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2021 World Championships: Dance Free Dance

by Liz Leamy and George Rossano

Sinitsia and Katsalapov World Victors in Ice Dance

by Liz Leamy and George Rossano

The Ice Dance Free Dance was contested at an extraordinarily high level this year, as was the Rhythm dance. The quality of the event is illustrated by the fact that the top five couples all had average program component scores in the range of 9.25 to 9.75, while the leveled elements for that last warm-up group of couples were uniformly almost entirely 3s and 4s.

Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov, the 2019 Russian World silver medalists, commandingly glided away with the gold medal in the World Championship dance competition, clinching first with a 221.17 total score.

This exquisite and apt dance duo, who trains with Alexander Zhulin, the two-time Russian Olympic medalist and Petr Durnev in Moscow, flew across the ice with the lightness, power and expertise expected of a globally elite team in their memorable free dance, for which they earned a 133.02.

Sinitsina & Katsalapov, who were also the highest-ranked team in the Rhythm Dance, flew around the ice doing a series of difficult lifts, footwork and spins with extraordinary aptitude, strength and crispness which earned them a 74.57 technical score.

Perhaps more than anything, the team resonated of heart and sincerity as they told the multi-faceted story of a relationship through their music ‘Andante’ by Ludovico Einaudi as interpreted by Daniel Hopa and Antonin Dvorak’s ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me,’ performing silky smooth in tandem with fluid, romantic lyrical expression, which in turn earned 58.45 for components (average component 9.74).

Certainly, the chemistry between these two skaters is palpable and something they were able to convey in a genuine manner as they executed their lifts with lightning-quick rotation and edges, turns and steps done with terrific clarity, depth and glide.

At the same time, the narrative of their program was logical and comprehensive, and effectively took the viewer through a myriad of emotions and moments from its start to the middle and then to the finish.

For Sinitsina & Katsalapov, the emotion only further continued to flow when they found out how their work had been received.

“I’m so happy I don’t know what to say right now, I just want to smile and cry. This is a very unique World Championships and the emotions are overwhelming,” said Sinitsina. “I had my eyes wet before the performance and they are still wet after. I am really grateful to Nikita for his huge support.”

Her partner agreed.

“I have no words to describe this feeling. If I had the emotions – I left them on the ice – I would still be screaming. This is cool! I am very proud of my partner, Vika, she is a real fighter. She deserves this and I am next to her,” said Katsalapov. “It cannot be denied, this is a great experience. And the gold medal of European championships showed us whenever we can fight and overcome the difficulties, trainings, competition stress. It is very important. We get more experienced with every competition. It is not like we fly to heaven and we cannot come down. We start to work twice as hard, because we know we can do even better.”

Summing up the championships he said, “Everything was on the top level the one things that is missing is the audience but thanks to all who were in the audience today they helped us a lot , we heard our team members who were cheering for us we are really thankful for that.”

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the two-time World medalists and three-time U.S. champions, claimed silver with their moving free dance to ‘Hallelujah’ for which they racked up a 128.66 netting a 214.71 total.

This high-energy team, who trains with Marie France-Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal, earned level 3s and 4s for their dynamic array of twizzles, lifts and spins and level 2 for their circular step sequence, earning a technical score of 71.28. They skated this fluid and lyrical program with emotion and passion, earning a component score of 57.38 (averaging 9.56).

Their program was choreographed by Scott Moir, the two-time Canadian Olympic champion and Olympic silver medalist with Tessa Virtue, with their music a mix of three pieces: ‘Hallelujah,’ (Jeff Buckley) ‘Pray Gently to the Light’ (Karl Hugo) and ‘Hallelujah’ (KD Lang)

“Our performance today felt really present and intentional. It’s really a joy to skate together when it’s like that,” said Hubbell. “We’re feeling a strange mix of emotions right now. There’s relief that this competition is over and we’re proud of how we handled this week and the stress of international competition after a year and our performance today felt really present and intentional it’s really a joy to skate together when it’s like that. But there’s also that bit of dissatisfaction at not bringing home the gold medal so right now I’m a little bit numb. In a few minutes I’m sure I’ll be bouncing off the walls excited.”

Considering music choices for next year Donohue said, “We’ve thought about doing something else and we’ll have to talk about whether there’s anything else to pull out of this program. For us we feel once we’ve served the program its purpose it’s time to move on to something else. So we’ll wait for the Team Trophy and then have the conversation.”

