Piano-Skating, emotional communication without a single word - meet Romain Gazave!

Part I

by Helga Dobor
& Mireille Geurts
Photos ©
Absolute Skating

Figure skating is an amazing sport. It has everything; like speed, grace and technically difficult elements. Sometimes special talents in the sport will take the skating one step further by combining it with something else.
Absolute Skating is proud to introduce such a person; the man who realized his dream: Frenchman ROMAIN GAZAVE! For the last couple of years he's been able to live both of his passions in one performance; skating and playing the piano in a unique act he calls Piano-Skating. Currently Romain is in England doing the "Hot Ice!" show, which will run until this fall. As the latest addition to the Absolute Skating family, Romain had a long chat with us about his past, present and future.

'First Steps on Skates'

What are your earliest skating memories?
I started skating when I was 6 years old; it was in Megeve in the French Alps. At summer-camp there I had the chance to see Brian Boitano practicing and especially jumping, and I wanted to do the same. In a way that is funny because now I’m more interested in the artistic aspect of skating! My first lesson was with Patrice Macrez and I remember I didn’t want to stop the lesson, I immediately really loved it! The world is a small place, because when I was 15 I trained with him again in another city.

Next to Boitano, did you have an idol in skating whose style has inspired you?
I had a lot of idols I watched on TV. I’m a big fan of Kurt Browning and also of most of the ‘older’ skaters like Orser and Bowman. Of course later, I loved Yagudin....

Do you remember the first time you competed?
Yes, it was in St Gervais. I was 7 years old, and finished last! But I had only skated for 6 months then… The 2nd competition I participated in, I won. I guess that’s what they call revenge spirit! - laughs

Did you compete internationally as well nationally?
Yes, at 11 years old I participated in the French Nationals in my age category (3rd place, Stanick Jeanette was 1st). And internationally later on, when I was 15. At 17, I became the bronze medalist in Slovakia. (3rd place at the Grand prize SNP of Slovakia)

Olivier, Isa, Brian and Romain

You’ve been part of the French team training with famous coaches and skaters like Didier Lucine, Annick Dumont, Vanessa Gusmeroli, Philippe Candeloro, Thierry Cerez,.. what was that like?
It was an excellent experience! I still keep in touch with most of them. My really good French friends are Stanick Jeannette, (he won the French junior championship when I was the silver medalist, Gabriel Monnier was 4th and Dambier 5th) Thierry Cerez and Isabelle Delobel, and I still see most of the others when I get back to France, they are good mates (Vanessa etc).

You even had to share a room with Stanick, right?
It was the year of the French National junior championships. I was 16 and spent most of my weekends with his family. He was my best friend at that time.

How often can you meet with your friends now?
I live in England 8 months of the year, so I can only see them in the winter. But we stay in touch a lot through phone and e-mail. We see each other 2 or 3 times a year at best, sometimes only once! Sometimes they visit me in England, socially or combined with business. Thierry Cerez will come in June and he might do a future show here. Oh, and Marina will probably come as well!
But I have friends here too, like Ania Rechnio, my best ‘female’ friend in the world of ice skating and Alexei Sokolov. So I’m not lonely. - laughs

Just so we are clear, you mean Marina Anissina, right?
Yes, I think she plans to work in the professional skating show "World" and she has some project going on, so she’ll probably come to see “Hot Ice!” but I think she comes mostly to see me. She hasn’t seen my act live yet! Perhaps she’ll organize her own tour, who knows?!? It’s hard to arrange a show in France, though.

Marina Anissina, Romain and a friend in Skiing holiday

'Playing the Piano'

Let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve also played the piano since you were 6, how did you start?
I started playing a bit at school and I loved it, so I took lessons. But after a year I quit because I couldn’t manage school, the piano and skating. But we kept the piano at home and I played a lot on my own. That way I learned a lot by myself when I was young and when I was a teenager it became a real passion. I am a fan of music, all music! It’s almost therapeutic for me; I could never live without it!

Did you take any lessons then? Private teacher, school etc?
Yes, I really started to play seriously when I met the director of the "Cortot school" in Paris. I was 19- 20 years old and he told me that it wasn’t too late to become a professional pianist, and he enrolled me in his school. After a year I stopped competing in skating to focus only on the piano as I didn’t have enough money to do both, I had to make a choice. The skating level in France for the men was very high, while for the piano part, I had an amazing chance through meeting an amazing teacher who taught me all the basics from the beginning. I practiced around 6 hours a day, and at least 2 of those hours were technique. That went on every day for 4 years, and I had the chance to have Jean Fassina as a teacher. In the piano world he is practically a legend! He taught many of top pianist players in the world. He’s an amazing man, and so pedagogic. I couldn’t have done it without him for sure! And he believed in me even if it was a bit crazy... I wish I’d had that kind of teacher in skating. I took a 2 year break from skating, without even touching the ice. But then I started again, and did some shows, I missed skating too much.

What is your most memorable (piano) experience?
That would be with Jean Fassina. I had to relearn the technical basics, but after 3 years of hard work I could play the 32 variations of Beethoven without much effort and exactly how I wanted to play it! Also when I got accepted at the audition for the "Cortot school in Paris" in professional superior level...it was a dream come true!

Have you met more famous piano legends?
Most of the elite piano competitors in the world where either in the same class as me in the Cortot school in Marian Rybicki’s class, or studied with Jean Fassina at the same time as me!
Most of the winners or competitors of the Varsovie or England contest (Queen Elisabeth’s contest) also came to this class for a concert or a lesson sometimes. My two teachers were members of the jury for the "big" contest most of the time, so....

