Marina Zueva: “Without Papadakis/Cizron no one from the up-and-coming generation of dancers has yet shown themselves to be the best.”
Interview with Marina Zueva. About her past and present coaching victoriesv and the phenomenon of Daisuke Takahashi. The expert also explained why there is no current or future leader in world ice dancing today.
source: MatchTV dd. 22 March by Marina Tchernysheva-Melnik
Tell me, who are your students now?
Marina Zueva: At the recent World Junior Championships, I had dancers Helena Carhart / Volodymyr Horovyi representing the United States. They made it into the top ten. Now we have arrived at the senior World Championships. Three of my pairs qualified for this event: the Japanese Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi, the Azerbaijani pair Adrianna Carhart and Alexander Kolosovski, and Isabella Gamez and Alexander Korovin, pair skater who represents the Philippines. This is very good for the school to have several pairs on the main event of the season, and under different flags.
Takahashi is a very unusual example in figure skating: a single skater returning to the ice in a new role, with a partner, after several years.
Marina Zueva: Of course, this is a phenomenon – to restart a career at 35, completely changing direction, and after a long break from the sport. This is the first time among well-known figure skaters!
And the timeline of events is as follows. I worked with Kana Muramoto starting from the 2014/15 season. She came to me just after the Olympics in Sochi. Unfortunately, her partner ended his career, but I saw that Kana is a very talented dancer. I recommended her to go to ballet school in Los Angeles. She worked there, then went back to Japan and skated in a local show. There, she performed with Daisuke and he suggested that they return to sport together. In general, I have long heard from several of my students who crossed paths with Daisuke in shows, that he expressed a desire to try ice dance. He even said this at the peak of his career in singles.
Kana called me and said she found an amazing partner and wants to skate with him at my school. Of course, I couldn’t refuse my student. And when I found out the new partner was Takahashi, I was overjoyed! I remember all of his performances, I followed the stages of his career since childhood, and then the bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics, which became symbolic for me as well (in 2010, Marina Zueva’s students Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the first two places on the pedestal. “Match TV”). There was no doubt about their success, only joy that I got lucky with my students again.
What do you see as the prospects for this duo?
Marina Zueva: Of course, Daisuke’s career in ice dance would have been brilliant if he had started immediately after finishing his career in singles. He and Kana are only in their third season together, and that’s not enough for them to reach their potential. Time, many resources…When they perform their programs in parts It’s breathtaking! But everything together is still difficult. I hope we perform successfully at the World Championships now. We prepared and we are going to the competitions with good feelings. What happens next – we’ll see. After all, we’re used to living from season to season.
Daisuke recently turned 37, but I’ll tell you, age is not a criterion. Remember how Chinese pair skater Hongbo Zhao became Olympic champion at 36 (2010–Ed. “Match TV”), and Tara Lipinski at 15! Daisuke’s return is very emotional for all of Japan. It’s no coincidence that I chose “Phantom” as the theme for their program. It’s like a second chapter, even a book, about Daisuke’s career. After all, he’s already a real phantom. He was a phantom alone in singles skating, then having Kana, he made her a diva. Yes, she was always a talented dancer, but she sparkles even brighter with Daisuke. Their story fits the concept of the phantom very well. There’s a deep meaning here: the star repeats its image on the ice in a renewed form.
Figure skating and the Philippines – such an exotic combination! How did this pair with Russian Alexander Korovin come about?
Marina Zueva: As in the previous case, it all started with a girl. Isabella started coming to me for training about ten years ago with another boy. I choreographed their programs. When I moved my school to Florida, Isabella called and said she wanted to train with us and find a new partner. At that time, Evgenia Tarasova and Volodya Morozov were here, and their coach Maxim Trankov often came to help me with Isabella and suggested the idea of teaming up with Sasha. He was just looking for a partner and dreamed of getting to major competitions. We discussed everything and decided to give it a try.
Isabella and Sasha matched each other anthropometrically, and that’s how the process began. Of course, not everything is perfect: they came from different schools and had different techniques, so pair elements were difficult for them. Isabella has some problems with jumps, but we’re working on it. I believe that sooner or later everything will work out. By the way, this is the first time in the history of figure skating that a pair from the Philippines has qualified for the World Championships.
When you agreed to coach Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov in 2019, was it a challenge for you? After all, since Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, you haven’t had any world-famous students in pair skating. I understand that you taught them not only technique, but also choreography, skating skills, and presentation.
Marina Zueva: Of course, Zhenya and Volodya came to me as established athletes with decent experience and titles. After all, they won silver at the World Championships and silver in the team event at the Olympics! They were technically ready. They worked with enthusiasm to find their style – unique and memorable, so that their program execution was inspirational. Not just elements and choreography to music, but great skating.