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada pulled up from fourth in the Rhythm Dance to third overall with a 214.35 total score.

This duo, who trains in Scarborough, Ontario with Carol and Jon Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, soared around the ice with command and confidence, executing turns, steps, edges, lifts and spins with great skill and aptitude.

In turn, this team, who were the 2020 Four Continents silver medalists, earned a 130.98, the second-highest score of the free dance, pulling them ahead of Madison Chock & Evan Bates and nipping at the heels of Hubbell & Donahue, trailing the latter by only 0.36 points. Just one more level would have given them the silver medal, for instance in the one foot step sequence where they received a level 2 (Gilles) and a level 3 (Poirier).

The two skated to the poignant piece, ‘Both Sides Now,’ sung by Joni Mitchell.

“I’m at a loss for words. This is our eighth World Championships together. We were kind of stuck between six and eight for a very long time, essentially since 2014,” said Poirier. “Just the pent-up frustration of so many years and being able to accomplish this feels like such a nice release, and once we've had time to process it as well and be home with the rest of our team -- with Carol and Jon (Lane), as well as our family and friends, I think it will feel much more real. What we were able to accomplish today is the product of so many people's efforts and we want to be able to celebrate that with them.”

Gilles agreed.

“I’m so proud that we pushed through and we didn’t let the uncertainty of everything get in the way,” said Gilles, an Illinois native. “I think we’ve been thriving off the uncertainty because we know the ability that we have. We just loved our performance and it came out on the ice today and we’re just absolutely thrilled.”

Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the two-time World medalists and two-time U.S. champions, placed fourth with 212.69 total after having had stood at third in the Rhythm Dance.

This team, who also trains in Montreal with Marie France-Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, performed their enticing and fluid ‘Egyptian Snake Dance’ free dance in fine fashion executing lovely lifts and intricate footwork sequences to help them generate them a 127.54. Their music is a mix of three pieces: ‘Yearnings,’ (Raul Ferrando) ‘Sahara Nights’ (DJ Quincy Ortiz) and Lavali al Shara’ (Al-Ahram Orchestra).

They presented their routine, noted for its exotic choreography and strong characterization, with speed and audience engaging presence, particularly Chock who was radiating charm during the performance. Their twizzles element was the lowest scored due to Bates having a break in rotation and also some checked threes. They also left points on the table with four level 3 calls. Their program components averaged 9.50.

Describing their performance Bates said, “Madi was so excited when we finished. She looked at me and I was like, I didn’t skate as well as you did, babe. There were certainly a few seconds in the program where I made some technical errors that were obviously costly, and honestly I’m quite disappointed about it. But that’s kind of what we love about the sport. If it was a guaranteed thing every time that we could just show up and win the gold medal then it would be very easy and fun, but the real pleasure I think comes from working really hard, getting knocked down and coming back stronger. We’ve been through a lot of those moments and I think this is one moment in particular that is quite disappointing for us, but we’re certainly going to come back next season stronger and with the same goals in mind.”

Looking ahead to next season Chock said, “We learned a lot about ourselves and our skating over the past month so we’re excited to go home and start building again from where we left off. We’re in a really good place and we’ve still got a lot of room to grow. We know how we want to push ourselves and we’re going to go home and do just that.”

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean Luc Baker, the three-time U.S. bronze medalists, finished ninth with a 188.51 total. This duo, who also trains in Montreal with Marie France-Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, racked up a 113.43 in the free dance portion of this competition.

Skating to ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie and “First Movement’ by Philip Glass, the couple gave a dramatically moody and expressive performance. Their opening one foot step sequence was called level 3 for both skaters (each skater gets a level in that element) but from there all the other leveled elements were called level 4. Their average program component score was a very good 8.47.

Describing their performance Hawayek, who was openly disappointed in the marks they received, said, “We felt we skated to the best of our ability today and we finished feeling very happy with our performance. We were disappointed with the scores which we don’t feel reflected the skate we put out. It’s hard to know what the magic recipe is that the judges are looking for. I guess in terms of what the judges were looking for today it wasn’t the flavor they were looking for because we certainly skated to the best of our ability.”

Going forward, Baker remarked, “We have a two week quarantine getting back into Canada so we’ll be at home for that. But it’s really going back to the drawing board after the scores today, finding out what we can improve on. Technically I think we put out a solid performance and met all the requirements with the very strict panel here but the judges were clearly looking for something different, so we’re going to make sure we get the proper feed-back and come back stronger for next season.”