Evgenia Lopareva: “The ISU is trying to make ice dance more entertaining. It’s great, but now dances are even more subjective.”

Posted on 2023-04-11 • 1 comment


Interview with ice dancer Evgenia Lopareva, who skates with Geoffrey Brissaud and represents France.

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source: Sport-express.ru dd. 10 April 2023 by Rustam Imamov

For many years, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were not only leaders of the French national team, but also undisputed number one in the world ice dance. However, there was no strong second pair behind them. So when Papadakis and Cizeron decided to end their career, Evgenia Lopareva and Geoffrey Brissaud became the first pair of the French team. Lopareva, who is from Moscow, skated for Russia in juniors with Alexei Karpushov. Then she took a risk and went to Europe. It took her four years to become a leading figure in another country. According to her, she will need another four years to wait “in line” in the world ice dances. In an interview with Sport-Express, Evgenia talked about her life in Lyon and how her training goes at the famous Montreal School.

There are significant changes in the rules for ice dance this season. In particular, even jumps are now allowed! What do you think of these innovations?

Evgenia Lopareva: Well, not exactly jumps. We are talking about choreo-jumps. And, in my opinion, it is interesting and will diversify programs. Before, everyone did the same choreo-slides, and honestly, it became monotonous. We needed something else, and now we have a new element. Why not? Besides, new choreo step sequences have appeared, and they can now be done with new patterns. I love choreo in general. In our free dance, we have a choreo-jump that Guillaume choreographed for us. But we struggled for a long time when we were choreographing it because the rules are quite strict – you can’t do more than one rotation, no more than a second in the air. It’s hard to make it look good and strict to the rules.

Do you still have the basic jumping technique from your childhood?

Evgenia Lopareva: I can do an axel. Single, of course, not double. I’m not sure about doubles. I haven’t tried them in a long time. I was taught pretty good technique and I still remember it.

So Sizeron choreographed your free dance? How was it working with him?

Evgenia Lopareva: It was quite productive and I enjoyed it. He’s young and passionate, with so many ideas and he wants to express himself through the other skaters. So I was glad that we worked with him on our free dance. I convinced everyone to choose this program and Guillaume choreographed it exactly as I had imagined it in my head. It turned out great.

Of course, Guillaume set the foundation, and then we worked on it and improved it with both our own ideas and with the coaches in Montreal, of course. It’s all a team effort. But Sizeron’s lay out for the dance was still the key, and the dance turned out really strong.

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Are you long-time acquaintances with Guillaume? What is your relationship with him like?

Evgenia Lopareva: We hardly communicated personally before. We crossed paths at competitions, but that was about it. Plus, we were at different levels. I wouldn’t say we were best friends before, but nowadays we get along well with Guillaume.

Really? Is there no communication within the French team?

Evgenia Lopareva: Why not? Everyone communicates, but my partner is more active in that regard. He’s French, and of course, it’s easier to communicate in your native language.

And you haven’t fully fit in there, right?

Evgenia Lopareva: I think it’s impossible. Different mentality, upbringing, habits, attitudes. If you’re not French, it’s unlikely that you’ll become one, especially if you weren’t born in this country… And I suppose the same can be said for any country. But overall, I feel comfortable in my communication and life in France.

In the French national team, there have always been many former Russians, some of whom are still there. Do you communicate with other Russian immigrants?

Evgenia Lopareva: It depends on the specific people. I communicate with Pavel Kovalev, we often travel together for competitions. I have met Tiffany Zagorski, she occasionally visits France and we are friends. I know Adelina Galyavieva well, but we are not in touch at the moment. We used to have conversations, but we were not close friends.

Is it difficult to make friends in sports, especially with direct competitors?

Evgenia Lopareva: It depends on the person and how they relate to things. I take the situation calmly. Whether you are a direct competitor or not, we are all working towards the same goal based on our abilities. Our job is to skate, and then fate will decide what happens.

How was your adaptation to the new country?

