Ice Network

Bourne on Hanyu: 'It's like he's from another planet'

Famed choreographer praises skater's work ethic, dedication to his craft
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
As hard as it is to believe, Shae-Lynn Bourne believes Yuzuru Hanyu can still perform his free skate better than he did at the Grand Prix Final. -Getty Images

Confidence is everything.

Yuzuru Hanyu wore it when he smashed world records of all sorts at the NHK Trophy, and again at the Grand Prix Final. It helps that his training regimen is more normal this season, now that he's rooted in Toronto, without injury and surgery.

The other piece of the puzzle? He had 2003 world ice dancing champion Shae-Lynn Bourne choreograph his free skate for the second consecutive season.

"This year was a new start," Bourne said. "We had more of a connection. We knew each other better. The first year, we were just getting to know each other. Now there is more of a comfort in communication. And more time, too."

Last season, Bourne's first project with the Japanese star was to design his Phantom of the Opera routine. Hanyu chose that music because it had always been his dream to skate to it. Because Hanyu spent so much time in Japan last year, Bourne didn't get a chance to do any follow-ups with the skater.

This year, it's a different story. Coach Brian Orser asked Bourne to offer Hanyu a playlist of music she thought he could skate to. This time, Hanyu was open to trying something new.

But that all changed when Hanyu sent Bourne an email with soundtracks to two Onmyoji movies and asked her what she thought.

"This is what I want to skate to," he told her.

Bourne had never heard of the film or the music, but she loved it.

"I would never have been able to find that for him," she said.

Another plus was that nobody in skating had ever heard of the music before.

"He'd be the first to introduce something new to people," she said.

Bourne researched the film, the characters in it, and various forms and styles of Japanese dance before Hanyu arrived in the spring to work.

"It just flowed so easily, working with him that week," said Bourne, who incorporated a few moves from the movie into the program. "And we had a lot of fun on the ice."

Afterward, back in Japan, Hanyu met with Mansai Nomura, the Japanese actor/dancer who played the hero in the Onmyogi movies, to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning behind the character's movements. Bourne believed the visit would make the choreography seem more real and "genuine."

In the program, Hanyu plays the film's protagonist. He battles evil, harnessing the power of his mind, in almost a magical way, using psychic ability.

"I think he believes in energy," Bourne said. "The story is very much mind over matter."

The music suits Hanyu in another way. Bourne found that the traditional Japanese dance forms a combination of feminine and masculine traits. The movement is graceful and gentle, but also powerful.

"Yuzu has this as well," Bourne said. "He's a light skater, but there is a strength in how he's moving on the ice. And with his determination and his control over the elements, in his mind there is a confidence when he skates that I think he taps into in that program."

Last year, during choreography, Bourne got a glimpse at what makes Hanyu special. Whereas most skaters just mark the jumps as they go along, he would insert, say, a triple axel into the practice or choreographic session.

"I think he wanted to make sure that the jump felt good completely," Bourne said.

He continued to train through the choreography, landing big jumps effortlessly, throwing in a triple-triple here or a quad there.

"I thought, 'That's the sign of a champion right there,'" she said.

What separates Hanyu, Bourne believes, is how self-driven he is. She doesn't need to tell him what to do; all his motivation comes from within.

"He has a real passion for skating," Bourne said. "He eats, sleeps, everything for skating. It's his main focus."

Sure, the culture he comes from is partly responsible for making Hanyu the way he is. But Hanyu has a unique level of focus and a drive that is inspiring.

"Sometimes, I call him 'alien,' because it's like he's from another planet," she said.

Despite already being at the top of his sport, Hanyu wants to be better -- and he knows he can be.

"He's capable of so much," Bourne said. "He's a beautiful skater. He has the skating skills. And he is, I think, even more willing to try harder things."

For example, while many skaters tone down the choreography going into a quad, Hanyu ramps it up. When he goes into his second quad, he does a spread eagle with his head down, causing him to be off-balance.

"He definitely wanted to up his level going in and out of the jumps," she said. "It's easier in the short in some ways, because you have only three jumps. But in the long, he has three quads, so he has to keep his energy."

The free program is still a work in progress. Despite that lofty score and the flood of 10s that Hanyu earned for components in Barcelona, Bourne wants more.

"I think by the time he does worlds, you'll see the full movement as it was intended to be," she said.

And now that Hanyu has successfully landed three quads and two triple axel combinations in a routine, it will be easier for him to do it the next time.

"There were no glitches (in the Grand Prix Final free skate)," Bourne said. "He had control over everything. So now I'm excited to see where that evolves and how he can lift and take the program to another level. I know he can."

A frightening thought for his competitors.