Marina Zueva: “Daisuke Takahashi has just a huge, almost unlimited potential, and that’s just the beginning, believe my experience.”
Marina Zueva about working with Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi. The famous coach told how a unique ballet program was choreographed, which helped the Japanese to immediately draw attention to their pair, shared her opinion that she did not see a clear leader in dance, and revealed the secret of success at the Olympic Games.
source: russian.rt.com dd. 19th November, 2021 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya.
I don’t even know what to congratulate you on: on such a big debut of your pair in Tokyo or on the return to the world of big figure skating. In a word, you have surprised us.
Marina Zueva: Now Muramoto – Takahashi is the only serious pair who trains with us. Of course, we all invested in this duet – me, my ballerina Elena Sokolova, who has been working with me since 2004, Johnny Jones – he worked with all my champions since 2006, Ilia Tkachenko, who came to our group four years ago and really fitted in well.
Did all of these specialists worked with Kana Muramoto when she competed for Japan with Chris Reed?
Marina Zueva: Yes. Kana and Chris took part in the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, became 15th there, after that they finished performing, and there was no question of continuing their careers. When I asked Kana what she would like to do, she said that she was thinking about coaching, but had not yet finally decided to leave the ice. I recommended her to go to California to a ballet school – at one time Tanith Belbin – Benjamin Agosto went there for an internship. Kana listened to me, chose a suitable course, studied at a ballet school for a while, then returned to Japan and performed in a show.
Daisuke, when he was still skating as a single skater, often said that it would be interesting for him to try himself in ice dance after the end of his career. Moreover, the peak of his career came at the very time when at the Games in Vancouver the first two places were taken by Tessa Virtue – Scott Moir and Meryl Davis – Charlie White and their victory was a huge success. But everyone took Takahashi’s words as a joke then. And Kana, when they met in the show, asked directly: “Do you want to try?” – “I want…”
Did Muramoto inform you of her plans?
Marina Zueva: She said that she wants to start skating with a new partner, but didn’t give a name. I found out that we were speaking about Takahashi just before their arrival to Florida. At the very end of 2019, Daisuke, due to his previous obligations, was supposed to perform at the national championship as a single skater for the last time, and there he and Kana announced that they were starting to skate together.
I was very happy then. I already had experience with single skaters who were switching to ice dance, and I knew it was possible. My first thought was that for Kana this was the best choice one could only wish for.
First, the partner is Japanese. This means that there will be no problems in order to represent the country at the Olympics. Secondly, of all Japanese single skaters, Daisuke has always been the most emotional and most expressive. True, when in February last year Takahashi arrived and appeared on our ice, I thought that it was too early to be happy. He was very thin, like all single skaters, and this is understandable, since difficult jumps required above all lightness and sharpness.
How quickly did you manage to get the right shape?
Marina Zueva: The first thing we did was sending Daisuke to our fitness coach Ryan Wessa, who just opened his own fitness club in Florida. Ryan is a professional hockey player in the past, and he played in the attack. That is, he was a very fast player. We are very close in our views on physical training, because the skater needs the same qualities on the ice: speed, sharpness and minimize the likelihood of injury.
In Japan, Takahashi has never did power training and at first he strongly doubted whether he needed it. But then, when the result of the work in the gym become noticeable, he liked it. And he began to work with redoubled zeal.
At the same time, we worked on positions, on gliding, and from the very beginning I kept in mind that the free program should become our “calling card”. So that Daisuke and Kana immediately draw attention to themselves, so that everyone can see that they are different, unlike any of those with whom they will compete.
And chose La Bayadere?
Marina Zueva: Yes. Because I saw ideal performers in Muramoto – Takahashi. After all, when I find this or that music, in my head I begin to select the performers. Sometimes this process takes years. Do you remember I once told how in 2015 I did the Spring program for Marin Honda? I really wanted to choreograph this program for a Japanese woman, because the most beautiful spring that I have ever seen in my life is in Japan. Three years passed from the moment when I found music and came up with the program to the moment when the performer was found. So it happened with La Bayadere: I had music, had an idea, but for a long time there were no performers. And I found them in Takahashi and Muramoto.
Weren’t you worried that the task of transferring a performance with many ballet movements and, accordingly, the work of completely different muscles to the ice may turn out to be an overwhelming task for athletes?
Marina Zueva: Of course, it’s easier to take nice music and just skate beautifully to it. Performing a ballet piece on ice is much more difficult. If you are not able to decompose the choreography into phrases, as it’s done in ballet, you can only end up with a parody of ballet.