You won all? Just kidding…
I didn’t win at all!!! I didn’t compete and I’m not sure that I could have at that level, but it was a nice motivation for me to improve... I didn’t compete because I wanted to skate and play the piano at the same time, I can not dissociate skating (or dancing) and music!

Hey, stop! That subject will come later; we have another question about the piano first!
Ok…- laughs

We saw pictures of you on your website playing a Steinway piano. It’s a very famous name in piano history. Does it mean something special for you?("My friendship with the Steinway piano is one of the most important and beautiful things in my life." - Krystian Zimerman)
Uh, I don’t always play on a Steinway.... I wish I had one, but they costs so much, I will buy one as soon as I can. I did practice on one; it was the piano of Jean Fassina and one of the 2 pianos available to my class with Marian Rybicki. As for the website pictures, for the photo session we used the piano of the Paris Orchestra, I was very lucky!! I will have a Steinway someday for sure, even if I have to eat rice for the rest of my life! By the way Helga, bravo for Zimerman! He is one of the best when it comes to playing the ballads of Chopin, I think I've listened to his music a thousand times.

'Acting the Act'

Ok, now you can tell us how you got the idea to combine skating and piano into “piano skating”?
It was my dream. In the end it was impossible for me to choose between the piano and skating. In my opinion it’s normal to combine music and dance, because they just fit together!

What were the first reactions of the people in the business?
99 percent of them laughed at me or told me it wouldn’t work, that I was dreaming etc...It was terrible for me! But you know, with passion and luck…

The result now is great…
I hope so... I’m still trying to develop my act; there are so many original things to do!

For people who have never seen your Act, how should we visualize it?
First there’s the piano, which represents inspiration, and then the music, which is the guide to the dance and the body expressions. Then go back to the piano to finish... a bit like a dream also... I mean, that’s how I see it but there are so many ways, it also depends on the idea of the producer of course. << Watch the trailer on Romains site >>
The first idea I had for my Act, was to portray someone who plays the piano and the skating envisions the way he’d like to interpret this music through dancing or skating. A bit like a dream or a thought.

You participated in the German Stars On Ice tour in 2003, how did you experience this?
Amazing! It was called the “2003 piano bar” and everybody loved it! Almost all the skaters were so nice to me; we had a lot of fun. With Maxim, Vlashenko, Honda.... It was a crazy tour!
(see this illustrated in Romains personal album!) For the skaters it was different because most of them had just returned from the World Championships, so we only had 2 days to rehearse everything, but they were great and worked so well. Usually they just have to come and do their exhibitions numbers.


Maxim, Andrejs and Romain

Do you have some nice and crazy anecdotes from that time?
Yes, I have a lot of good ones, but let me think of one I can share…- laughs
Ah, yes, we had that piano bar, so we were supposed to represent some customers before and after skating our number. We faked drinking alcohol, but the glasses only contained water. At the end of his number, Daniel Weiss always gave Takeshi his glass, but in the last show, he put vodka in the glass instead! It was quite funny to see Takeshi’s face at that moment! He tried to hide it so well! And the audience sat so far away, I don’t think most of them noticed it anyway.
We also had a lot of fun during the practice sessions, speaking into the microphone (we were not so used to it).

What was the reaction of the German audience in general?
It was very different, but apparently they really liked the show, because it was like a story. We always got great applause or standing ovations at the end! It was so nice; I would love to do such a tour again, or if possible, an American or European show like the COI or SOI. This is one of my future goals. But it just depends on the wish of the producers...

Download Romains performance from SOI 2003 called "Tonight" here! (5,13 mb)

Well, as you mentioned before, you’re now starring in the “Hot Ice!” tour in England. Can you tell us a little more about that?
It's not a tour but a fixed show which takes place every year for about 7 months (from March to November) in Blackpool. It’s a bit different than the “Holiday on Ice” show for example, cause nobody is really chorus and everybody has their own spot which relates to their abilities. It’s a very creative show!

Do you have to adjust your ideas a lot when it comes to performing in these shows?
It depends on the vision of the choreographer and the producer. Even if their concept of the act is interesting, I still have to deal with their ideas, and sometime that’s not exactly how I see things. But that’s the consequence of acting in a professional show with 30 other skaters.
The show in England is, in my eyes, one of the best professional year round shows in existence, but I can’t choose the music I play since the act is part of the production concept. But I knew and accepted that, and it’s only sometimes I feel a bit frustrated.
For the German tour, it was different. Daniel and Jennifer Weiss (producers and choreographer) and I made some fair compromises so it was more half and half. I loved the chance to play for Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavisky. They are such a nice skating team in my eyes, and so nice in real life too!
But it was my first big presentation of this act, so I improved a lot since that time and resolved a lot of things that I have to deal with by playing the piano and skating (it’s quite hard). I now feel that I can elaborate on my act a lot more and that some day I’ll really be able to present this Act in a big tour of my very own ideas!


What kind of things did you have to resolve?
All kinds of technical problems, like how to operate the pedals with the blades, cold and shaky hands, the piano stool and the sound, since most of the time I can’t really hear what I play because of the delay. It was difficult because nobody ever did it before, so we had to fix all the problems without a reference!


Figure Skating Fluff and Curiosa, go to part 2

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