November 2, 2010
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Olga Trofimova

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing-wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings."

I recalled those lines during my last talk with Stéphane Lambiel, just before the "Crystal Ice Awards" in Moscow where he received a special Audience Choice prize. We too, like Lewis Carroll's "The Walrus and The Carpenter", talked about so many seemingly unrelated things: naivety and Switzerland, night clubs and his work with the elderly, the new program he is preparing now and the one he choreographed for Denis Ten. It was up to Stéphane to choose the topic of discussion. The "rules" of this interview were simple: we had cards with the letters "S", "T", "E", "P", "H", "A", "N", and each card had words or expressions related to him in some way. He could pick any letter and any word from the card and we just took it from there.

It wasn't as easy as it sounds, by the way, but Stéphane did just great. Once again my appreciation extends to him for always being willing to try new things and think outside the box.

Stéphane's answers:

I will start with "Salomé". First of all I love this name, Salomé, it is very nice. And second I have a very special relationship with Salomé Brunner, my choreographer. We have a lot of things in common and we have the kind of relationship you usually have with your family; you don't see them every day but they always stay close to you. Same with Salomé, I may not see her for months but when we meet again we feel that special connection. That has made my career very stable: she gives me a lot of inspiration and she's always been there for me. And she keeps helping me today, when my competitive career is over.
She opened her house for me, I feel at home there. And I love her son; he really touches my heart. I will never forget her, ever.
This is strange, but I still say "Vous" to her (Vous is the formal form of you, it is used to show respect or maintain a certain distance or formality with someone - ed.). She asked me twice already to say "tu", and I just can't, it doesn't sound right to me. We have this very close relationship and at the same time I have such respect for her. And I like this respect, it makes our relationship strong. My mother, for example, says "Vous" to her mother and that doesn't mean they are not close. Same here: I feel close to her and I don't need to say "tu". It's our way of speaking to each other.

And I will go with "Switzerland". I really like the mountains, the nature. It's so different from here. Here in Moscow I feel lost, it's so big. You always need to take the car or the metro to get somewhere; in Swiss cities you can walk everywhere.
I haven't spent so much time in Switzerland in the last months, but I feel so happy... I don't know if it's because of my country, my family, or because of my professional life; but I feel very-very happy. Every day I thank God for the wonderful life I have and maybe it's also because of my beautiful country...

Denis Ten. I appreciate the time I spent with him. It was a great experience to work with him as my first student, in Kazakhstan, and to discover his home and his country. This boy is very talented, he has great potential. I could see a little bit of myself in him; he is a perfectionist and he really knows what he wants.
During the tour ("Kings on Ice" last spring - ed.) we became friends. And many times he was saying: "Oh, you should work with me; you should do something for me". I didn't pay much attention at first; I thought he was just joking. But one day it became serious, he was trying hard to convince me to work with him, asked my advice about the music. Then I said: "Ok, let's try".
Actually I don't know what he is going to show at the NHK. Because when we worked together the new rules were still not published, so we made a program with different beginnings and different patterns, with one step sequence and with two. After that he had to make a lot of changes. He asked me to later come and see it, but unfortunately I had no time to do so. I'm sure he will tell the story of this program himself. When I was teaching him the choreography I said to him: "Imagine you're a young man looking for love". So this is a kind of love story of young people, a teenage love story.

Let's do "true/false".
These are statements about you, and you say if they are true or false. Are you ready?

1. To work with him is a nightmare.
It's not me who you have to ask. I think I'm a very demanding person: to myself and to the people I work with, to my friends and to people close to me. I have high expectations. Maybe that could be a nightmare.

2. He spent too much time and energy on gala performances during his competitive career, and this influenced his results.
In a good way, yes.

3. He hates the Internet.
Hm, sometimes. I'm not obsessed with it.

4. He is a very sensitive person and sometimes small things can bother him and change his mood.
I think I'm getting better every day.

5. He hates routines.
That's true. That's why during my practices I always try to add something new, some different moves when I skate.

6. His comeback wasn't for medals, he just needed a bigger audience and he got it in Vancouver.
No, it wasn't my main goal. The main goal was to be there, and to try to become an Olympic champion.

