by Jacquelyn Thayer

Skate Canada’s inaugural Autumn Classic International kicked off Wednesday in Barrie, Ontario, with a short dance event that offered both strong performance and the technical glitches typical of early-season competition—and more than a dash of international flavor.

Taking a lead of 59.74 with a confident skate were France’s Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, who relocated in July with coach Romain Haguenauer to train at the Montreal facility where Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon host their growing school. The team’s marks included the competition’s only Level 4 Paso Doble pattern, though their choreographic Paso sequence received only a Level 2.

“It was a good performance,” said Cizeron. “Technically, we were not at our top in the Paso, but everything else was okay, and we felt quite good.”

The competition also marks their first international as the new leading senior dance team in France, in the wake of the retirements of Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat and Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones.

“It’s quite a lot of pressure, but we were prepared to be the first couple, and we know that a lot of people expect a lot from us,” said Cizeron. “But we’re happy to take the challenge. We got a good feedback at our first French competition and the judges were really happy about our program, and I think everybody likes the programs.”

In second place sat the event’s true hometown team of Alexandra Paul & Mitch Islam, competing on the ice where they first learned to skate. The couple’s score of 55.30 came on a skate that delivered passion and performance quality, but took a technical hit with Level 3 twizzles and Level 2s on both elements of the Paso Doble—and concluded with an almost literal snag on the Level 3 final rotational lift.

“I’ve been practicing every day with a flamenco skirt, but I just got my dress and it was kind of the first time we’ve done the lift with the dress. My skirt will move around when I do the lift and my dress doesn’t, so I’m kind of strangling him,” said Paul. “So we’re going to have to work on that one with the dress, but it’ll be fixed for later.”

The music selections for their skate—“Nocturno” and “Farruca y Rumba”—revisit pieces used in their junior-level flamenco original dance, selections to which they feel a special connection.

“We were really excited to use our old music this year,” said Paul. “We were so young when we did the program before, and we’d just started skating together, so we felt that we could bring out another level of the music, and I think we’ve achieved that.”

Finishing third were Spain’s Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz, also making the trip from Montreal where they train under Dubreuil & Lauzon and unveiling a traditional paso doble choreographed by Antonio Najarro. While their skate opened with a solid Level 4 straight-line lift that saw Hurtado balance on Diaz’s skate, an overall score of 54.12 included Level 3 twizzles and a Level 2 on the choreographed Paso sequence.

“Since it was our first competition of the season, we find the program really positive, because everything is still a little small and we need to work on the little things,” said Hurtado. “But it was the first time that we performed it on a competition, so we are really happy with what we did.”

Though initially assigned to September’s U.S. International Skating Classic, the team withdrew from that event due to a back injury for Hurtado, who said she’s now much improved.

“Since about four weeks, I’ve been training completely on and off the ice, because before I was not doing on ice,” she said. “And then starting little by little… It took me a long time to get back to 100 percent. The most important part was to recover well, even if it took me three more weeks.”

Canada’s Toronto-based Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, making their own international season debut, landed in fourth place. While the team received the day’s highest PCS on their Christopher Dean-choreographed program, the performance was less than clean. Here, too, early-season bobbles meant lower levels on a few key elements, but it was an aborted closing rotational lift that made the primary impact: the element received no credit, reducing their score by up to 4.5 points.

Making a splash were Denmark’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen, also students of Dubreuil & Lauzon. The couple skated smoothly to the tune of 53.34, a new international best. The outing included Level 4s on both twizzles and rotational lift, as well as one of only a handful of Level 3s on the choreographed Paso sequence.

After a silver medal performance at the U.S. International Skating Classic, Canadians Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams saw a more difficult day here. Their score of 47.90 came with Level 1s on their Paso Doble and no-touch step sequence and a Level 2 on twizzles after a wobble in the second set for Orford.

The top ten also included both American ice dance teams. In their first international competition as a team, seventh-place Anastasia Olson & Ian Lorello picked up 47.48 on a skate that included Level 3s for both Paso sequences, but a Level 1 on the midline step sequence. In their second year on the international circuit, Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker finished ninth with a score of 42.48.

Canadians Andreanne Poulin & Marc-Andre Servant, competing in their first senior international event, placed tenth with 41.90–and, skating first, saw some early drama when technical difficulties meant a delay in score announcement. Rounding out the top ten were Cortney Mansour & Michal Ceska of the Czech Republic, whose 43.42 landed them in eighth.

The competition wraps Thursday with the free dance.