Russian ice dancers Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin have set their sights on picking up one of the two spots their country has at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics next February. As they kicked off their season at the Finlandia Trophy, Marina Lee caught up with them for Europe On Ice.
From what I managed to see of your free dance, it left the impression of something light and ethereal that for some time I even forgot where I was.
Stepanova: Thank you very much! We are very pleased to hear that you had such feelings because our programme is indeed very light, ethereal, sincere and pure, but, unfortunately, we couldn’t skate it clean. All three teams made mistakes today, so it’s an experience and we will work on it.
It is your third time at Finlandia Trophy. Did you choose to compete here by yourself?
Bukin: We chose it purposely. We like to perform here a lot; the audience is amazing!
Stepanova: It just feels like home here.
Could you tell me how your preparations for this season went?
Stepanova: We were at a training camp in Novogorsk for about a month and we had an intensive physical preparation there. We worked with ballroom dancers for our Latin short dance and also with acrobats. All our programmes and elements are new. We worked hard with our coaches, choreographer and technical specialists who had the opportunity to come and watch our programmes. And, of course, we skated our programmes from the beginning to end a lot and we still do it now.
You also worked with Misha Ge, didn’t you?
Stepanova: We worked with Misha on an exhibition number and put it together quite quickly. It needs to be finished a little.
Could you tell us a little about your exhibition number, if it’s not a secret?
Stepanova: It is modern, dancey. It is not complicated…
Bukin: To a Justin Bieber song.
Well, maybe an exhibition program shouldn’t be very complicated.
Stepanova: No, there is a sense of it at the end of programme. I don’t know if everybody will understand it, but those who know about it will understand.
Speaking about the themes of your programmes, could you tell us about your competitive programmes for this season?
Bukin: Well, in the short dance I think everything is totally clear – it’s a Latin dance.
Stepanova: Yes, in the short dance everything is quite simple. And we love it very much, it is very close to our hearts. I’ll repeat once more that we were working a lot with ballroom dancers and we like our Latin dance a lot for its brightness. We also really like the sexy rhumba part. Our free dance is about pure and sincere love, about tenderness and lightness. We really want people to feel happy after watching it. We want them not to think or try to find any deep meaning in this dance. We just want it to be light, to skate it in such a way to make somebody maybe even cry because the dance was so tender and sincere that it touched the souls of those who watched it. We really hope to achieve this result.
Such a lovely message! And about the music, how did you choose it?
Stepanova: It was proposed by our coaches. At first we had two versions, but finally we chose “Love’s Dream” by Rick Wakeman. This programme was put together by Petr Chernyshev and we managed to change quite a lot of things in it.
Was the first version in the same style?
Stepanova: No, it was more modern. It was to slow music too, but more of a modern style. When we started to skate to “Love’s Dream”, our coaches said that this music suits us a lot, that it’s better for us. And we began making our programme with this music.
And who usually chooses your music?
Stepanova: Usually it is our coaches who suggest music to us. They know us well and they know what to look for and where. We search too, but we just don’t have as many resources and they have specialists who can offer something too. If we hear something interesting, then yes, we can tell our coaches about it. For example, for the short dance it was our ballroom dance coaches who suggested our rhumba music. They just came and switched on the music. We listened to it and thought, “Wow, it’s amazing!” Although this song was a bit of a warhorse. I mean, it was quite popular for some time, but when we heard this version, we liked it a lot.
So, you don’t have situations where when you heard the music and found yourself thinking “Yes, this is what I want to skate to”?
Stepanova: Well, the first version of our free dance music, which is in a modern style, was my idea. I liked it a lot and was insisting on it. But we chose another one and actually I’m really glad that they could persuade me. And I want to say “Thank you” for that.
Do you take part in designing your costumes?
Bukin: Yes, sure.
Stepanova: For the free dance I came up with the idea for my dress because now all these appliqués and flowers are very fashionable. I like it and proposed to use it on my dress. And for the short dance we also went with this flower appliqué.
Bukin: The person who sews our costumes for us also works with ballroom dancers, so she really knew what we needed for a Latin dance.
Stepanova: Yes, she drew sketches for us, we chose the one we preferred and then just worked on the details.
What do you usually do in your free time?
Stepanova: We go to the cinema…
Bukin: Or meet with our friends. Actually, on weekdays we almost don’t have any free time. We try to go home just after the practices as they usually finish quite late and there is no time and energy left to go anywhere else. On weekends, of course, we can meet with our friends and go somewhere.
Stepanova: It is great when I have the opportunity to go to the theatre.
Maria Sotskova also told me that she gets really inspired by the theatre. Do you have any other things outside of figure skating which inspires you?
Stepanova: Yes, I remember I was very inspired by the “Rodin” ballet. Well, in general, I like not only ballet, but also plays. I feel very happy in the theatre.
My last question is about your goals for this season.
Stepanova: We want to show what we can do and to skate as our coaches want us to skate. It is very important because they know us, they know what we can do, and we really want to return their trust and faith in us, and all the work that we have done together. We really want to do everything that our coaches have planned and maybe even better. We always want to do everything better.
Bukin: We want to grow with each competition, to show it in our performances and to prove ourselves. Of course, we want to go to the Olympic Games. We have very strong dancers in our country and there will be a fight between us. We will work hard.
It seems that you have a special relationship with your coaches.
Bukin: We just spend a lot of time with them. They’re like our second parents.
Stepanova: It’s not like we want and do everything only for them. I mean that it is only they who see us at practices and they really know what we can do. We ourselves cannot always see our skating from the other side, but if a coach likes it and says “Wow”, then it is really so. And if they don’t like our performance then it was really bad as it is nobody but they who see us at work. We skate also for ourselves and the audience, especially our free dance. Yesterday in the short dance we were skating with each other, we were totally immersed in our programme. Today we were so confident that maybe it was this confidence that cut us down a little.
Well, it was your first competition of the season and the most important ones are ahead of you. I wish you the best of luck!
Stepanova and Bukin: Thank you very much!