Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk: Ice dance is not that kind of sport where you ran faster and you win
Elena Vaitsekhovskaya’s interview with Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk, coaches of Stepanova-Bukin. Partly translated.
by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for rsport.ria.ru dd August 16th, 2019
How was the choreography process this season?
Irina Zhuk: We did the free dance for Stepanova and Bukin ourselves. The short dance is choreographed by Ilia Averbukh, and it turned out very interesting.
Don’t you regret that you haven’t invited choreographers earlier?
Irina Zhuk: No, not at all. Probably everything has its time. Well, Ivan and Alexandra also had to grow up to this. When Yana ans Sergei skated (Khokhlova / Novitski – ed.), it was not accustomed in Russian ice dance that someone else choreograph the programs. This trend has started recently, everyone began to invite choreographers, even for juniors. Although, to be honest, I don’t see much sense in this. Firstly, it costs a lot of money. Secondly, for example in Montreal, where Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon work, they do everything on their own, they don’t invite anyone. They just watch a lot of shows, constantly look for new ideas. Well, so we’re doing the same.
Not the first World Championship shows that there is practically no technical difference between the duets that place second, third or fifth in ice dance. Everyone is able to show level four elements, and it turns out that you need to stand out, to draw attention to yourself by all cost. How to do that?
Alexander Svinin: In general, we were satisfied with both programs that were made for Stepanova and Bukin last season. It is very difficult to achieve that athletes can withstand a difficult program to a fast music, and do all the technical elements flawlessly. Of course, it’s easier to skate slowly. In this case, there is enough breathing and strength, and more time is left to execute each movement cleanly. But combining the fast parts with the slow ones, in my opinion, is much more interesting.
Is it being rewarded?
Alexander Svinin: Unfortunately, I can’t say that judges give a strong advantage to those who skate fast programs.
Then why do this? After all, it turns out that your desire to surprise the audience, to do something that others do not do is senseless.
Alexander Svinin: I think that nevertheless the time will come when the judges will encourage those who go the more difficult way. This is more spectacular, more interesting than skating the same slow programs from year to year.
Do you mean Papadakis and Cizeron?
Alexander Svinin: Here, I would rather say that there is a difference between the leaders. What is allowed to four-time world champions is not always allowed to some other pairs. Gabriella and Guillaume have very good programs. But, if we skate the same programs from year to year, practically without changing, then we will definitely fly away from the pedestal. Therefore, we must stand out somehow. We try to make and we do lifts which are different from what the others show. Over a couple of seasons we have been doing sit twizzles which the judges didn’t encourage at all, but, nevertheless, everyone remembered these twizzles. In new programs we made new lifts, new spins. We paid great attention to musicality. Why do Papadakis and Cizeron overtake everyone? They are very musical, every step, every movement has it meaning, there is not a single random gesture.
How tortuous the process of choosing music, searching for an ideas for a program could be?
Alexander Svinin: You have to start thinking about it when the past season is not over yet. It’s very difficult to make programs back-to-back. When you find a theme, it becomes much easier. But the process itself still continues to be so torturous that sometimes you want to shoot yourself. We are not a theater, where viewers come and read libretto. Therefore, athletes must clearly understand what exactly they skate. Then, perhaps, they will be able to convey the idea to the viewer. Although the same music can inspire each person in a different way.
In this regard, I have a question: you and Irina grew up with coaches who were distinguished by a very high level of musical culture. Now the situation is such that any person can become a judge if he passes the exam, even if he has never been to the theater. Does it happen that the judge doesn’t understand what you are offering him on the ice?
Alexander Svinin: Surely it happens like in any profession. But this doesn’t mean that we need to stoop in our work to some kind of primitivism. It’s better to rely on professionals in your field, whom, I hope, is majority in our world. But it’s a good question.
Not so long ago on the Internet there was quite a noisy discussion about the Alina Zagitova’s show program choreographed by Daniil Gleichengauz, copying the beginning of the dance made by another choreographer. Have you ever had a desire, having seen some very interesting piece in someone else’s performance, to take it and completely transfer it to the ice?
Irina Zhuk: Completely – no, but I’ve borrowed some moves. Everyone does it. I watch a lot of various performances on the floor and almost always can tell where Papadakis / Cizeron got this idea from, where Marina Zueva got it from, when Meryl Davis / Charlie White or Tessa and Scott skated with her. If the coach’s horizons are not too broad in this regard, he begins to borrow the finds of his colleagues – this also happens in our sport. But this, I think, is completely wrong. It’s just disrespecting to yourself.
How difficult is it to evaluate your own work adequately?
