As it usually happens after main competitions and especially, after Worlds, lots of coaches, specialists, choreographers and former skaters want to share their thoughts, impressions, opinions. Now is Alexander Zhulin’s turn. His big interview for rsport.ru of course mostly dedicated to really disappointing “situation in Russian ice dance” – whom to blame and what to do) Situation with Bobrova / Soloviev, current realities in ice dance, Papadakis / Cizeron and the return of Virtue / Moir.
Alexander, where is our ice dance? One says – we are far behind the North Americans, the others that there is no gap, we just need to hit the mark with the program.
Alexander: The general situation is: I think the two-time World champions (Papadakis / Cizeron) have a special status. They are skating great, they are an absolute fanatics of what they do, have fantastic body control, and, most importantly, their elements are very clean. All level 4 and “+3”. Even “+2” is rarity for them. The secret of their success is a program polished to shine. It’s very hard for any couple to fight with them.
And for ours?
Alexander: If for mine, then, unfortunately, Dima and Katya didn’t participate in the World Championships, but I have a feeling that they would have competed there for fifth or sixth place. Provided a missed year and all “judging things”. And now, in regard with meldonium, the situation is become even more difficult. But, I tell you, not by chance they’re five-time Russian champions. This pair is strong and powerful.
As for Nikita and Vika … Pair is beautiful. But …. something is missing, in elements, in work of knees, in the program itself, or rather in its meaning, how they communicate during a performance. Remains a perception that each skates himself. All together it doesn’t look like something that will allow guys to fight for the top-three in world.
Sasha and Vanya – good and beautiful pair, but, in my opinion, not without drawbacks. They have very good elements, exclusive twizzles, cool spin, but I can’t get rid of a feeling that they just moved from juniors to seniors. I’m certainly not the final authority on this question, but I have formed an opinion and I have a right for it.
The guys, who didn’t get to European and World Championships completely on the principle of sport – Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, went across the ocean, to Igor Shpilband, to look for the happiness of victory.
Alexander: Both athletes are good – in skating skills and emotions, but creates a feeling that they are set to different radio frequency. Partners not quite match each other and in this aspect they lose to many American and Canadian competitors, exactly in this combination. Maybe, Shpilband will make a miracle …
Igor said that the pair needs to change dramatically, especially Ruslan. Elena needes…….
Alexander: Elena needs Katsalapov.
There is no other one?
Someone like Poje?
Alexander: No, it’s quite different.
Alexander: Not at all. Cizeron – it’s a completely different charisma. Ilinykh / Katsalapov were a hellish mixture. And they were insanely attractive because of it. A bunch of two leaders, who motivate each other even by swearing. Their program were just to goosebumps. Now, there’s nothing like goosebumps.
Once this couple was yours. You were preparing them for Olympics in Sochi, before they went to Morozov. Do we have dancers, who will be able to claim for the medals in Pyeongchang?
Alexander: For medals? Maybe I’ll seem overconfident, but I have very high hopes for Tiffany Zahorski / Jonathan Guerreiro. They absolutely don’t look like a Russian pair, their style is very western and it is very captivating. However, I would like to talk not about the Olympics in South Korea, but about one, that will be held in six years. It may be relevant for guys in terms of chances for podium.
So, you see in them those hooligans, who according to your own statement, win at the Games?
Alexander: No, on the contrary – Tiffany and John have excellent clean lines and great edges. This is one of the problems of Russian pairs, we lose a lot of points because of not clean enough edges in the step sequences. Also, these skaters have powerful lifts and skating, they move with great speed. Last year, we lost a lot of time, since it was unclear whether the French figure skating federation will give Tiffany an official release. They were training in limbo. I was telling them: “Keep skating.” They were flying across the ice, but there were thoughts in their heads: “What will be if we don’t get a release? Why do we need all this?”. After receiving the release they got a completely different motivation, and in a month have made a huge qualitative improvement.
Once I was talking to Tatiana Tarasova about the options for Plushenko’s career development, and she told that if Mishin will believe in Plushenko, then she also will believe. Not in Plushenko, but in Mishin. And then she mentioned Zagorski / Guerreiro, saying that she believes in Zhulin’s word, who is ready to invest his energy into “New Russian” duo. Seems that professionals rely on your skills, but don’t see a lot of potential in this pair.
Alexander: No, a lot of people, including Tatiana Anatolievna, whom I respect immensely, Alla Viktorovna Shekhovtsova, who fought for us to have this pair, see the potential. And the potential is very big. The main thing – they shouldn’t be lazy, should do impossible things, should self-actualize.
To catch up Cizeron it’s necessary to be “polished”, and that’s all?
Alexander: Not only. You need to be stretched to madness. Watch ballet, live for figure skating, read books on history, culture, be erudite … And even all this won’t be enough. Cizeron encompasses all the possible features, practically with no disadvantages. Crazy step, fluid arms movement. When he and Papadakis skate clean, it’s almost impossible for others to compete with them. Now, two fanatics by name Virtue and Moir will join this company. You can’t write off this outstanding pair.
