INTERVIEW TO PIPER GILLES AND PAUL POIRIER
-Piper’s twin and brother are figure skaters, Paul’s brother plays hockey…it seems that all your families are involved with the ice world. Did you start to skate following the family tradition or did you ask to start skating? How old were you? Do you remember your first competition together and separately?
Piper: My older brother Todd actually started the whole family obsession of skating. He is six years older than my sister and I and since he was always at the rink skating it meant that my sister and I were always dragged along. Since I could walk I’ve always wanted to skate, so at 2 and a half years old my mom thought it was time to switch our shoes into skates.
My first competition was at a small club in Rockford, IL at a rink called Riverview Ice Arena. I skated to Hello Dolly in a beautiful yellow dress that I never wanted to take off. I remember wanting to be the first person to step on the ice. (Funny thing is that I’m still the way).
My first competition with Paul was something I’ll never forget. I remember being a little nervous skating with a new partner not really knowing how the other one’s going to react but the feeling he gave me knowing he had my back no matter how it went was a feeling I’ll never forget .
Paul: I was originally put into hockey as a young kid (3 or 4), but didn’t like it at all. My parents then put me into Canskate so that I would learn to skate, where I got interested in figure skating. If I kept skating until my 6th birthday my parents said they would let me skate without a helmet, which was my initial motivation to keep going, at which point I was being challenged enough by the skating that I was enjoying myself.
My first competition ever was in Niagara, but I don’t remember much of the details. My first competition with Piper was much more memorable as it was much more recent (5 years ago), and because after the new partnership we were so eager to perform and share our work. We still feel like that every season.
-Both of you skated with another partners, how did you start to skate together?
Paul: Piper and I met at a JGP in Taipei City 10 years ago, where we competed against each other. The skating world is very small so everyone knows everyone, and naturally when we were both looking for partners we decided to set up a try-out. We knew quite instantaneously that the skating was a good fit, and then it was a matter of making sure the logistics were possible.
Piper: What Paul said.
-You are always very original choosing your music and in your costumes (Piper’s nails included XD) how is the process of creation of your programs? Do you choose the music? What kind of music do you like to listen off ice?
Piper: As Paul said it all starts from a concept and once we have all that the other creative elements start to come together. Costumes and nails are just the icing on the cake, the finishing touch.
As for music, skating has opened my eyes to so many different genres which I love. It’s pretty hard to say what genres I like the best. It also depends on my mood and the season. Paul laughs because during the summer/fall I listen to a lot of country but during the winter/spring I listen to Hip hop and Pop. It really depends, I also love classic rock, I’m all for keeping people guessing.
Paul: Each program comes together differently. Some start with music, but others start with a concept that we then have to find music to. Some are constructed very quickly (they almost choreograph themselves) and others are very tricky and take much too long and we have to tinker around with the music cuts too many times, etc. Piper and I have a very collaborative system with our coaches Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, and we are all active in the selection of music, generation of concept, and the choreography.
By virtue of working with so much different music on the ice, I’ve come to appreciate all sorts of music and listen to just about everything (but a lot of classical and alternative).
-Do you think that originality is valued enough by judges or is not rewarded in the scores?
Paul: That’s a tricky question. There is no specific score (in TES or PCS) that measures your originality directly, but it’s something that can contribute to your GOE or to some of the different program component scores (like in Choreography or Interpretation). However, in the end, competitions are about being the best skaters. Originality should be valued if it is more difficult, or if it contributes to the aesthetic of the program, not simply because it is there. As it is, creativity is a matter of personal opinion, and what is original for one person might not be so for another. We as humans bring our subjective experience and values into the picture and this naturally will colour how we feel about any given program; it’s not so black-and-white.
-A few years ago we saw a pair pretending to snort… What do you think are the limits to the innovation: politically correct, the good taste, the limit that each skater wants to put himself…?
Paul: In the end, the only limits are the physical possibilities of the human body, and the borders of the human mind. Given that we are a sport, I think there is a line to be drawn somewhere when it comes to thematic “appropriateness” (though such rules have existed in the arts too in different periods). What interests me more, however, is the interaction between the possibilities of the body and the physics of skating, and how those things can continue to be manipulated in so many ways.
-We could enjoy you in the last Eric Bompard Trophy, lamentably cancelled because of the terrorist attacks, how did you live this situation? (we have to say that the fans felt like one member of the team at this time, all skaters treated us like equals)
Piper: Eric Bombard was one of those competitions we will never forget. I think everyone was impacted in one way or another. For the athletes, not finishing a competition is like turning in school homework half finished. You know it’s not complete and not your best work and yet you still have to turn it in. It’s hard to swallow. There’s also this other side where you know there are family and friends of the victims suffering from loss and trauma from the attack and you have to thank your lucky stars that you were a few hundred miles away. So many emotions running through your head. Then there are our wonderful fans who travel thousands of miles to share those special moments on the ice with us also impacted from this incomplete competition. We all wanted answers but we didn’t have them, so turning to each other in a time of need was to only thing we could really do. All I can say is that I am blessed to have my life and cherish every moment with the people I meet along our journey.
