Off Season chat with Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat

Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat - © TORCHIO Sébastien

At the end of a remarkable season (two victories in the Grand Prix series, 2nd at GPF, European Champions) and while they are already preparing a new one, we met ice-dancers Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat at « Centre Chorégrafik Pôle Pik » in Bron (France), prior to a well deserved vacation, and before they join their new coaches (*) Pasquale Camerlengo et Angelika Krylova in Detroit (MI).

Annecy-Infosport : After a full season of Short Dance, what can you tell us about this new format ?

Nathalie : Mixing compulsory and original dances is rather cool, it enables us to new interpretations.  We had a slightly bustling debut with our first try to Amelie Poulain soundtrack, but as we went along and reworked it, we finally understood what was expected from us more clearly. I think that from the moment you have a consistent project on, short dance is a positive format. But that’s also what is difficult : to find a cohesion, all the work we have to do upstream. To find the right rhythm, to have nice lines, to tell a story with next season Latine Dance, it is really a huge amount of work beforehand.

A.I. : But this is a huge amount of work that not everybody seem eager to do, sometimes the overall impression of some short dances is uneven, disjointed…

Nathalie : That is precisely why it is so complicated… to find a unity and to provide what’s expected from us all at once, particularly on a rhythmic level… Building a not too quick salsa and a not too slow rumba, hence building a set a bit flat…

A.I : Do you know what technical controllers expect from you precisely or do you have to feel your way along ?

Nathalie : Yes, we know precisely  what they are expecting, but we interpret it freely (smiles). We do not follow their expectations to the letter. There comes a time when you have to make a choice. Either you keep to something very academic, which means a lot of artistic and choreographic elements will be set aside. Or we provide our own interpretation and, for the audience and even for the judges who will pay attention to the flowing lines, the links of the routine, it will be much more interesting.

A.I. : Last year in April I asked you what had changed for you since you were now the first French ice-dancers, and you told me that you’d be able to answer « next year ». Here we are…

Fabian : After the European championship and the title we won, we have seen our situation considerably improving. We have a much bigger financial support, we benefit from Didier Gailhaguet’s advice, we are regularly in touch with the French Federation executives.  So, yes, we enjoy a better consideration. In Moscow, we were a bit isolated, exiled, now it is easier. From what we understood from our recent meeting with National Technical Manager Xavier Sendra, this summer, he and Didier Gailhaguet will come to Detroit.  I think they will come and check the works in progress, the development of our programmes. The advantage we have now is to be coached by Pasquale Camerlengo. He speaks French, he worked for a long while with Muriel Boucher-Zazoui, he already knows the French Federation and its people who, moreover, already sent French skaters to him for choreography. So it will be easier for us to keep in touch.

A.I. : Do you have any particular misgiving about every day life in the United States ?

Nathalie : We already  spent ten days there and it is the opposite of Russia. I am not talking of training conditions here, but of day to day life. In Russia,  there was tremendous amount of things to do, to see, culturally it is an extremely rich  country and it shows. But the quality of life, lodging wise, food wise,  was  lesser. Detroit is the exact contrary. You do not find that cultural turmoil there, on the other hand the quality of life is incredible. We will be really comfortable, we will live minutes from the rink. I feel everything to be easier in the US, administratively speaking too.   To feel good, helped, is important for us. Americans have had a more welcoming comportment right from the start. With Russians, it takes longer , when it’s done, it’s done, but at the beginning it was really hard… In the US, I think it will go quicker. But, to be true, we haven’t seen much of Detroit yet, only the rink and the apartment. The facility is really the best you can find, three different practice rinks, a physical therapist always at disposal, a ballet teacher, a ballroom teacher, five coaches on the ice, the supervision is really perfect. 

Fabian  : In Detroit, we are 1:30/2h away from New York by flight, we aren’t far from Chicago either, we are close to the Canadian border. If we want to live the city for the week-end, moving around and visiting other places will be easy.

A.I : You chose Angelika Krylova  and Pasquale Camerlengo, but did you also get in touch with other coaches ?

