by Anne Calder | Photos by Robin Ritoss

The 2016 ISU European Figure Skating Championships short dance competition was held in Bratislava, Slovakia, on January 28. Of the 28 teams competing in the short dance, 20 teams representing 16 member countries qualified for the free dance.

The top three couples are previous European dance champions. Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France won the title last year, while Italians Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte (pictured, right) were victorious in 2014, and Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev took top honors in 2013. 

First heading into the free dance on Saturday, Cappellini & Lanotte danced a waltz and polka to music from “The Merry Widow.” Their bubbly personalities ignited the audience and captured the comedic aura of the operetta. The 2014 World Champions earned four of five level 4 marks and a season’s best score of 72.31. They completely changed the second part of the program after the GPF, so they felt it was not as well trained as the rest of the dance.

“It was not 100% today, but we are positive and optimistic for the World Championships,” Cappellini said. “We only worked on it for a month, so we didn’t do many run-throughs. It can still grow. We still feel it is new.”

Papadakis & Cizeron returned to international competition for the first time this season. Papadakis suffered a concussion in August, and the recovery was complete, but slow. The reigning world champions softly and seamlessly glided across the ice to the music of the dramatic story of romance and abdication documented in the British television film, “Wallis & Edward.” Four of their elements were called level 4 and they earned 70.74 points. The team is striving to add to the short dance the same feeling of inner self-expression and interpretation that highlighted their 2015 free program. 

“It’s a pretty hard exercise because we have to learn a lot of elements in a short period of time, like the pattern of the dance and the twizzles,” Cizeron explained. “I think maybe this waltz fits us better than the Paso Doble from last year, so it was a bit easier for us to bring the flow into the program.” 

Bobrova & Soloviev skated last and felt some pressure. 

“We had a big gap between the warm up and the performance,” Soloviev said. I personally found it quite hard.”

Bobrova & Soloviev missed all of last season after he underwent knee surgery, but their comeback season has gone quite well thus far. The reigning Russian national champions danced to “Masquerade Waltz” by Aram Khachaturian and “Montagues and Capulets” from Prokofiev’s “Romeo & Juliet” and scored 68.71 points to place third. The couple earned level 4 for both Ravensburger Waltz patterns and the rotational lift, but the twizzles were only level 3.

“I am surprised we got a level 3 on the twizzles,” Soloviev said. “That is a bit strange to me as I thought they were fine, but we can go back and look at that later. I am pleased we managed to raise the second (components) mark, and that we got a level 4 for the second side of the waltz. It’s just a shame about the twizzles.”

Bobrova & Soloviev lead a trio of closely-packed Russian teams. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov are in fourth place, right behind their teammates. They danced a waltz, march, and polka to “Swan Lake,” choreographed by Marina Zoueva, and scored a new personal best of 68.33 points. The Russian national silver medalists earned level 4 for the first Ravensburger pattern, twizzles, and rotational lift. Based on specialist feedback after the Russian National Championships, the couple made a few small changes, but not in the elements. They worked on being closer together in their positions.

“The main thing is we did everything we wanted to and had a great skate,” Katsalapov said. “There were some tiny issues—we let some levels go (the steps and second side of the waltz), but we got way above our season’s best, so it was all-good. The crowd was amazing even in the warm up. We drew energy from them.”

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, also representing Russia, danced the waltz and foxtrot to “The Stunt Man” soundtrack and received a season’s best 66.65 score, landing them in fifth. The 2015 European bronze medalists earned level 4 for each Ravensburger pattern, the straightline lift, and the twizzles. They are one of only a few couples in the world to do the crowd-pleasing “shoot-the-duck” sit position twizzles.

“It was such a great crowd; they really inspired our performance,” Bukin said. “The second we came out, they started clapping, and when we did our twizzles, the noise was amazing.”

Italians Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri danced a waltz and polka to a Barbara Fusar-Poli-choreographed program and received a score of 64.87. They are within striking distance of the podium, but the task will be difficult to come from sixth place and the penultimate free dance group. The curve lift, first Ravensburger pattern, and twizzles earned level 4. The team was very pleased with their skate.

“I think that was our best performance this season,” Fabbri said. “Each competition has its own judges, and we get different scores, but we did very well today and are happy with the score. We couldn’t have given anything more today, and that’s what matters. There are very strong couples competing at Europeans, and it is not easy.”

The free dance is scheduled to close out the championships on Saturday evening.

 

Notes & Quotes – A compilation of a few notable quotes from competitors who finished outside the top six

Isabella Tobias (ISR), who finished seventh with partner Ilia Tkachenko, on their first championships as a team and why they chose to represent Israel:

“It’s our first championship together, but once the music comes on, we’re so trained that you just go on auto-pilot. Skating with Ilia is awesome. We skate in sync. We’re both classical in style. I was trained in ballet, and Ilia has pointed feed and stretched legs. Mine is trained; his is God-given!” 

“We had a choice of skating for the USA, Lithuania, Russia, and Israel. I’m Jewish and Ilia is on his mother’s side, so we automatically got Israeli citizenship. Nationals was fun, and I actually got engaged to my boyfriend while we were there.”

Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland (GBR) on the big changes in their short dance between Nationals and the European Championships:

“After Nationals at our review meeting, the judges said it [the program] was nice, but not memorable,” Coomes said. “They wanted something that had the crowd on our side, and so did we. So our coach Igor [Shpilband] chose some more music, and we set to work. I was very nervous about it at first, but it’s been a fun few weeks, and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

“It’s a totally new dance since Nationals, so it’s been a bit of a challenge from the middle of December until now,” Buckland added. “It’s the type of challenge we’ve never had before, but we took it on and really enjoyed it. We didn’t connect with the previous short dance. We’re really pleased [with the change] and feel well set up for Worlds.”

16ec-testacsolleyFederica Testa & Lukas Csolley (SVK) (pictured, left) on the European Championships taking place in their home country:

“I enjoyed the program today,” Csolley said. “I cannot comment on the marks until we have looked at them more closely. On performing in our home country, we are always nervous, but it was different this time. It was the first time in our lives that we have performed in front of such a big crowd. The support was unbelievable. We can take a lot from this experience.”

The support was amazing, but, of course, there is pressure as we’re skating at home, and we do not want to disappoint anyone,” Testa added. “We have a great responsibility.”

Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolai Sorensen (DEN) on injuries and changes in their programs:

“We have made a lot of changes in both programs,” Sorensen said. “We have worked hard on the partial step sequence, which is new. We were only getting level 2. [They earned level 4 this time.] We also had to work on the sharpness of every movement to get the different rhythms of the waltz and the march.”

“I had a concussion last year (summer 2014) and then another fall at the end of November, so I have had a new treatment—the same as Gabriella [Papadakis, of France],” Fournier Beaudry added. “It’s a Neuroperformer, which is a hat with 19 electrodes to see what part of your brain is working. It makes you very tired, but it helps.”

Kavita Lorenz & Joti Polizoakis (GER) on their partnership and reaching the minimum TES (29.88) for the upcoming World Championships:

“We’ve known each other since we were 11, but I have only started ice dance in April 2015,” Polizoakis said. “It was very hard for me at the beginning. We train those patterns every day for more than an hour, and there is no magic formula. We have a lot to catch up, and we have to work more than the others.”

“It is amazing we are competing at our first European Championships and skating so well,” Lorenz said. “We are just so happy we got the (minimum) score for World Championships.”