Pechalat, Bourzat: 'We will give them all we have'

European dance champs want to lift spirits in Japan

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat hope their programs can bring some joy to the people devastated by disaster in Japan.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat hope their programs can bring some joy to the people devastated by disaster in Japan. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/12/2011) - As tragedy struck and an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were about ready to go to the World Championships in Tokyo. They took the time to talk with about that country, where they have always loved to skate, as well of their new fame as the European new gold medalists and their hopes for worlds.

Icenetwork: First, can we talk about what has just happened in Japan?

Péchalat: We were devastated to hear the news about the earthquake and the following tsunami. We all panicked, because we know so many people over there. We love Japan. We go there three to four weeks every year. We are always moved by the way they welcome us. They seem so traditional, and at the same time they are so open and modern. They seem so extroverted, and at the same time they are so respectful of others. I am completely enthusiastic about going there each time! Such catastrophes do move everyone, especially so when they happen in such countries as Japan, where we feel so close from the people.

Bourzat: This event is such a tragedy for Japan and the Japanese people. Yet we have absolutely no worry for ourselves. They are so serious about everything there, that we trust them 100 percent.

Péchalat: I have heard rumors that some skaters were frightened for their own safety. Actually, we feel exactly the opposite. We owe these championships to the numerous fans skating has in Japan. Seeing skating should help them. We must not close the door to them now, especially since they have just lived through horror. We hope our Charlie Chaplin program [their free dance for the current season] will help them fight and rebuild. It will be a minimal tribute, of course, but we will give all we have. We do not want to go there to cry, but to help them live something new in the present time as it is. Of course we are not humanitarians, but we certainly are humanists.

Icenetwork: How well prepared do you feel?

Bourzat: Really excellent. We have worked a lot since Bern. Our European gold medal really gave us the feel that we could go much higher. When we enter on the ice, we really want to go for the big thing. We reach our top form, and we want to fight with Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White], and Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir], and whoever will be there. Our objective is to let everyone know that now we are with them for good, and hopefully for quite a while!

Péchalat: We just changed our median line in the short dance. That's all on the content. But we've worked a lot on power and amplitude in the last month, and then in the last 10 days, we have been practicing on the physical aspect. So we do feel in top condition.

Icenetwork: While you were in Bern, you seemed to experience some difficulty being the favorites. How did you work on this aspect since?

Péchalat: Well, we had only been outsiders until then, and all of a sudden we were considered as the favorites to win. We changed statuses at once, and we had to control this new situation and manage our stress. We worked a lot on our mental preparation since then, in order to devise a new approach to competition. You know, the medal is getting so close now, and I really do not want to let it escape from us. We've had enough disappointments in the past already on that matter [they finished three times in fourth place in the last two seasons, twice at Europeans and once at worlds]. In Bern, I had no worry about our technique or physical performance. But I was afraid to tell myself:, "Oh my God, you are on the verge of winning; now you are going to breakdown." We need to think that it is our passion and nothing else...We need to trust our skating.

Icenetwork: When you left the ice in Bern, after the free, Nathalie said that "Fabian is the best partner on earth for you. Why?

Péchalat: It's true, I said that. In fact [she laughs loud], we do fight a lot. We are by no means a gift to our coaches. We are so different from one another. Besides that, yes, definitely, Fabian is the best partner in the world. He has always been the talented one of the two. He is very gifted. He works through feeling and inspiration. As soon as he feels a move, he can reproduce it and interpret it. He does not need to intellectualize. I, on the contrary, need to understand the why and the how and to get the right answers to all the questions I ask myself. When we need to interpret a character, like we do in both our programs this year [Dr. Zivago in the Short Dance and Charlie Chaplin in the free], I need to watch all of Chaplin's movies and read every biography of him to understand his emotions. Fabian does not. He simply watches one or two excerpts and he gets instantaneously his way of feeling and acting. At the moment I am reading extensively about Latin dances for next year! I analyze everything and it takes a lot of time.

Bourzat: We have highs and lows, as [does] every couple, but we are very complementary, and we bring a lot to each other. Actually, we do not need to talk much to guess what the other needs. It's a good balance. I may have some talent, but I am lazy. Nathalie is always pulling the couple ahead and pushing us to work. She brings her extraordinary capacity to work. She always wants to do everything perfectly. She needs to be 100 perecent sure. At the moment, she wants to do run throughs all the time just to be sure. It is not so comfortable for me, but if she needs it then let's do it. We came to Moscow together, we got our titles together, anything that is important for her is important for both of us.

Péchalat: {laughing) In fact we are just like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, the famous psychology bestseller by John Gray. We just do not speak the same language. It's not only because he is the man and I, the woman; it's also because he is the artist and I am the pusher.

Icenetwork What do you think makes you so different, as artists?

Bourzat: Art is about creating the characters we are playing and the choreography around them. We do get into a new "ourselves." My own expression, my mimics, my looks, will be different from one competition to the next. Although we portray the same characters, we will interpret them with our own feelings at that very moment. Once you elect to create characters on the ice, then you have to interpret them properly.

Péchalat: That's why I love working with professional comedians [she quotes Julien Cottereau, a famous clown, in particular]. He tells us about the emotion and the movement at once, so I can intellectualize them both and get them appropriated at the same time. I absolutely need to feel the program, theme, choreography deep inside myself. This is why we are completely actors of our creations. We do participate in making them live, and it is the best part for us!

Icenetwork: How do you find the balance between what judges request and what you like to give?

Bourzat: When you look at the world top ice dancers today, you can see how different each one's style is. Some are very ambitious on the elements but skate simpler themes. We see it differently: Ice dancing is a sport but it has to be a show as well. Our objective is to bring audiences to our sport, hence to interest the audience.

Nathalie and I do try to bring something different with our dance, mostly for the audience. On the one hand, we want to "hide" the compulsory elements in order to deliver a packaged show to the audience. On the other, we need to fully interpret the elements which are looked after by the judges. It is a very difficult alchemy, yet it is also a virtuous circle: if we manage to skate well, catch the judges' eye and get good rankings, then it encourages the audience even more to appreciate the show and what we put in it, which in turn enhances our status as ice dancers.