For the world of dance, Antonio Najarro is a renowned flamenco dancer and choreographer – and, since 2011, the director of the Ballet Nacional de España. But for the figure skating aficionados, he is, above all, the brilliant creator of a masterpiece: the flamenco original dance that led Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat to their Olympic gold, in 2002. From that moment on, with skaters taking the ice with Najarro’s bold, genuine choreographies, the Spanish-themed programs were all emotions, all intensity; need I remind you Stephane Lambiel’s Poeta?
Over the years, Antonio Najarro worked with tens of elite skaters – and, this season, with Flamenco/Paso Doble as the rhythm for the short dance, the ice was again Najarro’s stage: he choreographed not one, but three Spanish programs, each of them a true gem: Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin’s Carmen, Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ Don Quixote and Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz’ story about the toro and the torero. These wonderful three programs will be performed this week at the Worlds in Shanghai, and Inside Skating invites you into their stories. The narrator? Antonio Najarro himself.
by Florentina Tone
Madison Chock and Evan Bates are always performing their programs as if they were telling a story, as if they were acting in a movie – and this short dance you’ve created for them this season suits them like a glove; an intriguing dance, breathing an air of mystery and sophistication – such a different approach to the Paso Doble… Which is the story of the Don Quixote short dance?
Antonio Najarro: Don Quixote is a very well known story in the entire world and especially in Spain. It touches all the feelings, the craziness, the love, the power – and Madison and Evan are great performers and amazing skaters, so, when they suggested me to create a program around the history of Don Quixote, I thought it could be a great choice for them. The music is very beautiful, with a part of the rhythm of Paso Doble.
The result is truly great – as if you had known them (and their skating) for years… How did you work with Madison and Evan?
Directing the Spanish National Ballet I don’t have many free time, but I love skating and I try to see as much as possible how the best skaters are working and developing their talent; and Madison and Evan were one of these couples… It’s very, very easy to work with them and I think they understood my way of working from the first moment. They are so talented and, more importantly, they love to work in the small details – and this is very important to me. The small details make a good program; with the small details of movement you improve a lot in the quality of the program.
Months after choreographing it – and with Madison and Evan winning gold at Skate America, gold at Rostelecom Cup, silver at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, silver at Four Continents and gold at US Nationals – what do you think about the program, about the way it developed through the season?
I think Madison and Evan are feeling more and more comfortable in the program. They understood very well what they needed to transmit – and they are developing this feeling more and more over the competitions. They are improving the quality of the program – and I am very happy about it.
What about Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin? Have you worked with (one of) them before agreeing to choreograph their short dance for this season?
I haven’t worked before with Elena or Ruslan, and I knew that they were a new couple. But, at the same time, I’ve seen Elena skating many times before. I remember that some years ago I travelled to Russia to work with the French couple Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat; and I saw Elena in practice and I was captivated. She is amazing, she has a lot of talent, she is full of passion and so expressive. She looks like a real flamenco dancer and she transmitted this energy to Ruslan. I love to work with them. They love my energy and my way of work and we make a good team.
I definitely agree with you on that: Elena is truly convincing entering this particular role, as if she were indeed Carmen. Have you proposed Carmen to them – or have they? From where I stand, this short dance you choreographed seems to gather all the intensity and the emotions in their lives right now…
Carmen is a very strong woman, she is the real representation of the Spanish character – and Elena is very, very expressive, she puts all her feelings when she skates. They suggested me to make a program with the music of Carmen, and I thought it could be perfect for them, as Elena has all the necessary elements to make it! I think both of them feel very comfortable in the program and that’s why this program was so successful.
The short dance you choreographed for Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz looks completely different than the rest: a story about the toro and the torero – and the relation between them. It’s so very obvious the Spaniards are selling the story brilliantly – they do have the feel for this music in their blood. How did you work with them – and why have you thought about this particular story for them?
I wanted to create an original program for the Spanish couple. And I wanted to make her look like an animal and, at the same time, as a woman. I wanted to show the strength of the animal, but also the femininity and the passion of the woman. I knew it could be very difficult for them, as it’s a very difficult program in terms of interpretation, but they worked very, very hard with me and they did it!
Sara is telling me that she loves your choreographies – but, in order to perform them, you have to be a very good skater, since your programs are very demanding. Are the skaters discouraged at first by your approach, by the courageous content of the programs you create for them?
Normally, at the beginning, yes. Because I treat them like real dancers. When I work with skaters, at first we work together in a dance studio, far away from the ice rink – and I treat them like dancers, showing them the movements, the feelings, the energy of each movement, and this is the most difficult part for them. After this work, we go on the ice and I try to keep the same energy for them off and on the Ice. I think this is the best for them, they must look like real dancers on the ice!
What about the costumes for these three short dances? I must say that Sara and Adria’s costumes are absolutely wonderful…
Some of the costumes were made in Madrid. For example, the costumes of Sara and Adria were designed by me and made in Madrid by Jose Arroyo, my designer.
As far as I know, some other skaters have been in Madrid too, prior to the beginning of the season: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, Celia Robledo and Luis Fenero, Elisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette… What have you done in their case?
They had a very reach agenda when they were in Madrid: they saw flamenco shows, corridas de toros – and, of course, I did flamenco classes for them at the Spanish National Ballet. I taught them flamenco steps, how to move the hands, the arms, how to fix the eyes in each movement, how to react – a man and a woman – when they are dancing flamenco…
Do you follow the skaters you work with during the season, to give them additional pieces of advice?
Of course, they write me and I write them back, in order to make improvements in the movements, in the elements, as well as in the overall feeling of the program.
Are you familiar with some of the other flamenco/paso doble short dances this season?
There are good programs, yes, but you can always see very clear which skater worked with real flamenco and paso doble choreographers and which didn’t.
What differentiate the programs you choreograph from the rest? (I’ll have an answer to that, but I’d very much like to know your perspective…)
I think the secret is that I have a dancer’s vision, bigger than a skater’s vision. And I try to treat them like real dancers, so I make them move and express differently than a skating choreographer would do.
Looking in retrospect, is there a program from those you choreographed that you like more than others?
I will never forget the flamenco program for Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat, nor the Poeta program for Stephane Lambiel. These are programs that touched everyone so strong and they will always be in my hearth.
PHOTO-GALLERY: Antonio Najarro, as a figure skating choreographer