What will Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon do from them?
Alexander: I imagine what a bunch will be on the Canadian ice! Now Canadians and French will motivate each other, and will form a powerful fist.
Won’t Tessa and Scott be a repetition of the history of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who skated for the ages in Sarajevo-1984, and then ten years later returned to “amateurs” and won “only” bronze of Lillehammer-1994?
Alexander: Let’s see how they will come out from this two-year break. It’s not easy to come back. But when Gordeeva and Grinkov returned from the same two-year break, there were no questions of who will be the Olympic champions.
But Virtue had serious problems with the knee.
Alexander: Papadakis also had a lot of difficulties this season. She hasn’t skated for three months and couldn’t remember the name of her partner. But everything turned out.
Shpilband told that the French team skate “on two feet” – too simple.
Alexander: I can see well, that their programs are built mainly on crossovers, crossed steps and beautiful passages. But still beautiful! This is the first. The second – judges are obligated to assess the elements, and the French team has all on “+3”. Third – everything between the elements, creates an atmosphere. It turns out very atmospheric skating at a very high speed, with a lot of very interesting transitions and beautiful elements. I think the judges just forget about their “two feet” on the ice, three, four … Everything’s delightful, and in such concept that it absolutely doesn’t spoil the program.
Meanwhile, I see a lot of pairs, who in addition to two step sequences with all these brackets, rockers, counters, which take almost a minute and a half, put this difficult steps in other parts of the programs just to show that they can do it. But actually it’s boring to watch this rockers and counters. It’s fun to watch only when they are made like Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu do them. And, yes, like Cizeron. When these rockers are invisible. You look on the ice and catch yourself thinking, that it’s impossible to choreograph this dance in a different way. Papadakis / Cizeron beat the accepted with integrity, so no questions arise.
When Patrick Chan performs a bracket turn – it’s pleasure. And when people hardly do it and repeat the same things just to make the program look full, it remains no impression for judges. They will take a look and say: yes, it was difficult for them, well done. There is an art, and there is a work, and the first costs much more. It’s easy to talk, but not everyone can combine everything in the program. Each from our coaching “department” would like to see his skaters skating like Papadakis and Cizeron or Torvill and Dean. But it doesn’t always happen. You also depend on the “material”.
Maxim Staviski in a recent interview noticed that Cizeron pushes the dance fashion forward and Katsalapov and Bukin began to imitate the Frenchman in plastic.
Alexander: You can imitate anybody, but the movement should go from inside. Each movement must have a meaning, and if you understand that your body isn’t plastic enough, you start to polish yourself in the gym. For the first time it’s difficult, but then you will reach the desired softness, or, conversely, the stiffness. But if you open your hand in a program and you don’t understand why, then you will not make any impression.
On the other hand, Soloviev somehow doesn’t seek to be like a French.
Alexander: Dima has his face. Papadakis and Cizeron skate, I’d say, in unisex style, where it’s not clear who is a man, and who is a women – they are so similar in all movements. A kind of ballet “Vision of the Rose”. And Dima – is a “man”. I create programs for him and Katya on the principle of “male / female”. It’s incredibly important for me, because this contrast has not been canceled. And if theoretically imagine that our plastic will not concede to Papadakis / Cizeron, then we still won’t create such program, we’ll do a program with a story.
But both plastic and story still need to be combined. And no wrapped heel, no meaningless movements with thrown out ass. An amateur may not see such nuances, but Papadakis / Cizeron are the best in the world in it. The feeling of superiority does not leave. Katya and Dima realize what they are lacking.
“Anna Karenina” at the beginning of the season and at the European Championship it’s two different programs. Only by the middle of the season has come the understand what they really are skating. Who is he, and who is she. And in Bratislava people started to come to us, saying that we showed the most interesting story at the European Championships. Exactly the story in theatrical meaning. Therefore, it’s completely unnecessary to turn Bobrova / Soloviev into Papadakis / Cizeron. The same as there was no need to turn Papadakis / Cizeron into Ilinykh / Katsalapov. Other things are needed for victory.
So, it’ll be a clash of stories and “loving sights” in ice dance?
Alexander: Russian pairs have always coped pretty well with the direction “a man and a woman“.
But Sinitsina and Katsalapov are also “a man and a woman”.
Alexander: I call this a program “about dove’s life”. Looks like they are in love, but it’s all so sweet that becomes cloying. Love can be different. That is why they have “seems to be love”, near love.
Need a story?
Alexander: Probably, both a story and performance, because love has several phases and faces. The dawn, meetings at the cinema, rose and candy stage, sex, conflict. And here they met with flowers at the cinema and the program is over, and they continue to stay with these flowers at the cinema.
It’s difficult to express an opinion more precisely.
Alexander: Music is beautiful, they are beautiful, at the beginning they looked at each other, at the end looked at each other. Look, look …
Are Stepanova / Bukin different?
