A full month has passed – and I still don’t know whether Ice Legends was a dream or not. It sure looked like a dream – all these beautiful people, skating all these beautiful programs, the magic, the aura, the emotions, and then, in complete darkness, the overwhelming joy of witnessing it all. But then again, it was a dream: one of Stéphane Lambiel’s dreams, turned into reality, for him, his friends, and figure skating fans from all around the world. Because the Swiss really acted like a figure skating lover when choosing the cast and putting together the overall content. “Ice Legends’ concept is to make us relive programs that left their mark upon the history of skating, but, more importantly, changed the lives of those performing them”, he said, two days before the show – and then, with D-day getting nearer, his enthusiasm was almost palpable: “They’re all the most incredible skaters – I’m so glad this is the group of Ice Legends 2016, and I wish we could keep this group together and go on tour everywhere in the world”.
Take Stéphane’s awe, multiply it by a thousand, and you might get a sense of what this second edition of Ice Legends meant to everyone’s attending. And if my fingers had the liberty to write what my mind had felt during the show, this story would be nothing but a long, long queue of exclamation points.
by Florentina Tone
It’s a wonderful Spring day in Geneva, on April 22nd, and, shortly before noon, around Bains de Pâquis, people are strolling, sun-bathing, and some of them are swimming, troubling the white swans’ lazy floating on the Lac Léman. Among the many enjoying the sun and the view, some Japanese ladies with backpacks and cameras – I recognize myself in them; and as we pass each other, I smile to myself, as if I knew a secret. And I do know one: a couple of hours later we’ll share the joy. We already are.
Circling Patinoire des Vernets in the evening, while searching for the entrance, I can’t help but wondering: does Geneva know how lucky she is – in my mind, Geneva is a coquettish lady, with her jewels in plain sight – does she know how lucky she is to gather some of the biggest names of figure skating under her hat? Well, I’m sure she’s proud to have them, but I would’ve definitely put a bigger banner at the entrance of the rink, announcing the event. Not to sound exaggerate or anything, but a banner as big as the People’s House in Bucharest – and that’s the second largest administrative building in the world – might have been the appropriate size for the amount of jewels inside.
And then I’m in – and this parallel universe embraces me, as if it were a cocoon. And 10 minutes before the due hour, a happy, noisy razzle-dazzle takes over Patinoire des Vernets, this Genevese spot connected with Stéphane Lambiel through thousands and thousands of invisible threads: he entered the rink when he was 10, a young boy coming from the Swiss city of Saxon, looking for Monsieur Grütter, Peter Grütter, his future coach. And because some stories simply sound better in French, Stéphane chose Vernets to host Ice Legends “parce que c’est ma maison. C’est ici que j’ai tout appris. […] Cette patinoire a une âme”.
Il est très chic, la patinoire – I put my French skills to a test while waiting for the magic to begin, while noticing the rows of chairs on my left, installed on the surface of the ice covered with a dark moquette; this particular area will host the fans of the fans, those holding banners supporting Daisuke Takahashi (“D1SK”) and enjoying Brian Joubert’s full attention – including a kiss on a lady’s hand – during his James Bond routine. And, yes, this is a teaser.
Butterflies. Lots of them.
At 20:38, the heroes of the night enter the ice in complete silence, shadows in half-light, only to burst into colors, while presenting themselves to the audience and skating the opening number, to Coldplay’s Adventure of a Lifetime. In the euphoria, the butterflies of the moment, I try to take some photos; but, hurrying to lift the camera from the small table in front of me – I’m sitting in the press stands, alongside fellow journalists – I manage to also “lift” my phone, which flies across my eyes, only to find a safer spot under our chairs. I’ll spend a couple of seconds trying to identify it and pick it up, and, by the end of the show, I’ll regret each and every second lost. Next time I’ll know better: I’ll leave it there.
“Maintenant, nous vous prions de faire du bruit!” [And now, we ask you to make some noise!], the announcer of the arena invites us, and the audience does just that, and I’m doing just that, yelling, and clapping, and clamping – and the roar is deafening, at least when it comes to welcoming Brian Joubert, Daisuke Takahashi, Carolina Kostner, Stéphane Lambiel. A day later, while interviewing Carolina, she’ll recount a short dialogue with Stéphane, when it comes to the public’s wonderful feedback right from the start: “I remember that after the opening, Stéphane said: «Oooh, how are we gonna keep up? How are we gonna keep up with this energy?» But then it was just getting better and better, masterpiece after masterpiece after masterpiece…”
But the night is still very young inside Patinoire des Vernets, and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili, the precious guest of Ice Legends, introduces herself to the audience by playing a personal interpretation of Adventure of a Lifetime and giving us a sense of what we might expect later on, during the show. She’s gorgeous, and talented, and full of character, the Georgian pianist, and the piano obeys her completely.
As for the colorful silhouettes on the ice, you can not possibly miss Mr. Takahashi. And not only because he wears that red suit he won the Grand Prix Final with, at the end of 2012 (remember his SP, to a Rock’n’Roll medley?), but because his dance moves are unique – and unmistakable. My eyes are glued, and I’m definitely more of a fan than of a journalist these two hours. And who is not, really, with the quantity of talent on display in Geneva? A day later, Carolina Kostner will tell me that after her Boléro she would run into the dressing room to change, and come back in a heartbeat, not to miss any of her colleagues’ performances. And Ice Legends was conceived in such a way that you didn’t want to miss a thing – and if you heard the jingle announcing the second act while sitting in the long queue to the restroom, to leave it all behind and hurry to your place.
As for the suits, the happy, colored suits, the skaters will change a couple of them during the show – and I’m sure there were people in the audience who could connect the costume, and the program, and the season, in a matter of seconds. Care to try? You’ll see your mind will prove a wonderful ally.
