Shall we say it? Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are stepping out this year, dressed to kill.
It’s not that the reigning world silver medalist ice dancers have ever been swathed in tatters, but this season, knowing full well that only .02 separated them from a gold medal at the world championships last March, they are putting on their best bib and tucker for the challenge this year in Shanghai.
It was game on at the first practice at the Skate Canada International last month, when Poje showed up on the ice in a “suit of lights,” the most extraordinary collection of threads and sequins the sport has ever seen. Of course, the team was skating a Paso Doble, a dramatic and powerful Spanish dance with precise footwork and sharp movement, one of the few dances in which men play the leading role. Weaver, dressed in floating vermilion regalia – also heavily encrusted in gold – was the cape, flying to the toreador’s command in the bullring.
With such a dance, there is no room for subtleties. And Weaver and Poje don’t intend to be subtle. “When we want to be the best in the world, the devil is in the details,” Weaver said. “We knew we had to come out looking good.”
Details? They are extraordinary.
“I think we win the bedazzle award,” said Poje. “I think I have more sparkles than Kaitlyn has this year – which is new for me.”
Poje’s costume is black, yes, but he wears a heavily decorated jacket – with wide gold-encrusted epaulets and wide streams of elaborate embroidery and beads racing down the sides of his legs, true to tradition. As for Weaver, she wears a dress designed by award-winning Canadian theatre designer Debra Hanson. “She’s great at choosing choice materials and the right colours and shades,” Weaver said. Her “cape” is uncommon in that it is not dyed in one shade of red. It starts as a deep cherry red at the bodice and morphs to a fiery orange in the skirt. That, says, Weaver, gives the colour depth.
“It is comfortable and easy wear and I was happy that it was fancy enough for me, and it really lets the spotlight be on Andrew,” she said. (But don’t forget – her bodice front and back are heavily beaded in gold, too, like some ornamental capes.) Hanson, who has worked at the Stratford Festival Theatre and the Canadian Opera Company, designed both costumes. It’s not her first foray into dreaming up skating costumes; she did their Olympic outfits, too.
Weaver and Poje wanted a classic, authentic Paso Doble look. “We looked at all the old figure skating costumes and thought, ‘Okay what can we do it make ours stand out?’” Weaver said.
Yes, there were the simplicities of the Duchesnay’s Paso dress in 1992 – he in simple black, she in a beaded dress – but not as heavily beaded as Weaver’s. That year, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarkenko wore a get up that seemed to have little to do with the Paso character: he in a black shirt with billowy sleeves and she in long black fringe. The 1984 Olympic champions Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin didn’t look terribly toreador-like when they skated the Paso as an original set pattern dance. She wore a short skirt with tight rows of ruffles, looking more like she was dancing the samba.
And Torvill and Dean? Their 1984 Paso was legendary and danced with correct character; with Dean wearing a short, white decorated bolero jacket and Torvill looking like a matching cape. Finally a Paso breakthrough.
Leave it to Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov to wear costumes that looked more like a “suit of lights” and cape than most other noted skaters at the 1996 world championships. Platov’s togs were heavily decorated in beading and sequins, as was Grishuk’s and the twosome interpreted the concept beautifully.
As soon as Weaver and Poje saw the sketches that Hanson dreamed up, they were sold. It took a couple of weeks of work from various costume artisans to produce the apparel. Weaver and Poje did not have them in time for the Nebelhorn Trophy. They got the costumes just before they left for Skate Canada International in Kelowna and didn’t have much time to practice in them. At home at the Detroit Skating Club, the first time they stepped out on the ice with the outfits, all of their training mates started to applaud. “That’s when we knew we were going in the right direction,” Weaver said.
“It was well worth the wait,” Poje said. On a Wednesday, they skated in the fancy vestments for the first time. On Friday, they competed at Skate Canada International with them. It wasn’t long before Weaver bore the brunt of the brilliance. She suffers from bead burn – all over – from brushing close to Poje’s costume, perhaps like flying too close to the sun. She says she’s not distracted by it. “What I think is great is that I’ve never seen Andrew so excited by a costume before,” she said. “He’s not one to really get fancy.”
It’s a costume for the ages. Poje thinks his “suit of lights” weighs at least 10 pounds, yet it was designed in such a way that it does not impede his movement. “We should weigh it,” he said mischievously. “It’s the heaviest costume I’ve ever had.”
Most importantly, the costumes do something to both of them psychologically. “It makes me feel like a matador,” Poje said. As soon as he dons it, he feels “so much bigger.” The goal, he said, is to fill the stage and the arena with your presence. “Putting on that costume makes me feel that power,” he said.
That feeling of strength is all-important. “It sounds materialistic in a way, but it really matters.” Weaver said. “The performance starts before you even step on the ice. People are taking in what you are sending out. We want that message to be world class.”