– Last season you changed your short dance music in the middle of the season, what caused that change? Was it difficult for you adapt the choreo to the new music?
Paul: I think, in the end, our original concept for the SD was a little too lofty, both in what we expected of ourselves physically and artistically. What we’ve noticed is that oftentimes, simpler choreography gives us more opportunities to showcase our abilities, because when one is too twisted up one cannot skate at one’s best. The change was really a project in opening up the choreography. The baroque movement really demands a lot of ornamentation and quick steps, and so we felt a music change was also necessary hand in hand with the stripped-down choreography. While we were in the restructuring process, it was very stressful, as it was a risky choice on our part, but as we started rehearsing the revamped SD we indeed felt that we could skate more freely and unencumbered.
In retrospect, given that it was a very effective decision, we should’ve also restructured the FD before worlds, again focusing on untwisting the choreography a little. There was no time to do both. However, we’ve learned a lot from last season and this year have been very intentional about not overcomplicating things choreographically.
-Your pasodoble program, from two years ago, impressed us, we know that it was a tribute to Torvill&Dean, but, can you explain to us a bit more about how the idea came up, both program and costumes?
Piper: Once we knew that the theme for the short dance that year was the pasodoble, we knew we wanted to have Christopher Dean do our program. Once we arrived in Colorado to start the process we had to sit down and discuss what our music would be. Shocked and a little excited Chris wanted us to skate to his and Jane Trovill’s iconic paso OD music. Since the original costumes were black and white it was only fitting to keep the iconic look alive and well but I felt like we need a little Piper and Paul flair, hence the cape skirt.
– This season Virtue&Moir come back to competition, how does their return affect you?
Paul: It doesn’t really affect us. All of teams (including Piper and I) are aiming to be the best in the world, and that means being better than everyone no matter who they are, and no matter how many there are. Nonetheless, despite being in this constant competition against others, we are only truly in control of the work that we put in day-to-day and the work we put out in competition. The other teams we are competing against don’t make any difference to this process.
– For Piper, we have read that you are designing costumes for other skaters, can you tell us a bit more about this project? Have you ever thought about designing clothes or accessories to wear off ice?
Piper: Designing costumes has always been something I’ve wanted to do but I didn’t really think I would start doing it until I finished skating. In the spring I had a coach approach me asking if I’d be interesting in designing an outfit for his Junior dance team. I don’t even think I took me a second to say yes, I was just so excited I had to jump on this opportunity and go for it.
Having a line of my own is something I’d definitely like to have in the future but right now I would just like to collaborate with our designers, learn from them and really learn the business before I step into something I’m not ready for. I have some incredible ideas swirling in my head, and can’t wait to see how it all comes to play.
-For Paul, in GPF of Barcelona 2014 you told us that your parents went to Andalucía, but you couldn’t go with them and you would like to. Have you managed to travel to Andalucía? If you say yes, have you liked it? And if you say no, to what place would you like to travel?
Paul: I still have not made it to Andalucía, or any parts of Spain besides Barcelona. Truly, the world contains too much for any one man to experience in a lifetime, and so I have to be content with the many places I have been fortunate enough to visit through skating. Maybe when I retire I will have time to be an actual tourist and explore. I think for me in Andalucía the biggest draw would not be a particular place, but the dancing, the flamenco. In terms of the rest of the world, I have always been drawn to mountains, their quiet steadiness.
-Paul ,¿cómo va tu aprendizaje del español? ¿cómo empezaste a estudiarlo? (Yes, this is not translated XD)(we know that Paul speak Spanish and we wanted sent him this question without translated, here is her answer without translate, in Spanis, and translated too)
Paul: Mi mamá creció en latinoamerica pero no lo enseñó a nosotros (tengo dos hermanos) porque mis padres creyeron que sería demasiado complicado aprender tres idiomas al mismo tiempo. Quería desesperadamente poder hablar en español y entender lo que decían mis tías en secreto, entonces tomé clases por cinco años en el colegio y la universidad.
Ya hace cinco años que no he tomado una clase de español. Sin embargo, puedo practicar con mi mamá, y de vez en cuando, con amigos latinoamericanos en Toronto. Creo que puedo comunicar efectivamente, pero todavía me hace falta expresiones más familiares, pues mi español es siempre un poco formal. Tendré que vivir en un lugar hispanohablante por algunos meses (o años) para mejorarlo.