And then there’s complete darkness again, and hearts beating faster, and anticipation. And there’s me, a month after the show, breaking down this joyful canvas into threads, this shiny, royal gown into bits, pieces of magic. I see no better comparison: Ice Legends resembled a sparkling skating dress, with precious stones chosen by Stéphane himself.
…and so you’ll hear him talk a lot during our story, as if he were a movie director, offering details and advice, putting things into context, sharing dreams and plans, adding to the bigger scene – and, mostly, spreading joy, enthusiasm. Because apart from being the creator of Ice Legends, Stéphane Lambiel is an aficionado, a lover of the sport. A day before the show, while meeting his fans, he’ll talk and act like one of them, while describing himself in the presence of his guests: „Every second on the ice there’s something happening, (and) I’m just like: Oh my God!, Oh my God!, This is so great!, This is amazing!, I love it!, I love this one!”.
[Stéphane, a day before the D-day: “I think that we need a miracle to happen tomorrow, because it is a big challenge for all of us, to skate all those difficult programs. And it’s not only about those difficult programs, it’s also about the big story that we have with Khatia. So to combine the work that we have done with all the skaters, for the live part, with the very extraordinary programs from all the skaters, I can’t wait actually to see the final product. Because we’ve been practicing all those parts, but I just want them to be all together and the show happens”. In a lodge inside Patinoire des Vernets, Stéphane meets some of his fans and, back against the ice, he shares with them a couple of stories from the show to come. He’s anxious, and happy, and proud – and looking forward to the next day.]
No better way to start the night than the inviting skate of the 16-year-old Deniss Vasiljevs and his short program this season, to “Puttin’ On the Ritz”. Silver medalist at 2016 Youth Olympics, Deniss met Stéphane in Lillehammer, and expressed his wish to be a part of Ice Legends. And so it was. Meeting some of his role models in Geneva – Stéphane Lambiel himself and Daisuke Takahashi – was a bonus, and the young Latvian did not collapse under the burden of the moment. Au contraire: he looked more than relaxed on the ice of Vernets and his confidence, his will to move mountains reminded Stéphane of himself. Not to mention Deniss wants medals, many of them, more than Stéphane’s maybe…
And there you have it: the trouvaille of Ice Legends – those inspired, lively videos introducing the skaters. Instead of having a master of ceremony, the skaters became masters of ceremony themselves, introducing each other, joy, honesty, admiration included – and little jokes, here and there. It’s time for Stéphane to announce the leit-motif of the show, „Des numéros de légende pour des artistes de légende” [Legendary programs for legendary artists], and no performance will abdicate from the rule.
Sarah Meier is reviving her short program from the season she won the second silver at the Europeans, 2007-2008, a soft, emotional performance to the music from the movie „Patch Adams” – „le numéro qui a changé sa vie”, as Stéphane says in the video introducing his longtime friend. And then Bond takes the ice, Brian Bond, and for the next couple of minutes the audience is literally on fire. To the very much enthusiasm of the crowd, the French skates a program suiting him like a glove, like one of James Bond’s gloves: his short program from 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 seasons, to music from the movie „Die Another Day”.
“Ladies… and ladies”
He’s a magnet for everyone watching, Brian Joubert, and his presence is one of the highlights of every show he attends: that loved he is, that much he means for figure skating. And the short video of Brian introducing… well, Brian, brings a smile right from the start: „Stéph et moi, en face de se battre pour les mêmes titres, on nous a toujours considéré comme des ennemis. Mais, en fait, on a surtout devenus des copains. La rivalité c’est vraie, mais c’etait surtout entre nos deux mamans”. He smiles, an accomplice smile, and then continues: „Mais, entre vous et moi, sur 19 confrontations, je l’ai battu 11 fois”. Of course, Stéphane will not leave it as it is: „Oui, mais ma maman, elle fait mieux le gigot”. You may be asking yourselves what a „gigot” is, as I did, and, later on, I came up with this: a cooked leg of mutton, lamb, or veal. And then, playing with the strengths of his friend among the fans, Stéphane will only say that, with an air that he knows what he says about le séducteur: „Ladies… and ladies, Brian Joubert!”.
When Marie-Pierre Leray takes the sky of the rink for her number, Hiro, the colleague on my right, fetches a sigh. And how could he not, when Marie-Pierre is flying, and twirling, and twisting with her circle, meters above the ice, no strings attached, no safety net beneath her… Former competitive skater representing France – in 1994, she was 7th at the Worlds and 14th at the Olympics – Marie-Pierre turned into an aerial acrobat and, for the last couple of years, she’s highlighting the galas all throughout Europe with her numbers combining circus elements with skating. And when she said, prior to her performance in Geneva, „I think I can do what Stéphane does, but I don’t think he can do what I do”, she was spot on. And Stéphane agreed: „…and I don’t even try”.
Reactions, emotions, reflections
Daisuke Takahashi: Bonjour, La Suisse. J’espère que vous allez bien! I’m glad to be here to skate for you. I have to tell you a secret: I almost became a hockey player.
Brian Joubert: Moi aussi!
Sarah Meier: Pas mois.
Stéphane Lambiel: Et surtout pas moi! Sans plus attendre, merci d’avoir accueilli, dans son tout nouveau numéro, Daisuke Takahashi!
