Alexei Zheleznyakov: “If Tutberidze hadn’t been strict, there wouldn’t have been such results. Her athletes would have been spineless worms that can barely skate. And no one would have known about Tutberidze and her girls”
Interview with the choreographer of Tutberidze’s group Alexei Zheleznyakov. About Eteri Tutberidze coaching methods, transfers of skaters, age limits and Kamila Valieva’s doping story.
source: matchtv.ru dd. 24th May 2022 by Vlad Zhukov
Tell us how you got into the circus on ice?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: I have a very good friend – Natalya Chistova, a professional and extraordinary costume designer, she collaborates with ice shows, the circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard. And she was friends with the head of the show on ice, where I was eventually invited. At that time, they needed new productions, a fresh look.
We agreed that we will create one number. If everything works out – taking into account the specifics of figure skating, which we were not familiar with then – then we will work further. We tried, we delivered. At first it was hard, of course, because after all it is ice. Everything is completely different here, a different vocabulary of movements. You can’t do such lifts as on the floor – you can cut yourself with skates.
Based on this, I had to come up with something. But then we got involved, it turned out to be a very creative number, everyone was impressed.
Was it difficult to switch from dance floor choreography to ice?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, at the amateur level, we all probably skated at least a little. But, of course, when you adjust, you begin to really understand the specifics. On the ice, the body works differently, the coordination is slightly different.
Perhaps even other muscles are involved?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Not even muscles. If you are a dancer, you have all muscle groups developed. This is the beauty of dance – you physically develop very harmoniously.
Therefore, it is much easier for a dancer to change coordination. In principle, this happens almost instantly – you just need to understand the specifics of the skate. Dancers are very well coordinated. Skaters are still coordinated differently – spins, twists, the skating itself. But this also gives them certain limitations – therefore it is difficult to work with them on the floor, to dance. They have a block in the brain. They are used to how they move on the ice, but on the floor it’s completely different. Other movements, more varied. Skaters, on the other hand, are mostly one-sided – they skate to the left, spin to the left. Therefore, for them, dancing is difficult.
And I, in general, adjusted quite quickly. I studied the specifics, vocabulary, the name of the steps – all these twizzles, jacksons. Learned spins. It took about six months to adjust completely.
Probably, through the show it was also easier to adjust – there are no competitive restrictions in terms of rules.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Oh sure. In competitive figure skating, you are constrained – you went there, made a jump, then a spin. There is a technical limitation. And in the show you do whatever you want. You focus on what is beautiful, what is spectacular. Even at gala performances, you can be as creative as you like, which is why they don’t look like competitive programs. Because this is the limitation that does not give freedom of creativity.
If you compare the world of show business and the world of sports, which one is worse?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, show business is intrigues. Such a swamp … In sports, everything is more rigid, but at the same time concrete. You know, as they say – at the royal court they weave intrigues, and in the army they beat you in the face. We can say that sport is like in the army, and royal intrigues are show business.
It turns out that sport is fairer?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes, definitely.
Even figure skating? They say that the figure skating world is a real serpentarium with a lot of intrigue and behind the scene fuss.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: It seems to me that all these vices are mostly in the minds of the fans. It doesn’t even “seem” – I’m sure of it. They start such wars! For example, fans say about some coaches that they have a conflict, but in fact they communicate with each other, smile, everything is respectful. And what’s going on in the world of fans… It’s trash. Football fans are not even close.
Regarding the world of dancing, I have recently talked with Ramil Mehdiyev, and he said that this is “an army where they walk not from the left, but from the right foot.”
Alexei Zheleznyakov: That’s right, it’s the army. Even, probably, I’ll say a funny word – it’s a rigid drill. I was in the army myself, so I can compare. And when you are on the parade ground, as they say, a step to the left, a step to the right – execution … Well, everything is about the same in dancing. Only in the army everything is much simpler in terms of coordination. It is generally easy for a dancer in the army – you quickly grasp everything (laughs).
But in terms of workload and attitude – everything is like in the army, yes. You work, you work, your legs are bleeding … Everything is done in order to bring it to an ideal state, otherwise there will be no result. Why do skaters dislike classical dance? In jazz and modern you can deviate from some canons, do something of your own, improvise, and in the classics, it’s like an army school. And if the teacher is not strict, if he does not demand, like an ensign in the army, nothing will come of it. For this routine, skaters do not like the classical dance.
