stopped going to school. What we do now – I don't feel it's like having a job, but it's our first occupation. So there's a big difference between then and now.
Was it hard to make this decision? How long did you have to think about it?
Gabriella: Not long.
Guillaume: One night.
Gabriella: We didn't really think about it, it was obvious that it was the right choice. If we wanted to focus on our careers, it was the right decision.
When you moved to Canada, was there anything that really surprised or shocked you? Maybe not in skating, but in everyday life?
Gabriella: Of course, Canada is different than France and it was the first time we were living somewhere besides France. Montreal is a great city, even if there are some cultural shocks sometimes, like the food or the snow (laughs).
Guillaume: Everyone is so nice; they made us comfortable from our first day. Even if it was a shock to come to a different country, we get the support there.
Do you feel homesick sometimes?
Gabriella: It happens.
Guillaume: Sometimes, during bad days. Then I just call my family; I spend a lot of time on Skype.
Gabriella, you said in an interview that as a child you hated cold ice rinks and dreamt of relocating to a sunny place. How do you cope with the Canadian winter?
Gabriella: I take it as a good thing, after spending years in Canada, I will never be able to complain about the cold. Never!
Guillaume: It's hot in Stockholm now. [Temperatures ranged from +2 to -2 degrees Celsius during Europeans.]
Gabriella: Everybody is complaining, what is up with this weather and I'm like: it's spring!
Tell us something about your programs this year. What is your connection with the short dance, the paso doble and the flamenco?
Guillaume: To prepare the short dance we spent a week in Madrid to learn the flamenco and the culture. We didn't create the choreography there, but it was an important step for us. We were really into the culture, and we went to watch people dance in bars- we tried to make the flamenco ours, it was inspiring. We always keep that in mind now, and remember what we saw there, it was amazing. We are not flamenco dancers, but we try our best with this approach.
Your free dance is very special this year. It is to classical music, but it was inspired by a current ballet project, Le Parc. Where did this idea come from?
Gabriella: We wanted to change our style, because last year we had very contemporary music and choreography, and we wanted to do something softer. So Romain told us to watch the video of Le Parc. We watched it and I was like: oh my God, it's beautiful, but I don't think the music is a good choice. But in the end we took the music and the inspiration from Le Parc.
The program is full of emotion and even sexuality. How do you portray such things on the ice?
Guillaume: We work a lot on the story, but it's not just a story we're trying to show. It's about love so there is a lot of passion, but it's hard to be sweet and soft and passionate at the same time. We have to manage many different emotions. That's what we try to work on, to make it not boring, so there are different details in the interpretation. We try to give every single move a meaning, we intend to say something. We don't just move to create shapes and great patterns on the ice; we try to really say something.
How long did it take to create this program?
Gabriella: It came little by little, but it's never over; we have never finished that work. We did the choreography with Marie-France in one week, and at the same time we spent three-four hours with a theater coach off-ice, to speak about the concept, to do some exercises, to create the feelings. We tried to incorporate all that into the choreography.
Which free dance is closer to your personality, last year's or this year's?
Guillaume: This year it is totally different. We changed our perception about what we do. So it's not really a question of style, this year we put more of ourselves in the program. We had to work on ourselves to be able to perform that program with that much intensity. This year's program is closer to us, we live it more intensely.
Gabriella: We worked a lot on putting the emotions into the program, which we didn't really do last year.
How can you concentrate on the emotional side of the program when you have to perform difficult elements, count the seconds for the lifts and worry about levels?
Guillaume: It's a lot of work! Our coaches are great, because they all have their area of expertise. Marie is great at choreography, Patrick is more into the technical things and Romain is mainly looking at the general impression, as kind of a manager. They are all good at everything, but they have their specialties too. They all complement each other well; it is a super great team.
Gabriella: We practice the elements a lot to be able to focus more on the emotions when we skate in competition.
Guillaume: And we try to incorporate the elements into the choreography, and not cut between elements and connecting moves.
Which style do you think suits you the most?
Gabriella: We have so much more to do, we haven't tried everything yet. So we don't know. Time will tell.
Do you already have ideas for other programs or styles you want to try in the future?
Gabriella: Not yet.
How will your prepare for the World Championships?
Gabriella: We will work on a lot of things.
Guillaume: But first we will rest! And then work again, trying to improve, to make the audience discover something else in the program, to go deeper into it…
Is there anything specific you want to focus on?
Gabriella: I think we will find a few things, but at the Europeans we did really well, so there is nothing in particular we want to change. But I guess our coaches will have some ideas.
At the press conference after the free dance, you said you don't really have idols, but you do have favorite programs. What are some of them?
Gabriella: I can't say it's still my favorite program, but at that time, I was crazy about the Pink Floyd program of Tessa Virtue/ Scott Moir. I thought they were amazing.
Guillaume: There are so many great skaters. Since we know Marie-France and Patch, we just started to watch their programs and they were also such a great couple. We are really lucky to be working with both of them. Their programs were amazing and they have a very good influence on us. Everything they do, they do full of love and they were really good skaters, too.
You've been skating together for a long time. What are the benefits of such a partnership?
Guillaume: We grew up together, so we know each other's reactions. We just work very fast and well together. We work hard on the ice and use every single minute well. We don't fight much; we try not to lose any time. Everything comes easily and just flows, it is easy to work together. We are both very open to discover things together, like with theater or anything else. We both want to experiment and we have the same vision, we know where we are going and talking about it comes easy.
Did you ever have other partners as children?
Gabriella: No, we started together right away.
Did you immediately like each other?
Guillaume: We became friends almost right away.
Gabriella: We just weren't that serious about skating at that time.
Guillaume: But I can't really remember, you should ask our mothers.
What is the best thing about your partner, and what is the most annoying?
Gabriella: I think the best thing with Guillaume is that he is a hard worker; he is very able to focus on things. He is a perfectionist and that's a good thing at work. I don't know what the worst thing would be… Maybe the most annoying thing is that he is so stubborn. Really stubborn.
Guillaume: Not in a good way.
Gabriella: He sometimes needs to have more patience.
Guillaume: But she is stubborn too. Maybe a little less than me. And as for the best thing… [To Gabriella] Enjoy this moment! [continuing] I think we were really lucky to find each other, I think we wouldn't have worked out with anyone else. I can't see myself skating with another partner. She is just perfect for me. She just matches me.
Gabriella: We complement each other well, his qualities make up for my weaknesses and vice versa.
Guillaume: She is using my qualities to learn, and I'm learning from her qualities too. That is the best thing to have in a partnership.
Gabriella: For example, when we were children, before we started skating together, he was really sloppy, and he was falling all the time. I was really straight and stiff. Then when we got together, he became less sloppy and I became less stiff.
What are your goals for the future?
Guillaume: Of course the Olympics. But we don't really like to talk about our goals. Our goal is to keep on going and enjoy every day on the ice, even if it's hard sometimes. That's why we do it, because we love it and it should stay that way.