EDITOR'S NOTE: As of Saturday night, Ice Dance Academy of Montreal has cancelled the online exhibition.
On Friday, two days after the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships to be held in Montreal were cancelled, Madison Chock and Evan Bates were still coming to grips with their emotions.
“We drove past the Bell Centre today and we were like, ‘Ahh, man,’” Bates said. “Honestly, it was a little sad. But then you think, the whole world is in this together. It’s about much more than just skating. I get it. It’s just ….”
“It makes you sad,” Chock said.
The ice dancers know Canadian authorities, acting to stem the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, did the right thing. Still, after competing together for nearly a decade the couple was having their finest season ever, with a silver medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December, a second U.S. crown in January and a second consecutive Four Continents title in South Korea last month. This world championships — held in their adopted hometown, just a few miles from their training center — was the two-time Olympians’ best chance to stand on the world podium since their back-to-back world medals in 2015 and 2016.
“The season was as good as we could have possibly hoped for,” Bates, himself a three-time Olympian, said. “We were really happy with the competitions we did. I think we did seven, which is a lot, considering one was cancelled. We didn’t do a full season last season, either, because Madi was injured. Next season, we’ve got to go from start to finish.”
But while the 2019-20 competitive season ended early, Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer, founders of the Ice Academy of Montreal, may have found a way for Chock, Bates and their other students to pay tribute to fans and, at the same time, gain a bit of closure.
The trio, along with several associates, coach 13 of the 34 ice dance teams that were expected to compete in Montreal, including the top three Team USA couples: Chock and Bates, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. On Thursday, they announced they will host a special exhibition of their students performing their favorite programs of the season.
“We decided not to let the season end sadly like this, so we’re going to do a special event,” Dubreuil said in a Facebook Live broadcast.
Turning to her students, she added, “You don’t have to worry about technical scores. Just skate from your heart and to have a really nice souvenir of your favorite program of the season.”
The skaters will don their competition costumes and makeup, and perform on Monday. The programs will be recorded by cameraman and cinematographer Jordan Cowan, a former U.S. ice dancer, and aired on Facebook Live on a date to be announced.
“We want to make this very festive and very special,” Dubreuil said.
With the rinks in Montreal closed due to COVID-19, the Ice Academy coaches have selected another rink that has, so far, remained open.
“The situation changes every hour. We hope we can do it,” Cowan said. “I feel like the skaters who didn’t have the chance to do a final performance for their fans, can do it for the camera. We can make it a little more formal by introducing the skaters, having short interviews with them and having them skate their routines in costume, then finish with a bow and everybody claps. (Ice Academy) holds competition simulations several times a year, and I always think it would be amazing to film them, and what better time than now.”
Emotions ran high as the athletes addressed fans during Thursday’s Facebook Live event.
“(Cancelling worlds) was the right decision, if I remove myself and my own desires, which are kind of selfish (considering) what is going on in the world is way bigger than us right now,” Donohue said.
Two-time world medalists Hubbell and Donohue, who placed fourth at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, had looked forward to showing off their programs to best advantage in Montreal, after minor errors helped cost them a third U.S. title and second Four Continents crown this season.
“In the last few months, it’s been a rediscovery of our love for each other and also for the sport, and the realizations that we really don’t have much time left in our career,” Hubbell said, choking back tears.
“So overall the whole experience and cancellation of worlds reminds you that skating is a privilege, and worlds in Montreal would have been a big privilege for us and our coaching team, so it’s sad. But we are really lucky to be in a community that, so far, is not affected by the virus and hopefully (the cancellation) will help prevent that.”
Baker, who with Hawayek won a second straight U.S. bronze medal in January, gave a shout-out to others affected by the cancellation.
“Thank you to the fans, the organizing committees, everyone,” he said. “We’re all pretty down knowing the hard work we put in throughout the season, but especially the past four or five weeks, the energy we all bring to (training) our sections, no matter how tired we are, (won’t be seen).”
Four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who won silver at the PyeongChang Games, train at Ice Academy, as do teams representing Canada, China, Japan, Great Britain, Armenia, Spain and Australia. All are expected to perform in the upcoming online show.
Couples may perform their rhythm dance, set to selections from musical theater, or their free dance. Fans may see Hubbell and Donohue’s fun and sexy Marilyn Monroe inspired number, and Hawayek and Baker’s show-stopping “Saturday Night Fever” routine.
For Chock and Bates, the choice is easy: they will perform their “Egyptian Snake Dance,” the exotic, sophisticated free dance created by Dubreuil and Samuel Chouinard that helped put them back on top.
“The free dance was really a game changer for us,” Bates said. “We definitely want to do it again.”
“Things can change so quickly right now, we’re not getting too attached to anything,” Chock said. “I hope (the show) happens. I think it’s a good idea to do this performance for closure. Everyone at the rink has worked so hard.”
Even if additional rink closings make Monday’s event impossible, the couple plans to perform the free dance again: they’ve been invited to give a special exhibition in Cairo, Egypt, in July, assuming COVID-19 is controlled by then. For now, they’re already sifting through ideas for next season’s programs.
“I think the excitement of next season is what will help us move past the disappointment of not being able to do worlds in Montreal,” Bates said.
“We’ll use all of this momentum and put it towards choreographing new material,” added Chock.