Interview with
Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski

Part I

Interview and photos © by C√©line Oreiller and Jacqueline Zibung

They are Bulgaria's best figure skating team ever and among the most popular ice dancers currently competing. They want to reach the stars but have their skates firmly on the ice. Albena Denkova and Russian-born Maxim Staviski are the reigning European and World silver medalists, only defeated by Russia's Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov last season.
We had the chance to get to know this lovely and lively couple better shortly after Christmas – what a present!

When did you start skating, and why figure skating?
M: My parents brought me to the ice rink many many years ago, when I was 4 years old. They wanted to make me healthy – it was usual for parents in Russia to do that with their children. So I began, and then I continued… What can I say, I didn't choose this sport.

But you liked it?
M: Yes, of course, and now even more.

And Albena, you went from gymnastics to figure skating…
A: Yes, I started with gymnastics, and then I decided to switch to skating because it looked pretty and my family also liked this sport very much. I began as a single skater, but then I thought that ice dancing was more artistic, more "me", so I became an ice dancer.

When and how did you team up?
A: We started skating together in 1996. Our partners had decided to stop skating or continue at a lower level, so we were both looking for new partners. The Bulgarian ice dance judge talked to some of the coaches and officials at the World Championships in Canada and Elena Tchaikovskaya suggested Maxim, so I went to Moscow. We realized that we suited each other and decided to have a go together.

Is there a dance team that has inspired you?
A & M: Many! Like Torvill and Dean, Klimova and Ponomarenko, Grishuk and Platov, Marina and Gwendal, Drobiazko and Vanagas… We like many skaters!

Trophée Lalique 2003

Is there still someone you look to for inspiration?
A: The situation is a bit different now because we are skating at the highest level and we don't want to copy anyone; we want to have our own style. It's our turn to be copied actually…
M: But if we see another couple doing something interesting, we might try to use that somehow.
A: Yes, exactly, we look at the other couples and if we see some details we like, we might try to work on the idea. But we are mostly inspired by the couples who skated before us.

You are known for always having very original programs. Who chooses the music? How do you create the theme of your programs?
A: Maxim and I choose the music together and we come up with most of the ideas. Of course our choreographer and coach always suggest various pieces of music, but we are the ones who skate and we know what we want to do and what we can express on the ice. We always try to find something original and interesting, and our choreographer and coach help us create the theme and the choreography.

And where did you find the music for this year's free dance, "Bach to Africa"?
A: First we had chosen something more classical, but we changed our minds because we learned that Navka and Kostomarov were skating to a classical piece and we wanted to be different from them again. Then some ballet friends of our choreographer suggested this music to him, because they had watched our previous programs and thought that we could express this music on the ice. We found it very interesting so we decided to use it.


GPF2002-03 - Exhibition "Absinth Drinker"

Some people say that your programs are actually too original and therefore complicated to understand. How do you feel about that? 
M: It was a big problem in our first years together, but I think that now it's not so difficult to understand our programs anymore.
A: At the beginning, we had a lot of fans in Europe and Japan, but it was very hard for us to skate in the US and Canada because nobody understood our programs. But in the last 3-4 years, we've also gained lots of fans in North America.
M: I think it started when we showed them "Absinth drinker". They liked that program, because it was not as difficult to understand as the other programs.
A: And now we don't have a problem anywhere in the world, so I think the audience accepts our programs and that's what’s important to us.

Trophée Eric Bompard 2004

Who designs your costumes?
A: We used to do it ourselves, but now we work more closely with a tailor in St. Petersburg. We always have special ideas so we give them some guidelines for what we want.
M: … we give them the music and tell them about our programs; they work on our ideas, then they send us designs and we choose.

Is there a reason why you often change costumes for the same program during a season?
M: It's impossible to make all the costumes for the first competition of the year, so we make just one complete set. Then, for Europeans for example, we make one more costume, also because we have to skate in different costumes at practice and during the competition. At Worlds we might have one more costume, because one of these costumes isn't good – I don't know, but we are always changing…

How many hours do you practice?
M: Don't ask! It would be much easier to say how many hours of rest we have!
A: Around 7-8 hours a day, sometimes 6 when we have competitions, but a lot anyway. We skate at least 4 hours a day and we have practices on the floor– we do ballet and modern ballet, we work on our programs together with our choreographer…
M: In short: during the day we train and at night we sleep! 

Do you spend more time training in Moscow or in Sofia?
A: In Moscow, we are there the whole winter. We only spend 3 months in the summer in Sofia.

Out of pure curiosity, do you speak Russian or Bulgarian to each other?
A: It depends. When we are in Bulgaria we speak Bulgarian, and in Russia – Russian! But when we skate we always speak Russian, because our coach and choreographer are both Russian, and besides, many skating terms don't even exist in Bulgarian.


Which must mean that the interest in figure skating isn't very big in Bulgaria. Yet you opened your own skating club in Sofia…

M: Yeah, you want to join? 

Well, it's a bit far… but what made you open the club?
M: We wanted somebody to continue our job. Albena's sister began to ice dance, we found her a coach in Russia, and now there is a club! And what will we do after we stop our career? Of course we want to skate as professionals and do some shows, but then? Maybe we will coach, I don't know…
A: Ivan Dinev and we are now the only elite skaters left in Bulgaria, so we are working hard at trying to make this sport more popular in our country.


Go to Part 2


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