Paul: My mom grew up in Latin America but he didn’t teach it to us( I have two brothers) because my parents thought that would be too difficult learn three languages at the same time. I wanted desesperately can speak Spanish and undestand what my aunts said in secret, then I learned five years in school and university. Since five years ago I haven’t taked any class of Spanish, however, I can practice with my mom and occasionally with latin american friends in Toronto. I think I can communicate effectively, but still I need more colloquialisms, because my Spanish is always a bit formal. I have to live in a Spanish speaking place for a few months (or years) to improve it.
-As we’ve already said… your costumes are always out of the usual, what do you do with them when you finish the season? (we have seen that in other federations, they keep them and then other skaters “inherit” them)
Piper: I’ve sold some of my old costumes, and some I just like to keep and enjoy. They all have so many memories its hard to just giving them away. I do enjoy renting them and seeing all the memories other people create with them.
-We have seen Piper in Instagram with a lot of henna tatoos, do you have real tatoos? If so, what do you have and which is the meaning?
Piper: Hahahaha no my Dad would kill me if I had any real ones ( He wouldn’t actually kill me, maybe just be extremely mad). That’s my reasoning for getting henna tattoos: it’s because they last for 2 weeks and they are gone.
.-Do you practice or are you enthusiast or other sports?
Piper: I LOVE sports!!! Big sports nerd over here. I actually played in an all gender softball team this summer with my friends, which was super fun. I love to play and watch football (Go Broncos!). Hockey is another sport enjoy watching. Wish I had the time to ski more but skating is definitely more important. There’s really only two sports I can’t play and that’s soccer and basketball. I’m awful!!
Paul: I am terrible at all other sports, so no.
-What hobbies do you have?
Piper: I enjoy making new hobbies for our ISU bios, creating online outfits that I never purchase, vintage shopping at a local market every Sunday, learning a new type of art form, enjoying times with friends whenever I’m free, making a new sangria recipe, swimming (secretly a mermaid) the list goes on and on.
Paul: Don’t you read our ISU bios?
But really, I fill my time with much: cooking, reading and writing, wandering around Toronto, linguistics research, loitering in coffee shops, cycling, good conversation, singing too loud, bad puns, consuming the arts in all their forms, etc.
.-People always ask about a favourite book or film but, what would be the book that you would never recommend to read or the film that you would never recommend to see, and why?
Piper: There is one movie that comes to mind and that is The Romantics. You’d think that any romantic movie with Josh Duhamel would be at least tolerable. It was 2 hours I will never get back. Sorry Josh, at least you’re still good looking.
Paul: I like this question! No movies jump out at me, but a book I would recommend to no one is The Catcher in the Rye. To me it’s 150 pages of a teenager whining (this rant is longer but I’ll spare you all). It’s unfortunately compulsory high school reading for many in North America (poor souls!).
-Is there something that was hard to give up, because you decided to skate?
Piper: I agree with Paul on this one, it’s definitely been hard to miss out on family time. Moving away when I was 17 was a sacrifice I made for my sport, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Paul: I think to reach a high level in skating (or any other sport) it means passing off on other opportunities. While for me, that mostly meant missed family time and school, none of this felt like a sacrifice as skating has imparted a richness to my life that more than makes up for it.
.Personally, what is the most valuable lesson that figure Skating has taught you?
Piper: There are quite a few valuable lessons I have learned from skating over the years but I truly think one of the greatest lessons I have learned is commitment. And when I say commitment I don’t just mean show up to the rink do what my coaches tell me to do and leave, its learning what sacrifices you have to make, the schedule you have to set, the countless hours you dedicate to expand your creativity and movement with dance and music listening. Commitment applies to ever aspect of life, if we never commit to anything, we will never grow as athletes or as human beings.
Paul: While I’ve drawn a lot of great lessons from skating, I still think the most important lesson is that in the end, it is just skating. My parents were always quick to remind me after a bad day that no matter how skating goes, whether I succeed or fail or get injured and never skate again, that my life could still be rich without it through other pursuit and time with loved ones, etc. I find I thrive most as a skater when my sense of personhood is not found in skating, but in my character. Skating has taught me that it is ephemeral and fickle, that I should enjoy it with every fibre of my being, but that life no matter what will go on outside of it. I think that’s a healthy attitude when it comes to any pursuit.
.-Paul, we have seen you with mustache… is it a new look or is it related with any of your programs?
Paul: The moustache is an accessory for the SD, but will disappear for the FD. We could not deny ourselves this small pleasure; the facial hair is so authentic to the period.