Alexander Zhulin: If Medvedeva asks me, I will choreograph her blues with a Russian soul
New interview with Alexander Zhulin. About Sinitsina and Katsalapov, Dmitri Soloviev and his chances to come back, Evgenia Medvedeva and young generation of Russian single skaters.
by Anatoli Samokhvalov for rsport.ria.ru
Alexander, how the things are going for Vika and Nikita?
– Everything is fine. The work stops a little, because each time new skates haven’t been sent on time, now they’re breaking into. But the eyes are burning, new elements are found. Rhythm dance is ready – Singing In The Rain by Gene Kelly. Musical. As for the free dance, we have two very good ideas, but we haven’t finally decided yet, so I won’t tell the music.
Should we expect big changes in their artistic image?
– It seems to me that they are good in any images, but it definitely won’t be tango.
It’s a pity.
– It’s a pity. But I like the way they look in Finnstep, show such flowing skating, when a smooth skating follows a very thoughtful understanding of music. I can tell you that it’s hard to make a bad program for a pair of such level. But I have developed a perfectionist approach to them – we should like every step. All of my coaching staff have a keen eye, and if I notice that someone asess a part of the program as “normal” and there is no emotion on their face, I immediately change such an element.
That is, Sinitsina / Katsalapov will not have any unnecessary movement?
– Well, it is difficult to say, but I liked last year’s tango and free dance very much.
And if you look at them supercritical?
– I wouldn’t change a single step! But it’s always scary to make a new program from scratch. Every year you think: “Damn, probably I won’t do it so well again.” But the workflow begins, and you realize that everything is not so bad.
You are a man who did a million of programs, from sports to Ice Age (TV show – ed.), do you feel that inspiration can end?
– This applies to sports programs where you are very much dependent on the quality of the elements. It’s very important to receive “pluses”, this thought sits in your head at all stages of the choreographing process. For example, last season in rhythm dance we didn’t get much GOE for the lift. Now we need to continue to skate consistently, which basically happened with the exception of one nonsense at the European Championships. If before such things in this pair were systemic, now such a failure is considered nonsense.
Do we call Nikita’s breakdown nonsense?
– Well why only Nikita’s? Vika also can fail. Yes, of course, Nikita was more peculiar to such things, but they needed several years to become a pair. I hope that in these two years, especially in the past, it was Vika who improved very strongly. Many people note this. It makes me happy, because it means that we have “chemistry” in the format “coach – skater”. She understood my ideas: what should be done to make the partner more comfortable. Today Sinitsina and Katsalapov match each other in almost all details and, in my opinion, because of this, that Nikita’s nerve has left. They began to skate with pleasure, and with the same pleasure began to receive loads that were previously lacked – sometimes because of the large amount of issues related to technical incompatibility, they could not even made a qualitative run-through of the program.
So you found out the nature of Nikita’s nerve?
– I think that one of the reasons for this nerve was a different understanding of the technique. Thank God, Vika is a smart and capable girl, she understood the importance of this and accepted Nikita’s and my requirements. They may seem trivial, but without them it’s impossible to achieve outstanding results. Good is possible, but not outstanding.
I remember, talking about Katsalapov’s nerve, you said that Nikita shouldn’t skate programs that require our favorite Russian skating style “just tearing things”.
– But in last year’s tango, he was very emotional. And the first part of the free dance (Air Bach) didn’t ask “tearing off his shirt”.
Is it necessary to continue such a tactical scheme for Katsalapov? A free dance which doesn’t require excessive emotionality.
– Katsalapov needs a comfortable environment in terms of life, attitude of the coaching staff. For Nikita, it’s important to feel that there is a wall behind him. Music is not the root cause. The main thing is the atmosphere of one family, where everyone is responsible for each other. Responsibility, love and understanding. These are what Katsalapov needs. There are, of course, secret things that the coach says to prevent breakdowns of the elements, but these are only our business.
Has Nikita become less emotional in trainings?
– Excessive nerves occurs when a person has some dissatisfaction – in technical compatibility, in the coach. I hope that we have solved this problem. I hope. I don’t want to predict, but these two years I felt absolute comfort working with the guys. I think they also feel well with me. There is no longer any internal anger in Nikita’s eyes that he used to show. Today, only his charisma has remained from his rage. Well, actually Katsalapov is very kind.
Probably there was anger also because they wanted to prove that they were no worse than others.
– This year they will be also proving that. But this can be done in different ways – either “without the head,” or “with the head”.
But now they felt that they are really no worse than the others.