This is really hard and very painstaking work, because every step, every transition that connects the elements, and indeed every movement must fit exactly in one or another musical accent. In this regard, we do not have a single random movement in our program. But this is what makes an impression.
In general, I can say that everyone can skate slowly. But very few know how to do it quickly and sharply. This is a very special gift, and it is very difficult to develop it. You either have it or not. For example, Nathan Chen jumps because of such a talent. His legs are very fast.
For some reason, I recalled the very first appearance on the ice of Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov. She attracted attention with the very quality you mentioned.
Marina Zueva: You are absolutely right. She was the fastest dancer in footwork, and it really caught my eye. But this, I repeat, is a rare quality. Therefore, I had to wait so long for the performers who would be able to execute all the steps I had came up with.
How quickly did you realize that Muramoto-Takahashi would be able to cope with the this task?
Marina Zueva: Straightaway. After all, they did not come to me from the beginners group. Daisuke is the world champion, the first Japanese single skater who managed to climb the podium at the Olympic Games, that is, a person not only with a story , but also with a very powerful technical base.
Therefore, my task was only to adapt this base to ice dance. Kana had the same technical base. At one time, she was a really strong single skater with all triple jumps, including lutz. But then there was an injury, and she had to forget about jumps.
I noticed how cleanly and clearly Takahashi performed each of the dance steps.
Marina Zueva: He just understands very well the importance of this. Therefore, he learns new things for himself with great zeal. I would even say that he is much more scrupulous about technical work than people who have spent many years in ice dance.
Do you speak English with the guys?
Marina Zueva: Yes, although a lot of my comments Kana translates Daisuke into Japanese. After all, over the years of working with me, she has become much more accustomed to the style of my explanations.
Did Takahashi somehow indicate the level of his aspirations when he started training with you, or is this level determined by you?
Marina Zueva: I never define. I consider it a much more paramount task to create a piece and perform it in such a way that the audience and the judges feel involved in what they see on the ice. To make a program that would capture them, make them empathize. The technical base allows us to do this: at the competitions in Tokyo, the base value of the rhythm dance of Muramoto – Takahashi was only 0.01 lower than that of Victoria Sinitsina – Nikita Katsalapov, in the free dance my guys were ahead of Nikita and Vika by 0.25. And the Russian duo are world champions.
Was the competitions in Tokyo the second one for you pair this season?
Marina Zueva: Yes. Due to the fact that this season is Olympic, we had to start it earlier than usual. In early September, the guys performed at local competitions that were held in our arena, skated both programs, and received quite high scores. We sent all the videos of these performances to the judges and technicians in Japan for their comments. And for more than a month we have been working on polishing and skating the programs. After Muramoto and Takahashi perform in Warsaw, we will begin to purposefully prepare for the Japanese Nationals, where, in fact, the selection for the Olympic Games will take place.
Do you need to win this competition to go to Beijing?
Marina Zueva: Quite right. Therefore, this is the most important competitions for us.
Daisuke turns 35 this year. He probably won’t want to continue skating for another four years?
Marina Zueva: If I were him, I would like to.
Do the body’s reserves allow it?
Marina Zueva: What we are doing now is just the beginning of work with a huge, almost unlimited potential, believe my experience. I’m not even trying to embellish anything. On the contrary, I feel a huge responsibility for this pair, because there is a talent in my hands, and this always obliges the coach a lot. It was the same with Tessa and Scott, although the technical base of Muramoto and Takahashi is higher.
If we talk about the Beijing Olympics, can you at least in general terms imagine how a dance event could develop?
Marina Zueva: I haven’t thought about it. And I haven’t seen so many pairs live. It is rather difficult to say based on the videos who is in what shape and how they will approach the Games. Ice dance is such a discipline where performance plays a huge role. The speed of skating, the energy that comes from a particular pair, emotions are taken into account – everything that is not visible on the TV screen. These nuances define the champion. There’re more than three months left before the Games, during this time you can become much stronger, but you can, on the contrary, lose your shape.
Plus, there is no clear leader in ice dance now – everyone came pretty close to each other. That is why I say that the quality of performance at the Games will be decisive. You have to be cool there. It seems to me that no background will be taken into account. Maybe I’m wrong, but my opinion at all times was exactly this: go and skate in such a way that it will take their breath away. And you will be the first.
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