Alexander Zhulin: “This style allowed us to win the World Championships, why should we change it? “
Interview with Alexander Zhulin. About street dancing, new programs, lessons learned from the failure in the Grand Prix Finals last year, program for Tarasova – Morozov. He also commented on the rhythmic gymnastics judging at the Tokyo Games and compared it to the existing figure skating system.
source: russian.rt.com dd. 11th September by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
How satisfied are you with the shape Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov approaching the Olympic season?
Alexander Zhulin: 50%, because the partner had a back problem. This injury has been aggravated for the third year in a row, precisely at the stage of pre-season training. But then we manage to pump up the back and the problem is eliminated.
The first performance at the Grand Prix is planned for mid-November in Japan …
Alexander Zhulin: First, we will perform at the September stage of the Russian Cup in Syzran. In any case, we are planning to go there and have already bought tickets. It is very important for us to perform at two competitions before the start of the Grand Prix. Therefore, Syzran is planned first, followed by the Denis Ten Memorial in Alma-Ata.
Alexander Zhulin: We planned to go to Nepela in Bratislava, we went there for many years in a row, but these competitions were canceled. Why it was canceled, I do not know, and this is rather strange because the Junior Grand Prix was recently held in Kosice, and this is the same Slovakia. Therefore, we had no choice, we will go to Kazakhstan. In this case, we get almost the whole of October for training, we will work on all those flaws that specialists will point out after the first performances. And only then we will purposefully prepare for performances in Japan and at the Russian stage of the Grand Prix in Sochi.
Is the responsibility that fell on Sinitsina and Katsalapov, together with the status of world champions, somehow felt?
Alexander Zhulin: We don’t think about it at all. Our current task is to get everything together. I really like both programs that were prepared, although I see that there is still a lot of work to do. As always, there is not enough time, but I think that we will approach the main competitions in optimal shape.
Which is harder – a free program or a rhythm dance?
Alexander Zhulin: I wouldn’t use the word “hard” here. Everyone works with pleasure.
Did you choreographed both dances for your skaters yourself?
Alexander Zhulin: Together with our permanent choreographer Sergei Petukhov. Anastasia Shumkova, a hip-hop specialist, was also involved in work on the rhythm dance.
Have you tried to move away from the style which your pair has been using for many years?
Alexander Zhulin: This style allowed us to win the World Championship, why should we change it? Trying new things in the Olympic year is a rather risky thing. Moreover, all the programs that Vika and Nikita skated suit them very much.
In general, I think that the combination of Rachmaninoff and Paganini, also played by one person – David Garrett, was a very successful hit in both music and character. Despite the fact that the program has different musical fragments – the slow part of the Second Concerto of Rachmaninoff and Caprice No. 24 by Paganini – it does not look like a salad where everything is mixed, but as a very integral piece, absolutely in the style that the guys skate.
Do you have the ability to keep track of what your competitors are doing? Or has the pandemic created a certain vacuum in this sense?
Alexander Zhulin: In fact, I am a supporter of not looking at other people’s plates, but doing my own thing. We are completely self-sufficient in this regard: we know what we are lacking, where we need to add or remove something. If we succeed in realizing everything we want, the result will come.
This season the dancers have been offered a rather interesting idea to combine blues and street dance in rhythm dance. Is it hard?
Alexander Zhulin: A very unexpected idea, actually. Classic blues has a slow fluidity, it’s such a slow story. But when I talked on this topic with Galina Gordon-Poltorak (chairman of the ISU dance technical committee. – ed), she said: if we show the blues like blues, this will be reflected in a minus in the judges’ scores. Because the blues, as the specialists of the International Skating Union see it, should look like a street dance. From my point of view, blues in the format of street dance is a bit of a foreign body.
Why is that? The couple are having fun and dancing on the street, and having drink more the movement flows into the blues.
Alexander Zhulin: “Drunk” blues is an interesting option, but then you need to explain it somehow. It’s just that the requirements turned out to be not very realizable for us at first. Imagine yourself: you are performing a very difficult jump from a ten-meter platform, one hundred percent concentrated on somersaults and you are asked to do it completely relaxed. So that it never occurs to anyone that it is difficult. And I would see how you cope with this task.