Evgenia Lopareva: At first, it was very difficult. Almost impossible. You don’t know the language, and there are no family or friends around you. Nothing at all. It’s like you were thrown into the water and told to swim. If you want to survive, you will learn. And that’s how I learned to live in France.

The first six months were the most challenging, but gradually, I started to get used to it. Luckily, my mom supported me a lot and gave me advice. I started to learn the language, and in any case, you needed to know the language to obtain citizenship.

Did you learn French? Did you speak English before?

Evgenia Lopareva: Of course, I learned French. To be honest, my English was not that great when we first teamed up. I lacked conversational skills. First two years Zhora (Geoffrey) and I skated in Russia, which made it easier for me. But by the time we moved to France, I could already communicate in English.

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Zhorik is your partner Geoffrey, right?

Evgenia Lopareva: Yes, that’s what we called him with the coaching staff of Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Shefer when we trained in Russia, in a simple, Russian way. And as for English, my skills weren’t very useful. They don’t speak much English in France.

So the stereotypes about Parisians refusing to speak English on principle are true?

Evgenia Lopareva: Well, I live in Lyon, and not many people here speak English. The French in general love and value their language and always appreciate it when foreigners speak French, even with mistakes.

Do you speak French comfortably now?

Evgenia Lopareva: I wouldn’t say it’s easy and it doesn’t come effortlessly to me. But I have enough knowledge to maintain a conversation. It’s hard to have serious, lengthy conversations, but I can definitely express myself at a basic level. I lack the depth of the language, but it’s enough for daily life. To go to the store, ask for directions, chat in with friends. No problem with that.

Where are you currently living?

Evgenia Lopareva: This year we are collaborating with the Montreal school, so we travel back and forth from Europe to Canada for the entire season.

Montreal is currently considered the strongest school in the world. What is the atmosphere like there?

Evgenia Lopareva: Everything is very professional. The work is well-organized, with many specialists, but everyone knows their task. Each person leaves their mark on the pair, and the overall result is impressive. They take into account many nuances, I have never seen such a large number of specialists before.

Have you found the answer to the question of what the secret of Montreal school’s success?

Evgenia Lopareva: Perhaps it is precisely in this professional approach. Their strength lies in the fact that everything is systematic. And with such a large number of pairs, there are more than 15, each pair has individual sessions and its own identity.

Does that mean there is an individual approach as opposed to the concept of Eteri Tutberidze’s conveyor?

Evgenia Lopareva: I cannot judge the training concept of Eteri Tutberidze, because I am not familiar with her system. Here is an important nuance that we are not single skaters, but dancers. I trained in single skating and I can say that training in ice dance and single skating is different. Here in dance, you are not alone, but with a partner.

Everyone has a different body, temperament, and therefore, strong sides in dances. This all needs to be brought together as a whole. It’s easy for someone, and it’s harder for someone else. Someone finds one thing easier, and someone else finds something else easier. This is all worked on individually. And I like this approach.

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Where do you live in France?

Evgenia Lopareva: In Lyon. I have settled in quite comfortably.

Do you miss Russia?

Evgenia Lopareva: Of course, I do. How else could it be? I have family and friends there, I was born and raised there, started my sports career, finished school, and university.

When was the last time you were in Russia?

Evgenia Lopareva: In June 2022.

Were you pressured after February 2022? Were there uncomfortable questions about your origin?

Evgenia Lopareva: I personally have never faced anything like this. They can sometimes ask questions, but I always try to avoid this topic. I’m not strong in politics and don’t want to get into those conversations.

In the future, do you consider returning to Russia?

Evgenia Lopareva: I will definitely come back for a while. I have family and my home there. I will visit. Whether I consider it as returning… I just want to be a choreographer, and a demanded one. Ideally, I would like to work all over the world.

Have you kept your Russian passport?

Evgenia Lopareva: Yes, of course.

Have there been any problems related to this?

Evgenia Lopareva: No, there have not.

How would you assess this the World Championships for yourself?

