With their risky, torrid, highly dramatic “Carmen” relegated to the shelf, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have turned to classy elegance for their Olympic programs.

With their risky, torrid, highly dramatic “Carmen” relegated to the shelf, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have turned to classy elegance for their Olympic programs.

For the first time, their free dance to music by Russian composers, was unveiled at a training camp last week in Mississauga, Ont.  – in front of only judges and technical specialists – and it couldn’t be more different to last year’s endeavours, which earned them a silver medal at the world championships in London, Ont.

People have already seen their charming short dance to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong at a Quebec summer competition last month.

For a long time, the music of Alexander Glazunov’s “The Seasons” ballet had played in the memory of coach/choreographer Marina Zoueva and she knew that it just seemed right for an Olympic program for the reigning champions. The music hadn’t been used in a competitive figure skating program before, she said, and it was unique, by a composer that helped lead ballet artists in Russia in the contemporary direction, yet was still tied to the Russian romantic period.

It’s different from “Carmen” in every way. The “Carmen” routine was made to show dramatic conflict between man and woman with contemporary dance movement. This year, the movement of the Glazunov piece strives for harmony between man and woman in a more classical way, especially in a Russian classical way.

“I really wanted to show huge contrast between last year’s choreography and how Tessa and Scott are able to show different type of character,” Zoueva said. “It’s a huge contrast, like north and south.”

Zoueva attended the university of art in Russia and ballet movement is always in her mind’s eye. “I feel it is a really Russian classical program, even though I made it in North America for North American skaters,” she said. “But it is my thanks to Russia. I do have to do something for my country in which I was born. I really truly believe it is Tessa and Scott who are the best to perform that.”

In a way, the creation of “Carmen” was easy, compared to Glazunov’s work. “Carmen” already came tied to a story. This year, Virtue and Moir’s free dance is “one total creation” and a story Zoueva created with the skaters. On top of that, they created movement to match the music, while still making it look like an ice dance program, with a beautiful waltz. It took longer to put together the free dance because the music was specially arranged for them.

Zoueva slipped the music on directly after the world championships, but found that something was missing in Glazunov’s ballet. Therefore she added a piano concerto from another Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (“Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor”) to add an exclamation mark to the end of the routine. Zoueva says the composers work very well together for timing and character. The composers are from the same era. She picked the Scriabin music because it had a proud flavour, perfect for a finale.

Moir calls it their “storm part.” It depicts external chaos, with the twosome trying to figure out a way though it all.  “For Tessa and I, it’s kind of our story,” Moir said. “It’s the story of partnership and all the ups and downs we’ve been through, both on and off the ice. It’s a neat program for us personally, because the last section is meant to be skated in Sochi. It’s the parade to our finale.”

They won’t realize that last section until February, but it will be going through their minds all season when they skate it. It’s music that is very strong and triumphant.” The themes are also universal, Virtue said. “Everything that we’ve experienced in our journey in the 17 years, are what we’re drawing on in this program, but they are still universals, and hopefully the audience will connect with that. It’s seasons. It’s ups and downs.” They are much more involved intellectually in the story line than they were last year with “Carmen.”

And difficulties? Moir said the routine is very demanding, particularly the last minute. Before the finale music starts, they go into back-to-back rotational lifts, which add excitement and a wow factor that Moir hopes will set them apart.

“We go into that last minute pretty exhausted,” Virtue said. “But we like being ambitious and challenging ourselves.”

All of their lifts are new, of course.  Virtue and Moir discussed using their famed “Goose” lift, but binned the idea. “We don’t want to look like vintage Virtue and Moir,” he said. “We love the Goose and it’s a fan favourite, but we don’t want to turn on the TV and watch what we did four years ago, and turn it on again in 2014, and have people ask: ‘What have they done in the last four years?’” Besides, Virtue and Moir insist that lifts must add to the program and be part of it, rather than looking as if they are included for the sole purpose of gaining points. 

As for the short dance, Zoueva calls the Fitzgerald/Armstrong a “classical duet,” using “Dream a Little Dream, “Muskrat Ramble” and “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.” Zoueva loved the music because of the variation of the voice and vocals and it calls for a light step, perfect for the Canadians. Moir said the short dance came to them first and they had already choreographed two minutes of it with Jean-Marc Genereux (a Canadian ballroom dancer, known as a judge and choreographer on the hit television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”) before they went on the Stars on Ice tour.

In the short dance, which must incorporate the Finnstep, Virtue and Moir use foxtrot and quickstep rhythms – and all their elements must reflect those styles. “It’s really go go go,” Virtue said. “The free dance is a bit of a marathon, and you have moments to collect yourself. But I find with the short dance, you have to stay on top of it or else it can get away from you, especially with music that’s quick. And you want to maintain that ballroom feel. It’s demanding.”

Zoeuva says the routine is difficult because the elements are so tightly woven, and calls for a lot of focus, with each element being worth so many points. “For me, the short dance is much more difficult,” she said. “Everything is really important.”

Beverley Smith