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Davis, White promise big payoff with 'Notre-Dame'

Skaters hungry to get back world title from Virtue, Moir

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are intent on showing off their on-ice chemistry in their <i>Notre-dame de Paris</i> free dance.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White are intent on showing off their on-ice chemistry in their Notre-dame de Paris free dance. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/08/2012) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White have enjoyed fame for years, winning four U.S. ice dance crowns, an Olympic silver medal and the 2011 world title along the way.

But according to White, you ain't seen the best of them yet.

That best just might be their new free dance, set to Notre-Dame de Paris, the 1998 musical based on Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

"It's really a departure for us from all of our [past] programs, because we've really started to connect on the ice more than ever before," White said on a teleconference last Thursday. "The last few seasons we've really focused on getting that on-ice chemistry, and this season you're really going to see it pay off.

"[Notre Dame de Paris] is a piece of music Meryl found first and just fell in love with; I love it, too. It's really easy to get into and feel. We're excited to be able to show more growth. As well as we've been skating the last few years, we haven't peaked yet."

Davis is equally enthused about the program, which the team will debut at Skate America in Kent, Wash., Oct. 19-21.

"It's music Charlie and I have loved for years and years, and we've always wanted to skate to," she said in an interview last month. "We've always had a special place in our hearts for it. Marina [Zoueva] said this was the year, and we jumped at it ... It has depth we haven't reached in the past. I'm thrilled to hear it played in our rink.

"Almost all of our elements are totally fresh for this program, and we've worked to make sure [those elements] are part of the story and evoke the feelings of the music."

After giving the team the frothy Die Fledermaus free dance last season, Zoueva wanted to show a different side.

"Last year was light and easy; this year, we will bring to the world audience drama," the coach and choreographer said at this summer's U.S. Figure Skating Champs Camp. "Not [depressing] drama but something uplifting, about how you can go through drama yet get stronger and make your life better."

The program culminates with the musical's best-known number, "Danse mon Esmeralda (Dance My Esmeralda)."

"We're using a few other pieces, some of them instrumental versions, the way it works together in a story line," White said, then adding, "No, I'm not going [to be costumed as] a hunchback."

Notre-Dame de Paris has not been used by many top ice dance teams over the years, but 2002 Olympic champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat performed "Danse Mon Esmeralda" for their exhibition in 2000. Davis and White admitted to viewing the routine on YouTube and taking a page out of the smoldering French team's book.

"It's one of their most moving exhibitions, and a large part of that is the 'Dance Mon Esmeralda' song," White said. "It's so dramatic, it lends itself to a great ice dance routine. They definitely did a great job with it. Ours is a bit of a different mold, but it really uses the music similarly well."

"What's so great about Anissina and Peizerat's [version] is they were really able to let go, and I think that's something they did really well with all of their programs over the years," Davis said. "I think that is what we're enjoying most so far, the ability to let go emotionally and just kind of take on everything the music embodies."

The skaters had earlier announced that their short dance, featuring the Yankee Polka, would be performed to music from the ballet Giselle.

"It has a wonderful balance between a march, a waltz and a polka, which are the three possible themes this season," Davis said. "So it had everything we were looking for in terms of the styles of music, and not only a sophisticated feel but also a youthful and playful feel. That's what we were looking for in the short dance this year."

"The music goes really well with every step, and after last year with [Die Fledermaus], that's something we really understood," White said. "We're able to change characters well in each section."

Zoueva drew upon her training at Moscow's National Theatre Institute to create the program.

"This is my favorite ballet, especially the first act," she said. "When I was in university studying to be a professional choreographer, we learned a lot about ballet and the history of music. My first thought for Meryl and Charlie was the first act of Giselle, because I knew it had a polka and a march.

"Meryl has studied dance, and she now moves really like a ballerina. For me, it was very easy to choreograph; it just flowed. It is my favorite act in ballet because it is so peaceful. The two of them can perform it in a very light, floating [way] ... It will be completely different than the free dance."

White thinks the Yankee Polka, this season's required pattern dance, is made for the team's quick feet.

"The thing with the Yankee is it is really fast, so it's important for us to get on our edges and do the turns as cleanly as possible, as quickly as possible," he said. "We're athletically gifted and always had quick feet. Being that the Yankee comes more easily to us, I think we're a step ahead of the other teams just because of that."

At Skate America, the U.S. champions may face their greatest challenge from Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who placed fourth at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships. European silver medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia; Germans Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, who recently won silver at the Nebelhorn Trophy; 2011 Skate America bronze medalists Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas of Lithuania; and Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, fourth in the U.S. last season, will also vie for the podium.

Davis and White's training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions from Canada who regained the world title from their U.S. training partners last season, will not compete at Skate America. The earliest the top two teams can meet head to head this season is the Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, in December.

The Americans are using last season's defeat in Nice, France, to inspire them to great heights.

"We have to be on top of our game if we want to be world champions," White said at Champs Camp. "Last year, we skated great and we came away with the silver, which was disappointing -- we wanted the gold. It just makes us hungrier.

"This year is going to be another battle; Tessa and Scott aren't going anywhere, they're fantastic skaters. We have the luxury of seeing how hard they train, how good they are, and we're going to keep pushing ourselves. That's the only way we're going to get back on top."