Deniss Vasiljevs: “In interviews, skaters often say they’ll fight, and I think: “Why does everyone always want to fight, why do you think of competitions as a war?” I see myself as an artist, not a gladiator.”
Interview with Deniss Vasiljevs. Bronze medalist of the European Championships 2022 on his vision of figure skating, thoughts on its further development, studying Taoism and performing on public.
source: olympics.com dd. 14th March 2022 by Tatjana Flade
Deniss, this season passed with spectators on the arenas. What is it like to perform in front of an audience after a year of break (when there were no competitions, or they were without spectators)?
Deniss Vasiljevs: During the pandemic, it was very difficult to get used to the new world at all. Despite the fact that the isolation remained in the last season, this time, when competitions began, everything felt different, not like before. We are gradually adapting to the new, to live differently. And I am very grateful that the world is coming back to normal. But, on the other hand, sometimes it seems that maybe because we are really so well protected from this covid and everything is so well organized, therefore there are no problems. And I somehow forget little by little about its existence. And somehow it already seems that all these measures are not needed anymore and you want a little more freedom. This is especially felt when you get into the bubble. I spend most of my time in the mountains, I really love nature, walking, and for me being locked in four walls is probably one of the most difficult things that happens at the competitions. And I am happy that the world is finally getting back to normal in this regard. I can’t wait until we get back to normal. And even masks. I understand that they are needed, but you can’t see smiles behind them. It remains only to look at the eyes. Somehow we all started to close.
When the arena is without spectators, it is empty, not alive. But when it is full, when there are spectators, then the arena comes to life, it is perceived in a completely different way. Spectators, their energy encourages, charges both artists and athletes.
If we talk about you, do you develop yourself exactly as an artist?
Deniss Vasiljevs: What I am very grateful quarantine for is that I have free time. And I began to study Taoism, turned my attention to the East. I began to study how they look at the world, to look for my own view. During this time I have read many books. Now I am gradually analyzing all this, developing. And somehow there is less stress, less useless running around, I become somehow more conscious. I think this also applies to skating. Because the paradox is that the more complex the element, the easier it is in terms of physical investments, but harder in terms of psychology. The higher you go uphill, the less progress is noticed: the steps become smaller, but at the same time it’s harder to make them. And at the same time, there is a lot of, let’s say, side wind. And so when you start to really invest in it and you notice a change after a while… Let’s say if you watch my skating for three years, it’s the same arcs, the same movements, but they look different. And that’s what I’m personally proud of – to see this progress, to understand how much work has been put in it. This is really what makes me happy to live. Because self-development, striving for something better, something greater motivates me in the morning. And I don’t want to treat my skating as a job, I try to treat it as a skill. It’s like you’ve taken a big piece of marble and you’re honing it little by little, you figure out how to make a sculpture out of it. And the further you go, the better you work with the stone, the better you start to figure out where to use which sandpaper, how to polish, what is better, what is worse, how to work with the material.
It is interesting for me to understand how the world of figure skating works in terms of physics, nutrition, training. Interesting in terms of the strategy of all work off the ice. How figure skating connects with other arts: with martial arts, with dance arts, ballet, yoga, Pilates. When this is all going together, and you find what is similar between them. And when you try to connect all this or take something best for yourself and remove from your activity what you do not need.
What is your vision of figure skating?
Deniss Vasiljevs: For me, figure skating remains a sport that is very difficult for me to understand. Because, on the one hand, I personally want to see it more artistic, more developing in terms of art. And yet, as part of the Olympic movement, it is also a human culture. It is not only physical ability, it is also development. Previously, they even gave Olympic medals for achievements in the arts. Stoicism, a direction of philosophy, speaks of discipline, self-control and self-control of emotions, achieving something not by “I will bury everything and break myself,” but by realizing what happens through improving oneself. And therefore, I think, if athletes paid more attention not only to the sport itself, but also to everything related to it, were interested for example in medicine, then I am sure that their career in sports would last longer. Because today I feel that the change of generations is happening instantly.
Figure skating for me is not just a sport – where you go and do it. In an interview, skaters say they will fight, and I sit and think: “So, why does everyone always want to fight, why do you think of competitions as a war?” My mother also perceives the performance as a war. And I see myself as an artist, not a gladiator. Going on the ice, I try to feel the same as when shooting from a bow, when you need to release the arrow, and it will fly. I feel the same way now in terms of jumping. You need to prepare them, and then let them go. When everyone says that they are going to fight, I always feel that some kind of internal outburst is missing here, everyone is somehow closed, everyone is trying somehow …I understand that it is necessary to focus, I understand that this is very important, and this is part of the sport. And everyone wants to win, everyone wants to surpass the other. But still, for me, this is not just competitions. For me, it is also a demonstration of your skills, when you work on your skills every day. Therefore, sometimes it really hurts me to realize that very few people want to invest energy in skating, in what makes our sport unique – in the dance, artistic component.
And not only concentrate on performing jumps, elements.
Deniss Vasiljevs: In my opinion, it is necessary to change something every time, because this is development. We determine what can be improved and go there – this is the process of evolution. At the moment, everyone is very focused on the technical component. I hope that in the next 4 years there will be a reverse movement towards a balance between jumping and skating. Because skating is actually harder than jumping. Jumps are fast, aggressive, in fact, this is acrobatics on ice. Skating is about control, the feeling of the ice. Any movement on the ice that is very slow and fluid is much harder to do than the same movement but fast. The fast ends too fast, it doesn’t need a lot of control. And despite the fact that jumps are very difficult, skating, such as Miyahara Satoko shows, for example, is very difficult.
It’s interesting to be the one who gives the music and doesn’t follow it. Just in this difference in skating, I see a difference in how we look at the world. I feel that the majority goes on the ice to make the program, to do what is planned and that’s it. And I feel like I’m going on the ice and I want to share the music, I want to be it. I want to be the one to put on a show, not just walk into the stadium like an athlete.
Because after all, figure skating is a sport and an art.
Deniss Vasiljevs: Yes, and I’m looking for a balance, I respect the current system in terms of jumps, it’s a wow factor and it’s great. But chasing them, I am afraid of losing beauty.
I think it is very difficult to answer the question of further development. And even if you think about it like that… I don’t know how to change something. It is necessary that more people become aware of what is happening in figure skating, so that they understand it and have their own idea of what they like, what they don’t like. Because the majority simply follows the indicated path. As they say: here are my frames, and I will stick to them. And I try to look without frames. It’s one thing when you look at something through the window, it’s another when you look while sitting in the park. Through the window you only see what you can see through it, that is your limitation. When you sit in the park, you are inside. You can turn your head and you have a completely different view.
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