by Jacquelyn Thayer | Photos by Melanie Hoyt, Liz Chastney & Robin Ritoss
Realization of an Olympic dream presented a mixed blessing for Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje.
“We’ve trained and dreamed all our lives to go to the Olympics, and going on to experience such a high was draining. Trying to get back up to peak performance back home a couple of weeks later to get ready for Worlds was hard,” Poje said. “We had to push ourselves and we had to find it in ourselves to make sure we definitely could come back and fight and be in competitive form for Worlds. We did get there eventually, it just took a little longer than what we wanted.”
But the temporary drawbacks are, he suggested, supplanted by a more enduring impact.
“Being an Olympian and having that as part of your name is something that you realize the specialness of when you’re at schools and you’ve been amongst all your friends that are able to say that,” he said.
Though a milestone in an eight-year partnership, the team views their move up to the world podium as more of a stepping stone.
“I feel like Andrew and I are just beginning to hit our stride,” Weaver said, pointing to growth opportunities in areas like technical execution as well as timing and interpretation. “I think that we can improve in so many different areas and that’s the reason why we’re still skating—we still love it and we’re still learning and working. I think that we still have a lot of room to grow.”
And with only .02 points separating them from the World title in a historically close podium, the team sees good reason to aim for greater success.
“Last year, we had a lot of firsts—first Olympics, first world medal. But I think at this point, we’re taking it year by year,” Weaver said. “It’s harder to commit now to another four years, but I think that being so close to the world title makes us pretty hungry to go out there and win. And now with the absence of Tessa [Virtue] & Scott [Moir] and Meryl [Davis] & Charlie [White], it gives us a little more optimism that [the world title] can be possible. And especially Tessa & Scott—they’ve really paved the way for Canadian ice dance now, and we feel like we have very big shoes to fill, but we want to dominate just like they did.”
But preparations for the coming year had to wait as the team experienced a busier-than-average post-season. Their second year as cast members on the Canadian tour of Stars on Ice took them cross-country over three weeks, while their Olympian status meant speaking engagements and other appearances, including participating in June’s Celebration of Excellence festivities from Ottawa to Calgary.
“We really needed a vacation after that, so we had a week off and kind of made sure that we did nothing,” Poje said. “It’s definitely different preparing for this season than it was last season, because last season we made sure that we started everything so much earlier. We’re at a different point now than we were last season, but we’re definitely on the right track for us for this first post-Olympic season.”
“I think that everything that we did post-season was necessary for us in order to take in what happened last year, not only for our skating careers, but also for our lives, to be able to really understand the goals that we achieved,” Weaver said. “But now things are back to our structure and back to our old schedule, which feels really great.”
And the couple is energized by the fresh start. “This year for us, even though it’s the first year of the new quadrennial, is one that we can really seize, and so we want to make sure that we put ourselves in the best position possible to start out with a bang,” she continued.
The team plans to kick off the season, as in recent years, at a yet-to-be-determined Senior B competition in early fall.
“Last year, we were in the first international event of the season [U.S. International Figure Skating Classic] and we were able to not only show our programs early, but to get the feedback as soon as we could and make the necessary changes,” Weaver said, adding that they would likely tackle a later event this season. “So by the time Skate Canada rolled around, we felt well-seasoned. We were in good shape, we had performed the programs for an audience and for a judging panel, and we didn’t feel uncomfortable with the programs.”
But with seven seasons already logged on the Grand Prix circuit, the two, assigned to Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, feel prepared for all eventualities.
“Essentially, we’ve done them all, and we’ve had to deal with every type of transition—short or long or long flights or short flights or just a difficult competition versus what seems to be not so difficult competition—which is never easy,” Weaver said. “That’s the thing with the Grand Prix—it’s never, ever easy. They’re always hard, just because the level of skating is so high right now. But we’ve done them all, so it’s nice to have that experience behind us and know that whatever position we’re put in, we can overcome it.”
A later start to the new season has also meant a later start on program preparations. In June, the two solicited music suggestions from fans through their joint Twitter account, a tactic usually used for exhibition ideas and inspired in part by the fan recommendation that led to their 2011-12 “Je Suis Malade” free dance.
“We always look for ideas from every outlet that we have,” Poje said. “There’s so much music out there that we’ll never get to listen to, so if we’ve had people that can suggest things, then it’s easier for us to at least have a pathway. Sometimes we don’t have that—you sit down in front of the computer and go into iTunes and you don’t know what to search, you know? It’s good to have some sort of ideas that can spring other things. It might not turn into something, but sometimes it will help us as a jumping-off point to come up with great ideas for a new program.”
For their Paso Doble short dance, the team’s prior experience with Spanish rhythms will be helpful, though their past flamenco offers no forecast for this year’s program.
