Marina Zueva: “In Japan, Takahashi is not even a star but an idol. His popularity there is higher than that of Yuzuru Hanyu.”
Interview with Marina Zueva. About work with Kana Muramoto / Daisuke Takahashi, latin rhythms and her position towards borrowing someone else’s ideas.
source: RT dd. 24th November 2022 by Elena Vaitsekhovskaya
In the eyes of many Japanese, Daisuke Takahashi is a pioneer in figure skating, while two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is only his successor. The well-known coach Marina Zueva expressed such an opinion in an interview with RT. According to her, this explains the incredible popularity of the first Japanese world champion in single skating. The specialist also explained why Latin American rhythms are difficult for representatives of the Land of the Rising Sun, and expressed her position on borrowing other people’s ideas.
I know how much you wanted Daisuke Takahashi and Kana Muramoto to continue their careers after the Olympic season. Did it take long to persuade the athletes?
Marina Zueva: I didn’t persuade them, we discussed this issue. And together, we decided not to stop halfway. Especially when there is room for improvement and time to do so.
The second argument in favor of this decision is the World Championships, which will be held next year in Saitama. This is good not only for the skaters themselves, but also for the country. In Japan, interest in ice dancing has grown very much now, many children are doing this type of skating, and for the first time in history, a Japanese pair (Nao Kida – Masaya Morita – RT ), which is coached by my former athlete Cathy Reed, became the third at the stage of the junior Grand Prix.
On the one hand, all this is surprising, but on the other hand, it is understandable. Takahashi is loved in his homeland, and after he switched from single skating to ice dance and began to achieve outstanding results, he turned out to have many successors.
Twice, Muramoto / Takahashi were sixth at the ISU Grand Prix, but they scored 9.1 points less at Skate America than at the NHK Trophy. Did the starting result disappoint you?
Marina Zueva: No. According to the judges, the guys performed well in the States. But lost the difficulty levels.
Wait. If a duet is able to perform the prescribed elements on level 4, but suddenly gets the first or second…It’s impossible to forget how to skate to such an extent, right?
Marina Zueva: It is possible, unfortunately. In ice dance, it’s easy. Moreover, Kana and Daisuke really had certain flaws. Now we have corrected something, but before the first stage, we simply did not have enough time.
Late start of the season?
Marina Zueva: Yes. Kana and Daisuke did a lot of shows at the end of last season, then they had to rest. In June we started working on new programs and decided that we would not force the preparations. The only thing that disrupted the plans was the request of the organizers of the American Grand Prix stage that we perform at their event. I wanted to start competing a little later.
The Latin American style chosen this season for the short dance is quite difficult for Japanese skaters. Don’t you think so?
Marina Zueva: Sure. In a certain sense, Latin dances are contrary to traditional Japanese upbringing, culture. That’s why I choreographed a short dance in the techno style so that the skaters would be psychologically more comfortable and could show their best qualities. Both Kana and Daisuke are very sharp and fast. Well, and also to be different from the rest. In short, we work on the contrast again.
What is the main difficulty of Latin dances?
Marina Zueva: In a rhythm. This is a very specific thing. Not tempo, but rhythm. Moreover, the rhythms in Latin dances alternate. And also relationships between partners. Latin dances are always a game between a man and a woman, regardless of the style the dance is choreographed. Not everyone can show it.
In your opinion, does the absence of the top three leaders of the Olympic season reduce the competition in the ice dance world or, on the contrary, exacerbate it?
Marina Zueva: It depends on how you look at it. The pedestal has been vacated, and this always causes a stir. Now let’s see who takes it. Who will be better.
And who’s ready to rise?
Marina Zueva: Difficult question. First, I am not a judge. And secondly, since Kana and Daisuke moved up to a stronger warm-up, I lost the opportunity to watch the competitions. Last year, when they skated for the first year and performed in the initial groups, I used to send them to rest after their performance, while I was on the stands scanning the ice. When the skaters skate in the last warm-ups, the coach does not see anything at all. Everyone is busy with their athletes. Of course, I watch broadcasts, but this does not always give an objective picture. It is difficult to determine the speed, the quality of performance of some elements, some other things through the screen.
Recently, two-time Olympic champion in ice dance, Evgeni Platov, in a conversation with me, noted that Christopher Dean was always much stronger than Jayne Torvill on the ice, both in terms of technique and choreography, so all dances were choreographed based on him. Not to mention that he was also the main choreographer. You have a similar situation; Takahashi is a world-famous star, incredibly charismatic and has excellent skating skills. Is there no temptation to make him a more significant figure in programs?
Marina Zueva: Some specialists really do this, but I always proceeded from the fact that I have a duet. Of course, Takahashi is not an ordinary skater, he was an absolutely outstanding single skater. In Japan, he is not even a star but an idol. His popularity there is higher than that of Yuzuru Hanyu. But to choreograph the dance for one, even such a charismatic athlete, is simply illogical. There must be harmony and continuous interaction between people. Of course, it can be difficult to achieve this when one of the partners is so bright. It is necessary to choose the concept of the program very carefully, to place the accents correctly. But it’s interesting.
Are you serious about the higher popularity of Takahashi in Japan?
Marina Zueva: Yes. Daisuke has more fans than Hanyu, as strange as that may sound. Here, you just need to understand that Takahashi belongs to the past generation of stars. Agree, they were, to a certain extent, brighter than the current ones, at least because they skated and performed longer.
