Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin: You must earn the judges’ favour
Interview with Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin after Grand-prix in Helsinki 2018.
by Anatoli Samokhvalova for rsport.ria.ru
Alexandra, Ivan, I wanted to start with a question about the events of January-February, when you were not allowed to the Olympic Games. Was there a chance that after such a disappointment you wouldn’t have continued your career?
Alexandra: Of course, not. Whom we would do worse? Only ourselves. It seems to me that not a single athlete would have such thoughts when he is just climbing the professional ladder.
How long did you carry a grudge?
Alexandra: Honestly, it’s hard to think about it. We have moved away, we have forgotten it. We have nothing to say on this topic, because this is a past stage. Yes, it happened, so far we don’t understand why it happened, they didn’t explain anything to us. But it passed.
Then, let’s go back to figure skating and I’ll ask this. It was the post-Olympic season when Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron made a breakthrough four years ago, and you were ahead of them in juniors. Before the beginning of the current season, did you plan to do something to amaze everyone and also make such a breakthrough?
Alexandra: Yes, every new season we have a mindset that we need to surprise, show ourselves, improve. The coaches, of course, had thoughts about what should be done in the first season of the new Olympic cycle, because it is very important. Of course, they wondered what programs we should choose. We trust them, we know that they want only victories and all the best for us.
So the theme of free dance was their idea, which you immediately liked?
Ivan: Yes, they offered, and we really liked it. Generally, when you hear music for the first time, you try to imagine yourself in it, of course, at first we were stunned. But then we listened again and realized that it would be very interesting. When we started to work on the program, we saw that (choreographer) Peter Tchernyshev feels very comfortable in this music, he likes it. The work was very cool and interesting.
What is the most difficult thing for you in this dance?
Alexandra: Probably to show adult emotions which should look real. Blues is a sexy, expressive dance. Some kind of relationships born there, flirt, the things that happen in life too. We need to show the game, the theater on the ice, so that people believe us and think that there is something in it.
Don’t you feel awkwardness that you flirt on ice, but in life you don’t flirt with each other?
Ivan: I think this is a completely different flirt. On the ice, you’re working on it.
Alexandra: You play a role. Yes, we have to be actors, to make them believe us, but we get buzz from it, we like it, we choose it. If tell some people from the street to show love, of course, it would be difficult and awkward for them. Even actors in theater have scenes when they are embarrassed. I watched a lot of interviews in which real professionals told how awkward they felt. But when they do it on stage, we believe them. So we have exactly the same tasks.
Do you work with acting teachers?
Alexandra: Not anymore. We work with choreographers, coaches. We have grown up, we are quite adult athletes. Although sometimes I can ask with what subtex should I do this or that movement. And (choreographer) Alena Samarskaya explains.
Ivan: We already know how to do this. Sometimes we just need to know where it’s not enough, where it’s too much.
As a teenager, I saw the performances of your father Andrei Bukin and Natalia Bestemianova. I remember that many people were sure that they were a couple in life, although they were happy in their families.
Alexandra: We have the same. We are often asked whether we are a couple in life. This is actually very nice, because it shows that we do our work well and people believe us. This is so cool.
Playing love, how to perform difficult elements? Automatically?
Alexandra: I can’t say that it is completely automatically. There are some things that are performed on a subconscious level, but our task is to show the full picture. Before the element, we can’t think: ok, focus and perform with a straight face, without emotions, without arms. The element should still be in the program, it should not break out of it. According to the new rules, we removed one step sequence, we did a more dancing program, and in our opinion it looks very harmoniously. The only place where we cannot show emotions is twizzles, when there is a constant rotation, you keep it. But in the transitions between positions, you still have a thought that you need to show something and convey.
But you have your brand twizzles. Will you always do such?
Alexandra: Always or not, I don’t know, but we like it, it is unusual, and the audience likes it. Sometimes it seems that they are just waiting for it. For example, in the free dance, these twizzles are at the end, but as a choreo element. And I just heard the applause when we performed them. But the main thing is to do them clearly, on the level that is required, in the correct position. Despite the complexity of these twizzles, we don’t have the right to make them non-parallel. Nobody will give us a slack only because we make this super class element.
You had some problems with these twizzles in the first season.
Ivan: Yes, the problems continue, sometimes there are some issues. But we try to solve them quickly.
It lasted long enough when in the mixed zone you were asked the question “Why did you get such low marks?”, and both you and your coaches had to answer that you didn’t understand why. Is there a sense of relief from the fact that this period seems to have ended?
Alexandra: Well, in the short dance, we still didn’t get enough, and you can ask “Why?”
Ivan: Judges always see some mistakes. If there is a shortage, it means that somewhere we underperformed.
Alexandra: Besides, you must earn the judges’ favour, and this process goes on for years. Nobody is a robot, someone likes it, someone doesn’t like it. We must prove our worth, show ourselves. But we don’t have such a thing in ice dances – you jumped the quad and everything is clear. It is necessary to prove here. There’s really a subjective moment. Someone proves someone fails to prove.
Have you ever had a period when you were ready to give up?
Alexandra: No. Indeed, there are athletes who talk about such moments when they wanted to quit. But we never had such thoughts.
Many skaters say – we want to become coaches, but no one in my memory expressed a desire to become a judge. Would you like to?
Ivan: No. It is very difficult and very responsible to decide people’s fate.
Alexandra: I think no. It hurts your karma (laughs). It is really very difficult to make a choice who is better. Even when we watch figure skating, sometimes we think: well, these are great guys, but others are ahead. Surely the judges also have such situations when they like one pair, but the other is better. It’s hard.
You grow up, and for sure thoughts appear what’s next, when dreams in sports come true.
Alexandra: I think that I will answer for both of us. We often go to Ilia Averbukh’s show. When you feel this atmosphere, see full arenas, then you understand that everyone knows these champions. They are great. And you want to become a champion yourself and not just once, but like them. I really like to go to this shows, I go to the same performances several times, and we would love to perform there.
Ivan: We are a kind of addicts. When the public gives you a warmly welcome and supports you, it is so great that you understand – all these hours, days and years were spent on the ice for good reason.
Alexandra: With each new competition, more and more people write to us. The number of subscribers in social networks is constantly grows. I tried to answer everyone, but now it’s simply impossible. So, I just want to say thank you very much, it is very nice and important for us. We want to please you, do not let anyone down and show ourself.