Nathalie : When we learnt we would have to live Russia(*), our first concern was to remain in touch with Oleg (Volkov) and Sasha (Zhulin). Angelika Krylova was often in Russia to take part in  Sasha’s TV shows. She had already given us advice, taught us a few things. When we were forced to envisage another solution, we thought of her because she was the way to stay close to Sacha, to keep this common thread, this Russian way of work we loved. By the way, I think we will return to Sacha and Oleg once in a while. Pasquale and Angelika get along well with them, we really are in the continuity of a same project.

A.I. : Who chose your next season programmes ? You two? Sasha and Oleg ? Pasquale and Angelika ? A collegial choice ?

Fabian : For Latin Dances, we didn’t have a choice, we found the music with Pasquale and Angelika while we were in the US. For the free dance, we already had ideas before Worlds. We had several different tracks and when we came to Detroit, we suggested them to Angelika and Pasquale who came to a decision.

A.I. : Can we already talk about the theme or is it too early ?

Fabian : It is still a bit early, yes.

Nathalie : But we can say that if we are in France right now, it is because we remain faithful to the same people, for instance our costumes designer who has already started to work on our new outfits…

A.I. : Always Marlène Weber ?

Nathalie : Yes, yes, we won’t leave her ! And our choreographer will still be French, even if, in the US, we will have a follow-up with other dance teachers. But we are starting our work on the floor here, (at Centre Chorégraphik Pôle Pik) to study interesting possibilities, then Pasquale et Angelika will help us.

A.I. : At the very beginning, why did you choose ice-dance rather than pair or individual figure skating ?

Fabian : In fact, I didn’t have a choice. I directly entered an ice-dance center and fifteen days later, a partner was pushed under my feet – “into your arms” Nathalie corrects, “it’s cuter” – we immediately got along fine and I had no reason to switch disciplines.

A.I. : And for you Nathalie, it was the same  ?

Nathalie : No, I started skating individually. I used to jump, I can do a double flip…

Fabian : I can only do a waltz jump…

Nathalie : Now trying an axel would scare me ! Well… Later, ice-dance was introduced to skating clubs and my coach (Anne-Sophie Druet) was looking for a partner for her son (Julien Deheinzelin). For one year, I practiced both, individual skating and ice-dance. Then I preferred ice-dance in the end. It’s cooler to have a partner, it makes dancing richer. As a child in individual skating, especially with the old notation system, I was spending my time performing jumps run-up, fall ; jump rum-up, fall, it quickly became off-putting.

A.I. : The fact there is no longer a French tour for skaters, to you, does it mean more holidays, less money or both ?

Nathalie : We take part in shows abroad, recently we were in Japan and South Korea. Maybe there is a little financial shortfall, but what we are really missing is the rest of the French team and the public. But it was exhausting, the one month long tours were gnawing at our schedule. It was unpredictable, but this season it is a chance there was no tour following Worlds, since everything would have been put back, we would have been really late in our preparation. I think there will be a French tour next season, or so I hope, but in the meantime we manage, we spend more time outside of the frontiers. 

A.I. : When you are on holidays, are you able to completely forget about skating and to stay totally away from each other ?

Nathalie : Away from each other, yes. Every year we tell each other “I’m not calling”. Along the season it’s the opposite, “I’ll call you”, but in this particular instance, no. When I go on a vacation, I cut off with everything else, otherwise I cannot relax. If I start worrying about invoices, about our free dance music… No, I need a real break. It is a bit different for Fabian, this week we are taking care of a lot of things but…

Fabian : This year, I’m staying in France, so I’m the one in charge of what could not be done this week, I’ll have a few things to do…

A.I : But it’s not going to take all of your vacation time either ?

Fabian : Err no, that’s not what I’ve planned ! (laughs)

A.I. : You ‘re going back to Japan for a few shows after your holidays ?

Nathalie : Yes, but only for one week, because of our schedule, we don’t want to be late. Already, with Worlds that were delayed… Add to that we are moving, we are changing coaches, going to a new training facility, so we cannot spend a long time touring. We are going to cities in Southern Japan, we shouldn’t be bother by Fukushima radioactive leaks.

A.I : Have a nice holiday, see you soon !

Interview by Kate B.R. for  Annecy-Infosport – 05/26/2011.

(*) At the end of 2010/2011 season, the Russian government, through its figure skating federation, asked Russian coaches to stop working with foreign skaters in regard of the forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympics (2014). Consequently, Nathalie and Fabian, as well as other skaters, have had to change coaches and country of residence.