Ice Network

Kostner, Nichol make beautiful music together

'Prima ballerina' of skating enjoys contrast of 'Ave Maria,' 'Bolero'
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Carolina Kostner's "Bolero" free will be the last competitive program she ever skates. -Getty Images

As she managed to win yet another medal (bronze) at the European championships, Carolina Kostner of Italy graciously took the time to look back on her career and talk about music and artistry on ice with icenetwork. With her soft voice and reflective words, she creates a whole artistic atmosphere around her, where she invites us to join her for the beauty of the sport she loves.

Icenetwork: How do you feel after this championship, medaling again?

Kostner: The level of the Russian girls was so high this year, and I do not ignore it. I feel really honored to still be a part of the podium. I have seen so many skaters come and leave through my career. I was here in 2004, for the Europeans. It was my second, and I saw Julia Sebestyen, the Hungarian girl, win. I was staring at her with big eyes! Ten years later, I am here on this podium. Also, I feel blessed to have kept healthy. I have not missed one Europeans in 12 years!

Technically, I knew that I could not skate up to par with the Russians. Still, many people came to me afterward to compliment my performance. It felt great! At the end, one does not skate only for the judges.

Icenetwork: You had to change your short program in the middle of the season. This one, to Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria," seemed so suited to you.

Kostner: I did not expect to change my short program; it just happened. Yet I enjoyed so much the week I could spend with Lori [Nichol] (her choreographer) and the work we did that week. I took it as the opportunity to be creative one more time. It is precious for me, as I do not know how many times this will happen again.

Icenetwork: You seemed so inspired during that short program. Can you tell us how it was created?

Kostner: It was a long process. At the start, I thought that "Ave Maria" would not be original enough music. I then asked a friend, who used to skate but does not anymore, but who is still an avid viewer. I told her: "I am looking for a music that makes you cry." She answered: "There is only one: Schubert's 'Ave Maria.'" That was a step forward, but it was not enough for me. Then we discussed it with my choreographer. She gave me the choice, and I was still hesitating. She told me that we could try to see how we felt working on it. If we could not come up with something convincing, then we would have another possibility, with Dvorak's "Humoresque" (the short program she used in the first half of the season).

As soon as we started working, it became crystal clear. There was absolutely no question about it anymore, as I felt so much at ease.

Icenetwork: How did it feel on the ice in Budapest?

Kostner: I found my right place skating to it, I think, and I am very relieved. You know, the main difficulty in skating is that inspiration does not come with a switch that you could turn on when you want! You need a lot of courage and strength to remain quiet in your own bubble. After my program here, I felt almost like a ballerina. They seem so much at ease when we watch them. I am usually the first one to tell myself that I am far from perfect, of course -- and I am grateful I am far from perfect -- but you always want to strive for perfection and improve things. After Thursday's short program, I felt so much at peace with myself.

Icenetwork: Since you mention it, you have been known as the prima ballerina of skating in the last few years. How does that image correspond to your personality?

Kostner: As you may know, I really felt like quitting skating after the Vancouver Olympics. I thought about it extensively, and then I decided that I would keep going -- but that I would keep going in my own way. I am convinced that skating is not only made of hard jumps. I love the choreographic process, too, and I love that challenge of finding something. That challenge is not only for others, but it is primarily for me, at least at the start.

I put all my passion and all my heart into my skating. Each single day, in each single step I do on the ice, I give all my energy, not only to land my jumps but mostly to find the best version of myself.

I live through so very many incredible moments on the ice. During training, even with a waltz jump, I feel that something is coming so nicely. Then I feel so free, I enjoy so much, and I realize again how much I love skating.

Icenetwork: Each of your programs has been a lesson of music for us, just like Peggy Fleming's were in the past. We hear music differently when we see you skate. You render music more than you skate to it. How do you achieve this?

Kostner: I need to credit and praise Lori for this. She is just incredible. For the choice of any musical piece, she will have 20 versions in store and will pick the best one -- in terms of sound, rhythm, interpretation. Before we even start to work on some specific moves to it, she starts by explaining you the purpose of the music and what you can see in it. "Listen to this," she will tell me. "When I hear it, this is what I feel and it gives me this kind of an idea." We can spend days listening to music. Some music is fit for skating; some others less so. Take Chostakovitch's second piano concerto. It is so beautiful. It would be my dream to skate to it, but how? Maybe it would not work with skating. In this sport, you are looking for finesse and strength and energy all at once.

Actually, this is what we may have achieved this season, with my two programs: One, the "Ave Maria," gives the best version of grace and tenderness; the other, the "Bolero," gives the best version of earth and sensuality.

Icenetwork: You have improved so much your rendition of that "Bolero."

Kostner: When you win, you tend to forget all the difficulties. You know, I won the European championships last year. This year, we improved the choreography of my program, but I get only the bronze. So that leaves you with a bittersweet taste. I do not mean that I am disappointed. On the contrary, as I mentioned, I feel quite grateful to still be part of the very best!

In the summer, Lori told me: "What do we want more than that 'Bolero' program for your Olympic season?"

I reacted then, because I did not want to consider that I was done. I wanted to keep going forward. Then we thought that I had so many great programs to choose from, Mozart or Debussy or Dvorak...

Icenetwork: At the same time, this is such a repetitive piece, and yet at each musical cycle you project a completely different mood.

Kostner: This is funny. The pace of the "Bolero" is always the same throughout the 15 minutes of that musical piece. You get the feeling that it is getting faster and faster, but in fact it is not. This is how we built the program, with emotions building up until the end. I always wished this could be an Olympic program. I feel an intense emotion while I am skating to it.

Icenetwork: Your two programs are quite different then!

Kostner: That may be the reason why it works for me. When the idea of "Ave Maria" arose, I think I accepted it because it would be a perfect contrast to the "Bolero." The combination of the two makes each one more special. When I am skating to one of them, I can tell myself that tomorrow will be completely different. Actually, doing the very same jump in one program and in the other will not give me the same feelings at all! It is just amazing! The feelings you get as you perform the same jump in the two programs are so different.

Icenetwork: Do you think you will want to keep creating in the future?

Kostner: I would love to keep creating, feeling freer and creating programs that would have a real meaning, without thinking too much of the rules.

Icenetwork: What's your next stage now?

Kostner: To go to physiotherapy. I fell hard during my free program yesterday, and it hurts!

Icenetwork: And afterward?

Kostner: I'll improve everything possible for Sochi.

Icenetwork: Any expectations?

Kostner: As I said, life usually surprises you most when you least expect it, so I have no expectations.

May Kostner give the world the same emotions she gave in Budapest.