– So, the head works. But the new season is a bunch of obstacles. We have to wait for the competitions to see if we hit with the programs.
Vika at the end of the season received the maximum levels for the elements, even her partner didn’t always succeed. Is Sinitsina really a prima of world ice dance elite?
– Of course a person who takes second place at the World Championships is very cool. But to call her “Prima” … I don’t know. But what she did is really cool.
Can you calculate how much needed to reach world champions Guillaume Cizeron and Gabriella Papadakis.
– You can’t calculate that. It depends a lot on what programs the French will create and how ours will look on their background.
Whatever programs Gaby and Guillaume have, everyone will mumble, that they have already seen it all and the French haven’t shown anything new.
– They will mumble, and the French will receive all tens. What sense to mumble? When the judges start to mumble about that, then maybe something will happen. But now we see a very strong pair, and their elements are brought close to perfection. So we also need to improve in quality, to watch that each leg is stretched and parallel, the arms are beautiful and non-standard. But we have our trump cards – charisma, relationship between a man and a woman, and after all Vika and Nikita are a super-beautiful pair. They still have time to chase.
Can we say that your pair will keep the leading position at the national level?
– I don’t want to make predictions. With clean skating, with good programs when everything coincided they were the best Russian pair last year, and this was natural. But I like the fact that we have a second very strong Russian couple. They (Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin) are very good guys, and we have a healthy competition with them.
On the sidelines, I heard more than once that Vika and Nikita were more favored by the judges than Sasha and Vanya. How do you think why?
– You should have asked on the sidelines. There are things that are invisible to the eye, in which Vika and Nikita are slightly stronger. I also talked on the sidelines last year and heard that Vika and Nikita had the best tango.
Igor Shpilband and Rostislav Sinitsyn openly said this to me.
– And, nevertheless, we were the second. All this talks on the sidelines are empty talk.
At the Grand Prix Final, Stepanova and Bukin received the lowest, basic level for tango, and could not answer why this happened.
– And I can’t answer what happened. I saw their tango, but didn’t understand why they were given a basic level. Apparently, they missed something. But I don’t think that it was some judges’ intrigues. If we talk about ourselves, then when we get the second level instead of the fourth, the first thing I do is dig in myself, ask the opinion of experts and try to solve the problem. Sometimes it turns out, but sometimes it does not. It’s important to understand that we are all people, including judges, and when a couple regularly get medals at major competitions, the technical panel is a little more supportive to them.
Last season, there were a lot of talks about the stereotype that in our time the judges will not put two Russian pairs on the pedestal at Worlds.
– Bullshit. Natalia Dubova’s three pairs stood on the podium.
But those were the Soviet times of our domination, and now we just began to catch up with the leaders.
– Of course the political moment exists, in recent years there has been tremendous support of the Lauzon’s group. It was felt that the Montreal group had a priority and a certain new direction in ice dance, which start to be boring after a while. We are trying to change this. But the massive presence of Americans and Canadians in technical panels and technical committees is a serious matter. I’m not trying to say that they treat us badly; on the contrary, I saw how we were given high marks by both Americans and Canadians. So you just need to improve in skating, and you will receive significant points. If it’s cool, it’s cool, and no one will argue with that.
Did the dominance of Dubreuil and Lauzon affect you? Have you taken something from them?
– On the contrary, I’m trying to step aside. I myself was in a similar situation in America. I coached six pairs, but a man can do no more than he can. And as a result, the result was zero, because in my opinion, it was a mistake to take so many pairs. It’s necessary to work more individually, and not to create an empire. All the empires sooner or later collapse, because the coach’s eye is getting a little lazy, he starts to give everyone same things, starts to take music which is first of all comfortable for the elements, and what between them is secondary. When the main thing is to make it flowing. But when you see six or seven pairs, which skate in the same way, you will soon receive that very mumbelling. And this time from the judges.
But if you look at the second tier of Lauzon’s group, then everything is very beautiful.
– Beautiful because the level of skaters is very good. But they all gathered in one place and it’s difficult for them to find different directions. The same school of skating skills, look, all these pairs sometimes look lethargic. The music is all so drawling, and they skate and skate in the same style … I understand perfectly well that Lauzon and Dubreuil themselves see and feel that they have such a feature. I think they are also in search.
Dmitri Soloviev assured me that he still wanted to compete. Did he ask for your advice?
– He and Ilinykh had the idea to team up, but then Lena refused.
Ilinykh now has her own projects on the foreground, but can you imagine her returning to sport? For example, in a year.
