Nikita Mikhailov: “With a technical and artistic programs at least some skaters will stop constantly thinking about the points they need to score.”
Interview with young Russian choreographer Nikita Mikhailov who works closely with the group of Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin and Svetlana Sokolovskaya. With his program to Billie Eilish, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva took silver at the World Championships.
In an interview, Nikita shared his impressions of the past season, talked about the specifics of the Olympic programs and online work with skaters, and dreamed about which other athlete he would like to work with.
source: sport-expres.ru dd. 20th June by Anastasiia Pletneva
How did the past season turn out?
Nikita Mikhailov: It seems to me that for everyone this season turned out to be intense, memorable and unusual due to the new rules in preparation and restrictions at competitions, the absence of fans in the stands. Vivid impressions remained after the Channel One Cup held for the first time. I am very happy for Liza Tuktamysheva at the World Championships – she did a great job. And in general, at each competitions someone skated phenomenally – Nathan Chen, Anya Shcherbakova, Vika Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.
Did you worry that your program for Elizaveta was shown to the whole world?
Nikita Mikhailov: No, I was not worried about that. I worried only about the execution of the program, for Liza to cope with all the tasks set, which she did very well. Therefore, it is rather joy then worries.
The program was done in the middle of the season. After that, was it somehow finalized?
Nikita Mikhailov: We did it in December, and Liza skated it for several months. Before the Worlds, we polished all the problem areas so that everything was convenient and beautiful.
How was the work on the new free program for Lisa for the new season?
Nikita Mikhailov: It was fine. We worked for a long time and productively. The most important thing is that we had time for this. It often happens that you lack something. In this case, we did it well with Liza, with Misha Kolyada, and with Zhenya Semenenko – I had three main athletes from the group of Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin. Liza and Misha – free programs, Zhenya – both programs. I have already gone to see them twice – the first was in May. They have recently came to Kislovodsk, there we just summed up this work. Further, after the test skates, we will correct something, if necessary.
Are there any differences in creating programs programs for more and less experienced athletes?
Nikita Mikhailov: Much depends on abilities. Experienced skaters can do the most, for such skaters the program takes longer, because they have more opportunities. At any given time, you can show them different combinations – and that takes time. And when skaters have a small arsenal, it goes faster. You understand what they can do, and you work with what you have.
Faster means easier?
Nikita Mikhailov: No. Sometimes it turns out faster just because you understand all the capabilities of this skater. If you have chosen the right idea that suits him, then the work on program goes faster – he catches everything better. Choreographers do not do less, they also give the maximum.
How long does it take to choreograph a program?
Nikita Mikhailov: The short program for a skater over 12 years old takes about 3-5 hours. I’m not talking about those who represent the national teams. Free program – 5-7 hours. But everything is individual: someone memorizes faster, which means that less hours are needed, someone needs more time … The guys from the national teams already receive more attention from all sides, so working with them is much longer.
And in order to fully prepare the program?
Nikita Mikhailov: A lot of skaters make some changes during the season – sometimes elements are changed, rearranged. They work on the program throughout the season. But, roughly speaking, the final version is ready for the Russian Nationals. Then they are already settled, little is changed for Europeans and Worlds. And in September-November, there are always some changes, inconveniences come out, elements. You can change the pattern, so you need to do so that the program does not suffer, while making such changes so that the skater can jump normally.
Were there any difficulties in creating programs in the last off-season? Many have tried to work online.
Nikita Mikhailov: The pandemic has shown that choreographers can make programs online. If earlier no one could even think about it, now a new direction has opened. Online staging has its own difficulty. I work in such a way that we are not doing something live with the skater. It’s not so convenient to shoot – someone has to do it from different angles.
I create and shoot in pieces. I send, the person learns and sends his video back. Then we look together at what fits well. There is a great difficulty here, when you work on programs, and the person is not around. It turns out that you do not fully know what he can do, and it is very difficult, because usually you look at him, how he makes this or that gesture. When I do it myself, I cannot stop at some choice – it can be done this way, but it can be done differently. Choosing from what you have in your head when you do it yourself is problematic, for me this is the most difficult thing. It takes most of the time when staged online. I record at normal speed, then I record where everything is slow.
Did more figure skaters apply to you because there was no opportunity to contact foreign choreographers?
Nikita Mikhailov: The fact that Liza Tuktamysheva showed my short program played the main role. This work gave people an understanding of what I can do. Before that, it seems to me, very few people knew whose works it were. I even talked with Lesha Yagudin – he was 50 percent unaware that I was doing certain programs.
The next season is Olympic. Are there any differences between the programs for this season from the usual ones?
Nikita Mikhailov: The most important thing is that very few people are experimenting. At least among those people who claim for medals. Here the difficulty begins that it must be some kind of very touching, interesting and catchy music. Therefore, for the Olympic years they take fairly well-known things. I think it will be the same now – it works, you can’t miss. The “Golden Fund” will be used. Each skater shows it in his own way.
Do you work with pairs?
Nikita Mikhailov: Yes, for the second year I continue to work at the Nina Mikhailovna Mozer’s skating rink. That year I did programs for Anastasia Mukhortova / Dmitri Evgeniev. Last and this season – for Karina Akopova / Nikita Rachmanin. I also worked in Vasily Velikov’s group this year.
