Talking the 2023/24 Season with: Fear/Gibson, Bekker/Hernandez, and Karnes/Carr

Talking the 2023/24 Season with: Fear/Gibson, Bekker/Hernandez, and Karnes/Carr

The annual Sheffield based event ‘August Qualifiers’ not only serves as a chance to qualify for British Nationals in December, but for many skaters, it’s where they debut new programs for the upcoming season.

The event took place from August 22nd-25th, with skaters from Basic Novice all the way up to Senior competing across all four disciplines. 

At the event, I was able to catch up with ice dancers Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson, Phebe Bekker/James Hernandez, and new team Layla Karnes/Liam Carr, to talk about their programs for the 23/24 seasons. 

Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson

Fear/Gibson are coming into this season on the back of a very successful one, which included qualifying for the Grand Prix Final, a Europeans silver medal, and a fourth place at Worlds. 

The duo were excited by the 80s theme for the rhythm dance. Fear said, “We had probably five or six different concepts before we landed on this and it’s always a journey to pick music, but I’d say this was the most difficult because there’s so much to choose from, so much diversity in the music and it’s something we’re really drawn to.”

They decided on Sweet Dreams and Here Comes the Rain Again by Eurythmics. Gibson commented, “It’s great that [Annie Lennox] is Scottish, which feels very authentic!” 

On the inspiration behind the costumes Gibson said, “We wanted to take the silhouettes of the 80s. We wanted something really cool with the fabric, because the 80s are bright colours, contrasting, so we tried to go with that as well, with the neon pink covered in crystals.”

Fear added, “We love to be a little bit extra, so this is a great opportunity to do that, and play with colours and sparkles and the hair and make up and just really have more freedom in that, and I think that’s been really fun and creative for both of us.”

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Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson in the rhythm dance

Their free dance is to Rocky – including the main theme, and two covers of Eye of the Tiger.

“It’s a storyline that’s so well loved around the world and very meaningful and resonant to both of us. I think anyone can have their own hero’s journey where they overcome adversity and hardship and have to dig deep and believe in themselves, then ultimately find that inner triumph and hope and I think when you connect to a story like that it’s really fun, and more invigorating to perform it on the ice,” Fear explained. 

Fear / Gibson starting their free dance
Fear / Gibson post medal ceremony

Gibson said they got extremely lucky when it came to the costumes for the program. “We both used to get costumes made by a dressmaker in Sheffield. She did a lot of figure skating costumes, and then she went into the world of boxing, and makes all the boxing shorts, she made the costumes for the Creed movie. So we contacted her and she was willing to do it as a fun crossover project.”

On how they find motivation for a new season Fear explained, “We always try to find continuity between the seasons and to not start from scratch and find what did we work towards, what were our strengths and what did we really improve upon last year? Okay that’s our starting point now. So I feel like we were really intentional with our training and choosing elements and routines that highlight where we got to last year, but also with room to explore and grow.”

“I think that’s the main thing, feeling like we can pick up where we left off and I think that shows coming here and the stage we’re at already in the season feels like it’s filling both of us with confidence and also just being able to show the skating skills we developed last year. I think that’s shown through already,” Gibson added.

Fear/Gibson are currently listed to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy (September 20th-23rd) and Nepela Memorial (September 28th-30th).

Phebe Bekker / James Hernandez

Bekker/Hernandez made history last season earning Great Britain’s first ice dance medals on the Junior Grand Prix. The team achieved their goal of qualifying for the Junior Grand Prix Final, and also finished fourth at Junior Worlds.

August Qualifier marks their Senior debut, a big change for them both. Bekker has competed in Juniors since 2019, whilst Hernandez has since 2016.

“It’s crazy. I feel like it’s weird being back here but in senior with Lilah and Lewis and other teams,” said Bekker. “The supportive energy from everyone it’s been really nice!”

Phebe Bekker, Nick Buckland, & James Hernandez

For the rhythm dance, the team chose 1999Purple Rain, and Let’s Go Crazy by Prince.

“[He’s a] big artist to live up to, and we know a lot of people will do it this season,” said Hernandez. “We’ve seen a few people do it already but we’re not really shying away from that. We really love the choreography that we’ve done together, Nick [Buckland] and Penny [Coomes], all of us did it collaboratively, just to show a fun side to our skating. Last season our tango was very serious and we wanted to show in the rhythm dance something more fun, and it really is from beginning to end.”

“It was great to show a different side to our skating as well. I feel like we as a team, we have a lot of variety with what we can do and I think that’s one of our strengths and it’s been really fun playing around with all this new music, new emotion, new feeling. It’s been great,” added Bekker.

