by Anne Calder | Photos by Barry Gropman
Natacha Lagouge was born in France, but wanted to experience figure skating the “Russian way”, so she moved to her mother’s native country to train as a singles skater. Corentin Rahier was a two-time French Advanced Novice Ice Dance Champion. In 2015, both were looking to make major changes in their skating.
Lagouge felt she wasn’t progressing in singles and also wanted to return to France. Her family contacted Muriel Zazoui in Lyon for an ice dance tryout.
Meanwhile, Rahier had split with his partner and wasn’t sure if he even wanted to continue skating. He changed clubs in Lyon in order to see if his motivation would be affected.
Zazoui, who had coached numerous French champions, including reigning World silver medalists, Papadakis and Cizeron, suggested a tryout between the two skaters.
“We had really good tryouts and decided to team up together, so she (Natacha) left Russia to come to Lyon, and now here we are,” Rahier explained.
The new partnership had several challenges. Lagouge was more reserved and was used to working alone, so it was a new experience for her.
“The adjustments I made were to focus on communicating more effectively and free myself up more as a dancer,” Lagouge said. “We really focused on building a strong foundation through our connection on the ice, and this is something we are still working hard at.”
Rahier added, “I tend to be quite vocal, so it was a little hard for us to find our place in the partnership. We’ve learned to respect each other and to work hard together, discovering each other step by step.”
In December 2015, Lagouge & Rahier skated their competitive programs at the Trophee du Mont Blanc followed by the 2016 French Junior Championships in February, where they placed seventh.
By the end of their first season, the new team was looking to add something innovative to their element repertoire. While working on twizzles with their choreographer and ballroom teacher, Diana Ribas, they decided to try the low sit-spin twizzle.
“It was original and hardly any other teams were doing it. It was also a cool choice,” Rahier said. “I actually got the idea from Yuzuru Hanyu who had done a similar move a few years before on the exit of a step sequence.”
“Also seeing a world class ice dance team (Stepanova & Bukin RUS) doing them in competition comforted me in my belief that it was possible to put them in a program,” he added.
Rahier’s 6’2’’ frame required him to make some adjustments when doing the move.
“I had to bend slightly more than Lagouge in order to keep my axis above my skating foot and not end up on the ice,” he noted.
They continued to practice the element, but did not add it to their choreography until the current Coco Chanel program.
The 2016-17 season began with two JGP assignments. They were sixth at St. Gervais and fourth at the Ljubljana Cup. In November at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany, they placed second. They next won gold at the French Junior Championships in February (2017) and earned a spot to Junior Worlds, where they were 11th in the final standings.
In preparation for their 2017-18 program, Lagouge & Rahier explored the idea of a new style rather than the contemporary / classical genre they had used the two previous seasons.
Rahier wanted to do a tango. So when Lagouge found “Tango A Meta”, Muriel Zazoui suggested that since it came from a documentary on Coco Chanel, they should tell her story.
The seed was planted and soon Chanel’s journey was intertwined with music and choreography.
Lagouge explained the plot. “Each of the five musical selections represents a part of Chanel’s life, her rise to fame, the death of her lover, the runway of one of her fashion shows!”
The program goes beyond using just the music to tell the story. Designer Sophie Thomas actually created Lagouge & Rahier’s costumes using the famous tweed jacket that is Chanel’s signature and also added the familiar pearls.
“Every detail of the costumes echoes Coco Chanel’s fashion decisions and statements,” Neil Brown, one of their coaches, pointed out.
Lagouge described how she presented herself as Chanel to the skating audience.
“I’m trying to show the strength of her character, her perseverance and how that combined with the men in her life led her to stardom. My favorite part is the last part. I love taking on the acting role of Chanel on the runway.”
“From the beginning to the end or the curve lift, I am Arthur Capel aka ‘Boy’,” Rahier noted, when describing his role. “I seduce her, introduce her to the French and British aristocracy and then die in a car accident. In the last parts I represent a lover, then a model, and finally a photographer.”
“I want the audience to be captivated by our program, and when they watch us, I want them to step into our story and take a break from their own,” Rahier added.
In July, Lagouge & Rahier debuted the Coco Chanel program and their sit-spin twizzles at the French Summer Cup in Clergy and won both the short and free dances.
Their next stop was the Salzburg JGP where they earned a personal best score and second place in the short dance. Unfortunately, the next day Rahier lost his balance on the upright twizzle, and they were fourth in the free dance. Their combined scores were enough to be awarded the bronze medal, their first on the JGP series.
They returned to Lyon for three weeks of intense preparation for their next JGP in Zagreb, Croatia, knowing exactly what they had to do if they wanted to qualify for the Final.
“We’re trying to work on the clarity and effortlessness of our movements,” said Lagouge. “We want to focus on the strength of our skating and make it even more powerful,” continued Rahier.
Coach Brown added, “We need to focus on making them stronger and more confident on the ice.”
Editor’s Note: At the Zagreb JGP, Lagouge fell in a practice session and fractured her hand. The team withdrew after the short dance and returned to Lyon where she underwent surgery. Most of the work with the team is focused on off-ice training until she is cleared to go back on the ice. Rahier is training as usual.
Q & A
Tell us something we would be surprised to know.
NL: I like to spend time in parks, staring at nature. It relaxes me, and it’s a good place to think.
CR: I speak Italian.
If you were not ice dancing what career would you choose?
NL: I would have loved to be a gymnast. When I was younger, I had to choose one or the other – skating or gymnastics.
CR: I would probably have gone into charity and humanitarian work. I like helping people.
If you could have one ice dance team from the past give you a private lesson, who would it be?
NL: That’s hard because I feel all the great teams of the past contributed something to the sport. If I had to choose, it would be Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat because they also trained with Muriel Zazoui, and it would be nice to learn from them how they grew thanks to her, and how they became the champions they are.
CR: I would love to have a class with Meryl Davis & Charlie White because they were my favorite team when I was younger. If that were not enough in the past, I would say Jane Torvill & Christopher Dean, obviously one of the greatest references in ice dance!
What are your goals as ice dancers?
NL: A selection in the 2022 Olympic is one of our long-term objectives.
CR: Stepping on that first step at Junior Worlds would be awesome.