Salomé Brunner: "I work with the people who really want to create"


April 2, 2013
By Reut Golinsky
Photo © Irina Teterina (Attenais), Reut Golinsky

After her most famous students, Sarah Meier and Stéphane Lambiel, have retired from the sport we almost don't see her work in competitions. This is very upsetting for all those who are, like me, fans of her refined, tasteful choreography. We met with Salomé Brunner in Zurich during "Art on Ice" and talked about choreography and musicality, how to educate in them, about her new students and, of course, about Sarah and Stéphane too.

Let's start with those of your students who are competing now. Who did you work with this season?
I worked with Justus Strid on his short program. He contacted me. It may have been his brother's idea; his brother is also his coach. He came to Zurich in the summer, early summer. And then he came to Oberstdorf to the camp, to work with Peter (Grütter) and others. It was nice to get to know him. I wish we could have seen the program more. I was following him this season. It didn't go so well for him, it probably wasn't his best season...

I know that you also worked with Adrian Schultheiss.
We had a nice time together. He was a little bit injured when he came to Zurich [in the summer] so he could never actually do the program full out. It was interesting [to work with him], a very different personality for me to meet. It was interesting to look for the [right] music. My initial choice was something very different, but ultimately we decided to go with his preference (Medley from René Aubry, "Cry" by Michael Ortega - ed) because I think it fits his personality, that's what he needed to do. This program is a bit abstract, and a big part of it is something close to hip hop. It's not a music choice that is close to my heart but it's music that I saw would work for him.
He needed to work more on the jumps, so at his first competition (Finlandia Trophy 2012) he did it the way we had left the program this summer. We planned to meet again later for more work.

But then he got injured again and underwent another surgery...
Yes. I heard that now he is working as a coach in Rome. I've only had a few messages from him over Christmas time saying that he was not so well, that now he can only do normal movements again, but not big skating moves.

And you don't know what will happen to your program?
I imagine that he didn't know himself, so he didn't want to give any information. It's probably not so easy to be a coach in Rome. I don't think he chose an easy place. I wonder how he is...

Mr. Grütter mentioned that you worked with his new student, Anna Ovcharova.
Yes, I did. She has a very good feeling for the music. And she is a hard worker.
[We did] the short program like the classical workout for a ballerina, at the bar. Its theme is the ballet class. And the other program is to "Memoirs of a Geisha". And we made the show program also, "Puttin' on the Ritz," another version of it. She just came with it, she had this music. But it's another arrangement, so it wasn't the same theme as Stéphane's (Lambiel has an exhibition program to this music created this summer too – ed), it's very different.

Did she know that Stéphane had this program?
No. Maybe she wasn't there when we were creating it.

Will Anna keep her programs for next season? As this season she didn't compete internationally.
No. We already decided that after "Art on Ice" we will start working on new programs, including a new show program.
She has so much passion, she was at the camp [in Oberstdorf], all summer, eight weeks, I think. So we have time to work. We will start with the choreography, and the part where you need to repeat and repeat the programs will happen in the summer.

I hope we will see those programs, because there are no videos of her programs of this season.
Yes, because she wasn't allowed to perform internationally, but next year she should be eligible for the international competitions. It was a "build up" year for her, which is also good. And I know her better now, so we can work better together next season.

Are there any other plans to work with any skaters at the international level?
At the moment I'm working with many young skaters, also from other countries, but they are still unknown.

Now that Stéphane and Sarah are not competing I miss your choreographies at competitions.
But Sarah did a competition in Japan (Medal Winners Open 2012 in October). She did this program in a show and we had to change it a bit, to adapt it for the competition.
And for "Art on Ice" we created "We found love". We also worked with the choreographer of the dancers (Marvin A. Smith), because there are dancers on the stage during this number, and then "2Cellos" too.

You wanted the movements of the dancers to suit the movements of Sarah?
Yes. We wanted to combine it even more but it was a question of time; we were in different places. The dancers' choreographer came to work with Sarah and me, we built the program together and then he returned to his dancers and worked with them while I kept working with Sarah.

So you will continue to work with Sarah as long as she continues skating in shows. You're still her main choreographer.
Yes. I think it's not so easy for her at the moment with the problems she always had with the skates, with her body... She has to struggle with all these things. But she has so much fun. When I work with her it's always so good, so we will see what her next step will be.

Now we come to Stéphane...
(smiles) Yes, back home.

