Misha Ge: "It's essential to understand each skater's strengths and challenges"

December 22, 2023
By Siyi Chen
Photo © Iana Saveleva, Reut Golinsky, Kasumi Nabikawa

The last time we had a lengthy conversation with Misha Ge was at the 2018 Worlds in Milan, which was his last competition before announcing his retirement. Much has transpired since then in his career as a performer, choreographer, and coach. We recently had the opportunity for a brief chat with him during this year's Cup of China.

To begin, could you share some highlights of your figure skating journey and how it has shaped your career from a skater to a choreographer and coach?

My journey in figure skating has been a whirlwind of passion and performance. I started skating at a young age with my parents, both of whom were skaters and coaches. I grew up observing and learning from them, understanding their coaching methods, and appreciating their choreography styles. They drew me to the beauty and techniques of the sport from the perspectives of a competitor, choreographer, and coach. The transformation was very natural in the beginning, but continuous self-improvement has been crucial. Coming from a multicultural background has been a tremendous asset as well. It allows me to connect with skaters from diverse cultures and understand the nuances of their experiences. We are able to grow together.

Throughout my competitive career, I explored various styles and expressed myself through my performances. Now, as a choreographer and coach, I aim to bring that same passion to guide the next generation worldwide, to balance the technical aspects with the artistic side of figure skating, and to create a more inclusive and global community.

Your performances are known for their artistic expression. How do you approach choreography for singles and pairs? What are the similarities and differences?

Choreography, for me, is a way to tell a story on the ice. However, men and women have different expressions of emotions, and their strengths are quite different. Pair skaters create a connection between themselves and the audience. I encourage skaters to find their own way to demonstrate beauty and to infuse creativity into their performances.

This season, for example, I created the short program for Mone Chiba ("Les Yeux Noirs (Dark Eyes)" performed by Pomplamoose Music) and Rion Sumiyoshi ("Blood In The Water" by KSHMR), and the free skate for Kazuki Tomono ("Halston" by Stephan Moccio) and Yuna Aoki ("She" by Evgeny Khmara). I also held sessions with the Chinese National team and crafted several programs for both junior and senior skaters, including the pair Siyang Zhang and Yongchao Yang.

I love "She" very much! Yuna Aoki is about to graduate from university next March, so it might be her last season...

When we discussed ideas for this year during the off-season, I asked her, "What do you want [to do] for this year?" She then explained that it was her last season competing. I had a musical piece for a few years, but it was challenging to find the right person with the right skill set and sensitivity. When she shared that it was her last season, I thought it could be a beautiful farewell program, telling the story of her ("She"). As we delved deeper into this music, it became a story of her skating journey - from the first steps on the ice, falling in love with skating, early victories, ups and downs, injuries and pain, to rebirth in her skating career and this final flight, expressing gratitude towards the audience. Throughout my professional career, I've worked with many skaters, and Yuna is one of my favorite skaters to work with. The heart on the ice, the flow, the grace.

By the way, how did you get to know Yuna?

I've known her for a long time, since her junior years, and we have been collaborating for several seasons. She contacted me once when she was in the US, and the Japanese federation also made some arrangements. Some skaters contact me directly, by mail or via SNS. I also get requests from coaches or national teams. I believe in open communication and mutual respect among skaters for long-term collaboration.

And you mentioned that you also worked with Mone Chiba and Rion Sumiyoshi.

Yes, Mone switched to a new team this season, so she is in the process of evolving. There were some good performances and some challenging ones. She and her coach, Mie Hamada, wanted to try a new style this season, aiming to expand and grow. They were looking for something different from her beautiful style in the past. I suggested a few music choices to Mone that represented the required change but also had a spark, and the final choice was a modern take on Gypsy's "Dark Eyes." Despite dealing with some health issues throughout the season, it's still nice to see her shine through this program.

Rion performed well at the Grand Prix de France, landing a successful quad toe.

Yes, that's what she's been aiming for a long time. I'm glad to see her growing this season. When she contacted me in the summer, she, too, mentioned that she wanted to try new genres. From a few choices, the modern Indian was the one that caught her attention. Throughout the season, we've been constantly developing her movement technique to better execute this style on the ice. She took a Bollywood class that helped her better understand this style of dance. This piece was written by the famous producer/composer KSHMR, and we were happy to see that after the competition, he reposted Rion's performance on his SNS.

And not only Rion, it's essential to understand each skater's strengths and challenges, both on and off the ice. We could either make up for deficiencies or enhance strengths. By providing support and encouragement, I aim to help them build confidence and enjoy the process of improvement.

Here at the Cup of China you came with Kazuki Tomono.

Yes, it's our sixth year collaborating!

What do you think about his performances?

I think he did a good job this time. Of course, there are things to work on and improve. Considering he started the season a bit late and had a busy off-season with multiple show invitations, he is picking up his pace through the season. This season is a new challenge for him, as in previous years, he established his own unique, bright style. However, for this season, he wished to challenge and expand his artistic abilities by trying something completely different. "Halston" by Stephan Moccio is a piece with peace and balance, quietness in motion. It's something touching and beautiful - a story of a boy (Kazuki) sitting in the forest, talking to nature about life, the past, and the future.

"Halston" is a test for him to express himself with such lyrical music in 4 minutes. He needs to not only work diligently on technical parts but also feel the music in his heart, control his body and his skating to demonstrate the character. It's a showcase of the very basic skating and performing skills as well. We are still in the process of brushing it up.

How did you choose the music?

He wanted to try something that he never did before, he asked me to make it challenging and to push him with the power he possesses. We started by picking up the general styles, then the music. This is a very challenging piece with not much variation. Since there's not much change in the music, there's no room for deception. He has to confidently showcase what he has and express himself without relying on the music.

Kazuki's next competition will be the Japanese Nationals.

Yes, I will go to Japan earlier, and we will train together in Osaka, preparing towards Japanese Nationals, just like this time when we trained in Japan together before coming to China. We will have more training time and will focus on his stability to execute all elements more precisely.

You have such a busy schedule!

That's my work. I will go to Seoul before going back to Japan. I have sessions with Korean teams. I did choreography for Juheon Lim as well, and we will do the final check before the Junior Grand Prix finals.

Wishing all your students good luck and success in all their future competitions. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us. It's been a pleasure.

Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss my love for figure skating.

Kazuki Tomono: "It feels like we've become more equal"

The day following our conversation, Kazuki Tomono participated in a group interview where he was asked about his evolving relationship with Misha. Reflecting on their collaborations spanning more than five years, Kazuki remarked: "My relationship with Misha has changed quite a bit. It feels like we've become more equal in a positive way. I've become more outspoken about my opinions, and now we can thoroughly discuss and clash ideas, which has been great. We respect each other, creating something good together. We understand each other's flaws well now. It's not like in the past when everything about Misha seemed wonderful; we've come to understand each other as friends, considering each other's strengths and weaknesses."

While believing that his programs are already impressive, Kazuki admitted to pushing for even better choreography: "I guess I can be a bit demanding in that way, pull myself out more. I sometimes feel a bit jealous of the girls and ask him: 'Give me better choreography too!' Yuna Aoki's choreography is fantastic. It undoubtedly works so well because of her technical strengths and skills.

I may be an amateur in choreography, but even from an amateur perspective, I feel there's been a significant change in Misha's choreography style, and his influence has become more subtle. Recently, he created choreography that fits each skater exceptionally well, and, I think, has become more creative."

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