by Anne Calder | Photo by Julia Komarova

Minsk, Belarus hosted the 2019 European Championships January 21-27. Twenty-five couples representing 16 countries competed in the rhythm dance. The top 20 qualified for the free dance.

The podium included: (gold) Gabriiella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, (silver) Alexander Stepanova & Ivan Bukin of Russia and (bronze) Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri of Italy.

Rhythm Dance

Papadakis & Cizeron skated last, but finished first 3.4 points ahead of Russians, Stepanova & Bukin. The Italians, Guignard & Fabbri sat in third place almost six points behind the leaders. Each couple was presented with a small medal for their top three placements.

Papadakis & Cizeron danced a moody tango to “Oblivion” and “Primavera Porteno”, by Astor Piazzolla. The highlights were the curve lift and midline footwork; both elements earned all +4 and +5 GOEs. They missed two key points in the first pattern, but hit all four in the second. The program components received twelve perfect 10.00 marks. The segment scored a personal best 84.79.

“This year the key points are tricky to get, but we’ve been working on them a lot,” Cizeron said. “It’s hard to do it with full speed and the passion and expression. When we’re at a competition, we try to keep the feeling and go 100% with the dance; sometimes this makes it harder to get the key points.”

Stepanova & Bukin immediately won over the audience with an intense Paso Doble to “Malaguena” followed by tango to “Tango Suites Part III” and “Carmen’s Story” for a personal best 81.37. The twizzles, curve lift and second pattern earned level 4. They missed two key points in the first pattern.

“We loved the crowd that supported us so much from the beginning to the end,” Stepanova said.

“When you go out on the ice, you’re a bit nervous anyway, but when the crowd starts to cheer, to support, then all your fear goes away, and you’re feeling this energy,” Bukin added.

Italians Guignard & Fabbri danced a romantic tango to “Miedo a la Libertad”, La Chanson des vieux amants” and “Tanos”. The twizzles, stationary lift, and second pattern earned level 4; the footwork and first pattern were level 3. The segment scored a personal best 79.05.

“I think we skated our best performance. Scores don’t always tell the truth,” Fabbri said. “The best rhythm dance of the season and the best score! So it’s great.”

Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev (POL) were fourth with a personal best 72.8 score. In fifth place were Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalspov (RUS) scoring 70.24, followed by Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz (ESP) with 70.02 points.

Free Dance

Papadakis & Cizeron won their fifth straight European championship with their mesmerizing contemporary dance to “Duet” and “Sunday Afternoon” by Rachael Yamagata. All the elements were level 4. The closing choreographic lift received all +5 GOEs. Almost half the component marks were perfect 10.00s. The program received 133.19; the total was 217.19. Both were personal best scores.

“We are really happy,” Cizeron said.  “That skate was almost technically perfect.”

“We always want to go to a competition and do our best, whatever that means” Papadakis added. “That was the best we could do, so we are very, very happy with it.

Stepanova & Bukin used the bluesy rock strains of “Am I the One” by Beth Hart for their passionate performance. The appreciative audience cheered them on to a personal best 125.04 free dance score. The lifts, spin, and twizzles earned level 4. Their GOEs were +3, +4, and +5. The highlight was their “shoot the duck” choreographic twizzle that ended the program with a thundering standing ovation. The total score was a personal best 206.41.

“I’m in shock! For us it is very nice to get the silver medal after we had two bronze medals at Europeans,” Bukin said. “It’s a big step forward for us. Everything happened so fast. It was a bit nerve-wracking, since we stood in second place after the rhythm dance, and we had to retain our emotions. We are just happy we skated well.”

Guignard & Fabbri danced a crisp, lyrical dance to La La Land, reminiscent of the American musicals of the 1940’s. The free dance was fourth, but their earlier score kept them in third place. The Grand Prix Final bronze medalists earned level 4 for all the elements and tied the French leaders for the highest base value. The segment scored 120.79; the total was 199.84. Both were personal bests.

The couple was second behind Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte for seven years before winning the Italian title in 2019.

“Finally we feel the work we’ve made throughout the years has been rewarded, and, of course, we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved this season,” Fabbri said. “We’ve had to wait a bit longer than other couples to get to this point, but we are finally getting what we worked for.”

Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov began the evening in fifth place after an unfortunate mishap in the rhythm dance.

“It wasn’t a technical mistake,” Katsalapov said. “I went into the twizzles perfectly and confidently. I controlled the entry and rotation, but just came down. I can’t excuse it or justify it. Maybe I hit a tracing in the ice. I think we missed eight counts or so afterwards. If the crowd hadn’t supported us so well, I don’t think I could have come back from it.”

The Grand Prix Final silver medalists’ third place free dance to Bach moved them up to fourth overall.

“That was one of the most difficult skates because we wanted so much to skate fully under control,” said Katsalapov. “We fought hard to show the beautiful choreography. At a certain point our program almost skates itself – not to think we are thinking about other things, but our body goes on to autopilot. It hears the music and knows what to do.”

The lifts, spin and twizzles were level 4; the step sequences were level 3. The Russians’ component score (57.05) was the second highest of the dance teams. Their segment score was 123.71, which included a -1.00 extended lift deduction; the total was 193.95.

Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodyriev of Poland were fifth with “Bout Time” and “I Feel Like I’m Drowning”. The segment scored 112.48; the total was 185.35. Both were personal best scores.

“It was a hard skate,” Kaliszek said.

”You try to show everything you can do, and I think we did that,” Spodyriev added. ”The ice is very dry. Yesterday we skated after the ice resurfacing, and now in the second group, we felt the difference. We still have to work on making the elements look easy.”

Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson (GBR) were sixth (112.28) with perhaps the most memorable program of the evening. The fast-moving Disco routine to Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind and Fire vocals wound the audience into a frenzy. The total was a personal best 182.05.

“It’s hard to skate that program without a smile on your face, and it’s great to make the crowd smile too,” Gibson said. “We came in with a goal of a top 10 finish – now we’ve managed to get two spots for Great Britain next year, which is really exciting.”