Monday, April 11, 2011

Shall We Dance? Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay's "Seventh Symphony" by Ludwig van Beethoven

In this last installment of the "Shall We Dance?" series of posts, I will be profiling the brother and sister team of Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, one of the more interesting partnerships in skating history. Born to Canadian father and a French mother, Paul was born in 1960 in France, and Isabelle in 1963 in Quebec, Canada, where the family settled.

Isabelle and Paul represented Canada in competition until the mid 1980s, but after failing to make the 1984 Olympic team for Canada, they received an invitation to compete for France. They made their debut for the French team in the 1985-1986 season. With creative genius Christopher Dean, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in ice dance (with partner Jayne Torvill--click here to see them skate) as their choreographer, the Duchesnay's quickly ascended the world ranks. They become known for epic freedances that were artistically and athletically demanding, imaginative and emotional. (In 1990, Isabelle married Christopher Dean--an ill-fated union that only lasted for a few years.)

Isabelle and Paul finished 3rd in the World Championships in 1989, 2nd in 1990, and 1st in 1991. Entering the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, the Duchesnay's were heavily favored to win gold. Skating in the country they represented proved to be a difficult, pressure-filled situation. On top of the grandiose expectations placed on them, the duo were skating with heavy hearts, as their half-brother Gaston had recently passed away from lung cancer, and Isabelle had bronchitis over the Olympic fortnight. Moreover, their freedance to music from "West Side Story" wasn't nearly as ground-breaking as their programs in years past (the Leonard Bernstein score, though wonderful, is an old "warhorse" in the skating world, bordering on cliché), which didn't help their case against a very strong, determined Russian team of Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarekno.

Marina and Sergei had finished third and second in the previous two Olympics, and were hungry for a gold medal in their final chance. After having a rivalry with the Duchesnay's in the years leading up to Albertville, and losing their World title to them in 1991, the Russians were pushed to new artistic heights. Their 1992 freedance to the music of Bach was a passionate work of art that would be difficult to beat.

In the end, skating a notch below their usual standards, Isabelle and Paul finished second to Klimova and Ponomarenko in Albertville and retired from amateur competition soon after. They finished their careers as 4-time French National Champions, and three-time European Championship medalists ( 2 bronzes, 1 silver). What they will be remembered for in the long-term is not what medals they did or did not win, but the way they pushed the sport in new directions.

Isabelle and Paul skated on tour with Champions on ice for a few years, before being forced to retire after Paul suffered a serious injury. The following performance to Ludwig van Beethoven's "Seventh Symphony" was an exhibition routine they skated on tour in 1994. The music is powerful and haunting, their skating athletic and exotic. A good combination! The routine also features a reverse lift, with Isabelle lifting Paul, an athletic feat that subsequent French champions, Anissina and Peizerat also became known for.

I've attached two videos of "Seventh Symphony". Both are good quality (though perhaps the second video is a better picture). I figured it would be nice to have two versions to watch for variety, since there are different camera angles used in the two videos. The second video features some cool overhead views.


From 1994 Champions on Ice:

From an exhibition in Paris, France:

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