Sharing energy and beauty: "Plushenko and Friends" in Slovakia.

By Pia
Photos © Pia, Dusan R.

Two separate worlds exist in figure skating: competitive skating and the magical world of galas. The latter – the world of galas and exhibitions is almost necessary for skaters as it allows them to be more artistic and inventive than in competitions. In addition, it allows skaters to go on with their passion even after they have finished their competitive careers, which in the case of figure skaters, are often quite short.

Currently there are not a lot of show possibilities and show promoters in the world of figure skating. For example, when lately there were two large companies situated in America – “Stars on Ice” and “Champions on Ice”, nowadays only “Stars on Ice” has remained. The “Art on Ice” is very a successful show from Switzerland and there are also many shows in Japan, where figure skating is very popular. Meanwhile, in Russia, in another “skating kingdom” former ice-dancer Ilya Averbukh has the well-known “Ice Age” show with the cast based on the participants of a popular TV program with the same name where celebrities tried to skate in pairs with famous Russian – also Lithuanian and Bulgarian – figure skaters. One of the shows in Europe and Russia in recent years has been “Golden Ice of Stradivari” and “Kings on Ice”, promoted by Ari Zakarian, well known among the skating world also as the agent of Evgeni Plushenko. In April these shows have been touring around Central Europe, in Czech Republic, Slovakia, then in Lithuania and finally in Germany.

I talked about the current state of figure skating business with Mr Zakarian.

Ari Zakarian: "Figure skating show business is going through hard times"

How do you rate the current situation of figure skating show business? Is it going well or is the situation rather complicated?
Figure skating show business is going through hard times. This is especially so in big countries like USA and Canada.
Lately the Figure Skating World Championships finished in Los Angeles. Many great skaters who received medals there will unfortunately not be able to attend galas and earn some money as there are quite a few skating shows. Many skaters turned to me after the World Championships and asked to participate in my tour, but unfortunately I was able to add only a limited number of skaters to the cast. It is a pity, but I had to refuse to the others.

What, in your opinion, is the reason of that situation?
We lost a majority of our audience that we had during the 1980s and 1990s. One of the main reasons for this is that skating fans don’t understand the current judging system. It is too complicated. Maybe it will prove itself one day, but for that we will need a new skating generation.

But what about some of the skaters such as Evgeni Plushenko or Stéphane Lambiel, who have profited from this new system?
They are great skaters, who would rate very high in any judging system. But sport should be not so hard to understand. I believe it is not good for the sport to drive away the skating fans with such complicated systems.

How do you choose the cast for your tour?
I have a recurring cast and then I also sometimes add new people to it.

Like it was with Stéphane Lambiel for your latest tour?
I have to say that he is not new for me. I have known him for quite a long time. We are glad that he joined our cast. He is a great skater and a great artist who adorns our show. We should be thankful that such a skater exists in the world.

In addition to skaters, you also have interesting ice-acrobats in your cast.
I always value people who discover in themselves a special talent. I always try to give them a chance to perform. Not everybody can become a champion and so they find something different, something interesting and useful to show skating. For instance I have in my cast Sergei Yakimenko, who makes a “mortal jump” over the car. I supported him in his attempts and now his number works very well in show. There are also Ekaterina and Alexander Chesna – flying acrobats who are always met with success at their performances.

They were also in “Art on Ice”.
Yes, they came there from my cast.

When do you plan to start with the next tour?
This year we will unfortunately finish quite early as Zenya Plushenko will soon start his full intensity training for the Olympic Games. I had a chance to have a big tour after the current one, but I cancelled it because of Zenya’s training. However, after the Olympic Games we plan to make a grand tour all over the world.

Also in Russia?
At the moment, hard to say. Nowadays the Russian audience prefers to watch a singing star or movie star learn to skate with a skating celebrity. I tried to bring back to the audience a high-quality show, but it seems to me, that right now people there don’t appreciate real quality and artistry with high-level technique and complicated jumps. Right now, we just wait.