On something that will make their Prince skate stand out, “I’d say we don’t shy away from element placement,” Hernandez explained. “So we’ll put elements on the music where the music tells us to go. I like in our rhythm dance the Samba’s at the end and it goes on this really exciting bit of music.”

Their free dance is to Ruled by Secrecy & I Belong to You (+ Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix) by Muse. 

“This is the newer of the two programs by a lot,” Hernandez said. “We had difficulty getting our lifts going this year. I had an elbow procedure so we couldn’t lift for months.”

The program is in a contemporary style, a new avenue for them to explore. “It’s not a specific feeling like ‘oh yeah it’s fun’, it’s finding the energy from within. It’s so much about energy and feeling. It’s really exciting to get into that,” Bekker explained.  

Explaining the concept to the program Hernandez said, “The song is about secrets, it’s called Ruled by Secrecy, so in the beginning of the program I’m the secret that she’s got. So in the beginning choreography: I move her, I turn her, I push her, the whole beginning bit I’m orchestrating all the movements throughout and then as the program goes on, she starts to break away from that movement. And then you notice at the end, I go down and then she sits on top of me, and it’s like she’s conquered [me]. 

We even thought with our straight line lift where we do the halo movement, she’s basically a plank throughout and I guide it, so that really goes with what we’re trying to portray which is like, ‘I’m this controlling force from the beginning, and she breaks free as it goes on.”

On their goals for this season Bekker said, “I don’t want to speak too soon, but we’re definitely looking for that Europeans and Worlds spot. That’s definitely something we’ve got our eye on as our goal for the season, and doing well at it as well like, [at] Europeans we want to show good programs and make our mark. That’s a main thing I think, not going into seniors and-“

“Having a soft launch,” Hernandez continued. “Despite the setback with this elbow thing, that’s a lot better now, we wanna get to the first competition of the season and go hard because from here on in, the competition is quite consecutively. So I think the goal is to not go ‘oh it’s our first year senior’, some people get a bit lost or ‘that’s okay’. No, we want to really push this year, because the seasons after that are quite important for seniors.”

Bekker/Hernandez are currently listed to compete at Nepela Memorial (September 28th-30th).

Layla Karnes / Liam Carr

Karnes/Carr’s season didn’t begin in Sheffield, but a couple of weeks prior at Championnats québécois d’été, a competition in Canada where the team train. 

It was at their rink in London, Ontario, that they met. Karnes moved to London as a solo dancer in 2021, where Carr had been training with his previous partner. After his partnership ended, he took some time off and upon returning, had the opportunity to skate with Karnes. “[It’s] wonderful to work with Layla. It’s been an amazing journey so far.”

On the decision to represent Great Britain Karnes shared, “I have family [from here], and when I was little I would come here on holiday and skate here. My grandad always wanted me to skate for Great Britain, he passed four years ago, so I was wanting to for him.” It was her first time back in the country since COVID, but for Carr – who has Scottish roots, it was his first visit. “It was an amazing experience. Everyone was wonderful, super kind, very helpful, it was awesome.”

Their rhythm dance is also by Eurythmics including: Missionary ManHere Comes the Rain Again, and Sweet Dreams.

The music was chosen by their coaches. “Our one criteria is that we wanted to skate to something British and they went out looking and came back with Eurythmics.”

“I think it’s been great so far, I’ve really enjoyed skating to it. I don’t want to say it’s easy to skate to but it’s easy to have fun and connect to that piece,” Carr said.

Their free dance music was also originally chosen by their coaches – previously announced as Hit The Road Jack in June, but about a week before this event, they decided to change it.

Now skating to Keeping Me Alive by Jonathan Roy, the duo feel much more comfortable with the choice. “We feel we connect very well to the music because it’s very much ‘us’, I’d say. We’re really excited to go back and continue developing it,” Karnes said. 

Carr agreed, “It feels right to be skating to it. It’s been quite the week and a half, nine days we’ve worked on it but I think it’s definitely worth it. I’m loving this program.”

The choreography was a combination of some parts of their original free dance, and some new elements that fit the new program. Both are also confident in the story they’re performing. 

“One of my words I use is a little dystopian to start off where we’re stuck in this world that’s always, there’s rules to follow and we’re really stuck in that,” Carr explained. “Everyone has to be the same, no one can be unique, and the program starts and my character sees there’s another side where you can be more authentic in yourself and I’m trying to explain and show him that it exists. And at first he doesn’t understand that it even does exist and through the program he begins to understand and then we both break free,” Karnes added. 

“The end is breaking free and finding our own path of creativity and showing our expression.”

At the moment, Karnes/Carr aren’t scheduled for any international competitions, and their focus is on Nationals in December.

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