by Jacquelyn Thayer | Photos by Melanie Hoyt
Canadian national bronze medalists Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, who last season competed only within Canada due to Gilles’s pending release from the USFSA, are now preparing to embark upon their first international season together, which will include stops during the Grand Prix at Skate Canada International in Windsor and Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris.
“We’ve had quite a bit of time since Nationals, so I think that’s going to be our biggest advantage this year,” says Poirier. “We just had so much extra time to just train, and I think that was really important for us, because last year we started together so late. We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare; we kind of had to just jump straight into competition season. So it’s really given us a lot of time to just go back to our basics, work on a lot of stroking, work on unison, and get our choreography done really early.”
The team was one of the first to announce program music for the new season – selections from Mary Poppins for the Yankee Polka-centered short dance. “It was funny, because we were playing with a lot of different music, just to find out what would work best for the short dance,” says Poirier. “I think we almost played Mary Poppins as a joke, just because it was cute and it technically fit the rhythm requirement…and then it kept growing on us, and growing on us. And we thought to ourselves, ‘Oh, maybe it’s a little bit too childish,’ but we kept on playing with the music to try to see if we could put together a skeleton of a program, just to see if it went together.” And, they found, it did.
While the pair received the choreography for last year’s “Pure Imagination/Sweet Dreams” free dance from Christopher Dean, this year’s free dance was crafted by primary coaching team Carol Lane and Juris Razguljaevs. Gilles & Poirier did, however, return to Colorado Springs for two weeks of work with Dean in May, where the choreographer, according to Gilles, “pretty much just tweaked [the free dance], really made all the accents shine.”
“We’re so happy working at Scarboro. The whole team here, Carol and Juris and Jon, are all such great coaches,” says Poirier. “At the same time, it’s always good to be having different sorts of input because every coach or choreographer has something different to give to each team each year. And I think it’s nice for us to just have a different perspective every once in a while.”
The trip to Colorado Springs was also a personal one for Gilles, whose family resides in the area. And, in light of the challenges faced by many teams at this year’s Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Poirier’s observation that a spell there provides “great altitude training” seems an additional plus.
Most recently, Gilles & Poirier presented an abbreviated version of last season’s free dance at the ninth annual Skate for Hope charity show to raise money for breast cancer research, a show which included a few members of the Gilles family. “Last year my sister [Alexe] ended up doing Skate for Hope, and our family just built a good relationship with [founder Carolyn Bongirno],” says Gilles. This past winter, she and Poirier received an early invitation to perform in this year’s show, with all three skating siblings – also including ice dancer brother Todd – and singing sister Shelby ultimately included in the affair. “We know a lot of people who have suffered cancer and battled it, so it was a really great cause and everyone who’s done it has said the show is amazing, so it was really cool,” concludes Gilles.
When asked to describe their style, Gilles & Poirier have a few points of focus. “We don’t want to go safe, we don’t want to do things people have done before. We don’t want to have that sort of classic, long-lined, beautiful balletic ice dancer look. That’s not who we are, I don’t think,” says Poirier. “And obviously we realize that unison is important and lines are important, but at the same time we need to sort of strike out as individuals having our own style.” That style, Poirier notes, is still under development. But the team sees two aims: “We are super-bubbly people and we love to show people that,” says Gilles. “We enjoy skating and we like to push the boundaries a little bit. We like to throw a little bit of our tricks in there, but we do like to make things still dance-y.” And Poirier concurs: “I think the important thing for us is really, one, to show how much we enjoy performing and two, to really push the boundaries.”
While their focus remains on the season to come, the duo has some thoughts on future programs. Gilles notes an interest in the styles of the 1920s and ‘30s. Poirier adds that the team initially considered something in a 1930s and ‘40s swing vein for this season and may revisit that idea in the future. “But I think for both of us,” he continues, “there are just so many styles we would love to explore, and in one career there’s not enough time to do every sort of dance. So we’ll just have to see where we are every year and how we choose exactly what direction we want to take.”
For Gilles & Poirier, work comes down to a balance. As Gilles concludes, their aim is “to always keep skating fun. It’s very important to us that we go out and enjoy every performance that we do. We like to keep our lives fun and entertaining, but also get down to work and do our business each day.”