Alexander: They are just different. But when you’re working with a pair it is important to understand it. When I worked with Lena and Nikita, I understood – it’s my team. When I started to work with Katya and Dima also realized – mine. I understand, in my point of view, that Stepanova / Bukin lack something, but what? My pair didn’t go to the World Championships, so I can’t criticize them. I’m just sad for the 9th and 11th places at the World Championships – it’s hasn’t happened for a long time … Or maybe ever. It’s sad and seems hopeless. Because the problem is not that at some events we didn’t got to the pedestal. The problem is that judges have started to get used to the fact that we should not be in the prize-winners.
Before, Alla Shekhovtsova was closely involved in ice dance, now the federation pushed her a little away from this role. She works in the Technical Committee, and don’t care much Russian figure skating, to which she gave four Olympics. How she fighted for us! We had such a support from her! She was a fan of her work, as Piseyev. These were the people, who really moved the ice dancing ahead. I am very grateful to them for support when (Tatiana) Navka and (Roman) Kostomarov skated. And now Alla Viktorovna is really sad, and here you are – the result. Such people shouldn’t be removed. It’s my opinion.
Everything is good for Figure skating federation, they have pairs and women’s skating and ice dance is just so far as. Apparently, in Pyeongchang medals are expected in pairs, ladies and team event. But with such dances I really doubt that we are guaranteed medals in the team event. You can’t dismiss all the good things that have been and let the ice dance drift.
Soloviev said in interview that next season will be a time of extreme experiments.
Alexander: If they will be skating…..
Well, let’s assume that they will.
Alexander: Everyone will try to find moments of their own differences. A lot of programs become similar in style to Papadakis / Cizeron. People understand in which direction leaders are working, and try to match. There are two ways: go this way and try to become better or to find a completely different way. I have very much doubt which way is correct. ISU Technical Committee asks to return to the rhythms, to something more understandable, so the audience could applaud to. But, in addition to the applause of the public, we need to do elements well, to get a delight from work of knees and softness of skating. But there is no receipe for this.
Is it important to create a “man / woman”?
Alexander: If Papadakis / Cizeron was skating in my group I wouldn’t try to make a “male and female”. I would create something atmospheric. A wind blow. It’s what they successfully do. But then someone else will come with a completely different approach … It’s like I was watching Hanyu this season. I thought, well, it’s impossible to create a better program, and you can’t skate better. The same (Javier) Fernandez loses in choreography, and his program is more usual. But then the World Championships came, and I found myself thinking that it’s impossible to skate better than Fernandez, while Hanyu’s is not quite as good as he was. It’s important, that a lot come together at one time – meaning and technique, and choreography, and banal physical shape.
I try to imagine the future Katya and Dima. They should be “male / female”, but fundamentally in a different guise, without Russian classics?
Alexander: Not necessary. You can come up with a million ideas. When Dima was playing a crazy, he hadn’t looked at Katya for two and a half minutes. Because according to the script he was sick, and the task was to skate without any emotion, but Katya was looking at him. And this idea was clear.
The next year will be a hip-hop …
Alexander: And swing. While we are in the process of selecting the music, the guys are working with specialists in hip-hop and swing. I myself have been studying the materials, but we are working as well on the “meldonium”. This question must be solved. The main thing is that our problem won’t be dragged on for a long time, because the program should be made, and to do it in obscurity is unpleasant for them and me. The incentive should be specified. Once there is an understanding on this issue, we will either start the work or finish.
If the verdict is sad, what the duo will do?
Alexander: We have decided for ourselves, that will think about it when the verdict will be announced. Life doesn’t end on figure skating. Dima has the right to decide for himself whether he will continue to skate with someone else, or to do shows with Katya …
We hope that soon they will be thinking about the swing. But, even before the Sochi Games, you said that, in the Olympic year there will be no experiments, your couple will skate a customary “Carmen”. At that time you worked with Ilinykh / Katsalapov.
Alexander: I had such opinion, now – I don’t know. Time has changed, many other styles appeared. Previously, everything was clear. Going to the Olympics – show “Carmen,” “Tosca” or other music that Peter Ilyich (Tchaikovsky) wrote like specially for the Olympic victories.
Or your unloved Nino Rota…….
Alexander: Actually, Nino Rota lost the Olympics to rock ‘n’ roll. By the way, good comparison, actual today. Then Grishuk / Platov just completely changed their style. They just destroyed everyone with that rock ‘n’ roll. No one expected.
Previously, we had programs with ideas, we worked a lot on Paganini. And now are skating mostly to some popular songs, about nothing. Fashion changes. Previously we wore flared, then straight jeans, then switched to skinny. The movement in dance go in more obscure direction, and I have no answer, where we will find ourselves in the end. And what we will skate in the Olympic season. I do not even know with whom.
How Ksenia Monko’s recovery is going?
Alexander: The back is in pain. Ksenia is thinking whether she should continue skating or not. So far, it’s nothing to add.