And then there’s this: the reason why I kept mumbling „Lacrimooosa…” days on end after the show – and I don’t even have an ear for music (or a beautiful voice altogether). But this particular number, Daisuke Takahashi’s Lacrimosa, is highly addictable. And so is the skater himself. And I remember my confusion the first couple of seconds of that program: what do I do? Do I take pictures, do I write down my thoughts, the crowd’s reactions? How do I do preserve, in the tiniest details, the emotions of such a skate? And then my mind calmed down, and embraced the performance, and this new face of Daisuke Takahashi after a year in New York, studying dance. And then it struck me: the spot he left behind when he decided to retire is still empty – there’s no one like him in the competitive arena right now, with talent, musicality, charisma to build a house from its foundations. He could come back – but he won’t, he said it more than once. Luckily, we’re still having him skate in galas – him and his reflections in the plexiglass walls surrounding the lateral parts of the ice rink. And it’s in these areas in particular that you see tens of „D1SK” towels in the air, at the end of his program – and I would have raised one myself if only I had had one…
Taking the audience in their journey
Tessa Virtue: We’ve been skating together for 19 years.
Scott Moir: Wow, that’s since you were 7… and I was 9.
Tessa: Yes, kind of scary, actually.
Scott: What do you mean, scary?
Stéphane: Tessa et Scott, ils ont tout gagné.
[Tessa is laughing.]
Scott: Not everything.
Tessa: Not everything, but a few Olympic medals at least.
Stéphane: Mesdames et Messieurs, Tessa Virtue et Scott Moir!
Tessa and Scott enter the ice of Vernets for their first number and, as they start skating, Salome Brunner notices something on the ice and, in half-light, hurries up a little girl to go and pick the package. It’s a white, plushy pillow, with „D1SK” on it, covered in cellophane – and this is really the moment when I start paying attention to Salome, a shadow with long hair, in the close proximity of the ice. She’ll be there for the entire night, scanning the ice, sending and receiving the skaters – one of the pillars of Ice Legends, really – and she’ll be there at the end of it too, talking to people, and having an eye on everything, when the technicians would already start disassembling the pieces (Patinoire des Vernets is mainly used for hockey, and the home arena of Genève-Servette Hockey Club).
In only their second trip to a show in Europe, the Canadians are skating to a hit of the moment, Justin Bieber’s Sorry, and they are truly taking the audience with them in their journey; it’s a whole lot of noise in the arena while they dance, and the choreography is really inspired. In a way, this particular number reminds me of them very young, performing their exhibition program in Vancouver, at the 2010 Olympics: she, a ballerina, he, a boy from the suburbs, skating to the energetic „Everybody Dance Now”. They’re still very good, Tessa and Scott, and I literally can’t wait to see them back in competitions. One thing is sure though: the „sublime cast” of Ice Legends, as Tessa described in an interview for a Japanese television, inspired them hugely and, going home, they’re taking the enthusiasm and the new tricks with them.
Le Poème: poetry on ice, poetry in motion, and all things poetry
[Stéphane, two days before the show: “It’s somehow crazy, because we first thought about this poem when Khatia suggested Ravel’s La Valse, which is a waltz about searching the unaccessible. It’s not at all easy to understand this waltz, but, alongside my choreographer, Salome, we started thinking about it, and we did some research and discovered that a great director, the director of Ballets Russes, at the beginning of the XX century asked Ravel to write this piece. And listening to it, Diaghilev said: «But this is not a piece you can dance to!» And Salome and I realized it may not be danceable, but it is skateable! And we’re going to show Diaghilev that we can do something with this magnificent waltz of Ravel”.]
And then we meet Khatia. Kha-tia Bu-nia-tish-vi-li!, Stéphane utters her name, as if he wanted to gather in his pronunciation all of her talent and all of his admiration. This is, by far, the most inspired video in the show – the longest, the liveliest, if only for the number of characters involved: Khatia, Stéphane, Mao Asada, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Ilia Kulik, not to mention „l’héroïne au coeur pure: l’unique, la fabuleuse, la fatale Carolina Kostner”.
As for Khatia, she’s not a skater – she “only” knows to play the piano. “JUSTE du piano?”, Stéphane disagrees, „Comment dire? Khatia, c’est une me-ga-star! C’est elle qui va nous accompagner dans notre grand Poème en trois parties”, and both of them introduce, with passion and commitment, the three parts of the poem, with the musical piece reserved to each of the main characters of the story: Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 for Mao Asada, Debussy’s Clair de Lune for Carolina Kostner and Ravel’s La Valse for Carolina and Stéphane.
[Khatia Buniatishvili, two days before the show: “To make a poem on ice is possible, because when I first saw Stéphane dancing – (to Stéphane:) To me you’re not skating, you’re dancing – I told myself: He is a poet of the ice. So for me those things were possible right from the start – things that we hadn’t thought possible before in this sport… Artistically, this opened all the gates – the idea of making a little bit of theatre, like a poem on ice, with music. And, plus, with classical music, which changes its rhythm all the time, and for a skater is difficult to keep up with this changing rhythm. Besides, when I play, I always do it differently, because I’m very spontaneous. (She laughs heartily). To me, this is like improvisation, when I play the atmosphere is different all the time. (laughing, to Stéphane and Carolina, who look at her smiling, rather confused): Don’t worry!... Our souls will work together: mine expresses itself in my music, theirs, in their movements. It is difficult, I agree, but I’m sure it will be wonderful because I work with Artists…”]
It’s a storm, an avalanche, Khatia, when she plays the piano; and her black, rich, curly hair seems to have a life of its own – the hair itself is an instrument for conveying emotions. She’s a hurricane, yes, but also an Autumn, quiet rain, and dewdrops in the morning when she touches the keys and plays, for Mao – the ballerina in black tutu, with white, scholarly collar, Chopin’s Ballade no. 1.
