by Jaquelyn Thayer | Photos by Melanie Hoyt journalist Jacquelyn Thayer recently had the chance to interview 2012 World bronze medalists Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat, who aim to conclude their competitive career with a podium finish in Sochi. In pursuit of the goal, and at the prompting of French federation president Didier Gailhaguet, the team relocated in May from their base at the Detroit Skating Club to Igor Shpilband’s camp at Novi Ice Arena – but carried over their own singular creative vision.

IDC: In the process of creating your free dance, did you consider drawing from any of the musical settings of The Little Prince, or were you always drawn to selections that embodied the story in a less literal way?

Nathalie: The book presents many characters. The story we tell is based only on the Little Prince and his Rose. This book has different ways to be read and understood, especially if you are a kid or an adult. The Prince and the Rose are two very visual characters with their own personalities but it is also an allegory of the communication between a man and a woman. Saint-Exupéry wrote the book inspired by his muse and wife Consuelo. That’s why the musical choice is based on the atmosphere, the feelings, we wanted to recreate. We chose three pictures present in the book: The discovery, the “play,” the nostalgia for a lost love, and the last part is a part which was not in the book: we imagine then the Little Prince got back on his planet to be again with his Rose. It was important for us to end our story with a happy ending, because the book is very sad, and this program will mark the end of our career too…

We built the choreography end of April with Julien Cottereau in Paris. But the work started in January with reading sessions, to define exactly what we wanted to say. We made a storyboard and then, for the first  time, we built the programs with “words” because Julien is an actor, a circassian [circus performer], not a dancer. So, the process was very interesting, very rich. Of course, Igor worked on it to arrange technical part, pattern, etc… but he kept the artistic part.

13QA-PechBourIDC: How did you select the Fosse theme for your short dance? Was the program created before or after your move to Novi?

Nathalie: I remember my parents brought me to this musical when I was a kid, and I remembered loving the music, the atmosphere… So our choice was made pretty quick. Fabian was in especially because it is something we always wanted to dance: something more jazzy. We built the choreography with Laurie May Ayivigan at the end of April in Paris. Igor made some changes, of course, because he knows what we need and what he needs to see.

IDC: You’ve often favored out-of-the-box concepts for your free dances over the years. What is the process that’s gone into your program choice and construction over the years, and as you’ve worked with various coaches and choreographers?

Nathalie: We do not seek to be different in our choices, the process is the opposite. 1. We like to change, to be able to interpret different characters on the ice, like having different skins. 2. The artistic part is the essence of ice dancing, why we chose this sport when we were kids, it is our passion. We can spend months and months thinking about a theme, listening to music, imagining costumes, talking with the choreographer, etc., until we are sure that our project is completely coherent and doable.

The starting point is not always the same, it can be a theme, a music, even an idea of a lift… the importance is to create a mini show of a few minutes where everything matches and where we can express ourselves, express our personalities through characters.

IDC: How long have you been working with your choreographers Julian Cottereau and Laurie May Ayivigan, and how did those relationships develop?

Fabian: Well, I will talk for all the choreographers we have been working along the past few years in general. About all the people we work or worked with we are always trying to get more involved personally. We like to know them and not only their work. It’s a way for us to get everything they can bring to us and even more. Of course their great skill led us to hire them again and again because they have what we are looking for. They’re all bringing a bit of art into our program. Most of the time while creating a new choreography we are facing fun as hard times… We are true with them. We are not hiding our temper because we have to work well and fast each time we see them. I guess they all understand the pressure for us because we have to build a program that is competitive (score) but also entertaining and moving. They all have to face their own life, but for a short amount of time they share with us and support us the best way they can. It’s a great thing and that’s why we are so happy to work with them again and again because we know that we will improve and see some friends at the same time.

IDC: You’ve described the training atmosphere at Novi as “Americanized.” What does that mean for you?

Fabian: It is just a way to say that everything is well scheduled and organized. You have your ice time and your lesson time. Also the facilities are all provided with dance room and gym. It’s the right way to think about sports.

IDC: You’ve competed on the major senior stage since 2002. What are your thoughts on the way the sport has developed over your career, and in the last quadrennial? Is there a direction you see it going post-Sochi?

Fabian: After 2002 the sport started to be a little bit different. Introducing a lot of elements to perform changed the way programs are choreographed. When the skaters from the old system quit, little by little the feeling that skaters don’t want to take risks anymore in their choreography became just more and more because it’s a sport and you have to make points to win so everybody got focused on the elements. Nowadays we can see that skaters are trying to fight this and bring more theme and more choreography in their program, taking more risks at the same time. I hope they are all going to remain that way and competition will be more like a show than a sport which should drive back the audience to watch us!

13QA-PechBour-2IDC: Are there any up-and-coming teams who you think have the potential to reach the top internationally over the next few years?

Fabian: We don’t know so much about the foreign upcoming teams and [Elena] Ilynikh & [Nikita] Katsalapov have a great potential but they are not really upcoming, they are already there! So the only one I could speak about is [Gabriella] Papadakis & [Guillaume] Cizeron. They are amazing skaters and they already look mature for a still junior team. They have a great chemistry and we are looking at a man and woman couple not just two sportsmen side by side. We will see how they can handle the start in senior but if they go on working hard they will reach for the podium soon enough.

IDC: You’ve had a number of very creative show programs over the years. Who’s been behind those, and where do the ideas for numbers like, for example, “George of the Jungle” or “People
Are Strange” come from?

Nathalie: We have a great team including creative team of choreographers and an amazing costumes designer (Marlène Weber). So when we have a beginning of an idea, the idea, or anything, we start to talk with the most appropriate choreographer (depending on the style of the idea). Where we find our ideas? Everywhere. We are very curious people (with Fab), we read, we watch, we try to absorb the most we can… and then, I guess we are a good binomial because we just have to talk together and everything makes sense step by step: we bounce the ideas off each other. We used to do a lot of “funny brainstorming” in our travel time, during that time we laugh a lot, we say a lot of “nonsense,” but at the end it always brings something. Then, when we have an idea, we try to use it the best way we can. We hate to see wasted good ideas. An idea is good, but that is not all! It just means there is a beginning, the rest has to be done!

It is hard to say this idea is mine, or his, or whoever, because it’s always a team work. For example, Fabian wanted to skate on “George of the Jungle.” I had the idea of the inflatable crocodile, Laurie (choreographer) brought us some music ideas, Marlène (our costumer) decided to dressed Fab with a giraffe’s fabric (funny touch)… I mean, as I said: it’s a mini show.

About “People Are Strange,” we both wanted to do something “creepy.” We talked with our choreographer to find the characters, then the big part was about the music because we didn’t want to do something full of dust or “too easy,” we wanted to be “staggered” (“fresh”), so we listened to hundreds of music to finally get this one.

Pechalat & Bourzat will begin their final season at the 2013 French Masters in Orleans, October 3-5.