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New team Samuelson, Gilles to train in Ann Arbor

Nechaeva and Chesnichenko to coach duo

Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles have decided to train in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles have decided to train in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Jacque Tiegs)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/09/2011) - Call it a split decision.

Newly teamed ice dancers Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles will train in Ann Arbor, Mich., under Yasa Nechaeva and Yuri Chesnichenko, the coaches who guided the career of Samuelson and former partner Evan Bates.

But this week, they traveled to Colorado Springs to get choreography from Tom Dickson and Christopher Dean, the creators of many programs for Gilles and his former partners, Trina Pratt and Jane Summersett.

"Deciding on coaches was definitely very tough. There are amazing people out there," Samuelson, 21, said.

"It helped that Yasa and Yuri have a smaller number of teams than some other coaches. They're more able to devote time to us, which we definitely need right now. In addition they are very good technical coaches with a very good training structure."

"We spoke to judges, coaches, and different parents, and everybody told us we needed to have [coaches] with the time to invest in us as a team," Gilles, 25, said.

"Emily is comfortable with Yasa and Yuri, and I'm very familiar with how Chris and Tom work, so I think what we come up with this season will be a good mix of styles."

Samuelson and Bates trained under Nechaeva and Chesnichenko, former Soviet and Latvian ice dance competitors, for many years, winning the 2008 world junior title as well as two U.S. senior medals. In the summer of 2010, they moved to Canton, Mich., to train under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.

Bates suffered an Achilles' tendon injury in September 2010 and the couple was unable to compete last season. They resumed training together this spring but parted company in early June. Bates subsequently teamed with Madison Chock, the 2011 U.S. bronze medalist, and he and Chock train in Canton.

"I took from Igor and Marina last season, and it's difficult to leave them, but the situation with me and Evan is still new and a bit tender, and I think it's best we train somewhere else, where we can focus on ourselves this season," Samuelson said.

Nechaeva and Chesnichenko also coach U.S. senior ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who will represent the U.S. at Skate America in October.

"I've known Logan for years; we used to compete against each other as singles, and we're good friends," Gilles said. "After training at the Detroit Skating Club [in 2009-10] I know it's great to have another team pushing you."

"Absolutely, it's a huge benefit," Samuelson said. "Logan and Lynn are great people and very hard workers, and it will be great to skate with them on a daily basis."

Samuelson and Gilles booked time with Dean and Dickson immediately after deciding to team up last month. Dean, the 1984 Olympic ice dance champion (with Jayne Torvill), will create their free dance; Dickson is charged with choreographing a short dance to Rumba and other Latin rhythms.

"[Working with Dean and Dickson] is new for Emily, and she's excited about it," Gilles said. "Tom and Chris are so different in the way they approach choreography. With Chris, it's like he has puzzle pieces and he fits them into a program. Tom spends a lot of time developing the program and playing with moves.

"I feel like they both bring something different to the sport. Fans, other coaches, even judges always told me how my programs with Trina and Jane stood out."

Dean, who spends much of his time in England working on the popular UK reality competition series Dancing on Ice, has a long history with Gilles. His programs for Pratt and Gilles included routines set to the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack and Aerosmith's "Dream On." During the 2009-10 season, he created an original dance for Summersett and Gilles set to Peruvian pan pipes.

"His programs always have intricate holds, and the lifts can be tricky," Gilles said.

"I've never worked with outside choreographers before," Samuelson said. "It was always my coaches doing the choreography. Tom and Chris, they're definitely creative, multiplied by five.

"I had seen Todd's programs with Trina and Jane, and I was awed by their creativity and intricacy, in addition to the messages the stories carried. I'm excited to see what [Dickson and Dean] create for us."

The skaters and their choreographers are still undecided on music.

"Chris had some suggestions, and he's continuing to look," Samuelson said. "Today [Sept. 8] Tom had different ideas for the short. They both have such large music selections, and they are able to think of choices I would never dream up."

Although Samuelson and Gilles are pointing toward U.S. sectionals, the qualifying event for the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, as a "split" team they have also been added to the Grand Prix alternate list.

"We're aware of how challenging it will be," Samuelson said. "Sectionals are in mid-November. Plus, we definitely want to be prepared, if a [Grand Prix] opens up.

"We have a lot of hours on the ice ahead of us, perhaps more than we've ever spent before. We're going to do everything we possibly can to be ready."