Of course, for the last couple of seasons, Yuzuru Hanyu took hold of this wonderful musical piece, and you can barely imagine it now skated by someone else, but if someone can do that, that someone is Mao Asada. Mao who embraced the ballade once before, in her exhibition program from 2010-2011 season – a year after winning the silver at the Vancouver Olympics. And so, before becoming Yuzuru’s, the ballade belonged to Mao. And Mao skates, and skates in Geneva – not 2:50 minutes, not 4, but 8 minutes altogether, a carousel of emotions for her and everyone’s watching. [Stéphane: “Khatia wanted to play the whole piece, she didn’t want to «edit» it. She didn’t want to have any cuts in that piece, and I totally understand because it’s such a wonderful piece, and it’s a pity to cut it...”] Throughout her skate, characters come and go, but Mao is always there, a permanent presence in her ballerina black dress, telling the story, skating the story. She’s the narrator, Llosa’s Storyteller.
…and, at a certain moment, with Mao standing still in the darkness, offering those other characters space and time to introduce themselves, Noah Bodenstein, Elizaveta Nugumanova and and Deniss Vasiljevs would jump a 2 Axel just in front of her – and this makes sense for all the reasons in the world. And you wouldn’t expect less from Stéphane Lambiel when creating this woven of emotions. His touch is visible in everything about the show – what other jump would be more appropriate for Mao? – and attention to details is clearly Stéphane’s registered trademark.
[Stéphane, a day before: „Mao is the narrator of the story, a love story, and at the beginning of the ballade she presents the skaters – they are all representing a village. We have, for example, the guys, the gang, with Ilia, Brian and Scott going out and being the bad boys of the village. Then we have the two girls, Sarah and Tessa, they’re going on a shopping day together; you have the kids of the village running around and being together, having fun. Then, finally, we have the romantic couple, Tania and Max – and, at the end, they present Carolina. Actually, we all see Carolina in the village and we ask her: Can you tell us your story? And then finally Mao asks her: Please, tell us your story. And we leave the ice, and Carolina will show her program, to «Clair de Lune»”.]
And then THIS happens: the beautiful, serene Carolina Kostner skates to Debussy’s Clair de Lune, in her hazy, intricate dress, in the half-shadow of the arena, turned completely silent – and I’m touched to the fingertips. You know what they say: La Regina é Carolina. The Queen of emotions, above everything, and the most touching part of Ice Legends happens in these minutes and seconds towards the end of Act One.
I’ll say it differently: Carolina Kostner is not skating to music, she is the music. That ineffable music played by Khatia Buniatishvili with such devotedness, such delicacy. And their incredible connection, their eyes, their smiles, them being together in the moment, as if nothing else was happening in the surrounding universe, well, this might very well be the definition of magic. And, in the morning following the show, the magic would still be there, with both Carolina and I under the powerful impression of those moments.
She’ll say, an eye on that particular performance: “If I just think of my piano number yesterday with Khatia, it was just so heartwarming, because it’s not an atmosphere that you can switch on and switch off. It happens, it creates. And it’s an energy of a lot of people coming together, and Khatia was just so passionate, she can sink in to that moment, and that inspired me so much to try and sink in too… Plus, I felt even the audience that came, did not come because they wanted to see Ice Legends, or wanted to see the legends – they wanted to come to be part of this big friendship, and that made a huge difference. So you can kinda of relax more, and you can share… You stumble, and maybe you make a mistake, but you’re sharing your emotions, and that was very, very special”.
The truth is Carolina’s performance – her story within the bigger story – was an emotion from top to finish. For everyone’s attending. Minutes after the show, an Italian friend, Emanuela, is telling me she always wanted to see Carolina skate to Debussy (wish granted, and so many wishes did come true during Ice Legends…), while Anna, a photographer, confesses she almost didn’t dare to press the shutter while Carolina was on the ice; she simply didn’t want to interfere with the beauty of such a skate. To me, this was a pinnacle of emotions – a miracle in itself – and I see no reason not to share this with Carolina the following day: “At the end of your skate, people around me were looking for handkerchiefs…”. She smiles, her eyes glitter. “…and I’m not even going to say that I was looking for a handkerchief too…”. And Carolina laughs, we both do, and adds in all honesty: “I did too at some point… But then I said: No, no, just concentrate”. Another round of joyful laughter follows – she knows what a great moment she had created a night before, but she also knows what that particular moment meant for her. Later on during our talk, she’ll come back to it, to the meaning of it: “If I could ever relive an experience like in Sochi… That’s my dream… But I think yesterday got really, really, really close”.
And then Khatia attacks the first notes of Ravel’s La Valse – that undanceable waltz, as Diaghilev thought of it, and the core of Le Poème – and the air, the overall atmosphere of the story changes completely. There’s no serenity anymore, nor the beautiful lady dancing happily under the moonlight, but power, and passion, and darkness, as Stéphane Lambiel takes the ice. Car il est le séducteur. And for the final act of the poem, he’ll lure Carolina into his arms, and the two will dance the famous pas de deux they’ve been preparing at Stéphane’s skating school, in Champéry.
The beginning was difficult though, Stéphane smilingly admits to his fans, a day before the show – two incredibly talented single skaters trying to learn the tricks, the automatisms of a duo, in a matter of days: “We spent one week together in the mountains, at Champéry, to choreograph the number that we do together. We actually choreographed her solo, to Clair de Lune, and the piece that we do together. [...] But the first day, we were not able to… I couldn’t understand her rhythm, she didn’t understand mine, she was not bending, I was bending, and I’m not tall, so I would look so short, everything was wrong. And we sat in the dressing room and we were not talking to each other, we were just like: Oh, My God, why are we…? And the second day, everything was fine, we understood each other, knee flexion was not a problem, speed was not a problem, timing was not a problem, so you just need to take time and you need to be patient…”.
