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Pechalat and Bourzat specialize in 'empathy'

Pechalat answers questions and shares her thoughts

Péchalat and Bourzat will bring their iconoclastic style and avant-garde attitude to Moscow.
Péchalat and Bourzat will bring their iconoclastic style and avant-garde attitude to Moscow. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/15/2007) - Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat have always had a special place in French ice dancing. Already considered as some of the finest technicians in the world, they have also developed a unique style. When you watch them skate, you feel right away that their skating has a special touch. After a while you understand what it is: they make you feel like dancing with them. Some specialists have called this skill "empathy."

After three seasons climbing up the international ladder, the duo has just qualified for their first ISU Grand Prix Final in Turin. This is their third big competition in the Alpine city. They finished 12th at the European championships in 2005, which put them on track for the Olympic Games the following year in that same Palavela rink. They finished 18th overall. What about this time?

Péchalat agreed to answer some questions and share some of her thoughts about her sport just before leaving for Turin. Empathy might well be one of the keys to the duo's current success...

About being qualified for the Final
This time in Turin is very different. We really come here aiming at performance more than result. This means skating two clean programs and getting the technical levels we strive at, especially for the step sequences. We have still a lot to prove, obviously, but qualifying for the Final is a great step for us. We did not foresee this to happen this year, so we are very happy. Still, you know, Final does not mean finality [she laughs]. At the moment we are worried with Fabian's knee problems [Bourzat should be operated from one of his knee menisci right after the Final], but we are going to fight.

About their international experience
The audience in Turin is very Latin and quite warm. We have seen many audiences since we skate. Of course we love the Americans, who are always very supportive and welcoming. Skate America bears great memories for us, as we have medaled there twice [Péchalat and Bourzat finished 3rd in 2006 and 2nd in 2007]. We were much younger when we skated in Canada. The audience there is very connoisseur, they applaud you each time you skate nearby them. In China it is quite different. The audience is discovering skating, really. They are shy, almost distant; they want to do their best for you. When we did our exhibition to "Cats" [a trademark exhibition for the duo], they would go "aah" at each of our movements. The Japanese audience loves the French, and it is always very moving to skate there. However supportive and patient, they are also very discrete and non-intrusive. We like to share our universe with so diverse audiences.

About their Original Dance
When we heard that folklore would be the theme for the original dance this year, we immediately thought of French cancan. This was however not allowed. We did not want to skate the same folklore as our competitors. For instance, who, better than an American skater, can skate to country music? So we went to Flamenco. We had studied that dance specifically in 2002, as we were still juniors. Also we wanted to work with an accessory. So we went to Madrid and learned both the style of the dance and how to play with a fan.

At the Cup of Russia three weeks ago [where the couple won a silver medal and their qualification to Turin], most couples were skating to Russian folklore. We were the only ones to skate to Flamenco. It was funny: during the press conference, some journalists even asked us if we had not made a mistake, as if this year's theme had been Russian folklore. It was hard for me not to laugh ... So I let Fabian give the answer!

About their free dance
It all started from a musical piece I liked. It is quite modern electro-acoustic music. Also, my friends had talked to me for a long time about ice dancing 'superkitch' clothes and sequins [as they said], and I thought we might try something different. Fabian and I started discussing over that music, and we made up all kinds of stories. This is how the idea of madness started. Fabian brought some additional pieces of music. Our program starts rather gently, just like ordinary people going through their daily life. Then it starts going weird, stone-kind, a bit drunk at times. And then we fall into madness. We worked a lot on our choreography, on the music itself, on the story, on our movements, so that they look frank, almost square. The camisole allowed us to play with our leaves, when we can not move our arms.

About the programs they create and the audiences they skate for
We like to share our universe with our audiences wherever they are. Each time, we choose a theme or a topic that we want to exploit. We like to make the audience discover something new through our skating. We do not necessarily start from what a given audience would like to see, but from what we have inside us and would like to share. I am convinced that if we do what we really like, it will radiate something to the audience.

You know, we are both students [both Péchalat and Bourzat are University students] and skating is our passion. We would not do it if everything was compulsory or mandatory. We do not wake up in the morning to just be robots. This is why we always skate to our own ideas. Our coaches and choreographers and our whole team help us to make it happen. But there would be no reason to start from other people's ideas.

About being qualified as empathic
I love that kind of a comment. Skating is meant for what comes from the heart. I would hate to get a title only because we skate a program that is good strategy wise, if it does not get audience approval.