Salomé Brunner: "People he loves will always stay"

Part I


By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Reut Golinsky, Silvia Ulenberg, Mireille Geurts & Joy

Since I read that article about her on our site, this is how I think of her – Queen of Grace. Or Stéphane's Guardian Angel, the title they gave her on the official site. And Salomé really is the queen, the angel, not just his choreographer, but foremost his very close friend. Since I follow Lambiel's career, I adore and respect this woman. In Zurich during "Art on Ice" I had a chance to tell her. This time, during Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, we had a bit more time, so apart from love confessions (from my side) there were lots of interesting things we discussed: her work in shows versus her work for competitions, the new judging system, skaters she is working with and, of course, Stéphane.

Good morning, Salomé. You can't imagine how glad I am to see you here, to see all "team Stéphane" here today.
Thank you, I am happy to be here.

You were asked once if after so many years of work with Stéphane he still surprises you. And you answered 'yes'. I wonder if he surprised you this summer.
It was a surprise because I did not know when this wish would appear and I did not know how strong [it would be]... I knew quite late [about his decision], he already decided, maybe few days before. I didn't expect it at that particular moment, so I was very surprised. I was thinking about this all year because I didn't feel that the wish to compete was completely gone, but at that moment I didn't expect it. I said 'Ah... what?' (laughs) And I was happy that he could make that decision, because it's difficult to feel this, to be on a border, in between, when on one hand you think 'oh, it would be nice' but on the other hand you have reasons that keep you back. I thought it was good that he could make a final decision, either 'no' or 'yes'.

He just told you 'I'm coming to Oberstdorf to make a short program'? How was it?
It was difficult. The [summer] camp was full. Peter (Grutter) and I had many skaters - there was not really an hour of the day when we could work. Of course, I wanted to find time for Stéphane, there was no question, and I said to Peter, 'You know, if we cannot skate here, I will leave, I will go to some [other] place with him' and then Peter said 'No, you must stay here, you cannot leave'. We asked the ice rink administration whether if would be possible to work at night, and they opened one rink just for Stéphane and me at night time, so we had private music, private ice.

And it was secret, nobody knew...
It was not so much for secrecy, more because we needed privacy. We needed to find out what we wanted - and with many people watching it's not so easy to do.

Do you usually have the opportunity to work in such privacy in Switzerland?
Sometimes in the morning, when it's not holidays and children are at school, but it is never that private as it was here. It was really wonderful, because usually there are other skaters, somebody on the ice, in Zurich or in Lausanne, but here it was really only us on the ice, and the music, and the mirror. It was wonderful.

And it took just few days to make the whole program?
It was very quick, because Stéphane had little time. He had an exhibition tour, and it was only this time that he could work. So he came prepared. He had the music already, he chose it and he had cut it with a friend, so the music was ready, when he came. Very beautiful music, I loved it from the first moment. I like the first part of the music very much, it's not so known; the second part is very well known. I like both parts, they're very different.

So he brought the music and some ideas...
... and also he knew already where he wanted to place elements and then we only needed to find the 'language' we wanted. He could do a lot of improvisation because there was nobody on the ice and he had music all the time. It was really construction, piece by piece, and after we worked through [a few] nights here, in the sports center, it was there, it was done. But he needed to practice it after that and get it into his body, as always.

I've read in one of your interviews that this is the way you work with Stéphane: he's improvising on the ice and you're catching his movements.
Usually a stronger skater is more secure, has more feeling, connection with the music. Then more comes from the skater's side and I just have to pick what we have to put together. And when the skater is younger and not so experienced, then I have also to give ideas. Sometimes I give ideas to Stéphane too. But less, less and less. (smiles)

Do you think he would be a good choreographer himself?
Yes, I think so. I wonder if he has the patience to teach something to somebody... Not yet, I think, maybe later in his life. Now he has to do it himself, he's a performer, he needs this. But I wonder maybe later. He will be a wonderful choreographer if he has this interest to do it.

I'm thinking all the time: 'Okay, two years, three years and he won't be able to skate but maybe we'll see him in his pupils, through his choreography'...
No, not in two or three years, no, no, much later in his life.

Ne Me Quitte Pas, the exhibition program, was it also made by both of you?
Yes. It was also teamwork, but he gave the input and always, of course, [it was choreographed] in his direction. It was constructed the same way, yes.

I really love this song, I love Jacques Brel and Francophone music in general, and I was amazed how many details in choreography are connected to the lyrics. Pity that most of people don't understand the lyrics.
It was exactly a "lyrical choreography", yes. It was not even a question [how to do this]. We both had the same idea. There was no other way of interpretation.

I saw the interpretations of this song by BĂ©jart Ballet and by Cirque du Soleil, but I've never seen such a version: it's like he is singing with his body. I was so impressed.
Actually I was converted into Jacques Brel's fan, when we were doing this, because I also feel the way this artist pronounces the words, it is very special, they're not just words. He has a very special, intense way of pronunciation. Because I knew this song for many years, so many people have already used it, also on the ice... But when you really get into the song, it's a fantastic piece of art; I like it so much...

I think, what you did - you, Stéphane and Jacque Brel together - is a real piece of art, and I'm not the only one, believe me. My interest in FS started with Stéphane's Flamenco. Every figure skating fan has "The program", and Flamenco was such a program for me. I wasn't sure whether something better than this could be created. Ne Me Quitte Pas wasn't better because I can't even compare them...

This was an exhibition program and suddenly I understood that I'm not sorry he retired if now he can create such beautiful things.
It was nice, and you are right in this, it was actually nice not to have to think about wrong positions or other things like this [which come from COP], we were very free then, that's true.

I hope that in future you'll both be able to create more amazing things like this. Will you continue to work together? After he retired a year ago, was it obvious that you would continue to work together?
Yes, I thought so, but I also thought he would work with many different people, because he himself is an artist now and he can choose so many different ways. He can work with me, and with many other choreographers. I think it will be like this: not all the time he will work with the same people. But he is that kind of person - all the people who are part of his life, people he loves, will always be [in his life]. It's not 'OK, you're today, and you're tomorrow'. I think the connection between him and people - Peter and him, Majda and him, and all his surroundings - this will always stay and when he works with different people it's not that we are forgotten.

It was very touching for me yesterday to see the reunion of your team. When he decided to leave for the US we were all worried how it was going to turn out. I worried about the choreography because I really wanted you to stay with him. I didn't like what Nina Petrenko created for Johnny Weir for the last years, his programs were very empty and I was afraid I wouldn't like Stéphane's programs made by her.
I don't think Stéphane would allow himself to skate something that he's not completely behind...
Maybe it was not the right combination for him [in the States], when they opposed things, maybe in this part of Europe we're less used to this, we see the things differently. But I know there are no bad feelings between him and the Russian coaches, this is also quite nice to know.

Go to Part II

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