“The main thing we can be proud is that first choreographic findings for Yuzuru Hanyu were made with us.” Natalia Bestemianova about choreography in figure skating
Natalia Bestemianova in an interview told why she’s proud about her work with Hanyu, explained disadvantages of Trusova’s programs and shared how programs for figure skaters are created.
source: championat.com dd. 25th July 2022 by Daris Kiriuhina
Natalia Filimonovna, tell us why are you interested in the profession of a choreographer?
Natalia Bestemianova: When was still an active athlete, there was such a moment that I skated alone, being still a single skater. The coach went on maternity leave, so I trained alone. And that’s when I started to create something for myself. I got such pleasure from it: I still remember it! But actually, I don’t have a very good memory for what happened in the past. But then I came up with something, and for me it was very bright. Later, already in ice dance, I always knew that when we worked on programs, if I myself didn’t involved, then a good program wouldn’t work out. Not because I did not trust the coaches and choreographers, but because I clearly understood that a lot depends on the performer, on his creative potential.
And when I finished my sports career, I had the opportunity to study at GITIS (The Russian Institute of Theatre Arts). My husband Igor Bobrin at that moment worked as the artistic director of the Choreography Department of the Figure Skating Choreographers department of GITIS. I entered GITIS, and did so many etudes, programs that I had to present at the exams and that I created with the artists of our theater, that I got some confidence that I can come up with something, I can to do something original, and the audience likes it, performers and the experts like it. Several of my works from exams then were performed in our theater, where I worked. Thank God, Igor allowed me to put them into programs! All this gave me confidence.
Then we worked on the programs of the French duo Moniotte/Lavanchy. We worked with them together with Andrei (Andrei Bukin is a partner of Natalia Bestemyanova. – ed). And we started to work with the Italian Massimo Scali when he skated with his first partner Flavia Ottaviani, and then helped Scali with Federica Faiella. We did not choreograph entire programs for them, but we brought some choreographic things. By the way, after the most difficult choreographic twists from Faiella / Scali, their program was taken as an example of how difficult the program should be. Then ice dance became more complicate in terms of rules. Anyway, that’s how I saw it.
After that, Igor and I began to work both in America and in Japan, Tamara Moskvina also invited us to work with her pairs. In general, a long list: the Japanese team, and the French, and the American. And, of course, the main thing we can talk about with pride, as it seems to me, is that the first choreographic findings for Yuzuru Hanyu were made together with us. When Hanyu was not particularly known in the world yet, we came up with different hand positions for him in spins. Then no one even thought about it. And we experimented, invented, and to some extent, with our suggestion, Hanyu brought all this into figure skating.
So it was very natural, and it was very interesting for me, it was part of my figure skating life, which adorned it a lot. Therefore, I enjoy doing choreography on ice.
How do ideas for programs come about?
Natalia Bestemianova: There are different ways here. Sometimes an athlete or a coach brings music, they say that they want a program to it. Sometimes you are asked to do a program for a certain athlete, and you select music for this athlete and create a program. And sometimes you have music that is waiting for its performer. Music you can’t give to anyone. And one day, the one who suits it finally appears. Probably these are the three ways.
What is easier to create: a program based on a well-known plot or an abstraction?
Natalia Bestemianova: Either way can be difficult. And it happens that both a well-known plot and an abstract one will go easily. In general, I really like abstract topics, because you come up with the outline of the program yourself. Often I choreograph what the music itself dictates, and there is no plot, but I like the program. And sometimes you bother with the plot, you try to convey everything. But in any case, most of the time it works.
Why I love this profession: the program succeeds and both specialists and viewers like it. But it is always very important that whatever musical material you take, you must know this music thoroughly. For example, I can hear music well, since childhood I was engaged in it and, in principle, I’m a musical person, but still, some of the most intimate nuances reach me already in the process of work. Everything is born on the ice. It’s impossible to think ahead. As Stanislavsky said: “Take it and go to work.” Thought creates movement. Movement creates thought. I stand by this statement. Sitting at home, you can invent anything, but this is not a guarantee that you will succeed in the program. I have to go try different options, torture myself and the athletes, which I often do. I confuse athletes, as there are a lot of options, and no one knows which one is suitable.
What do you think is better for figure skating: classical or modern music?
Natalia Bestemianova: There is no recipy. Both are good. It is important to choreograph it right, to convey it. You see, when you choreograph classic for an athlete who has no lines, it’s very sad. Therefore, it seems to me that modern music sounds more often in arenas today. Precisely because of the fact that there is no time to deal with lines. They spend time on quadruple jumps.
Is it worth taking the music or the idea of the program which someone has already used and won with it?