Can you tell more about Stéphane's programs you've created together that he performed this season?
"Tchaikovsky" (Violin Concerto in D major by Tchaikovsky) we actually constructed quite a while ago. And then it was put aside because there was no occasion, because this program requires lots of preparation. It is like a long program, it has the length of a long program and it has lots of technical [elements], it has jumps, spins and everything. When we put the music together with Stéphane on the ice, it was just his colour. It was as if Tchaikovsky wrote this music for Stéphane. This is a feeling I had...
Another program, "Puttin' on the Ritz", was Stéphane's idea, he came with the music already prepared and my reaction was: "Oh! Ok..." The idea of this program is that he is kind of going through a life, or through a city - this is like a symbol - and he is trying to find his place. He gets to different places where he enjoys the moment. And at the end he gets to this jazzy [style].

Towards the end of the year 2012 Stéphane asked his fans on his official Facebook to choose one favourite program of that year. "My Body is a Cage", "Tchaikovsky", "Caruso", "Je Veux Vivre", "Ritz"... If you need to choose one which one would it be?
I think my favourite is "Puttin' on the Ritz".
For that year it's "Ritz", and after this year's "Art on Ice" it's "Paint It Black". This music choice was a bit shocking for me, because I never had a good connection with "The Rolling Stones", in the meaning of the movement. This music was a very different chapter for me. I don't say that in general it doesn't work for movement. It's just my personal choice was never in that direction. But I really changed my mind now. When we took it to the ice, during the improvisation I saw: "OK, it has to be this program, no doubt." We also had very beautiful music from "2Cellos" as an option, a wonderful piece, but when we tried it on the ice it was completely clear which musical piece it had to be. It's a new style for Stéphane, very interesting, it's a challenge to get into this style and I think he completed this challenge really well.

And you probably helped him with this? What was your input in this program?
When I see the movement I can always know if it will work for the program. And I just help to pick the important movements. I watch him moving and I say: "We need this, and this, we need to make this bigger, or longer, or faster, or to pause". Things like that. So these are actually his movements... The work goes very fast because he has the feeling to improvise like that and then we make the composition together.

I'd say that your style is more classical...
When I move, yes.

Was it more complicated for you to work with such music?
You know, if I had to perform, it would have been more complicated for me. But to create, to know, to feel; it is not difficult. I like different styles. It's just for my body I would still choose all the other musical pieces. But it's not in question anyway.

So you also enjoyed creating something closer to a modern style, like "My Body is a Cage"?
Of course, I love such theatrical things. It was always my intention for Stéphane to have to do all styles, not to pick one style for him that will be his. And he was very open to see, to get to know everything. It was my motive to make him try different things already when he was small and now he continues [with this] and goes further.

We had an interview once with you and Stéphane together. I asked you back then if Stéphane has his own style as a choreographer. It was hard for you to answer then. Can you answer now?
It's not easy to put in words... In finding the style and the character of the music. In really, really following the music. To work in this direction like he does, I think, is very good for figure skating.

How many of his works for others did you see?
I've seen Miki's one that he has been working on with her. I saw it when we were together [in Oberstdorf]. And I saw Denis Ten's program, they did a show program. And Stéphane worked on choreography that Denis already brought with him.

Do you feel like giving advice to Stéphane? Or do you watch as a spectator?
I think I've given all the advice that I have. All I wanted to give him I gave [already]. I have complete confidence in what he is doing and that it will be beautiful.

Didn't he ask for your opinion?
He asks for my opinion more for his own works. I think, he now takes responsibility [for his work with others], because that's his vision and that's what he feels. But for his own programs it's nice to have...

...someone from outside to watch.
Yes, exactly. And there I give him my advice.

I always wanted to ask you and Mr.Grütter this question and I asked him it when we met. So now I'm asking you too. Is there any recipe, advice how to create a new Stéphane Lambiel? Or was this one chance in a million and a lucky coincidence of a few factors together?
It's the factors and the time, the personalities who were right and who came together. And I think this is how stars are born. So many factors and things have to be right. And of course you need to have a system, to know "I need to put this and this". Yet you can have this plan but it won't be enough to have someone really special emerge out of this. You can't just put the flour, the eggs and the salt, and then it's there.

But are there any essential steps that should be taken?
You see, I did what I felt at the moment was the important thing to do when I saw who I had in front of me. I did what I believed and what I could.
And what did Mr.Grütter say?

He said that it was a boy, that Stéphane was really special. And he also said that if you want to get the personality you have to let it develop. If you treat them like slaves at the beginning, you cannot expect that some day later...
...they will be princes.