7. He loves Japanese fans the most.
I wouldn't put it that way. I love the present, not the past or the future. And when the present gives me something, I give something in return. Same goes for fans. I don't say "I love Japanese fans because they are like this or like that", but because every time I go to Japan I have a very good time.

Egocentric? Not even for one second. Everything I do, I do for the people around me. I really love to share. I feel very lonely sometimes when I travel, because I'm away from my family, but I know that I do it for so many people. I feel I have a lot of power and a lot of energy in me, and I can use it to benefit others.

What does this word, "El", mean?
This is something I wanted to talk to you about, but there is no appropriate letter, so I used the Hebrew word "El", which means "God". You've mentioned a few times that you're a believer. It would be interesting for me to learn more about your belief.
I think I can find a direct connection between the "energy" we talked about before and "God". I know that there are good energies and bad energies in this world, and I see God as this big positive energy. My mother is a believer; she goes to church very often. I go sometimes too. And when I go to holy places like, for example, Fátima in Portugal I can really feel this energy. I think this energy is pretty much the same for everybody in this world. It's just represented differently in different religions: for some in many gods, for some in Jesus.

Let's go with "protection civile" (the civil defense service Swiss men are required to do if they don't serve a military duty - ed.) because I just recently did it. The first week was all theory as we learned how to do things, and during the second week we worked. We had to care for old people, it was the first time for me to be so close to old people, people who couldn't talk, or move, or remember anything. Some of them couldn't move their arms and we had to feed them, and help them go outside. It was so far from skating and from anything I've done until now. But I really enjoyed it. I saw that even if someone cannot speak, and doesn't remember anything; if his heart is beating, there are still emotions. And that you can make a difference; make his life more interesting just with a smile or with a word. We sang together, we had a very good time... I gave them something and got a lot in return. This experience gave me so much; you cannot imagine how much I matured that week.

Did they know who you were?
Some people knew. But with most of the people there, if you say "I'm Stéphane, the figure skater", they will answer "Ah, ok", but in 10 minutes you have to tell them again: "Hi, my name is Stéphane, I'm here to help you, I'm the figure skater". But I was not there as the skater, I was just there... You know, old people like to talk, and I listened to what they had to say.

Is your service finished now or will you need to do some more?
These were two weeks when you have to learn. And then every year you have to do three more days. I think you can choose where you want to serve, but I want to go back to the same place where I worked, because now I have bonds with the people there. They won't remember me, but I remember them and I want to see how they are doing. It was really sad to say goodbye to them on the last day.

"Perfume" by Süskind. I saw the film and I think I read the book as well.
Can you guess why I wrote this? The hero in the book was trying to invent...
...a perfume that would make everybody fall in love with him.

Right. And then everybody fell in love with him and he died from this love, he was ripped into pieces. Sometimes when I read reports from your shows, or watch videos or photos, I'm afraid that...
... I will die from too much love? (laughs) Oh, no. Not in real life and not even in virtual life. I think I love to be loved. And I need to be loved.

You get tons of presents. But would it be ok if you came to a show and didn't receive any flowers or toys at all?
Of course! Of course it would be ok. You see, people always do what is good for them. If you feel like giving a present, do it. If you don't feel like it, don't do it. I don't need presents. But if someone thinks he needs to pass me something, I will be there to receive it.

"How is he even real?" What does this mean?
This is a favourite phrase of your fans. Sometimes, not seriously of course, they doubt that you are real.
Really??? How can I prove that? You know, I'm a very simple person. I come from a simple family, from a very small village. I'm lucky to have parents who gave me good values. The first one is work, very hard work. And the second one is love. With those two things you can do anything. My parents also always brought me back to reality, kept my feet on the ground. When I did something bad they were very strict with me, and with my brother and sister. It was not always easy, but I think they gave us a good education. Without my parents I would not be here and I wouldn't be who I am today.

I really wanted to talk about choreography, that's why I cheated and wrote it without "c", (c)horeography.
Ok. So what do you want to know about choreography?