What is the difference between working with singles and pair skaters?
Nikita Mikhailov: It’s more difficult with pairs, for sure, because I learned all the subtleties of pair skating and dancing in shows when I worked with Peter Tchernyshev. There I skated and learned new things, again thanks to Petya, he showed me a lot of interesting things, so I was able to start working with pairs. And, of course, my wife Nastya Martyusheva helped me a lot – she skated together with Alexei Rogonov. Nastya is also present when we work and looks at all the programs for pair skaters with her professional eyes.
It’s more difficult, because you can invent more there, find the best. There are two people, you can come up with more stories, which cannot be done with singles. This opens up new ideas. But all this takes much more hours, because skaters can also quarrel, prove something to each other. This is a longer process, but interesting.
Do skaters come with their own ideas more often, or do you suggest something yourself?
Nikita Mikhailov: More often I do, because it’s easier for me. I am also developing, looking for music. The biggest part of a choreographer’s work is finding music. The more interesting the music, the more ideas the choreographer can embody. Every time we notice when someone has a new arrangements or something else. It takes a lot of time, it all starts in advance – every day for four hours you sit on Apple Music, iTunes, wherever possible. About three years ago I already began to say that it is necessary to write music – to appeal specifically to composers. In my opinion, everything should come to this.
That year we started working with Alexei Galinsky, a composer and musician from St. Petersburg. Our first collaboration is Liza’s short program. The last part, where there was a step sequence – he played it, added instruments, beats. When we were thinking about the idea, everyone liked the music, but there was no strong ending. At some point, we already thought to refuse. I thought about Alexei, and he made us a strong part. Thanks to this, we kept that idea.
Now we are arranging the music – adding something. This year, Liza, Alexander Samarin, and Mark Kondratyuk will have music with their own pieces. We tried to stand out somehow.
In some summer sports, such as rhythmic gymnastics and artistic gymnastics, there are performances to a music. Don’t you watch them to get some inspiration?
Nikita Mikhailov: Yes, it happened. But for the most part, I stumble upon the fact that they don’t really bother with music. The main thing there is the technical component. I watched synchronized swimming and gymnastics, but I found nothing there or there. I did this for two years – it never worked.
Sometimes it happens that skaters keep their programs for one or more seasons. Does the program have an expiration date?
Nikita Mikhailov: They don’t skated them for more than two years. And they always change at least one – it is not common to keep two programs. It’s okay to keep something for two seasons. But not for the third.
But what about Yuzuru Hanyu?
Nikita Mikhailov: He skated, and then brought back the old ones after a while. Here, again, one must take into account – if this is an Olympic year, then, of course, people take their best program. Everyone adores it, and they feel good skating it. When it’s an important year, and you have something good, but not really super, then you start thinking why do I need just good if there is better. And it works with a pause.
Is there an ideal figure skating program for you?
Nikita Mikhailov: If everyone watched to the end and gave a standing ovation. Everything should come together – athlete, time and place. But if a person makes mistakes at least once, then the perception immediately affected. There are ideals, but they are completely different. For example, “Winter” by Alexei Yagudin. From what I remember, the most passing through time is the “Swan Lake” by Daisuke Takahashi and “Pirates of the Caribbean” by Javier Fernandez.
Are there any skaters you would like to work with?
Nikita Mikhailov: All the top ones – they are all cool. You can do a lot with them. Of course, this is Nathan Chen, Yuzuru Hanyu. There are also skaters who are not tops, but skate very cool.
Among other choreographers, whose work do you like?
Nikita Mikhailov: I like Shae-Lynn Bourne very much. I also adore all the works of Peter Tchernyshev, but, unfortunately, he does not work much now.
The main load on the choreographer falls on the off-season. Then there is less work?
Nikita Mikhailov: Yes, the main load is now, because you want to be in time for everything and don’t want to refuse someone. In terms of hours, then it does not become less, because I also continue to work in groups, work on skating skills with children. Plus, in the summer and spring, I work on programs, and in the winter – work in ice shows. There is even more work, we rehearse at night, so we are busy day and night.
Is there a comfortable number of skaters to work so that choreography doesn’t become a conveyor?
Nikita Mikhailov: When a person does a lot, everything can end with a conveyor. The question here is how to get inspired. I dance a lot, so I give children different styles. Therefore, I have not noticed any repetitions yet, and no one reproached me for this. Daniil Gleikhengauz is a person who probably has more people to work with on programs then needed for a comfort. They have a lot of single skaters. A group of 12 people, but maybe this is a comfortable number, I haven’t had such yet. They are all different, there are both older and younger, so he can embody different ideas that he’s looking for during a season.
What is the global goal of the choreographer?
Nikita Mikhailov: Initially – to declare myself that I can. Of course, I would like my choreography to reach the top level – Olympics and World Championships. It is important for a choreographer to gain experience. Figure skating does not stand still, and one must always change – look for something completely new and at the same time find something new even in the well-forgotten old.
I think soon they will do the replacement of the short and free program with a technical and artistic one. At least some athletes will stop constantly thinking about the points they need to score. And that’s great.
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