Ice Network

Pechalat, Bourzat skip Euros to perfect short dance

Wildly expressive French duo continues to beat, excel to own principles
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Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat have never been willing to compromise their artistic integrity, but they will make some necessary tweaks to help their chances with the judges. -Getty Images

For once, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat are not skating, and yet they are not injured. They could even be seen in Boston during the U.S. championships, which they attended while partaking in practice sessions. The 2014 European Figure Skating Championships are starting in Budapest, Hungary, and Péchalat -- who often acts as the team's speaker -- kindly answered icenetwork's questions about the team's spirits and hopes one month before what could be the last competition of their career, the Olympic Winter Games.

Icenetwork: You have elected to skip Europeans. Would it not have been nice to add another continental medal to your curriculum?

Péchalat: Indeed, it would have been very nice. After the Vancouver Olympics, Fabian used to say that our goal was to win four European gold medals. We have won two: one in Bern in 2011 and one in Sheffield in 2012. We were forced to withdraw last year when Fabian injured his thigh. Actually, we have chosen to skip the Europeans this year for a simple reason: We have worked tremendously on changing our short dance these last weeks, and we need to practice it over and over. We also need to consolidate our physical condition in order to reach Sochi in top form, I have to say.

Icenetwork: Your last weeks have been quite busy since the Grand Prix Final. Where do you stand now?

Péchalat: Health is just fine. December was quite busy for us, with the Final (where they struggled to grasp the bronze medal after a fifth-place result in the short dance), French nationals in a remote ski resort in the French Alps and then a televised exhibition in Courchevel, also in the Alps. After that, we could take three days off and we resumed practice.

Mentally, we are also on the rise, especially since we changed a lot in our short dance, thanks to the feedback judges and controllers gave us. Finally, we really want to fight for our next competition, which will be the Olympic Games in Sochi. We have never been so eager to fight than now!

Icenetwork: When the season started, you said that, for once, integrating the compulsory dance into your short dance to make it a single theme had not been a problem. Its execution has been more problematic, however. What have you modified?

Péchalat: We had a lot of feedback since the season started, and what we understood was that our short dance was too much into the Cabaret style instead of the ballroom style which judges wanted to promote this year. So, what we are doing now is switching the opening music to the musical, Roxy. This way, we can keep our Bob Fosse theme, but the dance style is more into foxtrot, in concordance with judges' request.

At the same time, the design of our costumes was judged as being "too sexy" -- especially mine! -- so we listened carefully to this feedback, and now my dress should correspond better to their expectations. Although it remains quite a modern dress! (She laughs.)

Icenetwork: For what result atogether?

Péchalat: I think those changes enhanced the musicality of our dance. Our positions on the ice are more "closed," as we say, to conform to the norm of ballroom dance (waltz and foxtrot), and our flow has improved significantly, I think. Also, the end of our quickstep should be more explosive. So, as you see, we have changed a lot.

We have decided to keep the last part of it, though, which we skate to a Charleston, because we had already modified it between the Trophée Eric Bompard and the Grand Prix Final, along the same lines.

Icenetwork: Your free dance, however, has found tremendous success this season. You said that it was an anthology of your previous programs. Do you think that this is enough to explain such a success?

Péchalat: This is true. "Le Petit Prince et sa Rose" has been an instant success. Why? I think this is because way before we put our dance onto the ice, we had worked tremendously upfront on the design of this program. We had defined what we wanted to skate and express, what story we wanted to tell, which elements we wanted to devise to express such a story. We also had defined the design of our costumes, our musical scores, and that proved so important. Before we took the ice, we had already answered all these questions.

Icenetwork: Why do you think it did make a difference?

Péchalat: Because this way, everything was consistent all the way through. Contrary to the short dance, a free dance is free, if I may say. It means that you do not have to put yourself into the judges or technical panel's own references. You "just" need to come up with a real project, a project which is consistent, accessible, readable and to execute it as it should be. This is what free dance should be, don't you think?

I think we did not fool ourselves, especially since that program sticks to our skin. As we say in French, we really "feel" it deep inside us. Also, we have a fantastic team with us. In a competition and on podiums, you see just two dancers. In fact, we are constantly working with a coach, a choreographer, a pantomime master, dancers, costume designer, physical and mental preparators. ... We are surrounded by extremely gifted and talented people. That also makes a whole difference. On top of that, we are extremely motivated, and the result is what you see!

Icenetwork: Earlier this year, you told icenetwork how you had devised a whole storyboard for your free dance. Do you think that such an original process of creation could become a standard in ice dance?

Péchalat: The main point, I think, is that this project is coming from both of us, Fabian and I. Of course, after we have come up with an idea, we are helped by many others, as I mentioned. But I do think it is of primary importance to define yourselves as a team of dancers. This means that we have to follow our own tastes, ideas, choices, preferences, and to respect them. An ice dance program should not come from anyone else, or be influenced by a current trend or a fashion. We have always proceeded that way.

Our coaches and choreographers do challenge us afterward, and it is worthwhile. But I think that the first move has to be yours. We strongly believe that your personal investment is the No. 1 drive to your program, especially on the artistic side. It takes you an awful lot of time and energy, but it is worthwhile.

Icenetwork: You mean that writing a storyboard like you did, or devising your program off and on the ice, as you normally do before going to any coach or choreographer, is a way to enhance that "first move" coming from the two of you?

Péchalat: What is so great with Fabian is that we have the same feelings about things and run after the same things. We may be not too enthusiastic at first, but both of us are wide open. If what you feel is well-grounded, then you should be able to sell it, just like in business. If you believe in your product, if you have made it of utmost quality, with an endless care for the slightest details, then people should go for it and buy it.

In my studies (Péchalat has started business school some years ago toward a future job in business), we call this a "win-win situation!" So, working is the key, everyday, on the ice and besides, and much beyond.

Icenetwork: Do you think that success of a theatrical dance may inspire future generations of skaters to do the same?

Péchalat: I do not know. Future will tell!

Icenetwork: I remember you were so passionnate when you arrived in Turin, back in 2006, for your first Olympics. What will have changed this time?

Péchalat: This will be our third Olympics. Both Fabian and I know what to expect. I know the universe in which we will be. It will be different, and I am by far not "blasé." Yet, I will not be marveling as much as I did in Turin. Meanwhile, we have much higher ambitions this time! And we will concentrate solely on our performances. This is why we are working every day.