I am very glad that we succeeded. The experience gained in my team allowed Zhenya and Vova to perform subsequent programs as well. Our joint work is a significant contribution to their future silver at the Olympics.
As for the famous “Bolero” how was the unique arrangement created? You also added a dance lift at the end of the program.
Marina Zueva: I chose “Bolero” because I saw that this music suited the individuality of the athletes. I shared the idea with composer Alexander Goldstein, with whom I have collaborated for many years. He also edited the music for me when I was skating. Alexander sent many versions and we carefully chose which one was best. Each element on the ice must be set to a musical phrase now, and judges assess this. Therefore, it is impossible to create a competent musical accompaniment without an experienced composer.
As for dance lift, there are many mutually used elements in figure skating today. In dance, I often incorporate pair elements that I remember from previous years. Coaches and choreographers of pair skating actively study all dance innovations and take many dance tricks in single skating, for example, in step sequences. So, there is serious merging and interaction happening.
In an interview, you made an interesting observation about Evgenia and Vladimir: that they are a selective pair, one of the last representatives of the classical style. What did you mean by that?
Marina Zueva: I was talking about the harmony that corresponds to the correct understanding of a pair. A beautiful physique, a powerful Vladimir, and a delicate Evgenia in his hands. Because when a young man lifts a fragile girl on an outstretched arm, it is logical, isn’t it? Therefore, the execution of elements looks very easy, reliable, and correct. This is the essence of harmony.
Who else can you name as “selective” figure skaters?
Marina Zueva: Nathan Chen. I think he is very harmonious for a singles skater: slim and small enough to perform jumps. All the girls from Eteri Tutberidze’s group are “selective” skaters. In women’s singles skating, it is impossible without this. After all, to jump quads, the proportions must be appropriate.
Did your collaboration with Evgenia and Vladimir end due to the pandemic?
Marina Zueva: Yes, Maxim couldn’t get a visa and come to our school for a long time. We were waiting, then Zhenya and Vova flew to Russia, the season began there, and it turned out to be a problem to fly back. But I continued to participate in their lives remotely for a long time. In general, the pandemic greatly interfered with many things. In any case, I am very glad that Zhenya and Vova’s careers ended on a high note. Because it was difficult despite good proportions, their strong desire and hard work. But they overcame everything and won well-deserved titles.
Maxim Trankov said that you help him as a coach by sharing your experience.
Marina Zueva: When Maxim was traveling with Evgenia and Vladimir to competitions, we talked every day: he would tell me in detail about the training, and I would give advice. It took time and energy. Just imagine: every day, despite his busy schedule!
Now there is no reason to communicate so often because Maxim has another job. Anyway, I appreciate him as a coach very much — he has grown so much in a short period of time! They say that Olympic champions (successful athletes) do not make good coaches. But Maxim breaks this stereotype: he became a coach thanks to his personal ambition. He worked so carefully with Evgenia, tried not to show himself, but to create the right atmosphere for his students. This is a very competent approach for a coach, which was difficult for Maxim — an Olympic champion — to adopt. After all, winners are used to seeing themselves and their mastery. In short, Maxim did great!
You worked with Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov for a long time when their duo had just started their joint path. How did everything turn out?
Marina Zueva: Two athletes came to me: a partner from a splitted up duo and another partner. At the start, that’s exactly how it was, and I made them a single, harmonious duo. Many people asked me what was the most difficult thing in working with these guys. I can definitely say: the negative attitude of everyone – both technical specialists and the public. Because Nikita had a very bright and amazing tandem with Elena Ilinykh. When they broke up, few believed that it was possible to create a new pair that would also become beautiful. I told everyone: “I need time, and there will be a duo.” And it happened. I am glad, I am proud.
How do you remember the figure skaters during that period? After all, Nikita already had a status, while Victoria was only gaining experience at a high level.
Marina Zueva: Two completely different people: from different schools of figure skating. Vika was technically very well prepared, she was from Svetlana Alexeeva’s group. Yes, by that time she had won the World Junior Championships, participated in the Olympics. But that experience was still not enough for the senior level, in addition she was younger than Nikita. She lacked background. Even during lifts, Vika’s lack of confidence was palpable. It was her own internal self-doubt.
There were negative conversations going on around them. We worked a lot with psychologist Margarita Budanovaya: she would fly from Moscow to America specifically to help us. Then the skaters would come to competitions in their home country, and the audience would whistle… I remember this very clearly at their very first competitions in Russia. It was psychologically difficult for Victoria.
But in the end, the most beautiful dance duo of the new era was created. Vika became a worthy and equal partner to Nikita. It was all a team effort, in which the psychologist, coaches Oleg Epstein, Massimo Scali, and choreographer Elena Sokolova played a big role. We were all like-minded people who helped overcome primarily psychological pressure. It affected relationships and everything in general.