Alexander Svinin: Pretty hard. If you invite outside experts and then analyze all the opinions received, you will get a more realistic picture. Which we try to do. We always invited, for example, Alla Shekhovtsova. I think that she is one of the few world-class specialists in our country who not only thoroughly knows ice dances, but always knows how to make the right remark in time.
Two or three years ago, when Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev skated, their coach Alexander Zhulin once said that he had no idea what else they could do to skate better. Have you had a similar feeling with Stepanova and Bukin at least once?
Alexander Svinin: I think Zhulin just meant that his athletes did the maximum they were capable of at that moment. Something similar happened with us this season. Both at the European Championships, and at Worlds. But I’ll never say that this is the limit. Because I know: for the next season the guys should be better, they should show even more.
When people perform at such a level for several years, each, even the smallest step forward requires tremendous work. Where do you see that reserve, due to which you can improve?
Alexander Svinin: Not by chance we began to invite new choreographers. I’m not saying that Ira and I didn’t give our skaters good enough programs, but in order to broaden our horizons, it can be very useful to work with another person. After all, Tchernyshev really pulled some things out from Sasha and Vanya that didn’t even occur to us. The guys felt it too. And most importantly, they realized that a lot depends on themselves. For the same purpose, we invited an acting teacher. We also asked Ilia Averbukh to do the short program.
From my point of view Ilia perfectly knows how to do what the judges will like for sure.
Alexander Svinin: Yes. First of all, with his vast experience he knows how the audience will respond to. And the audience is a great thing. Because when the stands begin to respond, it also affects the judges. In relation to a short dance, we asked that, first of all, the programs should be creative, not just the set of the prescribed elements. As a result, Ilia step aside form figure skating completely and expertly showed all the nuances.
When Stepanova and Bukin became second at the European Championships in Minsk, I had absolutely no feeling that they got the medal only because Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov fell. What, in your coach’s opinion, did your team lack to win a medal at Worlds?
Alexander Svinin: It is very difficult to answer. The guys were completely ready, both in Minsk and in Saitam. Some nuances played a role. I don’t know. I think that for this season Vanya and Sasha skated very well. Why did it happen so at Worlds? Well, after all, ice dance is not a sport where you ran faster and you win.
Have the fourth place at the Worlds affect their motivation?
Irina Zhuk: Of course, at first, when the guys managed to place third after the short program, it was a blow. You could see that in their eyes. I myself tried to smile, but couldn’t hide the regret that we finished off the pedestal. Although, even before the start of the free program, I understood that they wouldn’t give medals to two Russian pairs. Especially in ice dance. In single skating it’s a little easier. There, if you jump your quadruples, then the judges have no choice. But in ice dance they’ll always find something to criticize.
Where does one get the motivation when you know that they “will not give”?
Irina Zhuk: So, we need to come up with something that will not allow to push us aside. I’m an optimist in life. I think that you still need to work, no matter what happens. In that year, Stepanova and Bukin skated well. But placed seventh at Worlds. And now at the European Championship we were only three points behind Papadakis / Cizeron in a short dance. So something is changing? You just have to wait a little longer and continue to look forward.
Where, in your coach’s opinion, Stepanova and Bukin improved most over the summer?
Irina Zhuk: They got such an amplitude of movements. I didn’t even understand where it came from. Either experience, or this year’s programs turned out so well. Plus, we constantly work on steps, every year we come up with some new exercises that we don’t even show to anyone at training sessions. We don’t want someone to borrow them. Nobody does this, but we see how our technique works for children and seniors.
In terms of technical findings, what is more interesting for you, senior dances or junior?
Irina Zhuk: It’s more interesting to experiment with children, because you are not afraid of anything. With seniors it’s another responsibility. So some things we try on children. If we see that it works great, we transfer it to seniors. Due to this, everyone grows faster. This season, in addition to Sasha and Vanya, we will have two more senior pairs – Anastasia Shpilevaya / Grigori Smirnov and Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko. They are direct competitors, but we teach them to respect each other and not be afraid of any competition. We constantly cite the example of Virtue / Moir and Davis / White. While they skated in the same group for four years, no one could come close to them. Because they were always next to each other. Because they were smart enough not to part. Right? And because of this competition the whole world knew that only the third place was vacant. We want to do the same.
Turns out that Virtue / Moir and Davis / White showed the whole world the ideal scheme for achieving the result?
Irina Zhuk: For me, yes. I can honestly say: we are afraid of losing one of the pairs, but only because it will destroy the rivalry.
Related topics: Alexandra Stepanova Ivan Bukin