by Jacquelyn Thayer \ Photos by Melanie Hoyt
Ice-Dance.com journalist Jacquelyn Thayer recently had the opportunity to interview 2012 world champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir via email on the topic of choreography and program development.
IDC: When discussing your programs last season, one topic that emerged more than once was your role in their creation. How do you compare your involvement in program construction and choreography today with that of your earlier years? Do you see that involvement growing over the next two seasons?
Tessa: As we’ve matured as a team, we have taken a larger responsibility for the construction and creation of our programs. We both want to produce the best quality programs possible, so we’re very involved. From a program’s original concept, to its story line, to the flow and musicality, to nuances and details, and also to overall impact, we want our programs to feel as organic as possible. That said, we certainly rely on our talented coaches and choreographers to construct a well-balanced program, both technically and artistically. Last year’s programs were special to us, and they both really required a team of experts to create. Luckily, we were all committed to maintaining the integrity of the Latin flavour of the short dance and the Funny Face theme of the free dance. We respect the fact that everyone on our team has something unique to offer – it’s the collaborative effort that works best for us!
Looking forward to the next two seasons, I think our involvement will grow even further. We are keenly aware of our strengths and weaknesses and have a vision of how we’d like to end our amateur career. Perhaps it’s important to note that feeling comfortable in our own skating really helps – we are more confident now to offer choreographic suggestions or to express ideas regarding character development.
IDC: What drives your thoughts about future programs, and what inspires your interest in the specific dance genres/styles that you want to explore on the ice? Are there definitive program “nos” for one or both of you, or for Marina as far as the two of you are concerned?
Tessa: When choosing music for future programs, we try our best to keep all of our options open. There are so many factors involved – likes, dislikes, emotion, concept, the way it sounds in the rink, the way we imagine judges and audiences responding — the list is endless! Skaters have a particularly hard time choosing music nowadays that fits the ISU regulations appropriately, as the rules are quite limiting. The most important element of music is how we connect to the music, and usually we are able to tell immediately when we get together and skate to a certain piece if it is right for us or not. There is a feeling we both get when the choice is right and the music makes us want to move and express. There are probably a few “nos” for both of us – and Marina too – but then again those may be the pieces of music we find ourselves skating to in a few years! After all, I was quoted several years ago as saying I would never use the free dance music we have chosen for this season! And now I absolutely love it.
IDC: What goes into the day-to-day process of creating a new program?
Scott: There is a lot that goes into creating new programs to make them suitable for the competitive year. I think every dance team works differently, and every coaching team creates differently. We have found that every single program is unique in the day-to-day process and, depending on the goals for the season, we will spend either more or less time on certain aspects of the choreography.
The most important part of our creative process is brainstorming — not just the idea of music for a program, but also what unique part of our skating we want to showcase. Once we all agree on a theme and most of the musical cuts, we will begin to try out new moves to different parts of the music to see how well they match. When we first start listening to a free dance, we all discuss what we think should happen in each section of the dance. Elements are important, but during this part of the process our main focus is making sure the story line can be read by the audience and that the program covers the ice surface completely and as evenly as possible. During this phase, there is a lot of trial and error. It takes a lot of patience but luckily for me, both Tessa and Marina are incredibly creative so the ideas start flying! Once we have all agreed on where things go, it is a mixture of connecting steps in order to showcase the storyline and also setting up elements for proper execution. Obviously, once everything is connected, we have a program! Then, we need to train it so that steps and moves can be performed seamlessly. From the time we start listening to the music to the first run through, the process takes approximately 3 months. Not to mention that the program is constantly evolving for the entire season!
IDC: Can you comment on who’s been primarily responsible for the choreography and music selection behind your last few exhibitions?
Tessa: “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon, a team we have admired for years. We all contributed music selections to choose from, and once listening to each song in an arena, we decided that TV Carpio’s version of the Beatles song was the right choice. It was fascinating collaborating with the two of them because they wanted to create a story line that went beyond what the audience would really knowingly comprehend – the idea was based around the notion that holding someone’s hand is often the most intimate thing two people can share. Marie and Patch have an incredible sultry, sexy way about their movements and we loved learning from them. There was a strong focus on the different shapes we could create with our bodies and the various ways you can hold someone’s hand.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was choreographed by one of our early coach/choreographers, Suzanne Killing. Working with Suz again was enlightening because the dynamic between the three of us had hardly changed; she worked with us for 7 years starting from the ages of 8 and 10. We wanted something upbeat and fun, and also something that the audience could recognize and sing along to.
“Hallelujah” was a piece of music that Scott’s cousin, Cara, recommended for us. We immediately loved the piece – though Scott eventually got tired of me saying “it’s just so raw!” haha. There is a vulnerability to Jeff Buckley’s voice and a sense of longing that we thought would sound almost haunting in an arena. I also loved his exhale at the beginning of the piece! Marina choreographed this number.
IDC: If given a choice, which compulsory pattern would you most prefer to construct a short dance around?
Scott: To be completely honest, my choice would be to remove set pattern dances all together. It is difficult to judge and the new system has changed set pattern dances so much that we are getting away from all of the aspects that made compulsory dances special.
If there was a way to somehow go back to rewarding the qualities that used to be praised when we competed just compulsories, I would pick one of the more complicated dances. I enjoy the intricate dances that are very demanding – when the couple must stay close in position while being very accurate with their feet. The Tango Romantica and Golden Waltz are great examples of set pattern dances I prefer.
IDC: When you’ve decided to hang it up competitively, what do you hope your legacy for future ice dancers will be? As a team, how do you still hope to push the sport and how do you want to be remembered in it?
Scott: Tessa and I always say that we hope we are remembered for being great people. We cherish the memories that we have made with so many of the volunteers and people in the skating community and will be forever grateful for all they have done. We hope that they will look back on this time with the same fondness that that we have!
As for our legacy, I hope people will remember our unique connection on the ice and our commitment to the characters we played throughout the years. We have always tried to re-invent ourselves every year and hopefully people will remember the fact that we tried different things in order to push the sport to new levels.