Ilia Averbukh: “Medvedeva’s example can push many to switch to pair skating”
Interview with Ilia Averbukh. About his Anna Karenina show, Evgenia Medvedeva’s experience in pair skating, why, out of all the students of Eteri Tutberidze, he would like to work with Anna Shcherbakova, and how he would like to unite Medvedeva and Zagitova in the upcoming Ice Age season.
source: gazeta.ru dd. 10th July 2021, by Elvira Ondar
On July 9, the premiere of your new ice performance “Anna Karenina” took place. Did you worry before the debut show? Is this similar to the emotions that you experienced, for example, before performing at the Olympic Games?
Ilia Averbukh: Olympic emotions are something special. At the Olympics, you have one chance right here and now. And with the show, there is an opportunity to refine, bring to the perfection. Therefore, maybe it is not as exciting as at the Games.
But, of course, I still worried, because huge financial resources, as well as moral and emotional strength, have been invested in this production. Anna Karenina is a project of more than one million dollars, so it is very important not to miscalculate here. If the audience suddenly does not go, it will be very expensive.
Honestly, I am very worried, but at the same time I believe that our performance won’t be just a repetition of the heights we have already achieved with Carmen and Romeo and Juliet. No one has yet surpassed the success of these performances, but my task is to make Anna Karenina a step forward.
A lot of work was done. We have made major changes to our work in terms of choreography, scenography, storylines. It is clear that the work is complex, and it is probably impossible to show on the ice the entire great work of Leo Tolstoy, otherwise it will be a performance for five hours.
But I singled out the main lines for myself – these are Anna Karenina and Kitty’s line. Oksana Domnina plays the role of Karenina, and Evgenia Medvedeva plays the role of Kitty. These are the two main characters in our work.
Previously, you did large-scale performances based on foreign literary works “Carmen” and “Romeo and Juliet”, and now you have chosen the Russian “Anna Karenina”. What is the peculiarity of the production based on Russian classics? Is it easier for our skaters to understand it?
Ilia Averbukh: Well, I think it’s still easier. In this production, we are on our own land, on our own basis, and we do everything with deep understanding.
Although the Spaniards accept our version of “Carmen”, they still smile somewhere in the corners of their lips and believe that they know better what “Carmen” should be.
In the case of Anna Karenina, I am sure that we absolutely feel this story. At the same time, I did not have the task of making the performance historical – it is timeless, so the characters have modern costumes and modern music written by composer Roman Ignatiev sounds.
Evgenia Medvedeva previously participated only in your New Year’s performances – fairy tales. How does she cope with one of the main roles in a serious production of Anna Karenina?
Ilia Averbukh: This is a big challenge for her – including acting. However, Zhenya does well and it is a great pleasure to work with her. Firstly, she shows several large solo numbers, and secondly, pair skating has become a special challenge for her.
She performs in a duet with Alexander Enbert, learns complex lifts, death spirals and other elements of pair skating. I think that from performance to performance the guys will gradually learn new elements. I see how Zhenya likes to work in pair, and I think that everything looks very good.
Medvedeva and Enbert even tried to make something like throws in training.
Ilia Averbukh: So far, I definitely do not ask to force this. Throw is a very complex element.
It only seems that if a person performs triple jumps himself, then she will easily make a throw. No no! We take great care of Zhenya and her health. Still, this young athlete has a lot of injuries. And she is really still a very young, young woman.
I think we will gradually complicate the programs of Sasha and Zhenya. But everything has its time, there is no need to rush. The main thing is that Zhenya is comfortable, that she remains healthy, that her ice career continues and that she pleases fans with her talent for as long as possible.
You mentioned that Medvedeva could even switch to pair skating.
Ilia Averbukh: I think Zhenya really has everything for this, but here an internal decision should be made to switch to another type of figure skating. Although here I see a certain bridge for many girls who at some point cannot reach the level of quadruple jumps, but have perfect triple jumps and feel the strength in themselves.
I think that Zhenya switching to pairs or at least skating in a pair in our show, can push many to switch to pair skating, and Russia is the leader of the world pair skating.
Are you ready to let Medvedeva go to the test skates of the Russian national team on September 11-12, if she wishes?
Ilia Averbukh: Zhenya should tell herself whether she plans to participate in these test skates. It would be more correct to ask her about this. If Zhenya says that she wants to take part in the test skates, then, of course, we will figure out who will play her role for this time (the conversation took place before Medvedeva announced that she was not going into the season. – Gazeta.Ru) …
You have been cooperating with Evgenia Medvedeva for a long time and keep excellent relations with her. Alexander Zhulin even said in an interview that you agreed to do Medvedeva’s free program for her first senior season completely free of charge. Is it really so? And is there now a skater with whom you would agree to work on the same terms?
