©International Skating Union (ISU)

Interview Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier

28 October 2023


Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier secured another Skate Canada title. Throughout the event, we had opportunities to engage with them alongside other attending journalists.


How do you approach this new season?

Paul: It's exciting. We had a very similar lead into the season as last year. It gave us a lot of comfort knowing that our preparations last year worked and got us to a level of readiness that we were happy with going into our first event. There are many times when you're going through training, and you're constantly asking yourself, "Am I doing the right things? Am I approaching this the right way?". And so knowing that we had a plan that worked gave us a lot of confidence in it, and it allowed us to ride it out and do what we needed to do to get ready. We were excited to show these programs to people. We've had a few little skates at home in front of tiny audiences. But in front of a big public, it was inspiring and fun this week.


What did you think about your performances at Skate Canada?

Piper: It went very well at Skate Canada. However, we were very much focused on the elements and not enough on the performing part during the rhythm dance. We have room to grow. Although we've been told these are the season's best scores so far, our primary focus remains on our own performance rather than comparing with other skaters. We know our scores are better than what we started with last year. We are thrilled about winning Skate Canada for the fourth time. It took us some time to reach this level, and we now want to enjoy it.


You've secured four consecutive Skate Canada titles, a milestone last achieved by ice dancers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kratz.

Paul: I had no idea! Ice dance has been so strong in Canada for many years. Shae-Lynn and Victor peaked when I started to skate. They were my introduction to ice dance. We have been very inspired by the teams who came before us.


What are your expectations for your next event?

Paul: We're set to compete at the Cup of China shortly, so we'll only be making minor adjustments based on feedback from the judges here in Vancouver. With another event coming so fast, the main goal is managing our energy and not getting too tired.  


©International Skating Union (ISU)


What theme did you choose for your rhythm dance?

Piper: It's about love. The music is "No More I Love You's" and "Addicted To Love".

Paul: It's about accepting that you have that feeling inside of you and not fighting it even if it becomes infectious.

Piper: There were so many different directions we could take for 80s music. We had a hard time figuring out what to do. As for the costumes, we wanted to fully capture that 80s moment, and we wanted people to see it as soon as we got on the ice. Regarding my hair, I wanted something like Madonna and Farrah Fawcett had at that time.


Can you tell us about your free dance on Wuthering Heights?

Piper: This story is challenging to convey on ice within just 4 minutes. We're exploring the complexities of love, both its passion and its toxic aspects. You can love someone so much that it becomes unhealthy, yet you don't know how to escape it. The program delves into the ups and downs of a relationship, offering a darker take that we find exciting. When we decided to come back this season, we wanted to reignite our passion. This program has Hitchcockian elements, but it's a more developed and elegant version of us.

Paul: The program is all about contrast. The music oscillates between intense, sharp, eerie segments and soft, flowing, elegant ones. Sometimes, our movements align with the music, and sometimes, they go against it. This dichotomy fits the theme we're aiming to portray, exploring two opposing emotions that strangely lead to the same form of intensity.


Did the World Championships being in Montreal impact your choice of music?

Piper: Competing on Canadian soil is, of course, always a pleasure, and we are lucky to have many events at home on top of nationals. However, we've never selected a program solely based on where we'll perform it. Although we did pick "Both Sides Now" in 2019/2020 thinking it would be our defining moment in Canada, things didn't go as planned, and our moment came in Sweden instead. This year was different; we struggled with the direction to chose. We debated whether to revisit themes or styles we'd explored before, something we generally prefer to avoid doing. There was also the concern that choosing another Canadian artist might draw comparisons to "Both Sides Now." Ultimately, we decided to pick a direction that felt right for us and offered new opportunities for exploring movement. While we knew Montreal would be one of the places we'd perform, it wasn't a determining factor in our decision.


How do you approach the creating process into building a rhythm or free dance?

Piper: The process of choreographing a routine is both exhilarating and exhausting. Sometimes, you can come up with a million ideas in an hour, and other times, you can get stuck on just three steps for days. It's an endless cycle of creativity that can be frustrating and rewarding. The beauty of our sport is that it's never perfect; there's always room for improvement.

Paul: As athletes, we're continually trying to refine our performance. There's a level of control needed to ensure the choreography looks and feels the way we intend while also earning the points we aim for. But we don't want our movements to look robotic or feel hollow. We're constantly teetering between taking control of the choreography and letting it control us. Finding that equilibrium is the magical part of what we do. There's no formula for achieving it; it requires throwing yourself into the process and hoping for the best.  


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Piper, since publicly sharing your journey with ovarian cancer, how have you been?

Piper: I'm doing well, considering the circumstances. I do have regular doctor's appointments and specific health protocols to follow, but I've accepted this as my new normal. Of course, some days are more challenging than others, but overall, I'm grateful. I'm here, healthy and strong. My health is a gift that allows me to continue doing what I love, and that's truly special.


Did you ever consider not competing this season so you could focus on your health?

Piper: No, we did not think about not competing because of that. On the contrary, it pushes me. My health is fine now, and having gone through it makes me appreciate everything more. Skating is a great distraction, an escape, and a safe bubble. Being at Skate Canada is a true gift to me, and it also brings memories as Skate Canada 2022 was the first time I felt something was off.


Can you explain why you decided to go public about it?

Piper: My decision to speak openly about my experience stemmed from the conversations I had with other women, particularly during events like an ovarian cancer walk. Despite being on the younger side of the age spectrum for this issue, it was enlightening to discuss our shared experiences. Often, women put off discussing topics such as cramps or other menstrual problems, treating them as normal female stuff that we shouldn't talk about. However, I've found that openness can be genuinely empowering. Statistics indicate that only 25% of women are diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer, so the stakes are high. I aim to use my voice to encourage others to listen to their bodies and consult their doctors if something feels off.

Solène MATHIEU - Skate Info Glace