– I think that boat has sailed.
Even if she wants to come back?
– It will be hard to do.
Maybe you have a young and promising partner for Soloviev?
– Even if I had, it would have been a new pair to which you need to get used. Remember the first year of Sinitsina / Katsalapov and Ilinykh / Zhiganshin. Personally, it was very difficult for me to perceive these two pairs. I could perceive Vika and Nikita more or less, because they matched each other at least outwardly, and as a bystander, I hardly got used to pair Ilinykh and Zhiganshin. It took three years. And what do you suggest to Soloviev? Be in great shape in a year? It’s almost impossible. Dima is not fifteen years old, the Olympics are near. In my opinion you should skate for the sake of the Olympics. Didn’t he get enough figure skating in his life? I myself once finished skating with Maia Usova, and I had an idea to skate with Pasha Grishuk. She was so fast! But Valentin Piseev answered me wisely: “Sasha, calm down. Skate in your shows and everything will be fine for you”. Over the years, I realized how right Piseev was. For us at the age of a little over thirty it seems “What are you talking about, I will kill it!”, but time is changing.
Turns out, Dima’s only chance is Bobrova?
– I understand your joke. But for some reason it seems to me that Katya no longer wants professional figure skating in her life. Of course, if I see them with Bobrova at our skating rink, I will have nothing to do and I will take them. Another thing – what will come of this? ..
We haven’t seen you as a choreographer for single skaters recently.
– Well I don’t have much desire. I’m at that age and at that stage of life, when coming home and playing with my kid gives me much greater pleasure than doing choreo for a single skater. But if someone interesting asks me, then I will gladly do a program.
What should Evgenia Medvedeva do in order not to get lost, like last season when she wasn’t able to skate a very interesting short program and had to rescue herself with a quickly choreographed Tosca. How can she try something new and not lose?
– When I worked with her, at one moment I saw her in the music of Isaac Schwartz for the film “The Captivating Star of Happiness”. This is a very strong theme. But Zhenya told me: “I don’t see myself in it”. I insisted: “Zhenya, you will tear everyone apart! Can I turn on the music, and you go and move?” She went to skate and completely dissolved on the ice. Medvedeva has become little and not skating, a large-scale music simply “ate” her. I stopped the music. “Zhenya, you are absolutely right, this is not yours at all.” The next day I brought her the music of the same Schwartz but from the movie “Melodies of the White Night”. This is a heartbreaking violin, she made the first three movements and I immediately understood: “This is your theme.”
And with this program she started to win various competitions.
– Yes, but then it was easier. We did her “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”, and “Tango Chuck” … If she ask me to do something for her again, I would try different things to understand what she really needs right now. It also seemed to me that her first short program of the last season, that blues, didn’t fit her, she didn’t feel it because she was born in Russia. Medvedeva is not Ashley Wagner. When Kurt Browning skates to Frank Sinatra it seems that Sinatra wrote music especially for him. This is their culture, they understand these music since childhood, and we, Zhenya, we are different. Medvedeva needs to skate programs where she can show her soul. But if she asks me, I will choreograph her blues with a Russian soul.
Zhenya is a very artistic girl. It happens, you put the program and shout “Wow!”, But in fact it is a failure. I’m also not sinless, and it happened to me. In general, from the last I like Kamila Valieva. If she skates at the senior level, it will be a masterpiece.
Is she more talented than two-time junior world champion Alexandra Trusova and Russian champion Anna Scherbakova?
– I didn’t say that. We’ll see what is with her jumps.
She already has quad toe loop.
– We’ll see what will be closer to the Olympics.
In choreographic terms, she seems to be stronger than her older competitors.
– She is not stronger choreographically, she is a skater from God. How to compete with Yuna Kim? This was almost impossible, because everything was from God: the lines, the face – just everything. Valieva is a great new talent. But what we will have in result, we don’t know yet. Well, she skates the program with the quad, shows a brilliant skating, and then Trusov comes and makes four quads. And who will win? Other things being equal, in aesthetic terms Valieva and Alena Kostornaia, in my opinion, are the best that we have. But no one can compete with Trusova and Shcherbakova in the elements.
Their coach Eteri Tutberidze recalled your recent phrase that you want to look at women on the ice, not at girls.
– I have already accepted the fact that the rules cannot be changed. I adore and respect Eteri very much. She is a great coach. Well I like to look at women on the ice. But for example if Valieva is on the ice with soft and beautiful skating, who is kissed by God, I will look at her with pleasure.