Daniil Gleikhengauz: “Search for music is a huge part of the work that goes unnoticed. To come up with all of this, you need to be creatively inspired and be engaged with the cultural agenda.”
Big interview with Daniil Gleikhengauz (some parts were published earlier).
Choreographer Daniil Gleikhengauz on podcast with Maxim Trankov for Channel One talked about Eteri Tutberidze, which program he considers bad, and whether it is difficult without international competitions.
How do you interact as a trio? What roles does each of you have?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Let’s go in order. We interact wonderfully, and the proof of that is the number of years we have spent together. And I hope we will spend even more. We do everything together, except for Dudakov, who is not involved in the choreography process.
From the beginning to the end of the training session, the three of us are on the ice. The first 30 minutes are warm-up, where I show exercises on the ice and bring the athletes into shape – they are often sleepy in the morning. After that, we start working on jumps, programs, and exercises. Each of us gives their comments, encourages each other, and together we set tasks. We discuss the training plan in advance.
Do you never argue then?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Well, everyone argues. In families, among people who love each other, and among colleagues at work. Disagreements are an integral part of the work. We may not agree with each other, but we always come to a consensus – oh, what a silly word I used. We come to a resolution of these disputes, and we manage to find a middle ground where everyone contributes.
When I started coaching, the most difficult thing for me was to suppress the athlete within me. Was it a challenging path for you as well?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: It was much easier for me because as an athlete, you achieved everything. For an athlete, the main thing is to become an Olympic champion. You reached that goal and fulfilled yourself to the maximum.
As an athlete, I didn’t achieve any significant results. And that actually helped me because I knew what should and shouldn’t be done, how to advise the athletes: don’t behave like this, don’t do that. Because I knew from my own experience that it wouldn’t lead to anything good.
It was easier for me to understand them because I was once in their shoes – having talent but not utilizing it properly. Control is necessary, and I lacked discipline in sports. When I see excessive emotionalism and disobedience in an athlete, I remember myself. But at the same time, I try to explain them that such a path won’t lead to results. Discipline is the most important aspect.
When you joined Tutberidze, she already had Polina Shelepen and Yulia Lipnitskaya. Was that a challenge for you?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Of course, it was nerve-wracking in any case. You haven’t mentioned everyone yet. At that time, Sergei Voronov was also skating in the group, who was actually older then me. I competed with him at the same competitions, and after just two or three years, I come and say, “I’m your coach now.”
How was that?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: He came up to me, made a bow, and laughed. But I was so dedicated to my work that it was immediately evident that I was serious about my job. I wasn’t just talking, I had knowledge in something. I tried to put all my enthusiasm into the athletes from the very first training session.
I think they felt it, and maybe that’s why it was easier for me to earn their respect. They saw that I burned with passion, cared about their results and training. Well, yes, Sergei didn’t call me Daniil Markovich. At first. But eventually, yes he started doing that.
Did you also earn respect and recognition from Eteri Georgievna because of your dedication to your work?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: It’s very simple here. She sees talent perfectly well, both in athletes and in people in general. All their good qualities, their flaws. And if I didn’t fit her criteria, I would have received a negative response and a “no” in just two or three weeks, maximum within a month.
If a person has interest and passion for what they do, it would be foolish to reject them.
Many people are mistaken when they say that there is such a choreographer as Gleikhenhauz. After all, I believe you are also a coach.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Here’s the thing: it’s very easy to show the difference between a choreographer and what I am. Any choreographer comes, sets the program, and leaves to work on a program in another place. They don’t go to work every day, they don’t nurture a team of children to Olympic medals.
I enjoy teaching, it’s a pleasure for me, I like sharing knowledge. I am interested in the process and interested in the result. Nothing can replace the emotions that a coach experiences when they see the fruits of their work.
When you lead an athlete from an early age, teach them, and then they reach the main event of their life – the Olympic Games. And there, if everything goes well for them, the sense of pride you feel in that moment, the emotions – that’s what you went through this path for.
You can also teach someone to do a quadruple Salchow, it’s not just about working on their arms, gliding, and skating.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: I was a singles skater for most of my life and trained with Victor Kudryavtsev. As time has shown, he taught me the technique and understanding of jumps, and then it was a matter of adjusting it with the techniques of Eteri Georgievna and Sergei Viktorovich (Dudakov).
When we got in sync and found common ground, we started giving feedback on the technical aspects together. If one of us is absent, nothing changes in terms of providing feedback to the skater during practice.