Shows in Žilina and Bratislava

I was able to attend few of the shows produced by Ari Zakarian in Slovakia - shows called “Plushenko and Friends”. Mr Zakarian said in his interview that his goal is to make high-quality shows. In my opinion he has been successful at this as his whole show was well composed with both lyrical and energetic performances and the whole cast was very nice and well-balanced. The first show took place in the small Slovak town of Žilina. The ice rink was not very big but it was cosy, where during the evening there was a very special atmosphere. The audience was warm and cheered every skater. Many skaters were asked to an encore after their second performance. A similarly warm and enthusiastic audience was also in the Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Both shows began with the performances of local young skaters. In Bratislava probably all of the best Slovak young skaters were present, among them Slovakia’s most promising young Ivana Reitmayerova. The 17-year-old placed 11th at the European Championships and was 14th in World Championships and has also gained an Olympic spot. She was light and graceful like a fairy in her lovely pink dress and she also had very beautiful spins and spirals.

The greatest star of the show, Evgeni Plushenko appeared with his co-artist, Hungarian violinist Edvin Marton and opened the show with an energetic program. Having seen his performance on both evenings I can say that the rumours of his come-back may be true. He is in a very good shape and his jumps are amazing. In both of his performances he had eight triple jumps, many of them were triple Axels. The whole presentation was, in general, very powerful and intense.

Plushenko’s performance was followed by the graceful American ice-dancers Naomi Lang and Peter Tschernishev. Their signature movements involved beautiful low postures. The temperamental Italian Silvia Fontana gave a really spicy performance where her shining smile competed with her equally shining dress. Then followed one of highlights of show – the double number of the two time World champions in pair skating Aliona Savchenko-Robin Szolkowy from Germany, and Tatiana Volosozhar-Stanislav Morozov from Ukraine, who since last season have been training together with German top coach Ingo Steuer. Their performance was highly entertaining with double death spirals, lifts and throws.

From Slovakia itself, there was more Josef Sabovčik, an 1984 Sarajevo Olympic bronze medallist and twice European Champion. For someone of his age (46), he looks very young with his blond mullet and is still in excellent shape, as shown by his saltos, which have given him the nickname “Jumping Joe”.

I am not a big fan of acrobatic numbers in skating shows. For me beautiful skating is enough, but I can understand that the audience likes those numbers as they are something different and unique. All of the acrobats’ numbers were appreciated by the audience. Acrobat Irina Kazakova swirled in the air like a silver serpent. The flying acrobats Ekaterina and Alexander Chesna gave a very captivating performance. In general, their number was elegant and tasteful and their “flying on the bands” technique reminded me of one of Cirque de Soleil numbers. Acrobat Yakimenko’s performance, a “mortal jump” over a car was entertaining and enjoyed greatly by the audience.

Another interesting cast member was Jason Graetz with his humoristic numbers. It is very difficult to be a good humorist on the ice however I think Mr Graetz with his brand move “rubber legs” managed quite well. Estonian skater Elena Glebova did well on both evenings, delivering some great skating with a nice feminine style. I liked the Ukrainian pair Tatiana Volososhar – Stanislav Morozov. They skated a beautiful lyrical number, which was very clean and in high spirit. I really hope they place higher in future competitions. Two time World champions Savchenko and Szolkowy were really wonderful. When I watch them, I think, Aliona never fails while doing even the most complicated throws. Their grace and harmony in partnership is amazing. Sinead and John Kerr did two different character performances. The first one was soft and lyrical and the second one, my favourite, was their Scottish dance. They were very charming and they clearly loved giving their performance.

The new guest on this show’s cast, Stéphane Lambiel, performed his tango “Otoño Porteño” to Astor Piazzolla’s music and his already legendary gala performance “Un giorno per noi”, a story of “Romeo and Juliet”. I have seen Lambiel’s “Un giorno per noi” several times. For me this story has a different meaning every time. Sometimes it is bright, sometimes it is tragic. Stéphane has got the talent to fuse completely with the role which he presents.

It was interesting to compare the artistry of the two main stars of this show – Evgeni Plushenko and Stéphane Lambiel. They are both highly intense and both great at “working the crowd”. While Plushenko’s artistry is based on power and is more resolute and plain, Lambiel is sometimes fierce, sometimes soft, very passionate and his expression has lots of nuances and layers. It was also possible to compare the different tangos in this show. The show’s final number, Evgeni Plushenko’s massive tango was almost infernal. In his shining black costume he seems very powerful and almost threatening. Lambiel’s tango however is a very complete program, with complicated authentic movements, which he studied together with his choreographer, Spanish flamenco dancer Antonio Najarro. I believe that he comes very close to the roots of this magic dance.

I asked Stéphane Lambiel, who was touring in this country for the first time, about his impressions.

