There’s something about these two, an air of promise for the following years, a wonderful sense of maturity, that makes you pay attention to them and their (already visible) progress. At 17 and 20 years old respectively, ice dancers Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd are two-time Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalists and, since January, Russia’s junior national champions. In only their fourth season as a team, they’re heading to the 2016 Junior Worlds in Debrecen as podium contenders and their biggest ally might very well be, as Pavel points out in an interview for Inside Skating, their constant wish “to synchronize two types of skating: the technical one, where you do perfectly different elements, and the artistic one, which is about choreography, interpretation, living the music, the emotions. Because if you only work and do the elements, no one will take pleasure in your skating. Performing our programs with emotions, sharing them with the audience, is equally important”. In a soft, calm tone, Alla adds something in Russian, and then smiles, her eyes glittering, so Pavel is an impromptu translator: “She said my last phrase was in her mind too, and that’s a good sign I guess, thinking the same…” Take that for synchronizing from Alla and Pavel – and, during our 40-minute talk in Barcelona, they’ll have a lot of “in tune” moments such as this one.
by Florentina Tone
We meet in the press room, on the last day of the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, in between the practice for the exhibition and the exhibition itself. The junior silver medalists are not taking part in the gala – and Alla and Pavel won’t be in the audience either. “I like the adrenalin of the competition better”, says Alla with a smile, and Pavel continues her line of thoughts: “Galas are usually for spectators that don’t attend the competition”.
They’ll visit Barcelona instead, as they had done whenever having some spare time after winning their silver, on December 11th; up to our encounter, their favorite place was El Poble Espanyol [the Spanish Village], and for Pavel, these little wanderings around the city have been a good opportunity to improve his Spanish skills. No wonder he’ll slip into our conversation some “Si, si” [Yes, in Spanish] from time to time. And the implicit smiles, of course, since our talk resembled, in parts, a language seminar, with Pavel doing most of the talking in English, and Alla constantly adding things in Russian and helping him in finding the corresponding words – google translate on her phone proved a reliable ally when everything else failed. One thing is sure: they make a great team these two, on and off the ice, and this English-Russian interview was clearly a team effort, not to mention utterly enjoyable.
“The silver from last season and the silver we got now are absolutely different”
Coming to Barcelona for the second time in their career, after winning the JGPF silver last season in the exact same city and arena, Alla and Pavel found it easier and harder at the same time. It was easier because, as Pavel puts it, “you already know the quality of the ice – and here is the best quality of ice for ice dance”. He’ll explain it in a second: “It’s about how you feel it under your feet, somehow soft… Not to mention the atmosphere in the arena is warm, not cold like in the hockey rinks, and this is very good for our discipline”.
On the other hand, “the silver from last season and the silver we got now are absolutely different. Because when we came here for the first time, I think no one was expecting great things from us. This year, we felt a little bit more responsibility – this is, of course, very good, but, at the same time, a little harder. Not to mention, in every case, there were very strong teams – and, this year, other teams than in 2014. And the judges, in each of these two competitions, were different, and our type of sport is… subjective, absolutely subjective”. He laughs, and then adds: “Because someone likes happy stories, someone likes drama… and the one thing we can do is tell the story we want to tell through our skating, and enjoy what we’re doing on the ice. The main thing is to do your work with pleasure”. They’re young, Alla and Pavel, but they may have already understood one of the essential lessons to be learned in order to be successful.
Of course, heading for the second Junior Grand Prix Final of their career, after taking silver and gold in their GP events this season, in Bratislava (Slovakia) and Linz (Austria), they didn’t rest on their oars – constant improving is a key thing in every sport, not just figure skating, so the two worked hard for the final in Barcelona, and even made some changes on their elements. Pavel puts things into context: “Specialists came to our ice rink in Moscow and gave us important advice, because we had a little problem in our first Grand Prix with the step sequence, we only took level 1. And this is very bad for our couple because we work and… In our second Grand Prix we took level 2, and now, in the final, we took level 3”. “So there’s still level 4 to be accomplished”, I add, and they both nod in agreement: “Yes, we hope to get it”.
Pavel Drozd: “The most important thing for us in this competition was to skate with emotions and enjoy our programs and our performance. And, of course, to represent our country and get a good score”
Still, there’s more than one change this season, comparing to the previous one, when only a few expected a medal in their debut at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Their free dance to music from “Giselle” by Adolphe Adam – with Alla and Pavel telling the story of the peasant girl Giselle and the count betraying her love and trust – was, clearly, one of the highlights of the entire 2014 JGPF; and although the theme and the balletic style suited them wonderfully, this season they decided to go in a different direction, at least when it comes to who’s playing the leading role in the free dance.