This year at Art on Ice 2013, what is your favourite number?
Oh, wow. It's not a hard question, for me it's Stéphane's pieces, they are my favourite.

Is this always so that in "Art on Ice" you love his programs the most?
Yes, I think so far, during the last years since he has grown, it was always like this. And there are always other pieces that I love too. There are many... "We found love" from Sarah, for example. Shizuka's programs.

You like both his programs? "Run" too?

Because I felt it was just another beautiful lyrical program, like he had last year and a year before that...
But, I mean, the song is like that, so this is an interpretation of this song. He always has, for many years he had, this connection with such songs.

When I read this song announced I thought: "Well, it will be another beautiful skating about nothing"...
Not nothing! For me Stéphane's programs are never like other programs. The musical moments he touches in the arrangements, the story he tells... I'm pleased with what I see.

Me too. But if he asks to choose one program it's clear for me that I will choose something else.
Exactly. I think this program works because of Leona Lewis being there, her energy together with Stéphane's energy creates something special. I think this is a program he will only perform to live music, I think.

We talked about musicality, the quality Stéphane excels in, the quality skaters should have. Can it be developed and how?
It can be developed, but it depends if the coach and the choreographer always demand to listen to the music. If they don't say about the very same movement: "Ok, it can be on this piece of music or to that one." No, the movement is exactly defined, it's like this! And then I think the children start to understand what it means, maybe, they start to get the feeling for it. That's my motto when working with children. But of course there are people who have more understanding and interest. And there are children who think: "It really doesn't matter if I do it to this musical phrase or to that one, it's just a movement". There are skaters who hear and feel that and those who feel that less.

When we talk in general about choreographing for a skater, many mention how great it is to work with someone who has his own ideas and vision. But on the other hand if the choreographer has some image in his mind won't it be ideal for him to work with the skater who does exactly what he is told to do?
You know, I deal every day with this problem... As a choreographer you need the energy of the person for whom you create. Only then will something appear. When this "material", this person, does something from inside, then it feels right. Me as a choreographer, I adapt to what I see, I don't have a fixed [image] "it has to be like this", I work with the energy of the person in front of me.

Yet, if we take a ballet for example, the choreographer there creates the dance and it doesn't matter which ballerina will perform it.
But in skating we have this belief in individuality of each skater. Actually sometimes I feel it's important to kind of build on the individuality of the person. It is not good to make a person to work like a robot: "Now you are going to do it this way and that way". With little students we have to work like this, because they have to learn about the different possibilities. If they can be free all the time they won't learn anything. But when I work with grown up skaters, with adult artists, then I'm quite open just to see [what they have]. Of course in a show like "Art on Ice" for each number you have this concept, this image they need to fit into, this also can happen, but most of the time it's important to emphasize individuality.

I was thinking about it, because life in skating is very short, a life of the skater and a life of a skating program. In classical ballet there are choreographies which exist for years and I'm sorry something like this can't happen to my favourite skating programs. But I understand now that it's impossible because another skater...
...will skate it completely differently.

The idea is crazy. Not for the competitions even. But there are some programs, I feel sorry, that the season has finished and that's it, the program is dead...
Yes, the program exists for that moment and then it's over. But, I mean, there are these historical programs like Torvill and Dean's "Bolero". And if they skated it today it would still be a very strong program.

But anybody else wouldn't be able to skate it...
No, I don't think anybody else could skate it this way. Somebody else has to skate it in a different way. Like Carolina (Kostner) now.

Did you like her long program?
Yes, I love it! And I love her.

We once talked with Stéphane about you - he always praises you so highly! - and I said how sorry I am that you almost don't work with the elite international skaters. And he answered: "Yes, right, because she doesn't need money, she doesn't need fame..." So I wonder what is your motivation? If it's not money and not fame.
I guess it's the dancing, it's the interpretation of the music. I like to work with the people who are interested in that, who would like to get into these projects. That's one of the things I love in "Art on Ice", that I work together with the people who really want to create something new and something nice. I think it's the interest of the people when we join and I feel that we can...

...create together...
Exactly. This is what always fascinated me, to work with the music, for the music, to construct something that people love to watch. And working together with Stéphane opened up [my work] to so many people who were interested to see it. It was like a new dimension! I mean, I would like to work with other very good skaters; it's not that I'm against it or anything; I just need to see what comes... life goes in different ways and maybe I will meet somebody again with the same interest...


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