Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier use Olympic champion Christopher Dean to channel the Paso Doble

With the ominous notes of their Hitchcock free dance in their rear view mirrors, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier wanted a more traditional theme for their short dance this season.

Traditional theme, yes. Traditional choreographer, no.

Imagine the kick of having 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean design your short dance – to the Paso Doble rhythm. Gilles and Poirier headed to Colorado Springs in May to do just that.

Perhaps it doesn’t need saying, but Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean performed the iconic Paso Doble routine during the 1984 season, and although they seem to be most remembered for their “Bolero” free dance, there were some who felt just as many – if not more – goosebumps while witnessing their Paso Doble. They did get six marks of 6.0 for it at the European championships, where they probably performed it the best.  Not quite sure what that 6.0 meant? Perfection.

On the cover of their 1984 biography, done by The Times reporter John Hennessy, is a photograph of Torvill and Dean in Paso Doble dress, and what a costume. It wasn’t red as most expected for a Paso. They wore white, black and gold. And Torvill’s dress with the flowing cape, with white folds hanging deliciously down from her outstretched arms – would anybody ever see the like again?

To begin with, Dean wasn’t so sure he wanted to attempt to choreograph a short dance because he hadn’t done one before. The short dance didn’t exist in his day. His Paso Doble, to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov”s Capriccio Espanol, was a set pattern dance, with their novel pattern repeated three times. This new short program combines the old short dance with the compulsory dance, with some new rule changes added this year.

“Let’s play around,” he said.

“We just got on the ice and started doing stuff,” he said. “Yeah, let’s connect this,” Poirier said. “And we left with a program.”

Strangely enough, Dean was “adamant” that they use his old Paso from Capriccio Espanol, Gilles said.

“It was kind of a little bit of an honour for him to want us to use that piece,” Gilles said. “We looked for other pieces, but this one seemed to fit.”

The Capriccio Espanol music comprises the second half of their routine. “We really have to do it justice,” Gilles said.

And the costume? It’s well reminiscent of Torvill and Dean’s marvelous threads from 1984. But Gilles wears a black cape, rather than a white one, and it falls lower below the arms. “He originally wanted to do the cape exactly like Jayne’s,” Gilles said. “But we wanted to do something a little bit different from that, just because we’re a different team.”

They liked the black and white concept, but added dashes of pink.

By wearing such a cape, even though it differs from Torvill’s, Gilles truly walked in her shoes. In the early days of Torvill and Dean’s training of their Paso Doble, Torvill wore a practice outfit much like her competitive costume, to become accustomed to the billowing fabric and the difficulties of doing handholds with it. However, in a public rink, Torvill doffed the prototype and wore a traditional skating dress to create an element of surprise at competition time.

It wreaked havoc on their performance. Obviously, her outstretched arms didn’t have the same effect. Nervous, Dean fiddled with the choreography until British world champion Courtney Jones (who had designed their costumes) stepped in and helped them get back to the original.

Like Torvill, Gilles has had to learn how to skate with flying fabric.  “It took a little bit of adjusting [to skate with the costume],” Gilles said. “I wear the cape every single day when I do it, so you get used to it after a while. So now it doesn’t bug me. Even when it goes over my head, it doesn’t faze me. There’s something flying around at all times.”

Gilles said they’ve played with the costume a few times, even put it around her neck “when we’re messing around. I feel more like Dracula. It’s the black cape.” Poirier jokes that they’re playing super hero.

Working with Dean was not a new experience for either of them. They have both worked with him with previous partners. “He knew both of us well enough to work with both of us together,” Poirier said.

Dean choreographed a free dance for them the first season they teamed up, helping them win the national bronze medal.  He’s also done an exhibition number for them. (Here’s guessing it wasn’t the one in which Poirier skates with shiny gold boxers.)

Gilles admitted it was fun to work with Dean, but it was an exhausting sort of fun. “He’s a perfectionist,” she said. “Because I’m the girl, I get thrown around a lot, so I would be sore. But Paul was sore, too. He works you really, really hard – which is good.”

“We need to be pushing ourselves,” Poirier said. “Now is the time, when we can really grow and push ourselves and go out of our comfort zone a bit, which is what we really need.”

Gilles and Poirier will show off their new wares at the 2014 Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ont., in October. They have also been assigned to Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C., and Trophée Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France. “We have both wine countries,” Poirier said with a grin.

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