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Savchenko, Szolkowy to take classical curtain call

Pair skating to 'The Nutcracker' for its free in final competitive season
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Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are leaving nothing on the table in their last competitive season together. -Getty Images

In their decade-long career, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy's programs have run the gamut, from movie themes to modern dance to Broadway musicals. About the only genre they have skipped is classical.

So when the four-time world pairs champions unveiled their new free skate to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker at Berlin's Erika Hess Ice Rink last week, it was a surprise.

"I had this music at home for years and had always planned to use it some time," the pair's coach, Ingo Steuer, said. "In our final competitive season, we want to interpret a German story but with Russian music. Ballet is an important part of Russian culture, and the Olympic Games are in Sochi, so this music is ideal."

"We are not using some of the most well-known pieces of the ballet, because they are a bit too childish," he continued. "But we are using the pas de deux."

Savchenko, a Ukraine native who moved to Germany in 2003 to team up with Szolkowy, explained that the ballet's story has its roots in an early 19th century German fairy tale, Nutcracker and Mouse King, penned by the poet E.T.A. Hoffmann.

"When I told my parents we were skating to this music, they remembered they had been told this fairy tale in their childhood by their grandparents," she said. "It is known in Ukraine and Russia."

In the ballet, Clara gets a nutcracker at Christmas and dreams it comes to life to fight the evil Mouse King. After winning the battle, the nutcracker turns into a handsome prince, and Clara dances with him (the pas de deux).

"Of course I play the girl, and Robin is the prince," Savchenko said. "I have always wanted to play a ballerina on ice. If everything in our program works as planned, I always get goose pimples. We hope that the spectators will feel this way as well. It will be a great program."

In Berlin, members of Germany's international team showed their programs to German figure skating officials and judges, but no spectators were admitted and no videotaping was allowed. Savchenko and Szolkowy want to wait until the program is more polished before it reaches the public.

The free skate began with one of the team's strongest elements, a throw triple flip, followed by a sequence of two side-by-side triple toe loops. The three lifts are in the second half of the program; two of them are new and very risky.

At the very end, they plan their biggest highlight, a throw triple Axel. No other top pair performs this element, which has a base value of 8.25 points. Since it will be done in the second half of a program, the element gains a 10 percent bonus.

At the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, the Germans were defeated by their Russian rivals, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, by more than 20 points. They took silver by edging Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford by just one point.

Clearly, Savchenko, 29, and Szolkowy, 34, think they need the extra points the risky element may bring.

"We have prepared this throw now for two years, and this season we will include it in both of our programs," Steuer said.

During this monitoring event, Savchenko and Szolkowy also performed their new short program, set to romantic music for violin and orchestra called "When Winter Comes." It was composed by violinist André Rieu especially for the pair. This program featured a new lift, as well as a very tricky step sequence. 

For the first time, Steuer did not choreograph his pupils' programs alone but collaborated with Canadian choreographer David Wilson when Savchenko and Szolkowy trained in Toronto in early August.  

Savchenko and Szolkowy will debut their programs at Cup of China in early November, followed by the Rostelecom Cup in Russia and, hopefully, the Grand Prix Final in Japan this December. After this, for the first time in several seasons, they plan to compete at their national championships, to be held at the Erika Hess Ice Rink in mid-December.

"We had our first national competition together 10 years ago at this rink," Savchenko said. "We have excellent memories, because the spectators and the judges were thrilled when they saw us for the first time. Therefore, we plan to skate in our final German nationals in this same rink. This will round out our wonderful competition career."

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