“During last season, Alla had the main role: she was Giselle. This season, I’m playing the part of Paganini, so I have the leading role”, says Pavel with a smile, and you understand now the change in hairstyle: the 20-year-old wears his hair longer than usual, making every effort to identify himself with the Italian violinist and composer Niccolò Paganini, as portrayed by David Garrett in the movie “The Devil’s Violinist” (2013).
This particular film, chronicling the life of the famous 19th-century artist, served as an inspiration for their free dance, and brought with it a whole new set of challenges. “It is very important to express the different emotions and feelings of this character, because Paganini was a very strange person. Some say he gave his heart to the devil, some say he was a genius, of course, and I needed to show that on the ice. So, coming to this competition, our main goal was to live in our music, tell the story to the spectators and judges, and make sure everyone understands it”. The music is, of course, Paganini-related: “Io ti penso amore”, performed by violinist David Garrett and singer Nicole Scherzinger, from the soundtrack of the movie, and Paganini’s “Caprice no. 5”, played by Edvin Marton.
It is, indeed, a challenge to portray Paganini during the best years of his career – in the movie, he is acclaimed by legions of fans and manoeuvred through a set of visible and invisible strings by his mysterious manager, Urbani – and it was equally challenging for Alla and Pavel to explain in details some of the layers of this intricate story. “One of the most important themes of our free dance is to show love, my love to Charlotte, because, at first, she doesn’t love me…”, says Pavel, pointing out to the romance involving Niccolò Paganini and Charlotte Watson, a girl he meets in his travels. And then he pauses and asks Alla something in Russian. She answers with a large smile, and they both laugh heartily. “It’s a love story difficult to explain, I get it…”, I laugh too, since I’m familiar with the movie, and Paganini is portrayed as a notorious womanizer. “In the end, I stay alone”, concludes Pavel, to everyone’s amusement.
“We must be a little bit kind to each other…”
Their short dance this season, to Chopin’s Waltz no. 10 in H minor and Russian Battle March, has a totally different story – not to mention it was a complete novelty for Alla to skate the program on her birthday: she turned 17 on December 10. Minutes after their dance, in the mixed zone, she’ll gleefully answer to the journalists’s questions: “I got more than one present from my partner, but the best present was our performance today”. True words: their unison, their commitment to the story were clearly visible during the 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the dance, and got them 64.01 points, a seasons best for Alla and Pavel and the third best score of the afternoon.
Considering the music, the outfits, the overall atmosphere, the short dance reminded everyone of a ball of the Russian aristocracy – and, just a couple of days later, Pavel will tell us the full story, and the message to be read between the lines. “The main theme of our short program is taken from the Russian classics: Lev Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace. At the beginning, Andrei Bolkonsky, my hero, meets Natasha Rostova, Alla’s character. This is our first encounter, you can see it in our first pose: she doesn’t know me, and I touch her, and she’s like: Aaaaah!”. Alla smiles, while Pavel continues on a more serious note: “Our heroes fall in love, and this is the first part of our program, where the compulsory dance is the Waltz. The second part is March, Russian Battle March, when Andrei Bolkonsky needs to go to war”.
Some background details, from the novel itself, might prove useful: Tolstoy’s War and Peace chronicles the 1812 French invasion of Russia, and the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on the Tsarist society, through the stories of five Russian aristocratic families: the Bezukhovs, the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs, the Kuragins and the Drubetskoys. Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky is an aide-de-camp in the Napoleonic Wars, while countess Natalya Ilynichna (Natasha) Rostova is a romantic young girl, searching for happiness.
Back to Alla, who summarizes the second part of the dance, from her character’s point of view, “Natasha hopes that Andrei returns from the war…”, and to Pavel, who explains the reason for choosing such a story: “We try to translate the story in our days, with not the easy situation in our world right now. And we want to say that we don’t need war, that we must be a little bit kind to each other…” A generous, heartwarming message to convey to the audience; not to mention truthful and extremely realistic.
Work, work, work
Alla was 4 or 5 years old when she first put her skates on: she was accompanying an older friend – and by older we mean a 6-7-year-old – to an ice rink in Moscow. Natasha, the friend we’re talking about, was a figure skater already, and her parents didn’t want her alone at the ice rink, so Alla went with her, until she herself became a figure skater. A couple of years later we’ll find Alla skating with Emil Samvelian in Moscow, in Ksenia Rumiantseva’s group. “But Emil was older than me, and he could already skate in seniors and I couldn’t, because I was very young. And then I met Pasha…”, Alla says with a smile.
Pavel’s story is no different, except that he was born in Saint Petersburg and learned to skate there, when he was about 5 years old. “But I started in an absolutely different kind of sport, I started football, and I also started skating, because father wanted that I would become a footballer and mother wanted that I would be a figure skater”. “…And you wanted to be an astronaut”, I can’t help but adding, to everyone’s amusement.
