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Péchalat and Bourzat have new ambitions

Ice dance team looks forward to wowing judges, audience

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat have high expectations entering this season.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat have high expectations entering this season. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(10/07/2009) - Some signs never lie. When a crowd suddenly goes silent as a skater or a pair is about to start a program, it usually means that a special event is about to take place. This is exactly what is happening now when Péchalet and Fabian Bourzat, current French ice dance champions and five-place finishers at 2009 worlds, enter onto the ice.

The French duo has climbed the ice dancing international ladder at an unusually fast pace in the last few seasons. From 18th at the 2006 Olympics, they have finished fifth at 2009 worlds after relocating their training base from Lyon, France, to Moscow at the end of the 2007-2008 season. They are now starting their second full season under Sasha Zhulin's tutelage and have focused in on ambitious objectives, while taking as much pleasure as ever creating and dancing on the ice. They are preparing for the Eric Bompard Trophy next week and took time to detail their programs and ambitions for icenetwork.com.

About their new original and free dance
Péchalat: We elected not to skate to French folklore for our original dance, but to country music instead. We thought it would bring some fun and colors, as well as a good atmosphere. So there it goes, we keep doing what we like best!

Péchalat: For our free dance, it is actually more of a program to watch than to talk about. The theme is time, and we have turned it into a fantastic tale. It is just like if Alice [in Wonderland] had grown up, and was now falling into Tim Burton's universe.

Bourzat: Nathalie falls asleep by a big clock, which I am figuring. Then she takes me into her dreams and dances with me. Sometimes it is human, sometimes it is mechanical.

Péchalat: Time is our ally, but sometimes it turns back against us. It is not the least intellectual, though, and our program is very visual. Both programs this year are fully readable and accessible to everyone. Also they should be easier to evaluate, as they include many elements and components that are expected from dance pairs.

Bourzat: And then Nathalie goes back to fall asleep against the clock.

Péchalat: We have found the themes of both programs by ourselves, just like we do every year, both for the original and the free dance. We have joined forces with specialist choreographs, then we have let Sasha work the programs so that they would fit on the ice. It is always so exciting to create, and then to give birth to a piece that will please the audience and judges. It requires a lot of work, actually, especially this year. With the Olympics coming, we really wanted to put the progress we made forward. We would really like our newly learned amplitude, lines and power to be visible.

About creating their programs
Péchalat: Building the project of a new program is really the part we prefer. To tell you the truth, we already have some ideas for next year. We are always thinking and creating. We even have a full plan ready until the 2014 Games in Sotchi! Creating two programs a year is really not enough.

Bourzat: This is true, and at the same time, when you see the amount of work we need to put them on the ice...

Péchalat: We tend to approach an ice dance competition as a spectacle. The audience comes to see a spectacle within a competition. Why deprive them of what they are seeking? This may be why we skate usually better during a competition than during actual exhibitions. The audience prefers to see us competing, actually. Of course we want to make points on our elements and strive to show the best components of the field, yet we also want to provide the best spectacle. We feel that if we do what we like, then the audience will feel the emotion. It may require far more work, yet at the same time we feel that we owe it both to the audience and to ice dancing. We want audiences to love ice dancing more and more! And we will keep doing this as long as we stay in an ascending phase and have pleasure, ideas and physical condition. So not only do we see far ahead, but we also take it one year at a time.

About their training in Moscow
Péchalat: You know, we are just starting now to capture the essence of what our coaches [Sasha Zhulin and Serguei Volkov] give us. Last year, when we started to train full time in Moscow, everything had the taste of discovery. You can not take it all at once. Whereas this year, we can really learn and take full advantage of everything they give us. And we learn, we are learning every day. Actually, we are learning both on the ice and off. Training does include the way we need to get ready for a competition.

Bourzat: This summer we have really worked for eight complete weeks on our basics with our coaches. This helps tremendously. Also, we work so intensively during the season that we may really focus on the competition itself once we get there. When we are competing, we can go from skating to eating and sleeping, nothing else. On our practice rink in Moscow, however, we skate our programs every day, from compulsory to free dance. When we are on the ice, it is to skate, not to chat.

About their training conditions in Moscow
Péchalat: I managed to get a university room at the Moscow Academy of Finance, in the north of Moscow. I will keep studying there [Péchalat is majoring in business administration in France] and will try to improve my Russian.

Bourzat: I have also moved to the northern part of Moscow. And you know what? One day in August, our coaches told us that they were relocating to another rink...in the north of Moscow as well, just one metro station away from our rooms!

Péchalat: This was so incredible. We are now practicing in a huge arena, which is actually used every year for the Cup of Russia. Is this not amazing?

One more word about the duo's ambitions for the upcoming season?
Péchalat: The turning point of the season might be the European Championship, in Tallinn, Estonia, just a few weeks before the Olympics. If we manage to finish first or second there, everything could be possible.

The Eric Bompard Trophy, in a little more than a week, should provide some good indications already. It will be the first time in years that Péchalat and Bourzat skate in front of their home audience in Paris for a Grand Prix event. It would not be surprising if the 15,000 spectators at the Paris arena go fully silent again as they start their programs.