Natalia Bestemianova: This happens in figure skating all the time. It even annoys me a little. Young athletes very often ask to do a Hanyu program for them, or Uno, or Shcherbakova, or Trusova, Zagitova, Medvedeva … This limits the athletes so much that it simply terrifies me. But this promotion of well-known “brands” by television eventually limits the list of music in figure skating a little.
Should the short and free programs be completely different?
Natalia Bestemianova: Preferably. But they shouldn’t. It seems to me that any specialist who judges, and any journalist who writes about athletes see and note the diversity of skaters, the ability to win in different artistic images. This is always an advantage for a creative person. If, of course, the athlete is a creative person.
And what difficulties most often arise during the work on the program?
Natalia Bestemianova: Difficulties occur, for example, in those cases when a person enters a quadruple jump or some kind of difficult throw, lift. There are worked out entries, some worked out parts with elements, and it is very difficult to shift athletes from the usual frames of how they do it. Performance and points for this element are at stake. For me, this is the hardest thing. I would like to make some kind of original entry, to present the skater in a different way, whom, perhaps, everyone already knows and loves. At the same time, you also think whether these changes are worth it. What if the athlete fails if you force him to enter the element in a different way? You need to be able to use your internal weights in such cases, balance them and understand what is worth offering and what is not. This is difficult for me.
In continuation of this topic: do ultra-c limit the choreographic part of the program? Do programs become less interesting because of them?
Natalia Bestemianova: The more ultra-c elements, the less choreography remains. We see how talented Trusova is. What a beautiful short program she had to Frida this year. How did it suit her, it was such a find! Absolutely perfect fit! Even hair color. There was everything. And then the free program, where she planned to jump five quads. The program was also successful and looked better compared to the programs of previous years. But it was still a pursuit of the elements.
So some kind of balance needs to be found?
Natalia Bestemianova: Well, if Trusova had done everything clean, hadn’t jumped the triple axel in the short, she would have won the Olympic Games. The subjunctive mood does not exist in sports, but it really happened that way. But, for example, Shcherbakova had to change the music in the middle of autumn. And how successfully the change happened in the end: just wonderful! So everything happens.
Then how does the skater work on the artistic image in the program? What does he need to get used to a certain role as much as possible?
Natalia Bestemianova: If this is some well-known work, then you definitely read this work. When we were preparing our “Carmen”, we read a short story by Merimee – this is a very thin book, a little story. And then you get used to this role, thinking how and what Carmen can do, what gesture is inherent in her, and what is not. This is everyday work, not only during training, but also between them during breaks.
And if you are working with an athlete who is really thinking and preparing for the next workout, then this is an extraordinary success and charm of work. Therefore, I always teach young athletes that they should go to training, scrolling in their head everything that we did in the previous one. To start not from some middle point, but from the point where we ended, and go up, improve. That’s how great athletes work.
Don’t skaters get tired of skating the same programs for a whole season?
Natalia Bestemianova: This is from the field of keeping fresh. This is talent. Very often we see it, especially in ice dance, when at the beginning of the season the program literally sparkles. And even if it is shown with some technical mistakes, it still looks luxurious. And then in the middle of the season, the skaters seem to be blown away, and watching their programs is no longer interesting. And it happens the other way around: at the beginning of the season they show a program that does not impress at all. But then it is finalized to the point that you understand: “God, what a cool program!” Therefore, keeping fresh is a great skill, a talent. For all – coaches, choreographers, athletes.
Can you give examples of exemplary programs in figure skating?
Natalia Bestemianova: We should probably remember “Charlie Chaplin” by Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze. This is a sports program, which, perhaps, was the first to become such a fun and at the same time had a complex technical component. For a while, it was considered the best program in figure skating.
Plushenko also had wonderful programs. Carolina Kostner had a great program to the French song Ne me quitte pas by Jacques Brel performed by Celine Dion. She brought it to Moscow for the Grand Prix. When she skated it, I just stood up for standing ovation – it was so great! After it, many athletes took this music, it is very strong and interesting, great programs turn out. But the way Costner did it, no one else did it. At one time, Costner still had a wonderful free program to the music of Bolero. Fantastic program! She skated it in Sochi at the Olympics and became third there thanks to this program.
Do you think figure skating is a sport or an art?
Natalia Bestemianova: In any case, this is a sport that will last a lifetime, because our sport cannot exist without art, and without the technical elements that are now performed, without a component of a sports competitions, it will not attract either spectators or specialists.
Figure skating is both. One does not live without the other.
“When bullying happens, at first you think that the coach is probably talking nasty things to motivate you for further results.” Argue between Elizaveta Nugumanova and Tatiana Tarasova