Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker are excited to be kicking off their Grand Prix season this weekend at Skate America. They have big plans for this year’s Grand Prix–and this season in general.
“We are absolutely aiming to be at the [Grand Prix] Final this year, which would mean podiuming at both of our Grand Prixs,” Baker said. “We don’t go into an event trying to be second. We want to be the best we can. We want to be in the top 6 at Worlds, absolutely. And we want to be stepping into the role of being National champions. We know that Chock/Bates have been [there] for a very long time, but we have to believe we can push into that space. Otherwise, we’re only ever going to be behind them.”
Hawayek and Baker are not yet making long-term plans beyond this season, so they want to take full advantage of each moment now.
“We’re taking it year by year. Day by day,” Baker said. “We’ve had–everybody knows–a bumpy couple of years. Even getting to the [2022 Olympic] Games last year was a huge feat for us. That was always a part of our plan–getting there–but we found it was such a huge stretch [mentally], to be looking so far ahead. We found the most enjoyment in just being present day to day and seeing how much we can maximize our potential.”
The team is excited about their new programs this season. Massimo Scali choreographed their rhythm dance to “Cuban Pete,” a song made famous by Desi Arnaz in the 1940s.
Hawayek said that they were originally considering a more traditional type of Latin rhythm dance, but Scali inspired them to try something more unexpected.
“We were sticking within the safe realm of the normal box of ballroom-style Latin. Then, when we had our first meeting with Massimo, he was super-excited about this idea,” Hawayek recounted. “When he explained it to us, it felt like it instantly clicked. It seemed the perfect way to combine the maturity of a competitive program with the lightness and humor that we’ve incorporated in some of our exhibition programs. It gave us the edge of being different, but something that enhanced our strengths.”
Hawayek and Baker discussed how their strategy for the rhythm dance was affected by ISU rules changes for that segment, which include adding a choreographic step sequence and replacing the traditional compulsory pattern with a pattern step sequence.
“What’s exciting is that it does allow more character in the dance,” Baker commented. “It’s a character step sequence, so we are building characters within our rhythm dance. It’s not just a Latin program. So it does help us. It allows us to dive even deeper into our story.”
But although the rules changes may enhance storytelling opportunities, Baker acknowledged that there might be some downside in terms of promoting strong basic dance technique.
“We’re already losing so much dance frame and dance structure with what we’re doing [now], because the focus is on how clean can a turn be, not how nice is the carriage,” Baker reflected. “Yes, that’s a GOE concept [i.e., receiving marks for good carriage/presentation]. But you can see top-level teams that may not have nice-level carriage, but they’re going to be doing beautiful turns. They’re going to be putting their energy into that, because that’s how you get your points. So getting rid of that [compulsory dances] can be an apprehension [of losing traditional technique]. But also, at the same time, it’s pushing the sport. So who knows, it could be the exact opposite of what we think. It could push us in a new direction. We don’t really know until we try, and now is the perfect time to do it.”
Hawayek added that the downside of including a traditional compulsory dance was trying to integrate it seamlessly into the program.
“The most challenging aspect was the choreography into and out of the pattern dance, and finding a way to effortlessly weave in and out of it,” she said. “I feel like the flow of our program [rhythm dance] this year have been not necessarily easier, but more organic.”
In the free dance, Hawyek and Baker want to showcase a style and mood that feels intrinsic and organic to themselves.
“Our free dance developed with a question that Marie-France asked us, before we even started looking into music,” Hawayek said. “That was: ‘What is the message that we want to portray in our skating this year?’ It came down to wanting to have this deep trust that who we are is enough. We thought, ‘Do we have to do something different? Do we have to try and reinvent ourselves? It’s the start of a quad.’ But Marie-France said: ‘If you want [yourselves] to be enough, you have to trust [in the style of] music that has been the strongest for you.’”
Staying true to their own identity as a team has been an ongoing theme for Hawayek and Baker, as they continue to build their own niche and brand in ice dance. So when they found some music that they loved by Norwegian musician Askjell, they went with it.
“We always strive to create real emotions on the ice, not choreographed emotions or acted emotions. When we’re on the ice, what you see is the full vulnerability of what we’re feeling,” Hawayek said.
The team will be looking to share their emotions and artistry with the audience today in the free dance at Skate America.