But Hanyu went through three Olympics …
Marina Zueva: Yes. So does Takahashi. It’s just that Daisuke was the first to win an Olympic medal for Japan, the first to win the World Championships, who brought great glory to the country and huge popularity to Japanese figure skating. In this context, Yuzuru is a successor. He may be stronger, more titled, and more beautiful in every way, but still, in the minds of a huge number of people, he is second after Takahashi. And the first is always the first.
It seems to me that the point here is also that Takahashi is an absolutely earthly character, understandable to the fans. And Hanyu is an alien.
Marina Zueva: Agree. People are always more drawn to those who, relatively speaking, can be touched. Daisuke is simple, very sociable, and open, but at the same time modest, completely unpretentious in terms of some everyday things. However, his talent is not limited to figure skating alone. He sings well, performs in his Japanese show with vocal numbers.
Apart from skating?
Marina Zueva: That’s the thing, he skates and sings, and he isn’t singing along to the tape. How he does it, I don’t understand. But it’s interesting to watch.
Do you speak English or Russian in training with him?
Marina Zueva: Good question. The most amazing thing is that Daisuke understands Russian better and speaks better. After all, before coming to me, he skated with Russian coaches. I just have to make comments in the course of training in English so that Kana understands.
By the way, Platov, in the course of the conversation, recalled the story of how Dean sued the Ghost Ballet for a long time over plagiarism and was forced to pay very large sums of money as compensation.
Marina Zueva: Yes, there was such a story. Christopher first created a program for himself, transferring almost the entire ballet number to the ice – both music and movements. And skated it at the exhibition gala. And then made a free program for Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay from this exhibition program.
To what extent is such borrowing acceptable?
Marina Zueva: When designers upgrade a Porsche, they don’t start with a bike, right? They use the last of the models as a starting point. So it is here. Last year I was in Paris at the Pablo Picasso exhibition, where his works from many private collections and all museums were collected, and identical works by other artists were also presented there: Monet’s Circus and Picasso’s Circus, Velasquez’s Meninas, and identical paintings by Picasso. There are 220 paintings in total. It made an incredibly strong impression on me. And not only on me, apparently. The exhibition lasted three months, and until the last day, it was necessary to stand in a huge queue in order to get there. And what now, we will judge Picasso for borrowing other people’s compositions?
In other words, nothing new has been invented in art.
Marina Zueva: Just like in everything else. Nothing comes out of nowhere, there is always some classic story. It’s just that the more you know, the wider your horizons, the more chances you have to surprise the world.
Do you also borrow some ideas?
Marina Zueva: I never aspire to and have never aspired to borrow. But I want to be sure that I thoroughly know the subject I am dealing with. To do this, you need to watch, study, and try a lot of things. It is impossible to stage ballet without understanding this kind of art, ballet movements. The same Latin American dances, even classical ballroom dances, are now very different from what they were ten years ago. They have become more relaxed, have more amplitude, some new elements, tricks that are constantly being introduced, and dancers sometimes even move away from traditional positions.
Are you interested in acrobatic rock and roll as a possible direction in choreography?
Marina Zueva: I’m following this, let’s say so. This style generally combines well with figure skating. Tamara Moskvina interestingly experimented in this direction in the 1990s, there was also such a Canadian pair Isabelle Brasseur – Lloyd Eisler (two-time bronze medalists of the Olympic Games and world champions – RT ), who always introduced acrobatic elements into their skating. When we were preparing for the Olympics in Lillehammer, I personally invited the acrobats for Katya Gordeeva and Seryozha Grinkov. I even have a four-hour video recording on film; however, I still haven’t digitized it.
We then mastered a lot of acrobatic tricks, because I reasoned like this: Tamara Nikolaevna skaters have tricks, Isabelle has tricks, which means we should have them too. But then, when the guys had already learned everything, I realized that tricks should be abandoned because it would be ineffective for me to fight rivals with the same weapons.
What tasks do you set this season for Muramoto – Takahashi at the World Championships?
Marina Zueva: First, we have to officially qualify there. Last year we didn’t succeed, although Kana and Daisuke had both a higher base than their rivals and better scores during the season. But at the Japanese qualifying competition, they skated a program with a big mistake on twizzles, and this element cost a lot. So now we are moving step by step. Before the Nationals, we need to clean up the programs, get recommendations from the judges.
At the last World Championships, your duet was 16th. What places do you feel Muramoto and Takahashi are ready to fight for now?
Marina Zueva: Definitely in the top ten. Under certain circumstances, they can be even higher. In Japan, high results are expected from these skaters. They have already set a record for Japanese ice dance; they were second in the Four Continents Championships last year. If they get into the top ten at the World Championships, the country will be able to send two pairs to the next Worlds. It is very important for sports development.
Well, probably, there is not much difference for the country which pair will be able to win the spot?
Marina Zueva: On the one hand, yes. But as I said, fans support Kana and Daisuke in a special way. We just need a little more time to live up to these expectations.
Will Takahashi have enough motivation? He’s already 36, after all.
Marina Zueva: You know, I really liked the press conference in Kazakhstan after the guys’ victory at the Denis Ten Memorial. Daisuke said there that, firstly, he really likes to skate, and secondly, he only now realized that each program is like a child that you raise from the moment of birth; you instill in them some skills, you are proud of them, and you want to make others proud of them. And that it’s all part of a cool process that’s far more valuable than any medal.
He’s right, actually. Victory is a bright, but too fleeting moment. But the path that you take to success, enjoying every moment, is a state that is remembered forever. And you know what is the most important thing here?
Marina Zueva: That this inner joy from work can be trained in the same way as any complex element.
Alena Kostornaia: “Recovery goes a little bit more difficult than expected, because I started jumping very early.”