By Maura Sullivan Hill | Photos by Robin Ritoss

The Canadian duo took a new approach in the offseason and are eyeing a podium finish in Kelowna, as well as at the 2020 World Championships on home ice.

They toured with Stars on Ice Canada for the first time in April and May, which meant starting their program choreography a little later than usual. And when they did start putting their rhythm dance and free dance together, the duo changed up their normal process.

“Sometimes, in the off season, we create lifts and elements and we almost highlight them throughout the program. But this year, the program was the highlight and the elements came second, which for us, is kind of a different way of working,” Gilles said of choreographing their free dance to “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, during a media teleconference the week before 2019 Skate Canada International. “I think we’ve all wanted to rush through the choreography process, get the program done, start training, and then we forget that we have time. And over the years, because we are getting older, we’ve kind of accepted the fact that it’s okay to be late, because, over the season, the program will still develop and grow and we will still have that energy, so it’s kind of nice to just take a step back and take a slower pace and a slower process, and really let the program develop before we put in elements.”

For their “Mack and Mabel” rhythm dance, they started choreography off the ice for the first time, in part because they were working with dance choreographer Jeff Dimitriou.

Gilles & Poirier“It’s been nice to do it in a different way, and I think we’ve kind of found our success in the fact that we don’t need to be ready in July,” Gilles continued. “It’s been kind of an eye-opener for us. But the process has been really fun this season.”

They may not have been competition-ready in July, but they still decided to start their season early, competing at the 2019 Autumn Classic International in Ontario, Canada, in September, before the start of the Grand Prix series. They took gold at that event, and will kick off their Grand Prix season this weekend at Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia.

After showcasing their programs at Skate Canada’s High Performance Camp in August and Autumn Classic, the duo has had time to incorporate feedback from judges and officials. They’re focused on getting all level fours and plus five GOEs on their technical elements, as well as increasing their speed.

“Sometimes we’ve tended to overcomplicate choreography at the cost of the impact that comes from skating really fast in that way that really impresses people,” Poirier said. “That recurring feedback came out of High Performance Camp and Autumn Classic, and so we’ve really tweaked some of the transitions where we felt we were killing our momentum and figured out ways to keep the speed up so that the program is more impactful.”

Poirier said that their goals for the season are to win events and to focus on trusting their preparation when they get on the ice at competitions—all with an eye towards the 2020 World Championships, which will take place on home ice, in Montreal. Poirier said they chose their free dance music with that event in mind.

“Before we had chosen specific music, our vision for this year was to perform to a Canadian artist for Worlds in Canada. We sort of have this vision of the moment we want to create at the World Championships this year, and we’re really vying to be on the podium,” Poirier said. “The thing we found really interesting about this song and the lyrics is that there’s this sort of [resignment] to not understanding life, not understanding love, not understanding the things that happen to us. But I think ultimately, it’s a hopeful message because it’s very freeing to admit that you don’t know everything, that you won’t understand everything, that you don’t have control over all the circumstances of your life. After that initial joyful part at the beginning of the program, those are the things we want to convey—that acceptance also brings hope, and that’s the feeling we want to leave people with at the end of the program.”

But before they can live that moment, there’s Skate Canada this weekend, where they will face off against 2019 World Bronze Medalists and last week’s Skate America champions, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States.