But this, probably, the highest class of a skater – to perform the program so that everyone sees not the blocks of mandatory steps and turns, but lightness and mood.
Alexander Zhulin: Perhaps, but the task is not the easiest one. Although the way Vika and Nikita are performing the rhythm dance, now I start to really like it.
This season you did programs not only for your duos, but also for Evgenia Tarasova – Vladimir Morozov. Are you happy with this experience?
Alexander Zhulin: This is not my first work with pairs: last year I did “Malaguena” for Aleksandra Boikova – Dmitrii Kozlovskii, which the guys eventually postponed for the Olympic season.
Yes, but these athletes, like their coach, did not decide to change the music for the program you made? But when Zhenya and Vladimir did this, an analogy immediately appear with Liza Tuktamysheva, who two years ago went to Shae-Lynn Bourne to stage a short program, but when she returned, she decided to skate it to a different music.
Alexander Zhulin: When Eteri Tutberidze invited me to do a short program for Tarasova and Morozova, she immediately said that the guys really liked Debussy’s Moonlight and asked me how I felt about it. We decided to give it a try. I really liked how we all worked, how we contacted with Eteri, with Maxim Trankov, and with the athletes, I liked the result. But when the free program was ready, it became clear that both turned out in a very similar style. Hence, in fact, comes the decision to make the short program more powerful by changing the music.
I’m not even sure that the same technical outline remains. But I know that in figure skating it often happens when the same program, but skated to a different music, starts to play with completely different colors. Therefore, I do not see any problem in this replacement. The final program decision should always be made by the coach who works with the athletes every day. Because it is important for the coach that his athletes show the maximum possible result at the main competitions.
Is the Grand Prix series losing its importance in the Olympic season or, on the contrary, gaining additional importance for dancers?
Alexander Zhulin: It doesn’t lose exactly. In my opinion, in order to perform as confidently as possible at the main competitions, skaters need to go through four or five competitions.
Which of the stages seems to you more intense in terms of rivalry?
Alexander Zhulin: To be honest, I didn’t even look who will perform at these stages. It’s not very important. I only know that my guys do not intersect with Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Since we are world champions, we should skate without looking back at someone.
Are you that confident in your pair?
Alexander Zhulin: Of course I’m confident. Moreover, one should not forget that even not very successful performances can be of great benefit.
As the last year’s Grand Prix Finals?
Alexander Zhulin: Exactly. If you recall that performance, it really turned out not the best for us. And we immediately flew to sixth place. But at the same time we did not blame the judges, but watched the video very carefully after the competitions. We came to the conclusion that we deserved that and started to work closely on correcting all the shortcomings. So closely that we won the World Championships.
Do you feel that judges tend to close their eyes to some flaws when it comes to the strongest pair in the world, or, on the contrary, pay more attention?
Alexander Zhulin: It very much depends on the technical panel. You can discuss this topic for a long time, or you can just recall the results in rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Do you think that Russian gymnasts were judged unfairly at the Games?
Alexander Zhulin: There was a very strong moment when a journalist asks the Averin sisters right after the performance “Well it is clear that the Israeli gymnast dropped the ribbon, but how did it happen that she surpassed you so much in the total score of the programs?” And our girls answer that they could not make their combinations more difficult, because Dina’s back hurts, and Arina has something else. It is clear that I do not quote their words word for word, but the meaning was just that. And immediately you start to think: maybe there was no anti-Russian conspiracy?
But the ordinary viewer is sure that there was a conspiracy.
Alexander Zhulin: The ordinary viewer, as a rule, is not able to understand what the score is combined of. Actually, this happens in figure skating: if you do not thoroughly know the topic, it is absolutely impossible to figure out why someone gets the first level for the step sequence and someone – the fourth. Or why the one who fell wins. Although he fell from one of the quadruple jumps, while the others jumped triples clean.
But if we are talking about Vika and Nikita, I can say that both the judges and the audience treat them very positively: the pair is beautiful, emotional, charismatic. They just need to skate well.