Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski: "We devoted everything to figure skating"

March 4, 2014
By Emilie Korsakova
Photos © Mireille Geurts, Joy, Emilie Korsakova

Two time World champions and multiple times champions of Europe; Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski are not so easy to catch during competitions, so it was a pleasure to meet them at the Cote d'Azur during the Cup of Nice and chat about their life plans.

From Nice we have photos of you even in an elevator, not to mention at the skating rink. You are beloved, respected and welcome in Nice. How do you feel about this city?

Maxim: We have various impressions. On the one hand the city is beautiful, and we love not only Nice, but all French cities, including Poitiers where we spent a lot of time, and Paris. Actually we like France; it is beautiful here and the weather is nice, even when it's overcast. And at these competitions it is always fascinating how the ice rink is designed; it's really unusual to see a rink among palm trees. It is marvelous. On the other hand, we also have somber memories of when Albena had an accident on the ice during the World Championship here and injured her leg. But she was lucky to meet a French doctor, who operated on her. He was a very positive and agreeable man.

Albena: Of course it was a very unpleasant moment in our career, because we had to withdraw from the championships. But at the same time we met our good friends here, the people who organize this tournament. We like to come here to meet our friends because they are genuine people and they always support us. And our feelings of friendship are mutual.

Maxim: They have invited us during the last 5-6 years to come more than once a year, but unfortunately our schedule is so tight that we’ve had to decline. We are engaged to tour with Ilya Averbukh's show in Russia and also have other projects. And now we have only two days in Nice, but we could not refuse the invite any longer and it is our pleasure to be here, watch the competitions, and perform in the exhibition.

You have a huge amount of experience figure skating beyond the boundaries of competitions. What is more complicated - competitions or professional activities?

Both together: These things are completely different.

Maxim: We miss the competitions. Even now, standing near the boards of the skating rink, we are jealous of those who are on the ice, because competing is a kind of struggle; it is all about adrenaline and feelings, and you can’t compare it to anything else. On the other hand, being professionals we can immerse ourselves in other things. In our current project we are getting a good theater education and we are not limited by any rules and can do anything we want; skate to any music, make any movements and this is, of course, a huge advantage.

Albena: When we had just finished our sport careers; for several years we wished to come back, to continue competing because we were not as emotionally attached to our show and exhibition programs. They didn't give us the same positive emotions. But gradually we learned, and now we love the numbers we perform on ice, in the Ice Age TV show or during our exhibitions. It's true that we are developing and improving; we keep learning and discovering our new characters. And it doesn’t matter if we are participating in competitions or skating with celebrities or performing exhibitions; we love our work and it gives us huge satisfaction. This is the main thing. It is an incredible form of self-expression, and I appreciate that it was my destiny to find a job like this, which I don't think of as a job, but as a real pleasure at all times. (Ice Age is the Russian, more flamboyant, version of Skating with the stars. ed.)

The biggest part of your current life is devoted to participation in the long running Ice Age project. Do you ever feel that it will become outdated?

Maxim: Every time a project is drawing to an end, I feel as if it will be the last season, it's outdated and people are tired of it. And a year later it turns out that it's not. We are all waiting, participating in it, because the following year shows that the project is still alive, and is watched by the audience with enthusiasm. And every year it is more complicated for us, because we are doing our best to think of something new - new themes for the tricks and new music, and it is really hard to implement. But perhaps these things make the project more interesting.

Albena: There was a little TV break and I think that the audience misses the show. According to Ilya, the project has good TV ratings and the audience’s interest is high. And it is so nice to realize that things you are doing are essential and interesting to people.

Maxim: Also, this project stimulates people to enroll their children in the sport of skating. The number of children who have started to skate is increasing with each year. I think this is the best way to promote skating.

You have performed a lot of programs during your careers. Do you have a favorite one?

Both together: No.