Are we coming to the conclusion that in art and in sports, modern trends in terms of an individual approach and a softer attitude towards the artist / athlete are not feasible?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: As for the individual approach, I do not agree – it is necessary. And in terms of softness, I can say this: in dancing, in figure skating, if you want to achieve the highest professionalism, tip-toeing around an athlete or dancer will not lead to anything. Man is basically lazy.
This is pure psychology. Imagine, for example. Here you are raising a son and constantly play lovey-dovey with him – what will become of him? A a greenhouse tomato will grow up, which almost immediately burst into tears and ran to his mother to complain. There will be no character, no core. And how can a cool athlete or a cool dancer grow out of such?
Strictness is not cruelty, in my opinion, namely, strictness is an integral part of big sport and ballet. You can’t do without it. Of course, going too far, insulting, beating children is stupidity. But there are other educational approaches as well. There are strict teachers whom children adore and respect. Without respect, all work is wasted.
Where, then, is the line between strictness and cruelty?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: In my understanding – when children are beaten. This is already cruelty. I saw such psychologically downtrodden children – they had a coach, just a despot. And this despotism crushes a child mentally, he closes. These are already problems at the level of psychological trauma.
The child becomes a downtrodden mouse. You are trying to open up him at the dance class, look for approaches, you no longer work as a teacher, but as a psychologist. For 15 years in figure skating I have seen many such children. So the limits of cruelty still exist, in my opinion. You can spank the child lightly, or you can slap the child with such insults and humiliations that he will withdraw into himself and will not return soon.
I saw such cruel people – both in sports and in choreography. The situation in this regard began to change only when they began to punish very seriously for this. Attention was drawn to this, criminal charges appeared. Here, of course, it shouldn’t go too far, but still. Crazy and cruel coaches should be removed and punished.
It turns out that Eteri Georgievna is not a cruel coach?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: No, I wouldn’t call her that. Do you remember the story “Zhenya in batter” when Eteri rolled Zhenya Medvedeva on the ice? It was funny, not humiliating! Say, you want to lie down? Well, let me roll you. This is a normal pedagogical move, so that the child gets angry, gets up, goes to do it. And if she rolled her on the ice and at the same time humiliated her – then yes, it would already be a psychological trauma.
In general, I can say that there are a lot of “well-wishers” in the world. It’s understandable why – the more popular a person is, the more of them appear. Especially now, in the Internet age. If earlier you insulted a person – that’s it, we immediately go to a duel and shoot. Well, or we beat each other in the face. Now they write nasty things, say what they want – and all with impunity. In my opinion, a punishment should have been introduced long ago, responsibility for this dirt on the Internet. After all, some write that Tutberidze is cruel, even without ever seeing her trainings! Came up with a story for themself and inflated it.
Eteri is strict – yes, no one argues with that. She is a strict, demanding coach. Well, the results would have never been like this if she, as we used to say, played lovey-dovey with the athletes. They would have been spineless worms that can barely skate. And no one would have known who Tutberidze was, or what kind of girls she had. And they thunder all over the world.
Without rigor, you will never achieve such results in your life either in sports or in dance.
With severity and, probably, even with cruelty – I agree. On the other hand, about dirty words. As far as I know, Eteri Georgievna can.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: I haven’t gone on the ice for a long time and I haven’t heard any such things from Eteri. And when she comes to my dance class to look at the girls, there is nothing like that from her.
Aren’t injuries a sign of a tough approach?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Listen, how can you work with ultra-c elements without injuries? Take whoever you want – the Japanese, the Americans, everyone will have injuries, and serious ones. Even Yuzuru Hanyu got hurt a lot doing his quads!
Why all the time attention is on Tutberidze – simply because she is the flagship, the leader. Everyone sees only Tutberidze. Therefore, as soon as one of the girls has an injury, all at once: “Oh my God, she broke someone again!” Well, this is nonsense. Go to any strong figure skating school and count the number of injured.
Well, to be fair, indeed there will be a lot of them.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Of course! Everywhere is so, not only in a figure even. You can look at rhythmic gymnastics, athletics. Athletes in general are all broken, with injuries. And the girls of Eteri are in full view and constantly are talking about.
