Robin Szolkowy: “Our new free program? You'll either love it or you'll hate it!”


October 13, 2011
By Nadin Vernon
Photo © Jeannine Bourdiau & Nadin Vernon

Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, three-time World Champions and four-time European Champions, were invited to Turin for the Golden Skate Awards last weekend. It was a special event as the Germans premiered a part of their much anticipated new free program. The audience was also treated to the full new short program which the pair had debuted at Carnival on Ice in Japan. I caught up with Robin before the show when we talked about the new programs and how the pair's ultimate career goal is already impacting the planning of this season.

Tonight we'll finally find out the music to your free program, tell me a little bit about it.

Yes, that's right, we hadn't announced the music until now and we're showing an excerpt from the program here to test it out a little bit and see what people think of it. Our music is from the film Pina about German choreographer Pina Bausch who passed away a couple of years ago. It was directed by Wim Wenders and came out this year. What we're trying to do is bring the dance element into our program. But it's one of those programs that I think you'll either love or hate.

What made you select this music?

I think our coach suggested it. I didn't know about the film, so we watched it together and thought we'd give it a go and then realised that it could work really well.

We worked together with a dancer and choreographer from the Palucca School in Dresden [] and tried to learn some tips and tricks on how to get our bodies more in tune with dance and away from the pure athletic side of things. A professional dancer may think we're miles away from that but we have to somehow combine it with skating ┬ľ a bit like St├ęphane did when he worked together with a Flamenco dancer. We spent quite some time with the dancer, probably two months all in all with two or three sessions each week where we were just in a ballet studio, no ice, and really focused on training our bodies so that we really get a feel for all the different moves. You know when someone says to us ┬ĹDo an Axel', we do an Axel, but if someone says ┬ĹLook sad', then it's a really new thing. And with these playful elements he really introduced us slowly to this theme and then we went on the ice and he showed us how to translate it.


Are you comfortable with it now or does it still feel completely new?

We're getting more comfortable with it but it still feels really new too as it's something we've never done. It's difficult enough as a single skater but as a pair it's even more difficult. There are some moves that come easy to one of us and are really difficult for the other and then two minutes later we have to move in a different way and it's the exact opposite. You see what we can always skate to is piano music, heartache, that sort of thing and this is completely new and therefore we now have to also see how it's perceived. If we find many people shake their heads and don't get what we're trying to express, then we'll have a problem.

And your short program is to the Angels and Demons score?

Yes, we've had that in our music repertoire since last year I think. There are pieces that we've had in there for the last six years or so and we keep listening to them because you're always in a different mood. We also try to mix things up, for example we wouldn't want to go in a classical direction twice. And so we get different constellations and if we do something dramatic for our short program like Angels and Demons, then we'd like to do something different for the free. We'd also like something like Tomb Raider for example or something else in that direction, but it just wouldn't work to do two dramatic programs. I think if you do that you tie yourself down too much and in our first years it just happened that we always had something completely different. And of course it's much more fun to try new things.


I guess it helps during training as well if you have two different styles.

Absolutely. And actually both styles are new to us because so far we haven't had anything as dramatic as Angels and Demons but we're really getting a feel for both programs. We're having a lot of fun working on them and they're in our rhythm now. We usually lock ourselves up in the rink during May, June and July and really work on developing the programs.

So your programs are all ready, what about the costumes?

The ones for the short program are, but not for the free, so we'll be wearing temporary ones tonight. The new costumes are in production though, so we'll have them ready for our first competition in two weeks' time.

Last season was pretty much a dream season for you. I'm sure your goal this season will be to defend all your titles. What else are you going for, personal bests?

To be honest personal bests aren't of prime importance. Naturally, when you go to a competition and you're playing in the league of the top three, and have been for a while, then you want to win, that's obvious. It would be difficult to be happy about second place, unless the others are completely out of reach. But I think in our case we know it's possible. We also have a better idea now about what the Russian team can do and what we can and have to expect from them, but all in all it's possible for us to win again, as it has been in the last years. Of course we have to skate clean and it's all about presenting ourselves in the best possible way, like we did in Moscow. Skates like that are the ones that stay with you forever. I think we had two competitions where this happened. One was our first European title in Warsaw where we really skated our free program error-free from the first to the last minute and again this year in Moscow. And those are moments that feel great and where you are really happy. At the moment our competitors are showing us that it's possible to have a completely perfect free skate more often. With us it doesn't really happen that often but that's what we're working on. And obviously our big goal is Sochi.

That's a few years away yet though, are you just taking each season at a time?

Sochi is the ultimate goal and we now have to structure our road to Sochi in such a way that we're really at our peak there. So this means that if say in December we feel like we're really burning out, then we would consider the possibility of maybe skipping Euros or even Worlds. It's really about keeping the momentum and without wanting to sound arrogant, we've won both Euros and Worlds often enough. I mean of course it would be great to be say six-time European and maybe five-time World Champions, but actually the difference isn't that big for us, we'd just love to also become Olympic Champions. And that's what we're working towards. We decided to fully attack this season but as I say, we do have this option in the back of our minds. I know it sounds silly but we're also getting older and things don't come as easily anymore.

You've been quite lucky over the years when it comes to injuries, touch wood.

Yes, that's true. It's always worked really well. But still, Aljona has to land all the throw jumps and I have to do the lifts. I'm probably lucky as it's a bit easier for me but you just notice the difference. And Aljona notices it too, everything gets more difficult the older you get and if we do an element twice, then we say ok let's move on. We see the junior pairs that do eight or nine elements in the same space of time and she may fall on six attempts but will just get up and try again. We can't really do that anymore.

Like last year, you're starting a little bit later again this season. You skipped the Nebelhorn Trophy.

Yes, again it's all about having a slightly different focus now and that means we don't have to start our season in Oberstdorf. It would be difficult to go there and not be ready and then maybe come home with a third or fourth place and try and explain that. It raises the pressure too early in the season and we prefer to do a couple of shows and just try out our programs in a more relaxed environment.

Are you practicing a quad at all this season?

Ohh I don't know [smiles]. Well there are elements that we are planning in theory, but how or when we would actually implement them I'm not sure. Again it's the whole age thing. If a 16-year old has a bad fall then it's different to Aljona falling like that. Of course she's not old with her 27 years, but still.

Some pairs had problems with their lifts at the NHT and rule changes were mentioned as possible reasons. Is this an issue for you?

Well, each season we have new rules and sometimes they even change them during the season but to be honest I don't really study all the rules, I rely on my coach. It's all very technical and as long as I know what I can and can't do, I'm ok. There are some changes to the lifts, but as our lifts are at a very high level, it's quite easy for us to change them around. You just have to pay a bit more attention when it comes to counting turns etc., but generally we're ok. We just try things out based on the new rules, then go on the ice, see what looks best and go from there.

So your first competition is Skate America; you're down for three Grand Prix events this season?

Yes, we're doing Skate America, NHK and Rostelecom. It's quite good as we always have a break in between. I think otherwise it would have been difficult to do three. And depending on how we do, we'll hopefully be in the final, too.

Have you got any other shows planned?

Yes, when the Grand Prix events are over, we have a few shows with Daniel Weiss in Ingolstadt, Regensburg and Oberstdorf. And then next February we're back in Switzerland for Art on Ice.

Have you got a new show program?

We have many suggestions, but we'll have to see what works best. For the Christmas shows it'll be easy to do something Christmassy and we also have an idea for something that's completely new. But to be honest I'm not sure we'll have the time or energy to invest in a show program right now, so we'll see.

Excellent. Well, in the meantime I hope you have a fantastic season that brings you a little closer to your goal. All the best.


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