by Anne Calder | Photos by Melanie Heaney

The six senior ice dance teams represented Canada, France, Russia, and the United States. The competitors included Olympic gold and silver medalists Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN), World silver medalists Maia Shibutani &Alex Shibutani (USA), two-time World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA), European bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (RUS), World silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA), and Four Continents gold medalists Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA).

The teams earned their tickets to the Final with Grand Prix different performances levels. Virtue & Moir and Shibutani & Shibutani won two gold medals. Papadakis & Cizeron won gold and silver and Bobrova & Soloviev won gold and bronze. Chock & Bates and Hubbell & Donohue each won two silver medals. The six teams have previously competed at the GPF.

For the second time in two weeks, the ice dance community was treated to a record-breaking competition.

Short Dance

Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir took a 2.5 lead over the reigning USA champions, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. Papadakis & Cizeron of France were third, followed by the Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev and the two American teams – Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock & Evan Bates.

Virtue & Moir used a medley of iconic Prince songs for the midnight blues and hip-hop rhythms. The program opened with a sharp and intricate level 4 not touching step sequence (hip hop) to “Kiss” that netted nine +3 GOE marks.

“It’s not hard to find the energy when you’re skating to Prince,” Virtue said.  “Right off the bat with that “Kiss” music, it’s infectious. We love the movement. We love the feeling; in fact, we have to bring the energy down a bit to control the emotions.”

The program hit all the key points in the slower sensuous blues pattern to “Five Women” and ended strongly with level 4 twizzles and a curve lift to “Purple Rain”.

The dance earned all +2 and +3 GOE marks and a record-setting 80.50 score.

“We really wanted to showcase the improvements we’ve made since NHK (Trophy),” Virtue noted. “Each competition is a stepping-stone.”

Shibutani & Shibutani picked “That’s Life” for both their blues and hip-hop short dance. They chose the Frank Sinatra vocal for the sultry midnight blues section. The siblings used the expertise of the American hip-hop band Quest Crew to create an original blend or mash up of Frank Sinatra and Jay Z for the hip-hop section.

The opening midnight blues pattern missed a key point and earned a level 3. The twizzles, not touching midline step sequence and rotational lift received level 4. The 77.97 score was a personal best and placed them second.

“Today was the strongest short dance of our season so far,” Maia said. “Since the Cup of China we have done a lot of work to improve our program. There is still a lot of room for growth, but the energy from the crowd was great, so tomorrow will be fun.”

Papadakis & Cizeron danced blues and a lively lindy loop to “Bittersweet” and “Diga Diga Doo”. The reigning World Champions earned level 4 for the blues pattern, lift, twizzles and not touching diagonal footwork, but a mistake on the partial step sequence was costly, and it received a level 2. The 77.86 score was only a slim .11 behind the Shibutanis.

“Of course we are disappointed,” Cizeron said. “That mistake cost us two levels. That’s a four-point difference at the end.”

“There were some good and some bad things today,” Papadakis noted.  “We had a mistake in a technical element, which cost us quite a few points, but we know what we have to work on, and that’s what we will do.  Overall it was a good program, and we really had a good feeling on the ice.”

Bobrova & Soloviev scored 74.04 for their blues and swing dance. The twizzles and lift earned level 4; the pattern and step sequences received level 3. They stood fourth.

Hubbell & Donohue were fifth with blues to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and a hip hop medley. The blues pattern, twizzles, and straight-line lift earned level 4; the footwork was level 3. The program scored 72.47.

Chock & Bates had a devastating fall after the partial step sequence.

“That was just a fluke,” Bates said later.

“I don’t even know what happened,” Chock added.

The team scored 70.87.

Free Dance

Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir won their first GPF gold medal. Their Montreal training mates Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France took silver. Americans Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani slipped to third and picked up their first GPF medal – a bronze.

Virtue & Moir danced their free program to “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” from the video game soundtrack Child of Light and Sam Smith’s “Latch”. The opening level 4 stationary lift notched nine +3 GOE marks.

The spin, twizzles, rotational and straight-line lifts received level 4; the diagonal and circular step sequences were level 3. The component marks were all above 9.50 including eight 10’s. The 116.72 score beat their personal best at NHK two weeks earlier. The total 197.22 broke all GPF ice dance records and was 4.41 points higher than their closest competitors.

“For us to get this title is really huge,” Moir commented.

“We knew the competition was tough,” Virtue added.

Papadakis & Cizeron danced a seamlessly elegant program to “Stillness”, “Oddudua”, and “Happiness Does Not Wait”. The straight-line and rotational lifts earned all +3 GOE marks.

The combination spin and lifts were level 4; the twizzles and footwork received level 3. Their strong component scores included seven 10’s. The program scored 114.95. The total for both programs was 192.81. The two-time European Champions moved up from third in the short dance to second place and took the silver medal.

Shibutani & Shibutani danced to a theme of Evolution. The music selections included “Spiegel im Spiegel”, a minimal music piece played by Akira Eguchi (piano) and Anne Akiko Meyers (violin) and a section arranged by Alex Shibutani with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

“Since we worked on arranging the music, we know every note,” Maia said.  “We know and feel the music.”

The 2016 World silver medalists earned level 4 for the spin, lifts, and twizzles. The step sequences were level 3, 2. The program scored 111.63. The total 189.60 was a personal best.

Bobrova & Soloviev danced a modern interpretation of Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (“Winter”). Four elements earned level 4; the rotational lift and footwork were level 3. The free dance scored 107.91 for fifth place. The Russians finished fourth over all with a 181.95 total for both programs.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue danced a passionate program beginning and ending with songs by Bootstraps. The opening song “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” set the romantic mood, continued with Ingrid Michaelson’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and ended with “Earned It”. The team had an unfortunate mishap on the twizzles, resulting in a level 3. The lifts and spin were level 4. The free dance scored 107.12 for sixth place. The total was 179.59 good enough for an overall fifth place finish.

Chock & Bates danced a fast-paced, but cautious fourth place free program to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” and scored 108.45. The deep edges and crisp performance highlighted Christopher Dean’s intricate choreography. The spin, twizzles, and lifts were level 4; the serpentine and diagonal step sequences were level 3. Unfortunately the USA silver medalists were unable to make up the lost points from the SD fall. The 179.32 total kept them in sixth.