He smiles, the proud father of Ice Legends, and the truth is you don’t see those glitches from the start of their work in the overall result; that good they are, the two of them. Not to mention they’ll constantly try to learn secrets from the best of the best, as Carolina will joyfully recount a day after the show: „I asked Tessa some advice, and she said: You can do this, and you can do that… And I was like: Show me slow, please… And our rose turn – in Stéphane and my number, we called it the rose turn – Tessa actually taught me to turn well, but I didn’t turn well yesterday…”. She’ll add with a smile: “I will improve that”, and I know she will.
On the ice of Vernets, couples come and go, Tessa and Scott, Tatiana and Maxim – and Carolina and Stéphane only have eyes for each other, taming that apparently untameable waltz of Ravel; and their dance together is truly magnetic. But then a threat to their liaison comes into light: Daisuke Takahashi himself, and you see Stéphane trying to lure him too, in his attempt to gather love, as much as possible.
[Stéphane, a day before the show: “With Daisuke I already knew he was incredible. From the Ravel team, he was the last to arrive, so we had to be quick with the part that we have together, and he got the feeling, he got the steps, and, after a few times, we could already put some emotions into our performance. What’s incredible with Daisuke is that as soon as he feels it, there is an emotion, and it was great to work again with him”.]
And then we come back to Khatia’s words, right from the start: “Comme toutes les passions non partagées, ça finit par l’auto-destruction”. Stéphane’s emotional self-destruction, out of too much love, at the end of a symbolical attempt to attain the unattainable. As written in the Ice Legends brochure offered to the guests of the night: „L’historie d’un individu qui consume son désir de séduire et qui s’y brûlera les ailes”.
And then there’s darkness again. And Khatia, Mao, Carolina, Stéphane, sharing an emotional hug at the end of a breathtaking performance.
…and then there’s the entr’acte, for our hearts to return to their places.
Second Act: a marathon of masterpieces
On paper, the program for the second act looks utterly amazing – and no other figure skating gala has ever produced something like this: Carolina Kostner’s Boléro, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov’s Masquerade: Waltz, Mao Asada’s Madame Butterfly, Stéphane Lambiel’s Poeta, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Carmen, Daisuke Takahashi’s Historia de un Amor/Qué Rico el Mambo. Really, how much can a fan’s heart take? Well, all of the above.
[Stéphane Lambiel, two days before the show: “Ice Legends’ concept is to make us relive programs that left their mark upon the history of skating, but, more importantly, changed the lives of those performing them”.]
[Carolina Kostner, a day after the show: “He chose the programs for everyone, Stéphane. It’s called «Ice Legends», and it surely lived up to the standards”.]
With the 12-year-old Noah Bodenstein opening the second part of the show, skating an energetic routine to George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, followed by the wonder-girl Elizaveta Nugumanova – what a talent she already is, and that’s so easily traceable in her “Sing, Sing, Sing” performance, we arrive at one of the most emotional moments of the night: Stéphane Lambiel’s favorite skater performing in Stéphane Lambiel’s very own show. With Ilia Kulik entering the ice, a symbolic circle closes itself in front of our eyes and, for the next couple of minutes, Stéphane is one of us, one of the fans.
First, let’s imagine an 11-year-old Swiss boy in Lausanne, in 1997, his eyes following anxiously a Russian skater who had come to Switzerland for the World Championships. But he was sad on that particular day, Ilia Kulik, “It was not my best day. I really wanted to forget that one”, and Stéphane didn’t dare to approach him. A year later, the Russian will win gold at the Olympics: “I was good on that day. That one I will never forget”.
[Stéphane Lambiel, a day before Ice Legends: “I saw him for the first time in the parking lot in Lausanne, and he was so disappointed, and I felt so sad for him because he was my favorite skater and I really wanted that in my country he would win. So I wanted to take a picture with him, but I saw it was not the right time for him... And, finally, he’s here, in my show, and to share this moment with him... I would never have thought, when I first saw him, in ’97, that 19 years later I’ll have him here and we would skate together. And when I see him, he’s 39, and he jumps and he skates with so much power, (and) I’m like: Aaaaa...”.]
Take Stéphane’s bright eyes, his mouth open in amazement – and add here the amazement of everyone in the arena. Ilia Kulik retired from competitive skating the season he won the Olympic gold – 18 years ago, to be precise – but what a powerful, impressive gliding he still possess; and he proves all of his skills in Geneva, while skating to Josh Groban’s Thankful. For him, Stéphane has made an exception, not asking him to perform one of his competitive programs, and Carolina Kostner will recount that with amusement: “I remember Ilia laughing and saying: How am I going to do this? I can not go back to my Olympic program! It was years and years ago! Yes, it’s understandable…”
“Unique, fabuleuse, fatale”
And then the marathon of masterpieces starts – the famous Boléro is opening the ball – but, first, we have this heartwarming video introducing Carolina Kostner to the viewers, and featuring some really enjoyable histoires d’amour.
Stéphane: La patineuse suivante est très spéciale pour moi.
Carolina (smiling): Unique, fabuleuse, fatale… c’est spéciale, non?
Stéphane: Carolina et moi on s’entraîne ensemble de tout-petits. Et, pour tout vous dire, j’ai été longtemps amoureux d’elle.
Brian: Moi aussi.
Noah & Elizaveta: Nous aussi!
[Carolina laughs – a colored, joyous laughter]
Stéphane: Carolina Kostner!
As Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s Boléro, this too will remain in the history of skating: a program that suits Carolina beautifully and, above all, the program that led her to the Olympic bronze in Sochi. And I won’t even try to describe the atmosphere in Vernets ice rink while she skated. I’ll only say that: it was electrifying. And I’ll say that too: I will never get tired of watching it. As Carolina Kostner will never get tired of skating it: „For me, I often just in practice skate the Boléro, because I just love it, and it keeps me fit, and it’s for sure the program I trained the most in my life, preparing for the Olympics and skating it for two seasons… And, also, if you see a young Sylvie Guillem doing Boléro, and she did it again in her last tournée, in her Goodbye tournée, if you compare the two, there is just a change of… maturity. And so I believe that you can always go back to a choreography and do it in a new way. That was very special – and I think that my Boléro yesterday was not the same as in Sochi, or as in other times. Because I’m not the same anymore…”
A Waltz for the ages
Looking at the three of them, while they talk, and smile, and share accomplice looks, you can bet Tatiana Volosozhar, Maxim Trankov and Stéphane Lambiel are, first and foremost, friends. They’ll leave for Thailand together, for their holiday, once the show is over, but for now Tatiana and Maxim are in Geneva, highlighting the second edition of Ice Legends. And entrusting the audience – well, that little part who didn’t know – with the news of their marriage, and that tiny, beautiful detail: the witness at their wedding (last Summer) was Stéphane himself. And the Swiss chose his gift by himself – Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov’s last performance of the Masquerade: Waltz – and doing so, he gladdened the thousands of people in Patinoire des Vernets.
[Stéphane Lambiel, two days before the show: „Since Sochi, Tatiana and Maxim have never skated their program to Khachaturian’s Waltz, they simply refused to redo it. Here, in Geneva, we’ll have the chance to see, for the first time after the Olympic Games, this program of theirs, which is simply incredible. And, after the show, they will give their costumes to the Olympic Museum (in Lausanne), so this will be also the last time we’ll see the program”.]
A golden program this is – Stéphane is absolutely right – and in Geneva, Tatiana and Maxim performed it as if they were, again, at the Olympics. Their waltz had everything – the spark, the musicality, the aura – and, skating it, they were truly the embodiment of elegance. And Maxim, in particular, wearing for the very last time that wonderful blue costume, as if he were the handsome cadet Andrej Tolstoy in Nikita Mikhalkov’s “The Barber of Siberia”, sold the program brilliantly, with an enthusiasm almost palpable; and I’ve never seen him skate like that since Sochi.
The reasons are easy to grasp: them saying goodbye to their Olympic short program, but mostly the huge joy of making Stéphane’s day. They love their friend, that’s undisputable, and all of those coming to Geneva for the show tried their best to make this event a glorious one. For them, for the audience, but mostly for Stéphane. Carolina Kostner will say it beautifully the following day: “The hardcore of the group cared so much, and, I mean, we all admire Stéphane so much, and we were good friends and, with time, we learned to love each other outside of the ice, so… we just wanted to make this so special for him especially”.
In the following video, Mao Asada takes a bow, as if she were a princess, and Stéphane introduces her to the audience, his eyes glittering with excitement – and when pronouncing her name he does that in a French way, with the accent on the final vowel: Mao Asadá! And then Carolina Kostner talks about Mao, the fierce competitor – they have been sharing the senior competitive stage since 2005, and she does that with the utmost respect and admiration: “Bon, Mao, elle est super, elle est géniale, elle est tellement forte, que je crois que chacun, quand tu vas dans la competition, t’as peur de Mao!”.
…and for the next couples of minutes, with Mao Asada as Cio-Cio-san, my heart is filled with gratitude. To me, Mao’s long program to music from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly has been the most emotional composition of the entire season in the ladies’ event; a jewel in itself, with choreographer Lori Nichol creating a program that puts Mao’s wonderful skills and musicality into the limelight. And seeing her skate on the ice of Vernets – a flower, a butterfly, a ray of light in the half-shadow of the rink – has been one of the biggest moments of the night; for me, an incurable fan of Mao Asada. There’s this incredible atmosphere in the entire program, a certain air surrounding Mao, there’s power, and subtlety, and there’s crescendo – and I feel like thanking Stéphane Lambiel publicly for giving me the chance to relive a chef d’oeuvre such as this one. And he’s a fan too, that’s for sure.
[Stéphane, a day before the show: „I know Mao because we’ve been doing competitions and shows together, and I was always very impressed (with her). What impressed me is also how quick she is: you tell her once, and she already knows. She already knows, she already feels, for her it’s natural. I think she worked so hard during her entire career that it became just... her life. When she moves it’s... phhuuu!”]
Making Poeta a good memory
Allow me to share a secret with you: I came to Geneva with a T-shirt featuring Stéphane Lambiel skating Poeta in my luggage. I have had it for years, a birthday present from a dearest friend, and it’s the best tribute to a program that I was so, so in love with a couple of years ago. Nine, to be exact. Because when Stéphane made a public display of this masterpiece, at the 2007 Worlds in Tokyo, the entire skating world was swept off its feet. The flamenco music by Vicente Amigo, the (literally) breathtaking choreography (Poeta has become one of the signature programs of Antonio Najarro), the details of the costume, the haunting voice of the singer… well, all of the above were a complete novelty in the men’s event. And some fell in love with the sport precisely after watching Poeta.
A truly bold routine that was – Antonio Najarro’s choreographies are known to be extremely demanding – and it may be exactly that boldness of the routine one of the reasons that kept Stéphane Lambiel from doing justice to the program: he was 3rd in Tokyo, but only 5th in Gothenburg, a year after; he had decided to keep Poeta for one more season. At a considerable distance from the moment, and because Poeta is clearly one of his tradermark programs, if not indeed THE program of his career, Stéphane decided to come back to it during Ice Legends, and make a good memory out of it, as he confessed to his fans in Geneva a day before the actual show: „The first time when I thought: Ok, let’s do Poeta, I tought: Oh, My God, the last time that I competed with this program it was a hard time. And then, finally, I thought: Wow, I have the chance to actually change that feeling, to make this program a good memory… I have a second chance”.
