I hope you have been enjoying the five part series on French figure skating history as much I have writing it... the wine and cheese have been almost as fantastic as the villas and vineyards on our little virtual journey and I want to thank you for donning your berets and going on this little journey through time with me! Part five - the final part - of this series explores the story behind two of my favourite ice dance programs of all time: "Missing" and "Missing II" from World Champions Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay.
When PJ Kwong interviewed me for Open Kwong Podcast, she asked me what five of my favourite skating performances of all time were. Like a complete idiot, I completely drew a blank and forgot to mention Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay's brilliant "Missing" free dances which along with (of course) Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's "Bolero" I personally consider to be two of the best and most important ice dance performances of all time. I'm pretty lucky to be able to say that I live a ten minute walk from (and get to see tons of great skating in) the rink where the Duchesnay's earned the world silver medal and five perfect marks of 6.0 for artistic impression in 1990. I have wanted to delve a little deeper into the story behind these free dances for some time because not only were these programs iconic but the message behind the movement was and is an important and political one.
In 1987, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean first performed a stunning program to music from "Panpipes Of The Andes" skated in dim lighting and giving the idea of two people in despair on the run. Torvill talked about the program in the duo's 1995 autobiography Facing The Music: "One thing that required our attention was Chris’s response to some Andean music, which reminded him of the terrible things - particularly the officially sanctioned kidnappings - that had been happening in Chile and Argentina in recent years. The subject was very much in the air after the Falklands War, and more recently the Costa Gavras movie, Missing. Chris saw in his mind those who had vanished, the fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, lovers, friends and children, and devised a series of movements linking two people who could be seen as friends or brother and sister, confronting authority, cowering before it, searching for lost loved ones, and ending where they started, in limbo."
When Dean began choreographing for his future wife Isabelle Duchesnay and her brother Paul, he translated he and Jayne's well received professional program to an "amateur" competitive free dance for the team, again using the "Dolencias" music as part of the dance, the burnt red dress and the theme of these sanctioned kidnappings in South America. These kidnappings have been termed by international human rights law as 'forced disappearances'. Around the time of Argentina's Dirty War, between 9000 and 30000 citizens including everyone from left-wing activists to militants, students, journalists, trade unionists and alleged sympathizers (and their families) were held in clandestine detention camps or other secret locations by the country's government. In what became known as the Caravan Of Death, many of the captives were heavily drugged by Pinochet security forces, put on aircrafts and thrown out while still alive into the Atlantic Ocean. Without bodies, the Argentinian government was easily able to dismiss rumours of any knowledge or involvement these people's disappearances or deaths. It was really disgusting business and was very politically significant at the time for Torvill and Dean and the Duchesnay's to bring this story to the world's attention using the ice as their medium.
The Duchesnay's actually won the free dance at the 1990 Worlds here in Halifax ahead of Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko but a third place finish in the compulsory dances and a second place in the original dance kept them underneath the Russian pair. The "Mirror Image" free dance that Isabelle and Paul skated at the 1991 European Championships wasn't super well received there and they quickly set to work with Dean in creating a new free dance - a sequel to "Missing" that continued the story where the first program left off. This time things went differently for the Canadian turned French ice dance team and they won both the original and free dances to take the World title that year in Munich. In 1991, they fittingly entered the ice in the same position which they closed their free dance in Halifax. Again skating to music from "Panpipes Of The Andes", their choreography was just as innovative and unmistakably Christopher Dean. They made use of that wonderful repetition in three's that Dean is famous for using and that final pose with Paul on the ice holding an outstretched Isabelle (almost as if she was in flight) is really 'the stuff of memories'.
After turning professional in 1992, the Duchesnay's toured in France and in North America with Stars On Ice and the Tom Collins tour but their professional career came to a halt in late June 1995 when Paul suffered a broken disc in his back. Any chance of a comeback was put to rest when a year later he was a victim in a near fatal accident while rollerblading. Paul then moved to Florida with his parents to start a family business and Isabelle tried her hand at commentary. In his wonderful book "Ice Cream". Toller Cranston opined that "after the Duchesnay's left the scene, ice dance declined dramatically. Today it has become low-level schlock. Its future is in jeopardy. This mystical art will be salvaged only if skaters like Paul and Isabelle carry the creative torch and illuminate the minds and passions of future ice-dance couples." Today, both Isabelle and Paul have largely chosen to stay out of the public eye and as much of a shame as that is for the sport, I for one certainly respect their decision.
That said, in an age where skaters today seem cautious of using music with lyrics after finally being ALLOWED to do so after literally over a hundred years, it almost seems like a foreign concept that many of today's skaters might be daring enough to use their competitive skating programs as a vehicle to share a political message. Skaters like the Duchesnay's and Katarina Witt WERE brave enough to take on very adult and political themes with their programs and choreography and I personally hope we'll see another skater in the future with that same interest - or even daring I guess is the right word. In these strange days of missing airplanes, civil unrest, questionable weather, water shortages and people continuing to take the mass media at face value, one has to reminisce on Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay's brave choice to put "Missing" and "Missing II" out there to the world on an unlikely stage and smile.
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