Stéphane Lambiel: "If I see, someone is happy – it has already made my day"

Did you like to perform in Prague and Slovakia? Is it your first time to doing shows in these countries.
It was a great opportunity to do these shows. I think what is incredible is the energy and the power that every skater generates, mixing energies. That’s what I am feeling in these shows. There’s a lot of impulse in the air.

I think the audience feels it. Did you like audience in Slovakia?
I have to say, that the crowd in Žilina was one of the best I’ve ever had. Not big, but very, very warm. I was impressed by the crowd.

Do you plan to continue working with Ari Zakarian?
I have worked with him for many years, so I know him very well, not only from shows, but also from summer camps. And I know Edvin Marton, we have done many shows together. So I know many people here and I like to be with them, it’s like a family.

Do you have some specific ideas for shows in the future - do you wish to do something different?
I would love to make a big show with a new atmosphere, with a story, lots of costumes and special music. Now I have lots of experience as a skater, but not as a producer. At 24 years old I am still very young and it’s early to produce a show. Now I am just looking at how it works, taking some advice from Ari, from Edvin, also from Oliver Höner, who is doing “Art on Ice”. At the moment my goal is to show the crowd what I have inside. I need the stage and right now the ice is the best stage for me.

You had two great programs with a Spanish theme. Do you want to continue with that? Which direction do you want to turn now?
I did two Spanish themed programs, but I think, they are both very different. Now I want to do something else, because I always want new energy, new atmosphere. I really like to perform my tango, but it is a very difficult program, because it was supposed to be my free skating program. I want to continue to make free programs, which have more than two-three jumps and include more complicated footwork. I think it is very important to stay in good shape. Exhibition numbers are very nice, but you must be in shape, so I continue to do free programs.

Will you start with it in July?
Yes, maybe in July or a little bit earlier.

In Slovakia you didn’t skate “Tainted love”, but you choose the “Romeo and Juliet” program – why?
I had to choose between “Tainted love” and “Romeo and Juliet”. It’s my first time in Slovakia and I wanted to show “Romeo and Juliet”, because people here don’t know this program. It’s my favourite program.

You have had such a tight schedule. How’s your injury now? Do you feel better?
I have always pains, every day. I live with the pains. When I do shows, I have to take painkillers.

But you are able to do really good jumps in shows.
I think it is automatic, it’s muscle memory.

Is it possible to obtain effective treatment for your injury?
It is very difficult. My hips are not straight because of lots of skating. My hips twist, and now every time I skate too much, it pulls my muscle. It is not possible to get my hips back.

Is it something that happens to all the skaters?
Many skaters have this problem, because in skating there is always rotation to the same direction. You have one strong part in your body and one weak part. So you have a disbalance and then it goes and causes changes in your body, sometimes with your back or with your hips or with your knees.

But you still do quads?
Yes, when I am not tired, I practice quads, along with other jumps.

They are not harder to do than other jumps?
No. But Axel yes, because the take-off is on the left and my left leg is very weak right now. For the other jumps it is OK, but for the Axel I cannot do more than double.

The fans are really glad that you started a journal on your homepage. In your previous interviews you’ve mentioned that you don’t like computers and the Internet very much. What made you change your mind?
We are all humans and it is important to share. Before when I was competing, fans could share a little bit of my life during the competition. Now it’s different. There are no competitions, there are shows. Not everybody can travel around the world and come to see the shows. And there are no shows everywhere. I would love to do shows everywhere, but it is impossible. That’s why I really want to share some experiences and adventures I have in my life. I think it could help or interest someone. We have so many negative news around, bad news every day. I wanted to create something positive with the journal. And if it helps one person, it’s good. It is already a victory, if it helps someone.

In the comments you can see that's true.
I see the comments and I feel... if there are a hundred comments or only one – if it is a good comment, if I see, someone is happy – it has already made my day. If someone can be happy and feel the joy, it is so good, because now the world is so bad. For me if something positive happens in my life, it is meaningful.

Sometimes people have said that your skating changed something in their lives...
I don’t know if I changed anything but... it’s like my mother when she puts her hands on me, hugs me, she’s already made my day, I am already happy. When I can touch a person with a message, to me it’s like my mother touching me. But through technology it is... we are using Internet in the wrong way. It’s a good thing but there are so many ways to use it.

But you choose the good way for using Internet.
I hope so.

Everybody hopes, that you continue with your journal.
I will continue.

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