Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha are dancing into their second consecutive Junior Grand Prix Final next week. They, along with Stephen Gogolev, will be their nation’s only representatives in the junior competition.
Lajoie and Lagha, who both began taking skating lessons in 2004, teamed up in 2011. Four years later they won the Canadian novice title at ages 15 and 13 and then suddenly called an end to their partnership.
Differing opinions about training and how each saw the big picture fractured their on-ice relationship. “We did not have the same ideas. Our way of training and our way of looking at things was just not the same. We were really serious about skating but it was not working out so because of this we split,” Lagha explained.
A few months later Marie-France Dubrueil asked Lajoie why the partnership had ended. “She said, ‘you are both good skaters and you should get back together. You really have to find a way to train together. So that helped.” The team reunited that summer.
In 2016, they placed 13th at the World Junior Championships and the following year danced into sixth. Lagha attributed the quantum leap in the rankings to “training smart. That summer we worked intelligently. I think the summer after those World Championships was the time we grew the most. We set goals. We started working on the short dance a lot and at the end of the year we started working on the free dance.”
Last season, Lajoie and Lagha were on track to capture a medal at the 2017 Junior Final, following a second place finish in Australia and a win in Croatia. But a fall on a lift in a practice session a couple of weeks after they returned home derailed their training and preparation. The Montréal-based team returned to the ice just two weeks prior to the competition.
“I fell on my butt but I fell so hard it caused a concussion,” Lajoie explained. “I think it was a month or a month and a half – no school, no skating, no nothing for so long. I could not walk or anything – it was a bad fall. That is why, for me, it (the Final) was a really stressful competition because we only had two weeks to train.”
This season, Lajoie, 18, and Lagha, 19, danced into second place at their first event in Austria, despite receiving no points for the choreographic sequence in the free dance.
“The choreographic sequence is supposed to be from corner to corner but we started in the middle of the ice so it was not completed,” Lagha explained. “We got Level 3 for the twizzle and Level 2 for the step sequence. Technically it was not such a great competition.”
“At first we were disappointed about the technical aspect of that first Grand Prix,” Lajoe added. “Romain told us when we got off the ice that probably the choreographic element would not count so we knew it would probably be a bad score.”
The team spent the next two weeks working on their programs. “We changed everything that needed to be fixed,” said Lagha. “We changed the spin, the twizzle – we added some arm movements so the position would be more obvious and we changed a lot of our footwork.”
At their second Grand Prix event in Richmond, Canada, Lajoie and Lagha got a taste of what to expect next week. “It was crazy. It was so cool. The arena was full and it was all Canadian fans so it was good to be home competing on Canadian ice,” Lajoie said. The duo captured the gold medal and with 28 points secured a berth at the Final in Vancouver.
Romain Haguenauer choreographed both programs this season. Their rhythm dance is set to three tango selections from Otros Aires, an Argentinian music project – “Perro Viejo,” “Otro Puente Alsina” and “Essa.”
“My father played some of their music for me and I liked it,” Lagha explained. “So I played it for Romain and he thought it was good, so we started listening to other songs from the same composer and we found the pieces for our programs.”
Deciding on the free dance music was not as clear-cut. “We had a classical piece of music but I didn’t like it,” said Lajoie. “Then Zach played another piece (“Warsaw Concerto” by Richard Addinsell) and I really liked it so we went for that one.”
The team plans to compete only in the junior ranks this season, including at the 2019 Canadian Championships. Lajoie said they want to concentrate on junior competitions and do not feel the need to go senior and do both.
Lajoie and Lagha’s talents are not restricted to their skills on the ice. She has a part-time career as an actress, and has appeared in a television series and a number of commercials. “I have not been doing movies and stuff because of skating,” she said. “I do it more for fun at the moment. I am not sure what I want to do when I finish skating but that is a possibility. But, I could become either a coach or an actress. I have so many opportunities, I don’t know.”
Lagha is an accomplished pianist who has performed at Concordia’s Oscar Peterson Hall in Montréal. In June 2018 he won the Canadian Music Competition, which earned him a scholarship.
His favourite music is from the Romantic era he said. “Liszt, Chopin and the Russian composers are also interesting I think. Also the Baroque era … Bach, of course. My favourite piece to play is Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #1.
When asked who they look up to the most in skating, Lajoie named Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir with whom they trained for two years. Lagha said there is no one particular person or team for him. “I think that everyone has their good points. When I was younger I was always a fan of Nikita Katsalapov. Of course, Gabriella (Papadakis) and Guillaume (Cizeron) and Tessa and Scott are amazing. There are a lot of amazing people.”
Lajoie and Lagha train on the same ice with the same coaching team as Papadakis and Cizeron. “It is always really good. They are always pushing themselves. In training they are like they are in competition with their emoting and technique,” Lajoie said. “It is really inspiring training with such good people.”
The teenagers are excited to have the opportunity of performing on home soil in front of a sold-out audience and know there will be a lot of people cheering for them in Vancouver. “At the last Grand Prix Final (in Nagoya) the arena was full of people but I feel that stressed us a little bit,” said Lajoie. “Both of us felt like the legs were a little bit sloppy and stuff, but now that we have experienced that … being in front of a Canadian crowd is going to give us energy. There will be a lot of people cheering for us, which I think is going to help us skate even better.”
“The audience is there for you and you just want to give all your energy back. It is nice to have people cheer for you,” Lagha added.