Do you remember the program that made you think, “Yes, I did it, I can be a choreographer”?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Even before I came to Eteri’s team, when I worked at the “Moskvich” arena they entrusted me with choreographing programs. When I received positive feedback that the programs were interesting, unusual, and innovative, I began to understand that I should pursue this direction.
Speaking of my first significant choreography with Eteri, it was probably Adian Pitkeev’s short program, with which he outperformed Javier Fernandez at the Russian Grand Prix. It was my first notable choreography. I had a great connection with Adian; we became friends. He himself told Tutberidze that he wanted me to choreograph one of his programs.
At that time, Lipnitskaya and Pitkeev were supposed to go to the United States to work with Marina Zueva and choreograph programs for the new season. Yulia choreographed two programs there, while Adian only choreographed the free skate because they entrusted the short program to me.
So, what is your favorite choreography?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: That’s the most challenging question you can ask a choreographer. If there’s only one, then you haven’t done good work in ten years. After the Olympics in Korea, I could have stopped at five programs, including the Olympic programs for Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva. Now, after so many years, it would be unfair to name just one.
Can you mention one that you consider a failure? Or one that just didn’t work out?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: It can’t be considered a failure because we always gave it our all. If we’re talking about recent programs, there was one that didn’t work out, perhaps it didn’t work out for me also – the short program “East” (The Songs of Distant Earth by Kirill Richter) that I choreographed for Anna Shcherbakova in the Olympic year.
I thought you would mention that.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Really? I liked the music.
It just wasn’t Olympic.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Maybe. I had doubts, but we listened to it, decided it was good, and started working on it. Overall, we liked how Anya interpreted the music, and her movements were interesting too. But when I saw it at competitions twice, the second time, I understood it for myself. Even though it was already mid-season, I told Anya and her parents that they should trust me, that I felt we needed to change this program.
At that time, I was already searching for music for the next year. When I heard one composition, I immediately thought, “This is not for next year; we need to do it here and now, so Anya can take it to the Olympics” (Dangerous Affairs by Inona Zura).
There are two sides to the coin. On one hand, if you decide to change the program, it’s difficult to get it ready in time and prepare yourself. On the other hand, sometimes you need a psychological change. If you’ve skated a program poorly several times, you become too nervous and go to the competitions feeling down in advance. But with a new program, you start from scratch, everything resets.
I was extremely worried when Anya performed this program for the first time. I thought, if something doesn’t work out in the second program as well, she will come out and say that something is not working here too… But when she cleanly skated it from the first attempt, even though we had only prepared for a week, there was a feeling that everything would be fine.
In your trio, were all of you in agreement that the program needed to be changed, or did anyone have doubts?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Initially, we didn’t ask Sergei Viktorovich (Dudakov) about it. But when we told him we would be making a change, he also worried whether Anya would have enough time to practice.
As for Eteri, we discussed it at the competitions in Italy. After the free skate, I approached her and said that I had another piece of music and a different idea. We discussed and talked about it. When she heard the music, she also said that she could envision it with that. We came to the conclusion that it would be stronger piece in any case, and we needed to try it.
How do you search for ideas and music for new programs?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: That’s a huge part of the work that goes unnoticed. To come up with all of this, you need to be creatively inspired. You need to engage with the cultural agenda, not just keeping track of who released a song or a track, but also staying updated on plays, movies, trends, and youth culture. Everything. It takes up a tremendous amount of time.
Sometimes it’s challenging. When you’re endlessly listening to music, it becomes tiresome. You sit down, wanting to spend two hours finding interesting music. An hour passes, and to you, the 35th composition sounds the same as the second, and you think, “I need to take a break, otherwise, it won’t lead to anything.”
But often, ideas come spontaneously. You weren’t consciously expecting to work on it; you were in a car, sitting on a bus after a competitions, and it seems like you’re clearly not thinking about work. But suddenly, a thought pops into your head. You start developing it, and eventually, a whole idea is born from it.
Wasn’t it Valieva who found the Wednesday dance, not you?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Kamilla and I were discussing a new exhibition program. She mentioned, “There’s this dance from a popular TV series.” I said, “Show me.” She showed it to me, and I thought it was cool. I had come across it myself on social media or the internet, but I needed to think about what to make out of it because just replicating the dance… That had already been done by people all over the world.
We had to develop the theme further to create a complete program. I actually loved the Addams Family. I deliberately watched the entire TV series to understand the difference from the movies. And I had to come up with how to approach it, how the beginning would be.
I had preconceived that I needed to use the Thing hand. I also used the original soundtrack from the movie because for some people, that music is more recognizable than Wednesday’s. It’s a connection of generations, so to speak.