Evgenia Lopareva: Of course, these were not our best competitions. We had a collision on the twizzles in the short dance, accidentally touched with the blades in the free dance, and I fell… We were very upset after the rhythm dance. After the free dance, not as much. We accepted the situation normally.
And yet, except for the fall, the performance was not bad. We skated clean. Not the best competitions, but a good experience for the future. It’s good that this happened now, rather than in the future when there will be a fight for medals.

At the same time, the champion pair also fell, but they still won gold. In your opinion, is this appropriate in figure skating? To fall, but still win.

Evgenia Lopareva: I didn’t see their performance, I haven’t seen the competitions till the end… But it all depends on where they fell, what they missed, and how many points they lost. If the pair is objectively stronger, then why not? For example, I fell on a transition by accident. It’s minus a couple of points, and it slightly affected the second score. Not fatal.

It’s unpleasant, of course, in terms of the impression of the program, but there’s nothing terrible about winning with a fall. The champion fell, but if they are still objectively stronger, then it’s fine. The main thing is for them to be head and shoulders above their opponents.

In Russia, this season, everyone talked about the performances of Khudaiberdieva/Bazin. Elizaveta and Egor beat everyone with giant scores, despite falls. Is this a normal situation?

Evgenia Lopareva: Again, I didn’t watch their performances, I wasn’t following. Personally, I have nothing to say about them.

Papadakis/Cizeron also won at the French Nationals with scores higher than the world record, despite their fall. Is this kind of generosity a characteristic of all domestic competitions?

Evgenia Lopareva: National competitions shouldn’t be compared to international ones. Countries often support their top pairs, and almost all federations do this.

But isn’t this support more of a disservice than a favor? There’s a feeling that for example Khudaiberdieva/Bazin are soaring in the clouds and don’t understand their real level…

Evgenia Lopareva: Usually, there are international competitions where you can get an objective opinion from international judges. The problem is that Russia is currently isolated, and so it’s difficult to evaluate one’s place in the world. Overall, our sport is quite subjective.

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Are there ways to make it more objective and understandable for the audience?

Evgenia Lopareva: I don’t think you can make ice dances more objective. Right now, they’re trying to make it more entertaining by adding choreography elements. It’s great, but now dances are even more subjective, and it all depends on the judges’ impressions. Whether they like it or not. But personally, I’m all for creativity, artistry, and self-expression. I approach all of this from the position of a dancer and creator.

In figure skating, I’m only attracted to the artistic side. If jumps appear in ice dances, like in singles or pairs, I think we’ll lose our style. We’ll spoil the impression of dance and for what? What’s the point? Nothing should distract from the program.

You were among the participants of the gala, even though you only placed 12th. What led to your invitation to the exhibition gala?

Evgenia Lopareva: Apparently, our routines caught the organizers’ attention, and they invited us. The organizers, ISU decide, I don’t know the details. In theory, they can choose anyone. They definitely invite the champions and the top three medalists. Sometimes they gather the top six based on results. Then they analyze and see who the audience responds to better and who will be more interesting. I was surprised that we were invited, but it’s pleasant and important.

Did you prepare a new program for the exhibition?

Evgenia Lopareva: We had the same program as in other exhibitions throughout the season. Usually, we prepare one program for the entire season.

Do skaters get asked if they want to perform in the exhibition? Are there any refusals?

Evgenia Lopareva: If there are any, they are very rare and usually due to injury. Even then, they try to show something without jumps and sharp movements. Even if there is a crisis of ideas, you can come up with a program in 20 minutes. I’m not joking, there have been such stories. But to refuse, especially at the World Championships… As for me, it’s foolish.

This year, Russia hosted a full-fledged show program competitions. What do you think of this idea?

Evgenia Lopareva: I wanted to watch it, but it was difficult because the links to the performances wouldn’t open for me. But I find it interesting. This is probably no longer just a sport, not quite a sport. But not nonsense either. It’s something like a dance show that allows the skater to show all of their creativity. Why not? It’s beneficial for many people, and we certainly need more of it in ice dancing.

