Ádám Sólya creates stories on ice
April 30, 2018
By Titanilla Bőd (Új Szó)
Translated by Kata Dalkó
Photos © Sam de Maesschalck, Natasha Ponarina, Oxana Shkrebtienko (LMDJ), Karl de Smet, Ádám Sólya
From the ice to the stage and then back again to the ice, from Budapest to Belgium, to the academic chair and eventually to Russia – Ádám Sólya, the actor, dancer and choreographer has come an extraordinary way. We had a very pleasant talk with the Belgian skater's choreographer who also works with Alexei Mishin's team.
As a stage dancer, how did you end up in the world of figure skating?
I did skate myself. I started as a single skater then moved on to ice dance and as an ice dancer I had the chance to participate in a junior Grand Prix. I wasn't a top level competitor, although I was told that I could have had a bright future ahead. Anyhow, it seems that I was meant to fall for theatre, dancing, singing and acting. I graduated as a professional dance artist. I played in modern ballet groups and musicals. I was the lead dancer in the Dance of the Vampires and the director asked me whether I was interested in dancing this role in Belgium. I had always wanted to dance abroad so I said yes. I spent three months there and I fell in love with Antwerpen. Therefore, once this period ended, I closed the book of my Budapest life behind me and moved to Belgium. I didn't have a job, I lived at a friend's place; conversely, today I am an associate professor at the Musical Faculty of the Royal Conservatoire besides which I train my skaters. First I began to work with Kevin van der Perren, then Jorik Hendrickx and Loena Hendrickx joined me. In the beginning, I just refined their choreographies but now I've been choreographing their short and long programs for four years.
How did you get in touch with Alexei Mishin, one of the greatest professionals of the sport?
We had never met in person before but last year he reached out to me and asked if I was willing to work together with him. Naturally, I said yes as we all know how knowledgeable Professor Mishin is. I designed programs for Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Sofia Samodurova and Evgeny Semenenko as well. It was a pleasant surprise how open the athletes were and the professor himself was always curious about my opinion, too. He really appreciated my work when he watched the program created for Tuktamysheva. I was so nervous that first I just couldn't find the music, my hands were shaking but when we showed him what we had worked on, he praised me a lot. At that point I felt that he trusted me and I calmed down.
It has been a long journey though. You've mentioned that when you moved to Belgium, your life was full of uncertainties. How did you build up a new existence?
I had to participate in lots of auditions as a dancer, actor and singer. Belgium is a truly open-minded country, however, if you don't speak the language, it's hard to show your values. In the first period, there were nights when I cried a lot and called my mum desperately, many times wondering what I was even doing here… But then I learnt the language, acted in pieces, danced leading roles and got admitted to the Royal Conservatoire so I started walking on the path that I had been dreaming of.
What kept you in Belgium in the difficult moments?
I have a spiritual mindset and I live my life by following my intuitions. I believe that there is a right time and place for everything and also that everything happens for a reason. The first time when I got off the plane in Belgium, a sort of fire, devotion started burning in me that I wanted to live here which I still cannot explain.
According to the stereotypes popular among outsiders about the artistic world, this field is full of intrigue and hostility, a really closed environment where newcomers are not welcome at all since the old pros do not want them to take the leading roles. Did you experience anything like this in Belgium or were you accepted quickly?
It wasn't easy, especially because I didn't speak the language properly for a year. The fact that I didn't speak Flemish was a huge disadvantage at the auditions. In the beginning, of course, I was frowned upon and felt excluded but I think everyone must be given a chance.
What kind of advantage does your skating past give you in the artistic field and what sort of benefits does a stage dancer have as a figure skating choreographer?
Being a top athlete gives a kind of discipline, focus, direction and persistence in life that can be utilized anywhere later. Figure skating taught me to stand up for what I want and to fight until I achieve my goal. I think this is the reason why I didn't give up when I was facing difficulties or rejection in the artistic world. Dance, music and acting filled the gap that I couldn't fill as a top athlete. When I got back to the world of figure skating as a choreographer, I wanted to transmit this benefit to my competitors. I think my trademark as a choreographer is that I'm able to open up the athletes, I can help them feel the music and express their feelings.