Judging by what you said earlier, getting used to work with Eteri Georgievna was not easy at first.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, when there is a team and each of its members has their own opinion, it can be difficult. Let’s say the choreographer sees one thing, and the coach sees another, and everyone wants to prove that his point of view is correct. This is a search that can sometimes reach a scandal. And on this basis, Eteri and I could quarrel at the beginning of our work. These are not direct scandals, of course, or something like family squabbles – no, purely working disputes, whose idea is cooler. I am 100% sure that something similar is happening now with Daniil (Gleikhengauz) and Seryoga (Dudakov) when they are looking for some kind of approach. If you agree with everything, you will never find a better one.
How difficult is it in general to find a common language with Eteri Georgievna? And what kind of person is she at work – authoritarian or prone to dialogue in a team?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: She listens to the team members, of course. But first she needs to understand the person. She never lets anyone close to her. At first, she looks closely, studies what a person is like. Whether a person is professional or not. I think that’s why she has a lot of specialists changed until she found the backbone of her team. She is very sensitive to people and starts to listen only when she starts to trust a person.
Until then, you should keep quiet and work, prove your professionalism. This is her position, and I believe that it is correct. A person just came, should he immediately be trusted? This makes no sense, of course. During this period people get used to each other, it is necessary to find a common language with Eteri. If you find it, it will be very easy to work with her. And if not, the person will not take root and will not be able to work in this team, because Eteri will not trust him. And a person with ambitions will not stand it morally.
“Coach with ambition”, “Can’t work without trust.” Sounds like Sergei Rozanov in the “Khrystalny”.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes, I agree. My opinion – Seryoga got a star fever too early. He’s a really talented person, but he shouldn’t have started taking the whole cover. It was necessary to work, achieve status, get used to the team. You know, the first step to failure is when you start to think that you are cooler than the stars and have already achieved everything.
Did Rozanov begin to think this way while working with Eteri Georgievna?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes. I think he got a thought – “I have learned everything, I can do everything and I can already work 100% as an independent unit.” That was a mistake, in my opinion. Maybe he doesn’t think so, and the current situation suits him. But I believe that Serezha could have achieved much greater heights in the Tutberidze team. And now the whole world would say what a great specialist Rozanov is and how he brings all the little ones to the top level.
He should have been patient, restrain his pride. Turn on the cold mind. Again, I repeat, he is a good guy. But coaches have been gaining authority for decades – the same Eteri has come a long way! And he had all the cards in his hand, but happened what happened. Sometimes our ambitions get in the way.
Going back to fans, a lot of people criticize your choreography. Do you have anything to say to these people?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, it’s actually nice to be criticized. It’s bad when they don’t talk about you at all (laughs). If they criticize, it means that something bothers … But there is sound criticism, and there is something else.
Even if you take criticism from the rival coaching staff. They do this not even for criticism, but simply to pour some mud on us. Sometimes there are fans who criticize fair, and I always listen to such, by the way. Over time, I began to separate malevolent criticism from sound criticism.
Criticism from a hate?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes. This is always felt in the tone of the written. There are sincere, real fans, and there are those who live with hatred. Their goal is to humiliate and trample on the Tutberidze coaching staff, the choreographer of Tutberidze. To write something nasty to Danya Gleikhengauz about his programs, about my dances. Thousands, tens of thousands of people like everything, but still there are those who throw “brown substance”.
Have you already understood why this happens in figure skating?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Honestly, I haven’t fully understood yet, although there are some guesses. Probably because figure skating borders on art. And what art lovers like is a little bordering on insanity. Well, also there are people who are mentally a little unbalanced.
In football, everything is simple, but here are young girls who are going crazy a little and they start writing nasty things. Well, and not young girls … Or some kind of maniacs who look at these girls. It seems to me that everything comes from the fact that figure skating is like a ballet and a sport. And that’s why such people are drawn into it, they seem to love sports, and art. And in fact, neither one nor the other.
Here you can draw a parallel with show business. There are also crazy fans who wait for the start at the entrances and all that. Something similar is now appear in figure skating. It probably existed before – there was simply no such informational background. And there was no Internet. Some crazy person just sat in front of the TV and cursed everyone, and today he was given the opportunity to throw it all out into the public space.
