10/26/2012 07:05 EDT | Updated 12/26/2012 05:12 EST

Steamy, sensual free dance is a departure for Olympic champions Virtue and Moir

WINDSOR, Ont. - If their Olympic free dance was all grace and innocence, their new long program is steamy and sensual.

Olympic and world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have gone in a different route, choosing to skate their long program to "Carmen" in this pre-Olympic season.

"I don't think you can do 'Carmen' without that element, because (Moir's character) Don Jose is really obsessed with Carmen's sexuality," Virtue said. "We wanted to push ourselves and test out those characters that maybe we haven't been able to play before."

The 23-year-old Virtue and Moir, 25, will debut their free dance Saturday at Skate Canada International and are hoping for a better performance than Friday's short dance. The two lead by just .01 points after botching a lift.

The skaters — who are not dating — became Canada's favourite couple at the Vancouver Olympics, winning the gold medal with a floaty, beautiful program to Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

"Carmen" took some convincing from coach Marina Zueva, who'd been urging the two to skate to the sultry opera for the past several years.

The two insisted on putting their own spin on their performance to one of figure skating's greatest hits, one of the most recognizable pieces in the sport. The women's event at the 1988 Calgary Olympics was billed the "Battle of the Carmens," between Katarina Witt and American Debi Thomas.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who are competing here, are also skating to Carmen.

"In listening to the music, there's a reason that everyone wants to skate to it because it's just so powerful and so emotional, and it really touched us," Virtue said. "And it feels good to skate to and that's a big part of it. We have to listen to it so many times, we're the ones who have to connect with it at the end of the day and we're excited about using such a familiar piece of music but having a storyline and different movements to it."

Their storyline differs from the opera in that Don Jose doesn't kill Carmen — that would be against International Skating Union rules that dictates programs must be uplifting.

"I'm not allowed to die on the ice, so we can't show that, and Scott's not allowed to die," Virtue said, laughing.

The opera tells the story of the soldier Don Jose, who is seduced by the Gypsy Carmen. He leaves his childhood sweetheart and the military to pursue Carmen, but kills her in a jealous rage after she falls in love with a toreador.

"I think in the end of our story, it's Carmen who has the power and she has her freedom and Scott's character Don Jose is just ruined, that's a bit of a swap from the original," Virtue said. "Otherwise it's a pretty contemporary storyline in that it's about sexuality and power and passion and love. Very much what you might find in a movie today."

In Friday's short dance, to a waltz written by actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, Virtue and Moir lost major marks for a messy lift at the end of the program, the same one that Moir injured his neck attempting a few weeks ago.

There was an awkward moment when Moir's face disappeared in the gauzy coloured skirt of Virtue's dress.

When someone pointed out that Moir had a "facefull of skirt," he replied laughing: "That's normal though, that's my day to day, I'm used to that."

Virtue shot back: "On the ice."