by Jacquelyn Thayer
For Andréanne Poulin and Marc-André Servant, guided by the chance to try new program and musical styles, the logical senior follow-up to a lighthearted, character-heavy junior free dance — utilizing Alexandre Desplat’s whimsical Fantastic Mr. Fox score — could only be a starkly serious effort, dramatic and contemporary movement set to pieces including Vivaldi’s “Winter” and Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio.”
But the free dance competed on this season’s circuit was actually unveiled first in autumn 2013 at Barrie, Ontario’s Octoberfest, where the team tested the waters after months of recovery for an injured Servant. With his foot issues not fully resolved, they would ultimately sit out the rest of that season, shelving the program — and their official senior debut — for 2014.
“With this new program, we wanted to create something just a little bit more bold, dramatic, mature — just so they had an opportunity to kind of explore another side of their skating, what they’re capable to portray on the ice,” said choreographer Shae Zukiwsky, who has worked with the team for the past four seasons. “Of course, when you make the leap to senior, you have to also demonstrate your growing skill sets with your skating skills and your performance level, as well, so all that is integrated into the program.”
“It would have been our first full year as a senior team and we wanted to look the part,” the couple said. “This classical piece is truly a piece that grabs your attention right from the start and we wanted to make our mark.” They found themselves especially drawn to its “dramatic” nature, one for which Zukiwsky found some unexpected motivation.
“Right around that time, I had read this article where the author had claimed that there was no more drama left in figure skating, and it was quite critical about the new IJS system and how it was kind of depleting the drama of figure skating,” said Zukiwsky. “It kind of annoyed me, this article, because I think that drama is very alive and well in skating and I wanted this program to be an example of that, both for the skaters who were performing it and skating it, and also for the audience and the judges.”
That drama is built into the program’s narrative, the tale of a “love/hate relationship” and a public argument, from inciting battle to kiss. But while the couple on ice are at odds, Zukiwsky was inspired more by the duo’s harmony off the ice.
“Marc and Andie had gone through a pretty tumultuous time with his injury and getting back to a place where they were healthy and really enjoying their training. I wanted to be able to put some of that into this program as well,” he said. “And we had wanted to use the program as an opportunity for us to kind of work with the experiences that they share as a couple off the ice and translate them into specific choreographic moments within the program, because I think it’s something that really comes across in their skating, this connection and chemistry between one another, and I think that’s a very real chemistry — it’s something that’s not performed, because it’s a relationship they share with one another.”
The highly musical nature of the contemporary-influenced program meant careful and ongoing attention to detail for both skaters and choreographer.
“The main thing was to skate together no matter what happened,” agreed Poulin and Servant, who had to adjust to focusing on melody more than rhythm. “At first, with all these little details we had the tendency to rush through them especially after skating to [Fantastic Mr. Fox] that was a faster rhythm. The program being so musical, as soon as we were either too early or too late for one of many musical highlights, it would come off as a mistake.”
And Zukiwsky’s creative work remained active not only in carrying the program forward from one challenged season to the following year, but also while the team returned to a full competitive schedule.
“I tend to make many small changes throughout the season,” he said. “It’s really important to keep programs fresh and evolving, and of course, you’re taking feedback from judges and other individuals, and you’re just constantly kind of shaping this program into its full potential.”
One of those revisions actually came in the form of costuming, with the simple black of this season’s outings not part of the initial concept.
“At first we wanted to recreate the idea of aristocrats attending a ball,” said the team. “So we had our seamstress make us costumes to match that idea. When we started training the program again in May, we both decided we needed to change it up and go back to our simpler take on costumes. Wearing all black just seemed like a perfect fit with the classical piece — we didn’t want the costume to take away from the music and the program as a whole. We decided to have simple but clean and crisp costume to let our skating speak for itself.”
Likewise, the program’s use of staccato and sometimes abstracted movement serves to better highlight its characters. While the couple credits Zukiwsky, extensively trained in contemporary dance and choreography off the ice, with guiding them in the style here, emphasis was less on mastery than interpretation.
“We did do some ballet this summer,” they noted, “but with this program, we wanted to put the emphasis on the story, the performance and not so much on the type of dance we were presenting. We could say the focus was definitely on the story we were portraying.”
In sustaining the life of any program, Zukiwsky thinks the key is to find a piece that resonates most with its performers — especially with a free dance that’s seen a longer life than many.
“I think choosing music for your skaters and for the season is one of the most important choices the athlete makes in that season,” he said. “What kind of mood do you want to be embodying every day during your training, and if it’s character-driven, what character do you think you can sustain and develop over the course of the season? So for Marc and Andie, because of their unique relationship with one another, it certainly kind of guides us into certain directions when we make our choices in regards to music.”