Were given a platform?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes. Like Sports Ru
What is your conflict with them?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: I can’t stand this site! When they take some articles, they pull the words out of context and write how it suits them to hype. A part is taken from the whole material and everything is presented in such a way as to provoke as many fans as possible.
I understand that they make ratings for themselves, but you need to know some boundaries. There must be decency. You can distort any meaning, and black will turn out to be white. And thousands of people are reading it! By the way, many of those mentally unbalanced people just sit at Sports.ru. I go there very rarely now, because when I read these comments, there is a feeling that you have fallen into the sewer slurry. I want to get up and take a shower.
There are a lot of great people working on this site, but some of them are doing this kind of nonsense. This is no longer journalism, in my opinion.
But they do not distort quotes. They put as is.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: You can rearrange the quotes. Or pull out one and cut the rest – the meaning will be different. Plus, I think every self-respecting sports community should get rid of these crazy people who write such false, nasty things. Moderators should ban such people, it’s not normal! And they, on the contrary, attract this muck to themselves, like a magnet.
Imagine a child comes to this site and reads all these comments. It also shakes his psyche. There must be censorship. Not tough, as in the USSR, but still. Otherwise, we will slide into such disgusting … How much dirt was poured on Tutberidze – and nothing. In fact, these are all criminal charges. If this happened in the States, millions of dollars would be sued for it. But, I think, we will soon take on this.
But that also adds to the popularity of the figurine, doesn’t it? All these scandals and more.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Adds, of course, but there should be a golden mean. Well, then let’s go completely into the garbage pit! It’s like in show business – you can go on stage and give such vocals that everyone will get goosebumps. And you can show strip dance, yell two notes at random and also get popular. What’s better?
Regarding scandals – and if we take last season? Agree, it was beautiful – such a derby Tutberidze vs Plushenko.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, was it a derby from Eteri’s part? She gave a couple of comments, no more. Derby, rather, was at the other part(laughs). And Eteri is generally not a fan of giving interviews. She will say one or two sentences – and that’s it, she can be silent for years. Well, only if they really hurt her … And then that part really hurt her. The fight was really serious when the girls transfered. And some puff pieces were published in all sorts of publics.
And when I saw all this, I just could not remain silent. And then I thought – that’s it, stop fighting with these windmills and stepped aside. I also said to myself: “Eteri, well done! You are wise to remain silent. Let them bark there.” Although sometimes you really want to write some kind of answer. But that’s exactly what they need, they feed on it. But we don’t like it, we’d better give our light to children and our work.
Getting into these squabbles is actually very hard. When I participated in them, I felt the energy coming out of me. It eats away, burns out from the inside and draggs like a swamp. And I decided it was time to end this.
But first you challenged Plushenko to fight.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes, because at some point this situation affected me personally and my family, and it hurt me very much.
Were you really ready to fight?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Yes, I was ready. I sincerely say this.
Well, that would be super hype.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: On the one hand, yes. On the other hand, you might think how it all could end for both sides. And besides, “hype” is not the goal that I pursued. I was furious when I wrote this post. And then my wife reasoned, we talked and I realized that it was all so-so. Way to nowhere, not worth it.
But still it was interesting to watch this confrontation.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Well, yes. This is fun, a drive for the fans. And the people who do all this inside, it eats them away.
Wasn’t the Tutberidze team interested in competing?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: No, trust me. It’s annoying, not interesting. Fans, people from the outside – yes, they like it. “Oh, look, what a fight there is!” It’s cool for them, and you’re right, it raises the popularity, but we still wouldn’t want it. It interferes with work.
In the context of that season, I can’t help but ask about your tough reaction to transfers from Eteri Georgievna’s team. Why?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: It’s all about how some of the transfers happened. You have to leave beautifully – that’s all. Of course, we are not slaves, and if for some reason you stopped finding a common language with the coach, you should leave. The only question is how do you do it.
When it comes to difficult times, a pandemic, everything is already so bad. So many things have been invested in you, programs have been choreographed, costumes have been sewn, and you turn around and silently do all this – yes, I consider this a betrayal. I take such things very harsh.
But in general, I feel ok about the transfers. Suppose, when Yegor Rukhin left, I did not say a word. He did everything beautifully – he came in advance, he informed. He didn’t wag his tail, but talked, presented these notorious flowers. And no one said anything to him.
