Ice Network

Shibs evolve into creative forces behind programs

Siblings say they want to 'build bridges' between skating, non-skating world
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There is not a single aspect of their skating that Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are not intimately involved in. -Jay Adeff

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have always been known for the smoothness and precision of their edges. In the last two seasons, however, they have enhanced their on-ice presence and persona, establishing them as one of the best ice dance teams in the world. They talked to icenetwork about how the creative process they've developed has led them to take more ownership of their programs.

Icenetwork: How do you feel?

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani: (in unison) Great! (laughing, also together)

Icenetwork: Your personality on the ice has grown tremendously in the last two years. How did you achieve this?

Alex: The results we achieved last year were really energizing! People around us really supported us throughout, and they believed that we could keep moving ahead. Feeling it gave us a lot of power.

Maia: Actually, it's something that grew naturally after the Sochi Olympics. Participating in the Olympic Games was so inspiring and encouraged us to give more of ourselves in the way we were skating.

Alex: This also has a lot to do with finding our creative style. The way we create our music, concepts, choreography, has now become very self-driven. We put a lot of ourselves in our programs. I don't mean just skating through them but right from the start of the initial stages of the creative process. We challenge ourselves with the creation of our music as well as the way we interpret it.

Icenetwork: How would you define your creative style, then?

Maia and Alex: (in sync, again) Unique!

Maia: It relies on the way each one of us believes in each other.

It's not only a process where each one of us, and our team, will give opinions -- it's a process where any idea is built in a collaborative way.

Alex: Our drive always is to build bridges, bridges between the skating world and the non-skating world. All ice dancers are given boundaries. If we think creatively, we'll try to go beyond what's expected. That's what we try to do, for instance, in our short dance, integrating blues and hip hop into one dance. It's by no means a juxtaposition of the two dances.

We tried to create a consistent piece that was suitable for ice dance and impactful on people who usually don't watch figure skating. Our short dance is about building bridges between people of different generations. Those who love Frank Sinatra can relate to it -- all the more so, as he is a universal singer. And we combined it (with Jay-Z) to (fit a) more modern style and interpretation. We connected the two into something completely unique.

Maia: We're so proud of it. We love the idea behind it. That makes it also fun to skate, as this is our own creation.

Alex: All skaters and dancers have a team of coaches and choreographers to influence them, to mentor them in a way. We've been working with our team for 10 years now -- not only the team that Marina [Zoueva] has assembled around her but also the people we've sought out, like Stéphane Lambiel or Peter Tchernyshev. They have all been mentors through our career.

They give us lots of information all the time. Maia and I work together to organize all the information we are receiving.

It is a collaborative process that makes a whole, and that whole really comes from us. We are the ones to organize it, in order to get the most out of it.

Maia: There is so much trust between us and our team, I think, that we were allowed to have our own process, that allowed us to search for the very best. We could go to LA to learn from different people and integrate the whole.

Alex: No decision is made above us, be it on the creative or on the training side. Every decision is made as a collaborative work from the group. This is also part of taking ownership. Some skaters will do what their coaches ask them to do, and it will work for them. We have a different way, because we are so invested in the process. That's a different approach. In that approach, you can't just "try." It has taken years of development for us, but that's were we are at this point of our lives.

In our free program, for instance, we didn't make our own music, but we created our own arrangement.

By "arrangement," I don't mean just cutting and adding bits and slices of music.

Maia: In fact, we decided what instruments we wanted to hear more of at each part of our program and what elements of the music we wanted to emphasize.

Alex: At the start of the season, we decided to name the piece "Evolution," and that proved to be quite appropriate, as that's exactly what happened: It kept evolving through the season. We kept on adding details and layers to the music. We've worked with real musicians to be able to create what we wanted to create. On the one hand, it was time consuming -- but it was also a labor of love.

Maia: That process may be different, but it also creates some strong ties between us and the program. Some skaters will cut and add pieces to create their music. We went way beyond that. We're completely connected to the creative process we embarked on. This way, we're also completely connected to the music it resulted in.

Alex: It's the same with our choreography. We're not skating a program that a choreographer designed for us. We don't have one choreographer. But we've been influenced by many people, skaters, dancers and (people) beyond the skating world, and we're always open to advice and suggestions.

Icenetwork: That ownership you're taking seems to have resulted in a renewed confidence in yourselves.

Alex: Yes, the whole process enhances our confidence. We've always been excited to compete and perform. That has even been enhanced by creating and organizing the process ourselves.

Icenetwork: Does it also affect your personal side and the way you live?

Alex: Actually, everything works together. We are, of course, very mentally focused to skate at this level, and the level we reach on the ice does affect the other side. This process allows us to grow as skaters, and obviously as people. It allowed us to reach that high level, and to continue to grow.

Icenetwork: Last year, your program was so strong, and it was emphasized by the strength of Coldplay's music you were skating to. This year's music is much smoother. What does that reflect?

Alex: These two programs are just different sides of us. Last year was actually the moment for us to grab what we desired. The movements we were doing then were reflective of what we were at that time. The results we got enhanced our confidence in the process we were creating. What we accomplished then (a U.S. championship and a world silver medal) allowed us to go for smoother music this year. We're completely honest in the way we are dancing and what we are showing: This is where we are.

Maia: Smooth and confident: That's what we are now, and we hope it shows on the ice!