And then we had to musically connect everything. Eteri Georgievna and I came up with some really cool movements, like her hopping over the barrier and little spread eagles. We didn’t want it to look like Kamilla came out and simply repeated the dance. The task was to integrate the dance into the entire program.
Can you explain why you created your own show? Why don’t your skaters perform in other shows?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Well, first of all, our skaters perform in all shows. We have no restrictions. As for our show, let’s be honest – it’s not a play, not a New Year’s production. It’s entertainment, exhibition programs, or even their competitive programs.
We hold this at the end of the season, after all the competitions are over. And ideally, the skaters don’t suspect anything, but in reality, we’re just extending their shape by having them continue to perform their programs in full strength, executing difficult elements.
The season ends at the end of March/beginning of April, and until May, no one would be doing anything. At most, they would slowly start working on new programs. But here, our skaters keep training at full strength because they have to perform in front of an audience. They don’t want to look worse than they are. They go out and do triple axels, quads, skate the most challenging programs for the entire month.
What does this provide for the coaches? Does it make it easier to get into the next season?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: Of course, any break has a negative impact on shape and condition. And the longer you continue to perform difficult jumps, the more chances there are for restoring to take slightly less time compared to doing nothing at all.
What comes next? Don’t you think that you’re evolving, and over time, this will grow into something bigger?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: When we first started doing this, we didn’t have the time or opportunity to create something grandiose. Now we’re gradually increasing the number of productions, interesting numbers. I’m very happy that we created a women’s number for our three Olympic champions (Alina Zagitova, Anna Shcherbakova, and Kamila Valieva) because…
I told Eteri that I wanted a men’s and women’s number, but for the men’s part, we currently lack the prestige and senior athletes who have won everything. We could have invited guys from St. Petersburg, but it’s very difficult to find that much time.
We take the show and rehearsals seriously, but not everyone perceives it with the same enthusiasm because for them, the show is already a form of relaxation. However, for us, nothing changes, and we can’t lower the bar. We work on the exhibition program as much as we do on the competitive program so that it doesn’t appear raw and unprepared for the audience.
Sometimes it’s difficult for the athletes to adjust, to understand that it’s not leisure but equally important work.
Do you have any ideas to eventually create a show, a play? After all, there are so many vibrant characters.
Daniil Gleikhengauz: It’s hard to predict the future. First, it needs to be conceived and thought out, with a script and concept. And if it’s worth it… because we don’t want it to be done haphazardly. If we were to create such a show, it would require a lot of time, effort, and money. Currently, we don’t have any of that. But who knows… I think someday we’ll come to that. But when?
Summarize the season for us: what are you satisfied with and what was lacking?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: The season was undoubtedly challenging; there’s no denying that. None of us had been in such a situation before. The absence of international competitions takes a toll mentally. Our task was not to allow ourselves to lower the bar or fall below our level.
To prevent thinking, “There are no international competitions, so we can relax a bit.” We made it clear to ourselves that we couldn’t afford that. Therefore, we approached the work on programs and training process the same way we did in previous seasons. Perhaps we slightly reduced the workload compared to last year when it was an Olympic season, and everything was at its maximum.
There were many competitions, a good prize fund, which motivated the athletes. We lived through this year, and I can’t say that anyone lost shape or that our competitions lacked spectacle or skill level.
We saw that in women’s figure skating at Russian competitions, we demonstrated a higher level than at any international competitions, be it Grand Prix, European Championships, or World Championships. Currently, we remain the strongest country in women’s figure skating, just as we are in pairs.
Did the men improve? I thought so too, but after seeing the guys at the World Championships, I realized that there’s still room to grow and work. The level in the world is still very high.
Do you have any ideas on how to overcome this situation?
Daniil Gleikhengauz: I don’t want to make any promises or name names. When I was younger, I was confident that I could name the future Olympic champion, but it’s not that simple. So we will continue working, and I hope we can compete with those guys who are currently winning world championships.
As for what comes next… I don’t know; it’s a difficult question. Until we receive information about when we will be back to international competitions, when we will be allowed, it weighs on us. It’s a burden when you’ve known your whole life that there’s a main competitiom – the World Championships and an Olympics every four years. It’s challenging to pretend that everything is fine without them.
You get used to a certain structure, so of course, we want to return to the international arena as soon as possible to showcase our level, our programs. We want the whole world to watch and respect us for our work.
Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin: “The most challenging element to restore after come back? It’s probably the twizzles.”