Ilia Averbukh: You know, yes, it’s true. For me, choreographing programs is definitely not a business. Programs for famous athletes are paid by the Russian Figure Skating Federation, so I am not an expensive choreographer at all. I don’t take money directly from the guys.
If I know that an athlete pays his money, then, as a rule, I refuse to take the fee – this is my position. Because it brings me pleasure and self-satisfaction and definitely will not make me richer.
And if the federation pays for the program, then I receive a salary on the general basis for all choreographers. But in general, I can say that I have never demanded any sky-high or even any large sums of money for my work. And there is a lot of evidence for this.
How is the process of working on competitive programs different for you from creating programs for shows and performances?
Ilia Averbukh: In the competitive program, a lot is limited by the rules. For example, the beginning of a story cannot last more than five seconds – then you have to start making steps.
So, the program does not have a long explanation of the story that you want to tell, you cannot make long pauses, emotional pauses, you must keep moving all the time. And this is a certain difficulty for constructing a dramaturgy, but the more difficult the task, the more interesting it is for me to solve it.
In show you are not limited by anything: you can fall on the ice, you can “float” on the ice, sit on your knees for a long time, throw your head back, make the same movement because of the musical repetition.
And in the sports program, everything should be very diverse. In addition, you need to set everything very conveniently for the athlete so that he can perform the most difficult jumps. Here you need to look for balance. Therefore, when I choreograph a competitive program, I basically give guiding movements and then I watch how the athlete embodies them in his organics, so that it is convenient for him to perform it.
In general, these are fundamentally different things – to choreograph a program for competitions and to choreograph a program for the show.
I have created more than one and a half thousand programs. In sports, they won the Olympic Games, became prize-winners of the European and World Championships. As part of the show, I have directed many performances for “Ice Age”, which are gaining 2-3 million views on YouTube.
I still like to create, work. And so far it turns out.
In a recent interview you singled out Anna Shcherbakova as a skater for whom you would be interested to make a program. Why did this skater of Eteri Tutberidze attract your attention as a choreographer?
Ilia Averbukh: I feel that Anna has a very rich inner world. And this is very important for me when working with an athlete. When you have a lot inside, then you have something to say outside. That’s why I would like to work with Anya. I distinguish this athlete precisely for these inner qualities.
I like how Anya behaves, how she gives interviews, how she formulates a thought, how she expresses her feelings on the ice, how she is internally intelligent … And in this confusion of everything that happens, I bet on her, because she is really the personification of puriness on ice.
In recent years, Shcherbakova has developed her image – a refined, gentle, suffering, or experiencing light sadness girl. Is it possible to change such an established image? And if so, in what role would you like to see Anna?
Ilia Averbukh: I think that Anya can show a lot of things. But changing the image just for the sake of changing it, I would definitely not advise it in the Olympic season. It seems to me that Anya has found her face – and it is beautiful.
Many artists of the comic genre want to prove to everyone that they are great tragedians. Tragedians, on the other hand, want to prove that they are comedians. But, as a rule, we still know Chaplin as Chaplin, and the actors of the tragic genre as tragedians.
It seems to me that in the Olympic season you shouldn’t change yourself and please those who drive you to something: “Turn this way or change this way.” You have to do well what you can do. But this, of course, is absolutely my opinion.
Is it real to invite foreign figure skating stars to your show – for example, Nathan Chen or Yuzuru Hanyu?
Ilia Averbukh: I think there is no big problem in inviting Nathan or Yuzuru and other great stars of figure skating to a one-off gala show. Of course, this is a very budget story, but it is quite real.
As for the invitation to the shows with a large number of performances, so far it is practically impossible, because it is a very expensive pleasure. The fees of these skaters are already quite high, and they are also paid in foreign currency, which in terms of the exchange rate becomes simply unaffordable.
Last year, you said that you would like to see Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova together in the Ice Age: “It seems to me that this is the future – in their connection”. Do you plan to unite them as hosts in the upcoming season of the project?
Ilia Averbukh: I am absolutely convinced that these are two great athletes who have absolutely no conflicts, and the fans adore both of them.
I will be very happy if both Zhenya and Alina participate in the new season of the Ice Age project. And in what role – is not so important. I am sure that these athletes will be interesting in any capacity.