Ice Network

Hubbell: 'You don't create magic by playing it safe'

Newfound work ethic has U.S. dance duo aiming for greater goals
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue are paying more attention to things like "intention" and "story" than they did before. -Getty Images

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue finished first in Friday's short dance at 2015 Trophée Eric Bompard. They already have a bronze from this event, having finished third in Bordeaux last season. Saturday, they will look to add a more prestigious color of medal to their collection.

Icenetwork: You have just won the short dance here with a superb program. What does that represent to you?

Hubbell: It represents five years of hard work. We've had five years with different people of great talent, and we owe this moment to the whole process. We're taking today as our mini-win.

Donohue: (Laughing) I'm not going to stop my career after one win! This is a new experience for us. It's a learning step, something we need to deal with. It will mean more pressure and more experience, but it comes also as a realization of what we've done.

Icenetwork: You've been training in Montreal for several months now. How is it going?

Hubbell: Marie[-France Dubreuil], Patch (Patrice Lauzon) and Romain [Haguenauer] have started by identifying and training our strengths. We are enjoying working with the whole team a lot. They have looked at us with fresh eyes. They have helped us find a new way to express ourselves. It's more genuine. We've found a deeper part of ourselves in the move. It's a more mature and sophisticated side of ourselves, with longer lines and power and connection.

Icenetwork: You are skating your short dance to a beautiful song, "Hallelujah," which happens to be a waltz. How did you choose it?

Hubbell: We were listening to music with Marie. She had a whole list of music we could choose from for this short dance. When she played the "Hallelujah," she saw that we had a reaction. She asked us why. We told her that this song had a history for us.

Donohue: A long time ago, that song was on a CD of my favorite music.

Hubbell: I heard him sing that song one day in the car. For some reason, I felt I needed him to sing it for me. I remember it was in Oberstdorf, at the beginning of our partnership. At that time, I felt so nervous about not skating with my brother.

In the years that followed, Zach took up the habit of singing that song each time, to calm me down. It's part of our partnership.

Donohue: I think it's very important to skate to something you can relate to.

Hubbell: The whole point is to find something inside of you that embodies this music. I feel so connected to this program. It connects us to our whole journey.

Icenetwork: The Montreal school is known for its technicality and purity in lines, but also for working on interpretation. Have you explored this?

Hubbell: We work with a circus coach once a week. We spend a lot of time trying to find the reasons behind every movement and the way we perform it. We certainly used to work on interpretation before, but we did go quite as deep into who we are. We knew that we were good performers and actors, and interpretation was something we took for granted. We like to perform, and we did not feel the need to go beyond.

Now we are going much farther, and we are discovering new meanings every single day. Working this way makes the program become a part of you. It's a whole new process.

Icenetwork: What would you say changed most inside you since you arrived in Montreal?

Donohue: A new work ethic. Now we're working on what it takes to be at the level we want to be. We've developed a deeper connection between ourselves and with our coaches. The three of them (their coaches) keep talking about intention. "Think of your intention."

Hubbell: When you master the technique of a program and get used to it, you tend to repeat it mechanically, in kind of a robotic way. When you do it with intention, with a reason for each single movement, that's when it becomes art. All the answers are inside of us; we just need to find them. The question is: "How you are feeling now? What are you willing to create at this moment?" That's half of the work.

Icenetwork: What distinction do you make between your "intention" and your "story," then?

Hubbell: Intention encompasses everything: training, physical size, performance. It also depends on the level you are at and what you want to try. Story is linked to your program. It's something that evolves constantly.

Donohue: Intention will increase the power of your story.

Hubbell: Once we fully master our short dance, it won't be a short dance but our expression of the song. The story will be so deeply ingrained.

Icenetwork: Do you think that even a short dance needs some interpretation?

Donohue: Oh yes, definitely! Interpretation is the thing that will set the teams apart in the short dance. There are so many deeper levels to reach. We are showing one of our stories, which is inside of us. That's where skating is sport and art.

Icenetwork: What about technique?

Donohue: You can always talk about technique, but at the end of the day, you have to do it and perform!

Hubbell: Definitely. Training has to be there. We're athletes. We need to perform our elements. Once you've trained, you need to open yourself to be human. The thing people like to watch is the human experience. Look at the success of reality shows on television. You have skating, you have the art, and you need to share that moment that draws the people to the ice and really makes the difference.

Many skaters and coaches focus on the program, the elements and the points. It's an important part of the sport. Through our career, however, we chose musical pieces that we felt attached to. We used to build around our elements and make our story afterward and kind of attach to it.

This year we spent weeks with Marie doing the choreography, trying to find the right movement. I would say, "No, I don't feel right doing this at this moment." Now we want to know precisely what each movement means to us. That will take us from the top 10 to the top three.

Donohue: One of my key words is now "committed." I think I needed to push myself a bit more. We did not have that approach last year.

Icenetwork: What about your free program to Daft Punk's "Adagio for Tron"?

Hubbell: The free program was very complex for us. We did not choose to tell the story of Tron. It's the story of a broken man. He needs help. I am an angel, and I show him everything life has to offer and everything he has to lose if he gives it up. It's a journey through life.

We watched Mikhail Baryshnikov in his opening to "White Nights," when he was dancing to Jean Cocteau and Roland Petit's "Le Jeune Homme et la Mort." That was even before we moved to Montreal. We liked the darkness coming from this music. But it has taken a very long time to find exactly what we were feeling.

Baryshnikov's piece was much too dark for what we wanted. We started from the concept that he wanted to die and I would help him die. But we wanted something we would be completely connected to. In effect, "It's not your time to die, there is love all around you, and we're just here to find it." We both are bringing something to the other. I'm saving him, and he proves to me that I can still feel a human connection, although I'm an angel.

We're just exploring how the music makes us feel and what it would be to be an angel, trying to show the man what his options are. It's very exciting.

Donohue: This makes the work fun. We enjoy the process. I'm learning to live without expectations. I've improved more this year than ever in my life, and in my partnership. You need expectations, because this is a sport, but it's not the most important thing.

Hubbell: There is a freedom in the way we've been training in Montreal. Technically, they push us more, and then we kind of get lost in the music, until we learn where our boundaries are.

You don't create magic by playing it safe!