The truth is Pavel liked both of the sports he was learning at the time, but, at a certain point, he had to choose one or the other. “Many coaches said that I was talented and, when I was 7 years old, my parents made the decision that I would be a figure skater. Later on, when I was 14, I started to ice dance, because St. Petersburg needed a couple to represent the city in a national competition, with skaters from different parts of Russia. And after that competition we took a call from Moscow and I was invited to skate in Ksenia Rumiantseva’s group”. He too had a different partner in Moscow, before teaming up with Alla: “I skated with Valeria Podlazova, but then she got injured and couldn’t continue skating, so our coach made the decision that I would skate with Alla, and work, work, work…”
Counting their years together in the free dances skated so far
“So you are skating together for how long…?”, I feel like recapping, and they instantly look at each other. “Kakom godom…”, Pavel repeats my question, and they start muttering in Russian, consulting one another. An enumeration might be in order, since I hear familiar musical pieces, like “Romeo and Juliet” or “Scheherazade”.
“From the middle of the 2012-2013 season”, Pavel concludes, and I can’t help but asking: “Have you just counted your programs?”. They burst into laughter: “Yes!”, and Pavel continues: “We counted the years and the free programs”. “Let’s hear it then”, and Alla summarizes the free dances so far: “The first one was Scheherazade, a ballet by Rimsky-Korsakov; another program was skated to «Vivo per lei» by Andrea Bocelli, a very beautiful music, and another part of the music was from the «Dance of the Knights» from «Romeo and Juliet». Last season was Giselle, and this season, Paganini”.
Three people in the press room celebrating Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s success
How do they choose the music for their programs? Well, with their hearts, as Pavel admits in all honesty: “When we’re listening to different musical pieces, the most important thing for us is to feel the music with all our hearts. We must live in our music and we must know what feelings are there, what we want to tell the spectators and judges”.
And they do love to skate to different kinds of music and impersonate different characters. Looking at Pavel, Alla says something in Russian – “mnogi razni stili…” – and then tries to explain it in English: “We like to dance a lot of dances, we already tried many of them in the gym: Paso Doble, Latin American…” Pavel adds: “We want to show different sides of our couple, we don’t want to skate to only one type of music. Plus, change is necessary: if you want to get more, you need to try different styles”.
No better time to ask them about their favorite ice dancers and performances in the history of the discipline. And, as you’ll see, when picking up the favorites, they are considering all those things they can learn from the skaters they admire. “Every couple has different strong sides that we can take to our couple…”, says Pavel, and Alla continues: “We can learn some things from all of them… but I think I love more Meryl Davis and Charlie White”.
Pavel, on the other hand, has at least two couples on his mind, and talks about them in detail: “The ones that I like the most are the French Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat. I like their skating very much because I see them living in their programs, and I have always liked sportsmen living in their programs. They show a story on the ice, not only work. And the programs that I remember the most are «The Mummy» and their last free dance, «The Little Prince». The program they skated at the Olympics was absolutely great”.
As for his other favorite dancers, he was lucky to see them live in Barcelona: Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje had just won the Grand Prix Final gold the night before. “Very beautiful skaters, and they skate amazing programs”, Pavel describes the joy of having seen them with his own eyes. All of a sudden, he starts applauding, “Congratulations to them!”, and we do the same, since his enthusiasm is really contagious: three people around a table in the press room celebrating Kaitlyn and Andrew’s success.
Facing the last big competition of the season
When I talked to them in Barcelona, last December, Alla and Pavel were looking forward to their next competitions of the season: Russia’s Junior Nationals, in Chelyabinsk, in January, and, if everything went according to plans, the Junior Worlds in Debrecen (Hungary), in mid-March. “This season we have many goals”, Pavel summarized. “Have great results, of course, and show that we’ve progressed, that we continue to do so. We hope to take gold at Junior Nationals and we want to go to the Junior Worlds. We will work very hard for that”.
Three months after our conversation, and they seem to be on the right track, Alla and Pavel. Gold at Russian Junior Championships: checked. Named in Russia’s team for the Junior Worlds in Debrecen: checked. And for the first Junior Worlds of their career, with the silver from Barcelona in their pockets, 17-year-old Alla and 20-year-old Pavel dream big: “We want to take more in Debrecen. We’ll compete against Lorraine and Quinn, and Rachel and Michael again [Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons, gold and bronze in Barcelona – n.a.] and it will be very hard. A battle of nerves…” And a battle with themselves, at the same time: there’s still a level 4 on a step sequence to be earned.
More photos from the 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final