Maxim: We try to make them all different; each program is good in its own way, any and each of them has its own pluses, and of course, shortcomings. But it is hard to pick just one as a favorite.

Albena: It's complicated to try to pick out just one program - maybe I could highlight several, but not only one.

Maxim: We try to fill each program with emotions. I'll never forget our original dance, the Tango. It was a competitive program, and we had just added some more elements in order to use it on the tour. It was not hard, and I was very pleased to perform this program. Speaking about the free dances, then...

Together: Seven Sins and Gendel.

Albena: Jon Lord Sarabande is also a favorite. They are all different, and all are beloved. If you asked me to name ten favorite programs, I could do that.

Well, you named five, and you agree upon them.

Maxim: Of course we agree, we like our programs. When we present them, we put our souls into them.

Albena: Baroque is an original dance. It seems like we were skating well. We feel this way all the time.

Maxim: When I watch the programs we perform this year, it looks so bad. But when we watch programs from previous years, we think they were great, we skated perfectly. What’s happening with the current programs? And when I watch the present program a year later, I like it. I just don’t like the things I am doing at the time.

Albena: That is because you only see the mistakes. Afterwards we see it in a different way.

Maxim: The things you see and the things you do when you perform a program are different. You think you have achieved something extraordinary, but when you watch it you think it was too easy, too banal.

Watching the programs, it seems so easy to skate them, the effort required to make them is invisible.

Maxim:This is a secret, we are trained to make the hardest elements look as though they are easy, so we won’t bring feelings of heaviness to the audience.

When I prepared for this interview, I looked at your past results and found that your most successful season was 2006/2007, which was also the most successful season for Brian Joubert.

Maxim: You mean that he was more successful before we meddled in his work? (laughing)

No (smiling), I’m asking about your collaboration.

Maxim: Brian is a very able-bodied, talented man. He has good technique. But his problem is constant changes. When things change a lot, it can be disturbing. I think he will perform well this year, because this is his last season.

Sometimes he goes back to old programs, like the Gladiator.

Maxim:Yes, he returns to it sometimes. When we spoke to him, I asked "Why don't you skate Inception?" He said: "I like the program, and I don't want to perform it badly. I can't skate it well". But I can't say that Inception is impossible for him. I saw it, and he was doing it well. But it was his decision. If he asks for our assistance, we will help him anytime.

Albena: I think the most important thing for singles skaters are the jumps. And if Joubert felt any discomfort he would of course try to change something - find the best and right coach, the best way and program where he feels the most comfortable. It’s different with dance, because you have to dance and skate to the rhythms that have been decided, in other words there are no ultra-difficult elements like the jumps in single skating. That's why we train a lot, and for the first six months the program is a little uncomfortable, but in the next 6 months things have changed and the program looks better. But, unfortunately, single skaters have no time to be patient and wait, that is why they build everything around their jumps. This makes sense, and we wish him luck. The main thing for him is to perform well and feel comfortable.

Let’s talk about you. If figure skating was removed from your lives, what would be left? Or is skating the whole world for you?

Maxim: I guess if skating is not my whole world, then it definitely takes up 90%. We have been doing it for a long time; I have skated since age 4, Albena not much less. This really is our lives. We have devoted everything to figure skating. But everything we have is also thanks to figure skating.

Albena: Of course something would be left; we’d still have hobbies such as painting, music, etc. But all our hobbies are connected to artistry and creativity. On the one hand, I would not like to leave figure skating; I want to perform as long as possible. On the other hand, I realize that there will come a time when I have to finish my career.

Maxim: By then our son will skate (smiles). We can replace our figure skating with his figure skating.

Do you want your son to skate?

Maxim:We will teach him, and then he'll decide for himself. But he wants to skate. It's hard to say whether he'll be a figure skater, but he likes the ice.

Lets imagine that you were not skaters, what would you like to be?

Maxim: I could be a surgeon, I always liked surgeons.

Albena: I like architecture, mathematics...

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