Ice Network

Machida elevates skating with impassioned artistry

Reigning world silver medalist relishes opportunity to skate in France
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For two-time reigning Skate America champion Tatsuki Machida, feeling and expression are paramount. -Getty Images

As soon as Tatsuki Machida, the 2014 world silver medalist from Japan, entered into the Meriadeck rink, TV crews from Japan started following him wherever he would go, from his warm-up to concentration time to -- of course -- his practice sessions. Machida is not only one of the very best skaters the Earth counts; he is also one of the strongest favorites to win at Trophée Éric Bompard in Bordeaux.

He won his second gold medal at Skate America one month ago. Machida graciously took the time to speak with icenetwork. Even though his English sometimes comes out with difficulty, his ideas and sentences seem to flow just as he skates on the ice: smooth and seamless. Machida expressed about how much he valued the artistic side of skating, including the specific artistry of every single technical element of skating.

Icenetwork: This is your first time here in the French lap of the Grand Prix. How do you feel?

Machida: It has always been my desire to skate in France. Look at this beautiful setting along the boards: It's just plain blue and black, very classy. The city of Bordeaux is beautiful, from the Garonne river banks to the churches to the city center. This is a very inspirational setting for me. It is very important to my skating, too.

Icenetwork: In which aspect?

Machida: I see figure skating as a performing art. A quadruple jump, like a quad toe, can be a piece of art in itself. I think … at least, it seems to me. A beautiful surrounding helps going into that direction, at least. So, it's important for me to take my technical capacity to create art.

Icenetwork: Culture seems to be very important to you. How do you work on it?

Machida: Yes, culture is very important for me. As you may know, I skate my long program to Ludwig van Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9." This is culture. It's European, it's German culture. I tried to understand German culture. I studied it extensively before making my long program with my choreographer, Phillip Mills.

If you want to express a good performance, you need to understand culture, and to study the music, the composer's life, the choreography of your programs.

You know -- (he smiles) -- in English, we say "figure skating," but in French, they say "artistic skating." I think they are right. Figure skating should be a performing art, just like ballet or dance. It belongs to the same category. I cherish performing arts.

Icenetwork: How do you relate to Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9," after having studied it?

Machida: Beethoven's 9th Symphony has always been very important to me. When I am tired or depressed, I always listen to this piece. It gives me inspiration and power. That's why I wanted to express that 9th Symphony to all the people around the world.

Icenetwork: Your short program deals with love. Can you tell us a bit more?

Machida: Two years ago I listened to a piece of music and I thought it was so nice that I decided to skate to it. I can't express my music in English, unfortunately. It deals with tragic love, as you know. Everyone on Earth has many love stories in their hearts.

You know, I am rather old for a figure skater. I am 24! So, I have also some love stories in my heart. I want to touch everyone with this short program. My goal is just to express feelings.

Icenetwork: Expression has always been a big part of skating, and a big challenge to skaters. How do you express yourself: Do you play a role, or do you want to relate to higher levels?

Machida: No, when I skate, I can really feel the emotion.

Icenetwork: How did you learn to express yourself?

Machida: What you need to do is to go see as many performing arts, dance, ballet as possible. I am learning from them on how to express art.

Icenetwork: How then do you manage to keep both the momentum of your technical elements on the ice and the artistic expression of your own feelings?

Machida: During my time on the ice, I forget competition. I tell to myself, "This is my stage." So, this way I just do not think of jumps, scores or medals. I just think of expression.

Icenetwork: You mentioned that a jump was not only a technical element but a piece of art in itself. How is this possible?

Machida: Jumping is also a way to express oneself. A jump is a piece of vocabulary to express one's feelings.

When I think of my next quad or my next triple Axel, then I become nervous and I am ready to miss them.

I have to say that my skating career is 18 years old. (He thinks, as if he wanted to be really sure.) Yes, 18 years. I have worked on each one of these jumps all year long, and this for 18 years. I can jump, so I forget jumps. They are just expression. I don't think of them, I just do them.

The rink is my stage, and all I want to do is to focus on expression.

Icenetwork: In that respect, what difference would you make between a quad and a triple jump, for instance?

Machida: Yes, there is a difference. A quad expresses strength. It is so powerful. When I land a quad, I can hear the audience react directly. In comparison, a triple will be an enhancement to the program.

Icenetwork: Do you listen to the audience while you skate?

Machida: I can hear the audience, for sure! But, I just do my job.

Icenetwork: Do you like having big audiences?

Machida: Oh yes! (With a deep smile.) In Japan, skating arenas are much bigger than this one, and they are always full!

I like big audiences, especially for my long program: We have chorus in the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and a big audience makes it even more special!

"You can always feel when a master is entering into a hall," former great Pierre Brunet (who coached Carol Heiss to her Olympic victory) used to say. Machida's taking part in the Trophée should be an event in itself in Bordeaux.