One of the best reasons to have qualifying rounds at Canadian Nationals is to see unusual skaters like Alexandre Hamel, a 20-year-old from Quebec whose choreography is in the offbeat mold of a Dan Hollander or a Gary Beacom. Hamel isn’t your average skater. He’s a full-time student who has no coach and virtually no ice time for training, yet managed to choreograph some of the best programs of the competition. Hamel finished 24th at the 2004 Canadians after finishing 20th in seniors last year and tenth in juniors the year before.
He started skating when he was eight. “I went to play hockey like most guys in Canada,” he remembered. “But then I learned a waltz jump and said this is so crazy. Then there was a show at our rink and that kept me in the sport. I’m not a technical skater any more. Since I am now attending the university, I don’t have time to be a good technical skater so I focus on what I like the most, choreography and entertaining performances, even if it brings no medal or title. I do it more for the contact with the public. I really want to be a show skater where I can show my programs in front of a big crowd. There are a few judges and thousands of people. I choose to please the people. All the stories about political judgments don’t make me feel like skating for judges, even if I never really felt like a victim of all that. It is just too bad the artistic mark follows the technical one.”
Hamel didn’t land a triple jump, a triple salchow, until he was 15. “The double Axel is my favorite jump,” he said. “It goes the highest so it’s the most impressive. I have worked on a triple Axel but have not had success with it. Since this year, I don’t train enough to improve. I like jumps a lot but my thing is choreography. I’ve always seen my solos as the most important thing. I just add jumps to be legal in competitions and to add a little challenge.”
“Every year I try to change both of my programs because I don’t want to do the same thing twice,” he stated. “This year I could only change the long because I didn’t have enough time.” This season, Hamel used techno music called Transition by Steven Snomed in his short program, which he called “The Robot”. Sebastien Britten helped him with the choreography for the short. For his long program, entitled “The Conductor,” he used Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and the Can-Can Overture in a humoristic way. The program, which he developed himself, is more like a one-man theatre performance than a skating program. It was a favorite with the fans, receiving standing ovations at some events. Last season’s free skate was a tribute to Charlie Chaplin.
“I’ve chosen my own music since I was 13,” he related. “I like to experience all kinds of music but this year I really liked classical music. I had to wait to be mature enough to do a classical program. I still don’t think I’m mature enough so I used classical music in a humorous way to create the character of a conductor having trouble with his orchestra. It was hard to choose the music. I thought of using Firebird, but I chose Symphony No. 5 instead. I spent seven hours with Hugo Chouinard, a sound editor specializing in figure skating, in front of the computer cutting the music and adding the sound effects. We became friends. I’m his most difficult client and he likes to be part of the creative process leading to my solos.”
“All life inspires me for skating,” he said. “I like to build a character and show it on the ice. I’m here for fun so that permits me to be anti-establishment. I would like to make this sport more appealing to the public in general. Connoisseurs clap for big jumps but I prefer someone not knowing figure skating to cheer for something he really enjoyed without having to evaluate the technical difficulties. For “The Robot,” I wanted to use some completely different techno music to really skate like if I was a robot controlled by music. For “The Conductor,” my inspiration was Bugs Bunny as a conductor. I did last year’s free program because Charlie Chaplin is my idol. He should be the idol of all figure skaters and ballet dancers for how he could use his body to show things, feelings, tell stories and to make subtle comments about his world. Figure skating is silent so you use your body to tell a story. I watched a lot of his films before I did my long program last year.”
“I’m in my first year studying film production at Concordia University in Montreal,” Hamel stated, “I’m taking a full course load. We watch one or two films every day. I plan to be a filmmaker and I’ve been doing films for the last two years. I like documentaries and science films. I also do a lot of frame-by-frame animation films. I work as an animator in a camp called Jouvence. People say I make films like I skate and I skate like a filmmaker. My films look like they are choreographed and my solos tell stories. I always have my video camera and when I finish one film, I start another one.”
Hamel skates at the Montreal Figure Skating Club. “I’m my own coach,” he related. “I felt guilty asking my parents for money for a coach because I was having no time to commit fully to skating, and I felt mature enough to train myself. I coach young recreational students and at the end of the sessions, I do my own practice. I have about 3-5 hours on ice every week, although just before Canadians, I did ten hours a week. When I was a kid, I was just crazy on the ice. Now when I have an hour on the ice, I’m so happy that I work really hard.”
“I’m completely independent, in life as in skating, which is a big risk,” he said. “Last year, I was a gas pump jockey to make a living and in the summer I’m a sailboat teacher. I’ve sailed for a week a year since I was six years old. I am so lucky I had all the expensive hobbies. Some day I’d like to buy a sailboat and go away and sail the Caribbean as a captain.” Hamel also collects road signs and listens to French ska music, old punk music from before the 90’s. “I remember a lot of Fridays where in the day I was doing figure skating with Olympic level coaches and in the night trashing in underground punk rock shows where nobody would have expected to see a national level figure skater,” he said. “This explains well my unusual lifestyle and my unusual skating.”
He likes to travel, but prefers in-depth stays to quick vacations. “My trip to Croatia for a junior competition was interesting,” he stated, “but short and too much in arenas and hotels. They have some very old places and it teaches a lot to see a country that was touched by war. Quebec is a nice place. I hitchhiked through it, even working on farms sometimes. I’d like to go to India and Europe, not as a tourist, but to live there for a while.”
“Each year, I ask myself whether I should skate again,” Hamel said, “but it’s my drug. I can’t live without it. Figure skating will always be here, but we must keep the people interested. They get so used to seeing the same thing that they want something different. I love doing shows and trying new things. Once I even did fire breathing during a show. I also took off a skate to finish a program on one skate during a solo. I don’t have the big jumps. But lots of people do the jumps. Not a lot really entertain people. And nobody has more fun than me skating.”
“If you know the movie ‘Happy Gilmore’, I feel to be to figure skating what Happy Gilmore is to golf,” Hamel noted. “In French, we say ‘artistic skating’ and I try to be true to this. I want each of my programs to be a unique creation doing more than jumps connected together by simple moves, not really living with the music.”