How important are exhibitions for you?

Evgenia Lopareva: They are quite important. We prepare for them separately, come up with creative ideas, and try to show something unusual and interesting. To surprise the audience. It’s an advantage for us, an additional opportunity to show ourselves, and be memorable to the audience.

Is it something like ‘Ice Age’?

Evgenia Lopareva: Maybe. But that’s not bad, why not? The most important task is to make it interesting for the audience. Even the ISU commission, when developing rules for the new season, thinks about how to balance the audience’s interest. That’s why, for example, they introduced a choreographic sequence.

You are now the country’s first pair. Has performing become more difficult? Is the burden of responsibility great?

Evgenia Lopareva: I can’t say that. We have always pursued our goals, to be stronger, better, faster every year. Even though Papadakis/Cizeron were ahead of us, we still worked constantly. There are those in the world who are stronger than us, we have a lot to work on. Our task is the same. And then, when we grow in our mastery and take our place in the world, we can ask ourselves where to find motivation.

Before the Olympics, you had a responsible mission – to win additional spots. At the same time, you went to the World Championships without Papadakis and Cizeron. How stressful was that situation?

Evgenia Lopareva: The responsibility was incredible, we had no experience. It was difficult, of course. We were not alone, Adelina and her partner were stronger, but their pair could not place high either. So we failed to accomplish the task… But what can you do? We did everything we could at the time.

Did you have a debriefing in the federation after that? Were there any complaints made against you?

Evgenia Lopareva: We were not criticized, if that’s what you mean. But there was no situation where we performed really poorly. In Russia, they really like to debrief performances. In France, not quite like that. The judges will come personally to express what they lacked, but nothing more. There are no complaints from coaches or the federation. It’s a different culture.

Was this season key for you? Previous leaders have left, you need to earn your place for the future Olympic season…

Evgenia Lopareva: Of course, we thought about it, new rankings are being built. When we were preparing, we told each other that it was important to do something really impressive. Because if not now, then when?

And in the end, was the season unsuccessful? Judging by the results of the World Championships.

Evgenia Lopareva: The season is not just one competition. What matters is what you show overall. Everyone watches, observes progress. This year we have grown significantly, we even got our first medal at the Grand Prix. Top-5 at the Europeans. The World Championships didn’t go well, but I wouldn’t define the results of the whole season based on that.

How long do you plan to continue competing? What goals have you set for yourself?

Evgenia Lopareva: We plan to compete for two Olympic seasons for sure. That is until 2030. Of course, we will analyze a lot after the 2026 Olympics – where we stand, what we have achieved, and what we still want to achieve. But our ambitions are serious. We aim to consistently place in the top 3 at all competitions and win at the European and World championships. Although this may seem far away, we are striving towards it.

Is two Olympic cycles the time it takes to get to the top in ice dance after waiting in a “queue”? Will it take until 2030 for you to reach the top?

Evgenia Lopareva: It’s hard to say what will happen in so many years. It’s hard to even imagine what will happen at the Olympics in Milan. But another thing is more important for us. Figure skating is like a drug for us. You can always quit, but coming back can be difficult. As for the “queue,” it’s moving even now. Many pairs have left, and the competition among the young is beginning. In this season, there was an obvious difference between the old guard and the new.

Nevertheless, the former leaders are still in the top positions.

Evgenia Lopareva: For now, yes. But it takes time. If someone has been skating for ten years and you’ve been skating for five, you have to understand that they are also working. Everyone is growing. It’s difficult for the young to surpass experienced pairs, over the last few years, only Papadakis and Cizeron have been able to do so.


One response to “Evgenia Lopareva: “The ISU is trying to make ice dance more entertaining. It’s great, but now dances are even more subjective.””

  1. ioanykie says:

    They seem like such an interesting pair. I will definitely look forward to see their skating grow in the future !

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