Wilson choreographing Weir's new programs

Three-time champ changes mind on only working with Russians

Johnny Weir and David Wilson take a coffee break earlier this year at <i>Festa on Ice</i> in Korea.
Johnny Weir and David Wilson take a coffee break earlier this year at Festa on Ice in Korea. (courtesy of Johnny Weir )


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(06/05/2009) - Johnny Weir has learned the truth of the old adage, "Never say never."

After working with Russian-born choreographers for years -- including Tatiana Tarasova, Nina Petrenko, Denis Petukhov and Marina Anissina -- the three-time U.S. champion is turning to Canadian David Wilson for programs this Olympic season. But as he told, that doesn't mean he's playing it safe.

Icenetwork: Why David Wilson, and why now?

Johnny Weir: Well, I've been impressed with his work for a long time, but [before] he was working with Jeff Buttle and I didn't want to mix myself with one of my top international competitors. That always put me off working with David.

So, first and foremost, I went to David because I admire what he does and he's very creative. He's one of the only people I know as crazy and colorful in the head as I am, and, if you mix the two of us, we can come up with something fantastic.

Second, like everyone else, I've seen his results. Yu-Na [Kim] had scores as high as a lot of the men at worlds. Buttle was world champion. Joannie Rochette is doing very well. Obviously, he's very good at putting together programs under [the International Judging System]. I need that input. I've been lacking as far as transitions are concerned. As much as I sometimes hate it, I have to play by the rules.

Icenetwork: In the past, you've said you will only use Russian choreographers?

Weir: When you hear something consistently, you need to buckle down. I've taken flack for only using Russian [choreography]. Previously, Russians were not necessarily choreographing for the system, because they were already the best -- and why change?

This was particularly true of Tatiana Tarasova and others from the Soviet-era generation. They were already the best; they were already successful.

But, when you're an athlete, you want to win. You have to play the game to some extent. At the end of the day, I'm still headstrong. I still have my own ideas, but I'm tapering that a little bit.

One person this year in particular called me to discuss what my ideas were. This person said, "We really want to see big fireworks at the end of a program, like Evan Lysacek does."

Now I didn't want to hear that, but telling me to look at how someone else did things brought it home to me that yes, at the end of his music, he goes huge, and maybe there's something to that. That last footwork sequence gets people clapping.

Icenetwork: David Wilson is a busy guy. How did you set things up with him?

Weir: I got him right off the airplane in Korea, where we were doing Festa on Ice. I said, "David, I'm really sorry to ask you just as you're getting off the plane, but you're booking up so fast." And he stood up with a big smile and said, "Yes, of course, I've been waiting for this. We'll have so much fun."

Icenetwork: Is he doing both of your programs?

Weir: Yes. I go right up [to Toronto] for a week to do the short, then I leave to go to Japan for the 2009 Ice Jewelry shows in Kanazawa, then I'm back a day, and then I go back up to Toronto to work on the long program for a week.

The short program music is pretty much decided. It's different for me. I don't know the name of the music; it's in Spanish. David was inspired by my "Feeling Good" [exhibition] program. He said, "You always play it kind of safe -- use classical-type music, show off your line and do pretty things. Let's do something different; after all, you can dance."

Icenetwork: How about the long?

Weir: I thought, "What's going on with my life that I can put on the ice?" I came up with a theme of being a fallen angel, kind of the same [theme] I did with Melissa [Gregory] and Denis [Petukhov]. We've chosen one piece of music for the slow middle section; we're still looking for pieces to put around it to frame it and make it a continuous theme.

In the 07-08 season, very little bad was said about me; I was on the comeback trail. This year it all flipped; I fell. I wanted a program that would show my character and the way I feel.

Icenetwork: Seems you considered people's feedback this time around.

Weir: Judges have been telling me I need more transitions and a more coherent look. I asked David what his take was, and he said, "Johnny, with you, we can do [an IJS-friendly] program, but I want to see the way you move naturally first. I don't want to just put some choreography on you. We can see what you do and turn it into a rocker, twizzle or whatever."

David said he'll have me go out there, do some things and then turn them into something different and difficult, and I won't even know it at first. I hope that's how it goes. If I think counter and rocker, three-turn, jump, spin, and I'm a robot, then it's not a piece of art. I don't like that kind of choppy idea of what figure skating has become. I want [my program] to be an epic.

Icenetwork: Are you also working on the placement of your combinations?

Weir: It's definitely been on my mind. I've lost two big competitions [2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and 2008 Skate America] because of leaving out a double toe. But honestly, if you're three minutes, 30 seconds into your free and your [first] jump is a bit off, you're thinking, "Oh my gosh, if I try the double toe, am I going to be safe?"

When I'm on the ice, I just go, I emote, and a double toe is the last thing on my mind. I have to change that in my head. I need to be aware of it."

Icenetwork: You're the centerpiece of a documentary, Pop Star on Ice, that's premiering in New York next week, and there's also been talk of a documentary series. Some might say you've got to be a little more single-minded about your focus in the Olympic year.

Weir: I am going to one of the premieres of the movie, in New York City, about 15 minutes away [from my home in New Jersey]. I'm not missing any skating for it. It's something special and something fun in my life. I think I deserve that. I'm always working and training very hard. Even when a camera crew is at my ice rink, I'm still working hard and Galina is in charge. It's not distracting.

The only day off I have is Sunday, and then I'm usually using Windex and vacuuming my apartment. I do very little extra -- weekends are for resting. Believe me, if I didn't rest, Galina would yell at me, and I'm a 25-year-old man and I don't need that. I've said this before -- check me on a Saturday night, and I'm usually home watching a DVD.