How open are they to all this?
Sometimes this is very funny. Every now and then I make them do some acting practice before beginning the choreography. It is not always easy for them to open up, we would laugh and cry but all in all they are open to it; especially if based on the scores they can see that this whole thing did make sense. When I design programs, I like to tell a story; this helps the athlete as well since this is something they can rely on. This is important so that the movements are not empty but, for example, I lift my arm because I'm whooping right now or I crouch because I'm being sad… This is how I build up the program, movement by movement, until we manage to create a nice, complete story, together with the skaters.
Do they tend to be stubborn and not willing to do something?
They don't like each and every idea but even in such cases they at least try. My principle is that the choreography must be on the body of the skater and this is why I'm happy for them to share their ideas in advance. We look into many different styles before deciding which way to go. Often I also recommend some pieces of music or style. I usually start thinking about the music in January because I like being prepared but we make our decision with the skater only after the end of the season, around May.
As a choreographer, what is your opinion about the fact that not only ice dancers, but also skaters in other disciplines may use vocal music?
In my view, it is not always good to choose popular music because in that case the competition feeling may get lost, the performance might rather seem to be an exhibition program. Naturally, both the skaters and the audience can enjoy a happy, cheerful music but personally I prefer artistic programs.
And what do you think about choosing a musical as a piece of music for figure skating programs?
I love it! Well, this doesn't happen as often as I would prefer, even though I always recommend musicals to my competitors as well. However, we need to be careful with this concept as well, because if the music is too overwhelming, the skater can get lost somewhere in it. The skater must lead the music and the choreography, not the other way around.
How different are the movement patterns of stage dance from those of ice dance and figure skating?
I was studying ballet already at the time when I was a skater but modern dance and contemporary dance were completely new to me. I studied a lot of different styles and when I went back on the ice afterwards, my body awareness and coordination was much stronger than before, mainly thanks to contemporary dance. To this end, we do specific contemporary dance practices with my competitors, this enables them to feel relaxed and find the right breathing technique. By the way, I'm the kind of teacher and choreographer who skates together with the athletes. Once the music begins, I give everything and at the end of the training I think I may be more tired than the skaters, my muscles are sore for a week afterwards.
Are you strict with your athletes?
No, because I believe that my job as a choreographer is to open up their feelings so that they can express to the judges what they want to transmit and so they get the scores they deserve. I don't think that being strict would help them get there, I would just alienate and scare them away. Therefore, I talk a lot with the skaters in order for the process to be interactive.
Being a top athlete requires a sort of toughness but in this sport sensitivity is also essential. How can you ensure that these two things are in balance?
Sometimes we have to act as psychologists as well… I'm the kind of person who always has lots of questions before we start working: what's going on? How are you feeling? Did you eat properly? What happened at school? Does your leg hurt? How are your parents doing?… I'm keen to know all this so that we can discuss if they have any issues and we can get over it together. We have to be really conscious to keep in mind why we are here and not to be hysterical. If something goes wrong, that's fine, we are here to practice.
During the competitions, how much do you relate to your skaters' performances? Some choreographers practically skate throughout the whole program next to the rink, they are the ones who are often shown in the video playbacks on the split screens.
I try to hold myself back from doing that but I can feel all the movements in my muscles. Nevertheless, I do my best not to dance with the competitors. I'm excited for and with them but I try not to show this, my aim is to radiate calmness and positivity towards them.
What other dreams do you have as a choreographer? Who would you like to work with?
This is a difficult question. I prefer not to mention any names but naturally I would like the world to get to know me and to acknowledge me, to see my values which I'd like to transmit to the competitors.
Do you have any idols?
Lori Nichol inspires me a lot. She was a dancer herself and her choreographies have always inspired me. Those are in line with what my vision is about how a skater should move. Unfortunately, we haven't met yet but my big dream is to be able to talk to her one day.