That didn’t do it less difficult, though – and he had already expressed some of the challenges he faced during the process, in a relaxed, open conversation with the media, two days before Ice Legends, when discussing the „life changing” routines included in the show: „This will be a historical moment, and I chose the programs I was the most touched by; and, discussing it with the skaters, they agreed to come back to a particular routine. And it’s not always easy to do that, I myself came back to a program that I skated in 2007, a very complex flamenco. Because (my) skating is so fluid, and in flamenco you have straight, intense movements, a lot of arching, and the posture is very important… And to come back to the automatisms from that moment wasn’t easy”.
24 hours later, in the presence of some of his fans, and with the D-day rapidly approaching, he feels like he needs a miracle, Stéphane, to pull through that program – but he constantly hints to the work that everyone is doing, in order to skate, in a show, former competitive routines, with all the efforts involved in the process: „It’s not easy, for all of us. But when you see Tessa and Scott doing Carmen, and there are so many difficult movements in it… To do that in a show is not usual”. As for Poeta, he adds, shrugging his shoulders, „at the beginning I thought it’s going to be very difficult, then, at one point, I felt very comfortable with it, and now, with the pressure, and with the stress, and the adrenalin and not a lot of sleep, I feel that I need a miracle”. „But it will happen!”, he says laughing, and slamms his hands, loosely, freely, on his knees.
It will, and it does: almost ten years after Poeta has been choreographed, here, in Patinoire des Vernets, the same ice rink sees the program brought to life again, and turned into a good, happy memory – with thousands of people witnessing the transformation. And if I need more proof about the beauty, the intensity of the moment, I’ll always remember the enthusiast cheers of the Japanese lady sitting on my left. I’ve noticed her right from the start: she had in front of her a sheet of paper with the program and, from the program, highlighted with yellow, phosphorescent marker, Daisuke Takahashi’s Mambo. She’s been, throughout the show so far, rather reserved, but now she’s clapping, and clapping, and I do recognize a Poeta fan when I see one. We share the emotion, me and her, and everyone in the arena seems to be doing the exact same thing. As for Stéphane, he’s circling the rink with a microphone in his hands, and tries to find the best words to express his joy: „Quelle émotion de patiner ce programme pour vous! C’est juste magnifique, merci pour l’accueil! Merci d’être là pour partager ce moment…”
…you could cut the intensity with a knife
In the figure skating world, there are programs and… well, masterpieces. Every once in a while, there comes a program, a magnificent one, that grabs your attention and runs away with it. And though the season ends, and so it ends, presumably, the life of that routine, it continues to stay in fact in a corner of our minds – until someone decides to breathe again life into it.
That’s the case with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s Carmen, my all time favorite program from everything they’ve skated in their career so far. And they did have some amazing dances all throughout the seasons, Tessa and Scott: their Mahler free dance, their Samba routine, the Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and not to mention all those other precious jewels, their short dances throughout the years… But Carmen is different, Carmen is something else, more like the Poeta above, instilling freshness, audacity into skating, and making quite an impression on everyone when it was first presented, in 2012-2013 season.
As many of you already know, this is not the overly used music from Bizet’s Carmen, but impressive bits taken from Carmen Suite, a one-act ballet created in 1967 by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso, to music by Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, arranged for strings and percussion. And the strings, the percussion were largely audible in Patinoire des Vernets, on April 22nd, during this particular performance, and so was the response of the audience, the delirium during and after the skate.
It had everything, Tessa and Scott’s Carmen, but first and foremost it had intensity – you could almost cut it with a knife. And for a couple of minutes, my eyes are glued – especially to Tessa, who’s a magnetic Carmen. As she should be, as I had always imagined her to be. As for Scott, he’s in the program from the very first second to the last, no less impressive than Tessa, and my overall feeling is that Ice Legends cast, them being in the middle of such a talented group inspired them both to be the best versions of themselves. A day after the show, Scott will write on twitter: „Highlight of 2016 so far? Ice Legends with such an amazing cast”.
As for me, I’ll always remember my first reaction when seeing the program for this year’s edition of Ice Legends – I made an inventory for my dearest friend Ali and sent it through WhatsApp: „Lacrimosa. Mambo. Madame Butterfly. Bolero. Masquerade. Carmen. Poeta – I’ll let you guess what are those”. She answered in a heartbeat, she knew I was talking Ice Legends. „Daisuke. Mao. Carolina… Your indulgence on Friday”. And then again, as she was processing the list: „…Oh, wow! Tessa! Wow. Wow. What a program is that one!”
“We all learned Daisuke’s Mambo steps”
The story of Daisuke Takahashi’s enthusiastic Mambo at Ice Legends started even sooner than the actual performance, with Stéphane Lambiel recreating some of the famous steps of the routine, in February; with the confirmation that Mambo would be a part of Ice Legends, as stated in the official program released two days before the show; but mostly with all the other skaters cheering and applauding Daisuke, during the long sessions of rehearsals. All the colorful hints led to this: something special was about to happen in Geneva, under the roof of Patinoire des Vernets.
And when the first music notes are heard in the arena, and the light of the projector uncovers Daisuke Takahashi – in the middle of the rink, black pants, lively, colored shirt, with a generous V-neck, as if he were indeed a ballroom dancer – the audience goes nuts. That big is the frenzy, that many people were looking forward to this particular performance, the cherry on Ice Legends’ cake. Affectionately nicknamed Daisuke’s Mambo, this is, in fact, his short program from 2010-2011 season, to Historia de un Amor and Qué Rico el Mambo, a jewel of a routine choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne for the freshly crowned World champion (in Torino, at 2010 Worlds). And this was the same season Daisuke Takahashi had his exhibition program, to La Valse d’Amélie, choreographed by Stéphane Lambiel.