And if you let the team down before the start of the season, then, of course, this is an insult. Isn’t this a betrayal? In my opinion, it definitely is.
Well, you were quite harsh to Alena Kostornaia even after her last transfer.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: I just tried to convey to her that it’s necessary to work.
So she didn’t work, correct?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Not the way she should be. Agree, Eteri will not just say goodbye without a reason. She gave a second chance, but in the end it all started the same. This team will not tolerate this.
Well, and what I said is not harshness. If a person understands everything correctly, then everything will be fine. And as for words “You stepped off the pedestal and now you are no one”, Eteri says this to her girls all the time, because it’s true. This is exactly what I tried to convey to Alena – that you need not to wave your tail, but to work. And do not look around looking for guilty ones, but look at yourself. Then she’ll be fine.
It seems to me that Alena just has youthful maximalism. She wants to try everything – singing, riding horses. And this is fine, you need to go find yourself while there are opportunities. But you are still a public person, a whole army of fans expects results from you. And when it is gone, they begin to look for the guilty – Eteri, her team, everyone else. But where is the work? Alena needs to sort herself out – that’s all.
There is an opinion that some key provisions at the ISU congress are introduced because of Eteri Georgievna and her girls. For example age minimum. Agree?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: You know, it really looks like this. We can sort through a bunch of options why this is happening, but I am 100% sure that the dominance of the “Eterians” already infuriates and annoys everyone. Especially at the international level. They also want to stand with a gold medal on their necks. So they think that if they raise the age minimum, girls will not be able to jump ultra-c. But this is an erroneous belief.
Let them raise the age minimum, what else to say. But looking for some loopholes to stand on a pedestal is wrong. Because of this, figure skating will roll back by 20 years. This is a young sport, and they will achieve that mature woman will wipe the ice with their buts. Few will jump ultra-c.
But the Tutberidze team cannot be defeated by this. There is spirit, willpower and systematic work. If we don’t take it there, we’ll take it somewhere else. Therefore, if they think that they can break us with the age minimum, no, this is stupidity. You can’t win with dirty methods, as at the Olympics.
Are you talking about the situation with Kamila?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Oh sure. You never know why this could happen – a provocation, a contaminated product, they could have added it on purpose. But it all showed up at the Olympics. There is no need to think about why everything was done – to trample and destroy right on the spot. Dip Mother Russia into a latrine.
Kamila should not have been allowed to the Olympics at all, if you are so correct. And why did they even divulge information about her if she is a minor? We were given a “demonstrative whipping”, that’s all.
And Kamila with such gorgeous natural data – well, what kind of dope? This is just nonsense. Doping in figure skating does not help.
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Are you talking about endurance? So you know what Kamila has such an endurance by nature. Even the programs show how she skates them. And if I can say about some other skaters that they need doping, because they can barely crawl on the ice, then Kamila is rushing like a tank. Like Sasha Trusova. There are such natural data and such training that outside help is not needed. I am sure of this because I know these girls.
Is there a feeling that many in the group will finish with the sport?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: I think it all depends on the timing. If everything drags on for a long time, many will finish. Still, an incentive for any athlete is to perform at the international level. If it’s a year or two, then I think there won’t be a strong outflow.
As for our Olympic trio, everything will depend on their goals in life. The same Anyuta Shcherbakova, in fact, achieved everything, took Olympic gold. Kamila took the team event – and I continue to say that this is a well-deserved gold. Perhaps she has enough ambition and health to go to the next Olympics. And the same with Sasha. Everything will depend on them. Of course, everyone wants these unique girls to stay as long as possible.
What about coaches? Now there is such a discourse, they say, does it make sense for Tutberidze to stay in Russia if we have been banned everywhere?
Alexei Zheleznyakov: Oh, this is total bullshit. Eteri has everything here. It is clear that her daughter trains in the States, there are cool specialists, they work with her individually to bring the pair to a serious level. Is it bad? In my opinion, no.
It’s just that today political affairs are rushing ahead of the locomotive, some incomprehensible accusations that if Eteri went to her daughter in America, this is all, almost a betrayal. Well, stupidity! She went to her daughter, not to support America! She has everything in Russia – work, fame, work invested. She worked hard for decades to achieve what she has now, and suddenly she has to give it all up and go to coach in the USA? It won’t happen, it’s surreal and nonsense.
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