Tell me more about your experience. For example, I wonder what it's like for a skater who still performs to choreograph for other skaters?
It's very difficult. I want to be active; I want to do it myself, of course. At the same time it's also good: I feel honoured to be able to transmit to others what I got from Peter (Grütter) and Salomé (Brunner). And if I can do it in years to come and for many skaters it would be... Actually, no, not for many skaters. I don't want to become "a choreography factory", because I think the bigger the quantity, the lesser the quality. So we will see how it goes, but what I can say now is that so far I've loved working with the two skaters.

At first it was really weird to see your reflection in other skaters. Like when Daisuke Takahashi performed his "Amélie" program, it was like you were skating it although you were not on the ice.
I always felt that Daisuke was very close to my skating, we were always very close to each other in style. But when I saw him skate "Amélie", because I'm always very picky, I was talking to myself: "Oh, no, he missed that, and he missed that!".

Yes, you made him nervous! Maybe you should skate that program yourself?
No, no, no, I have to accept the way he skates his program. That is the way he wants to do it. And that's good.

Did it ever happen that you invented a move for someone else and then decided: "No, I will save this for myself"?
No. My moves usually come spontaneously. Sometimes I create a move and then I don't remember it.

Have you thought about learning choreography professionally, like in the Academy of Dance or something similar?
It would be good. I will for sure continue taking lessons in ballet and modern dance because it gives me a lot of experience. Classical dance gives me a good base: positions of arms, posture. Dance helps you to know and understand your body. And with that you can go wherever you want.

Tell me, what did you mean when you wrote "attention"?
You love attention, you seek attention, and even during practices you need an audience, am I right?
Yes, you are. I recall when I was very young; I was playing Michael Jackson's music all the time and danced in the living room. I kind of hid but secretly wished that someone would watch. I wished I had had an audience but I was the only one there. Sometimes my mother would peek and I immediately stopped, embarrassed but also happy that she saw me! Now it's different. But I'm still a little bit shy. I don't like to provoke attention; I don't want to disturb people. If someone needs me, I'm 100% there, but if not, I won't push. I will never impose myself on the public. When the day comes when it's time to stop skating and stop being in the public eye, I hope I will be sensitive enough to feel it. And if it happens I will stop immediately because I don't want to overdo, I don't want people to say: "Oh, it's him again". If it comes it comes and I will have to accept it.

Maybe it was a secret, but Salomé already revealed that you've prepared a new program.
We have many plans together, not only about this program, but we don't have enough time. We want to do so many things! This program is very different, very-very different even. It will be a little bit depressive, but also sexy and macho. The music is "Please, don't stop the music" by Jamie Cullum. The mood of this program is: you're at the end of the party; it's very early in the morning. You know that the night was very strange, you met some weird people. You enjoyed yourself and had a good time, but you feel like maybe you shouldn't have done it. It's kind of the feeling you have when you leave the club after a night there.

You always choose what is close to you at the moment. Is that the case with clubs?
No, actually no. I think I'm too old to go to night clubs. That's the kind of thing I did when I was 15. I spend great evenings and I party sometimes. For example, during "Thin Ice" in Connecticut, there was a night club in the hotel and all the skaters went dancing there. And we danced like crazy! When I dance I'm so crazy, I just let loose. But right now I don't feel like going out that much. Still, this is kind of the spirit this program will have. It is very deep. And this sexy feeling is more internal, not just some sexy moves...
It won't be ready for the Russian tour. It's too fresh and I need to "digest" it still. Maybe during "Art on Ice" it will be a good time to show it.

You usually say that it's very important for a person to be natural.
Yes. To be true and honest, honest to what you are, to stay who you are including your weaknesses and strengths, and make the best of what you have. This is what I learned from my parents: if you are more honest with others, in the end you will get fewer problems.

Naivety. I don't know if I'm naive... I don't think so. I can tell if people are cheating or thinking badly of me, I know it, I can feel it. I understand that not everything is nice, for sure. And I know that there aren't only nice people around me, that's normal, that's life. But I don't see them. Usually I cut them out of my vision, because I have no time for them. Time is passing so fast and I don't have time for negative things. Life is too nice to waste any time on them.


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