And now let’s head back into the present, with Daisuke thoroughly enjoying this second life of his Mambo, surrounded by the joyful, euphoric shouts in the arena; and the “D1SK” white towels in the air, as soon as the music stopped. And I might have done just that during the skate, clapping and shouting and dancing on my chair – but the end of the routine had me on my feet, as everyone else in the ice rink. And so Stéphane’s bet from the Ice Legends brochure, “On parie que tout le monde sera debout à la fin de son légendaire mambo?”, he would have surely won it. And I can say it loud and clear, no shade of hesitation: there’s no Mambo like this Mambo, there’s no skater like this skater. Dare to contradict me.
And then there’s Daisuke Takahashi literally between temptations. The indecision: Tessa? Carolina? The blink, the blush, the game of seduction. The dancing hips. The dancing feet. The utter sorrow we don’t see that in competition. The utter joy he’s still skating in galas. And then there’s him falling under Carolina’s spell, leaving the ice, only to come back in a couple of seconds for the final part of the show. And that has him too under the spotlight, since the last minutes of Ice Legends can be very well considered a tribute to his Mambo: to a Mambo Medley by Nettai Tropical Jazz Band, each and every skater in the cast recreates those famous, anthological steps. And a day later, asking Carolina what she has learned, if any, from the Ice Legends’ team, she’ll answer quickly, with a laughter: “We all learned Daisuke’s Mambo steps, and that’s very special”.
“It’s not only competing, it’s creating something together”
I’ll spend the end of the show on my feet, soaking up the atmosphere, a smile to my ears – as the whole cast of Ice Legends says Thank you and Goodbye to a very loud and grateful audience. I’ve been a part of it for the last two hours, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. As the people near the ice, on my right, I too would hold those tiny, round banners with “6.0” on them. For years on end, 6.0 was the ultimate reward in figure skating – the equivalent of Nadia Comăneci perfect 10 in gymnastics – and I feel Stéphane Lambiel, the organizing team and the whole cast thoroughly deserve the mark for putting together an incredible show; one setting the standards for the years, the shows to come.
And then again, Carolina Kostner’s words, only a half of day after Ice Legends, gather the essence of everything we witnessed, the meaning of everything, to them, to us: “I believe that yesterday we witnessed something unique, that we may value more in the future. Cause it really set the standards. And now I know that you can rely on friends. And that’s such an amazing generation to be in – because it’s not only competing, it’s creating something together. And I think the difference is that, yes, you want to be the best you can be, but you always value the strength of the others, and what others can bring. And that unites, that makes you strong…”
A bouquet of white roses in his arms, while circling the ice, Stéphane Lambiel is the embodiment of joy. And then, all of them cheer for Khatia, the amazing Khatia Buniatishvili; and all of them hug Stéphane and raise their hands in the air, while applauding this hugely talented young man, former colleague turned into choreographer-producer-director-orchestrator of emotions. And it’s so good I brought a sweater to the rink – because I had chills all throughout the evening. And not cold-related chills, but those chills you’re blessed to have when something touches you to the moon and back.
At 22:45, the second edition of Ice Legends becomes history, but how lucky and rich we are after the show! And as the arena empties, the noise, the excitement move to the upper level of the rink, with the sponsors, the partners, the friends of Ice Legends and some of the fans getting ready for an exclusive party in the presence of the skaters. There’s champagne, and dresses, and black ties, and, behind the moving curtains, you see Tessa and Scott, beautiful, elegant, talking to people; and then Tatiana and Maxim and Stéphane, on an improvised scene, all smiles, giving a speach, with the 2014 Olympic champions offering their Masquerade costumes to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.
And there are friends, lots of them, talking and laughing and sharing emotions, bright eyes, glowing faces – and it is with a group of Italian friends that I leave the ice rink, half an hour before midnight, heading for the tram station and, then, to the hotel. Our lively conversation – who liked whom, and what, and why – gets the attention of an equally lively group of tourists, one of them wearing a silver, sparkling suit from head to toe, as if he was going or returning from a parade. We happily pass by them, a shining surprise in the middle of a sleeping Geneva, and then, while waiting for the tram, we meet some other lucky viewers of Ice Legends; and Lucia introduces all of us to her colleagues, two Japanese photographers, with the words: “More fans of Daisuke…”. I see nothing inaccurate in this overall description, and everyone smiles, as if this were a signal that we shared a common language, as if we could understand each other even without talking.
In the morning, while I wait for Carolina Kostner in the lobby of the official hotel hosting the skaters, Stéphane hurries up from here to there, looking busy, preoccupied, accomodating his guests – only a half a day after a show like a jewel, like a present he had given the fans and himself. And a couple of hours later, towards the evening, I’ll see him again – this time, in a photo, alongside his friends – doing what every other figure skating fan in Geneva did at that particular hour: watching the entire show, da capo al fine, as it was broadcasted by the Swiss channel RTS Deux. You shouldn’t have expected, then, to see figure skating lovers on the streets of Geneva, on April 23rd, between 17:20 and 19:20. If you looked for them… well, you did that in vain: in their hotel rooms all around the city, all of them were reliving the joy of the previous night – and took pictures of their TV screens and posted them on facebook, twitter, instagram. I know, cause I did the same.
…and we come back to Stéphane during the Meet & Greet with his fans, a day before the show. His enthusiasm is tangible: “I love this kind of project, and I hope it will go on”. And then there’s that, another one of his dreams: “I would love to be a new Diaghilev…, and having a company with skaters, that’s actually my dream”. He laughs, the father of Ice Legends, and I would take his dreams so very seriously. He usually turns them into gold.
More photos to come the following days.