How did Victoria and Nikita become the strongest in the past Olympic cycle (within the Russian national team)? Due to the mysterious rules in ice dancing, many do not understand how they surpassed their main rivals in the national team – Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin.
Marina Zueva: That is a question for the judges who give scores. I have never worked with Alexandra and Ivan, so I cannot say what their best qualities are. I can only say that Nikita has been talented and a very strong figure skater since childhood. He is more vivid than many other male dancers. He feels the music and knows how to express it with his body. And this is the most important thing in figure skating – when a person lives with movement and music.
What do you think about the victories of your former students at the World and European Championships?
Marina Zueva: Of course, I followed their successes. We still communicate closely, and I feel a connection with them. Because I created this duo, gave birth to it, and gave it a style that Victoria and Nikita further developed. They perfectly continued the foundation that I laid. That is why I root for these skaters and believe that they have a lot of interesting things ahead of them.
Recall your emotions when Gordeeva and Grinkov won their first Olympics, and you became the coach of Olympic champions.
Marina Zueva: Honestly, I didn’t feel anything in particular. It was a logical conclusion to the work of the entire team and the talent of my students. It wasn’t like a bolt from the blue. Yes, of course, it was a wonderful event: the first Olympic champions in ice dance in the history of Canada, and they were my students! And then the first Olympic champions in the history of American ice dance (referring to the victory of Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Sochi in 2014 – Ed. “Match TV”). It’s all very touching, but it’s not the limit, it’s just a logical result of joint work and great teamwork.
If at first Tessa and Scott were the clear leaders, then a rivalry began with Meryl and Charlie. Why did this pair ultimately surpass the main competitors in many competitions of that Olympic cycle?
Marina Zueva: Tessa had injuries and it affected their work. If you remember, she often stopped during their performance at competitions, it was physically difficult to overcome the whole program. And at the Olympics, judges don’t evaluate just one performance here and now, especially in ice dancing. It’s always a certain “package”: the story of a whole season and even the Olympic cycle. That’s what influenced primarily, not just the specific execution of programs. Everything is fair: Meryl and Charlie looked more emotionally powerful and beautiful.
You worked with Maia and Alex Shibutani throughout their entire career. What was it like to choose programs for the brother and sister? After all, you can’t give a love story for them.
Marina Zueva: Many people were surprised and asked me this question. But based on my experience working with siblings, I have found that there is a very valuable factor here. It is a family project: the same upbringing, worldview, and rhythm of life. That is, everyone is fully dedicated to the task. After all, it is very difficult to find two families – a partner and a partner’s family – who would have the same attitude towards their children’s sports activities, invested at different stages (including emotionally). There are often disagreements between the parents of the partners, and this also affects their overall career. But Maia and Alex have the same parents, so it became a family project. A serious attitude, one big idea that helped immensely.
Yes, the choice of themes for programs is slightly limited, but it is simply different. It was important to skillfully select choreography that was suitable for the brother and sister.
How did their life turn out after sports?
Marina Zueva: They are great intellectuals: they wrote a series of children’s books, are involved in politics, and collaborate with agents. This year, Maia and Alex were introdyced into the Hall of Fame. So the achievements of the Shibutanis in sports are appreciated and remembered, but they decided to conquer new heights. Maia and Alex are now in Japan, and we will meet soon.
Who do you consider to be the current leader in world ice dance? Who do you see as having prospects from the up-and-coming generation?
Marina Zueva: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron – the undisputed champions of past years – did not compete in the past season, so there is no clear leader. No one from the up-and-coming generation of dancers has yet shown themselves to be the best. Do you think anyone stands out as the brightest?
Let’s say I like Madison Chock and Evan Bates. But I judge with my heart – as a spectator, not an expert.
Marina Zueva: These skaters also had problems this season. And still, it is difficult to draw any conclusions without the French. We need a stable leader, proven by time and different competitions. Papadakis and Cizeron were such leaders.
Not to mention that there are no Russian competitors on the international ice. After all, they held leading positions in almost all types of figure skating, and without them, the world of sports has become much poorer. The level has certainly decreased instead of rising, as it used to happen every year. Especially in women’s singles, where Russian girls stimulated everyone else.
Have you watched the performances of Russian skaters over the past year?
Marina Zueva: Yes, but I don’t dare to comment because I only watch recordings online on a small phone screen. I like what I see, I see progress. But it’s hard to single anyone out – it’s too subjective without live perception. Figure skating is 50% sport and 50% art. Only in this way can it be evaluated.
Related topics: Daisuke Takahashi, Evgenia Tarasova Vladimir Morozov, Maia Shibutani Alex Shibutani, Marina Zueva, Meryl Davis Charlie White, Tessa Virtue Scott Moir, Victoria Sinitsina Nikita Katsalapov
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