“With the music restrictions and things like that, we want to make sure that do something different than what we did the last time we did flamenco. At the same time, we want to make sure that we stand out in the crowd, so we don’t want to be lost amongst all the other Spanish short dances,” Poje said. “We’ll definitely rely on our past flamenco program for certain aspects to help us with the attitude and the flair of the dance, but we’re not trying to recreate that program.”
The introduction of the choreographic partial step sequence to the segment’s requirements has, Weaver noted, been a particular creative plus.
“Two patterns of the Paso Doble would have, I think, been pretty repetitive, especially after the Finnstep and the Golden Waltz—sometimes you would be surprised that they were starting, because they would be disguised well into the choreography,” she said. “The Paso has an older style of ice dance feel to it, so it’s harder to disguise. But I like the idea that with the creative pattern, we can still achieve the technical requirements but create something unique, something that’s special to our team.”
The couple is also taking a big picture view towards program planning. Poje pointed to the desire to contrast a serious short dance with a lighter free dance, while also diversifying program styles from year to year. “We want to make sure that we don’t get stuck in a certain niche or style of skating,” he said.
To that end, the team has frequently turned to additional sources from the skating, dance, and theatrical worlds to expand their palette—though such efforts have also necessitated a balanced approach with their coaches at the Detroit Skating Club.
“We always ensure that whoever we choose always has great input,” Poje said, “but Pasquale [Camerlengo] or Anjelika [Krylova] or someone like that is there during the process so that every day, day in and day out, they understand what the direction of the choreographer was so that they can lead us in the right direction. And we also ensure that the choreographer can come in to ensure that we’re [retaining] their vision, and also if we need to make any little tweaks to make it comfortable for us.”
Technical considerations offer a special need for attention, with another major rule change this season that has reduced the number of required free dance lifts from four to three. Weaver, who called the element the sport’s “biggest highlight,” notes some mixed emotions towards the revision.
“It’s something that, no matter where you perform, the audience knows that those are difficult and interesting, and so that adds some more wow factor to the program,” she said. “So to have that limited really makes us want to make our three lifts that much more powerful and different and unique.”
It’s little surprise, then, that freedom from restriction is for the team one of the highlights of show work.
“Show programs are the most fun because you don’t have any rules,” Weaver said. “That sounds obvious, but it’s interesting when we’re choreographing, we’re like ‘Oh yeah! We don’t have to start within 10 seconds.’ It’s almost like you have to keep reminding yourself that you don’t have those rules.”
But their construction can also mean being creative with training time, as was the case for last year’s First Nations-themed program, choreographed with then-coach Massimo Scali.
“We were interested in doing something Aboriginal Canadian, for this season especially,” Weaver said, “and so we stayed up nights working with Massimo. During the summer, we [trained] all through the day, so the only option was at night. We were skating all around the clock.”
For the Stars on Ice tour, the couple debuted a lyrical new program to Donny Hathaway’s “A Song for You,” created in a short post-Worlds window with Linda Garneau, a stage and film choreographer known best in the skating realm for her work with Kurt Browning.
“We knew that was a resource that we wanted to use, but the situation never presented itself—timing and things didn’t work,” Weaver said. “And this year it did work, so we were so happy. She’s a phenomenal dancer and she just understands movement, whether it be on the floor or on ice. So we were very lucky to be able to work with her and have her teach us so much.”
And while the team considers emotion the primary goal of their show efforts, the freedom can also become a useful force in their competitive life.
“It gives us a chance to breathe and enjoy ourselves and have a little bit more creative liberty, and we also get to test out ideas,” Weaver said. “Sometimes we’ll come up with a theme for our show program and we say, ‘Okay, well maybe if this goes over well, we’ll consider it for a possible free dance idea.’ Or vice versa—a free dance idea that didn’t work, we can use for a show.”
And while outside voices have stoked the team’s creativity, fresh concepts are in no short supply.
“I’ve got a playlist probably like 50-songs-long of possible ideas,” Weaver continued. “It’s just when those will take place. There’s so many themes, and you can be walking down the street or listening to the radio and think of an idea. Inspiration can strike anywhere. And for those things that can’t be turned into a free dance, we put in the playlist for possible shows. Hopefully we have many more show years to come, because I’ve got lots of ideas,” she said with a laugh.
Though the team’s rising status might allow room for creative boldness, the overall aim for this season is simple enough: greatness.
“We go by the judgment and the guidance of our coaches, and we always have done that, and we always will do that,” Weaver said. “We want to do something great, and I think that that’s more important now than ever. Both programs have to shine, and we have to find our weaknesses and really capitalize on improving them, and leave no stone unturned, because I think to become world champion, you can’t have any weaknesses. So whereas we were comfortable, I’d say, in Tessa and Scott’s shadow—they were first, we were second—now it’s our time to really shine and take that top spot. And I think we’re ready for that. We’re ready for the challenge.”