A perpetuum mobile – that’s what the mind sees when thinking about Misha Ge. And the truth is you can only envision Misha constantly in action – whether it’s about practicing his own routines, doing choreography for others, offering advice, organizing seminars and being a wonderful host. A playful smile on his face, as if the smile were a permanent ally, the 25-year-old is a citizen of the world, changing planes and time zones with the easiness, the nonchalance one changes his socks.
The truth is in the figure skating world today Misha is a glorious character, one that offers a red rose to Elena Ilinykh while skating a coquettish exhibition program in Shanghai, one that recreates bits of Daisuke Takahashi’s famous step sequences in just 3 minutes – a tribute, a surprise that has people on their feet, one that enters the ice wearing a flowered jacket and an inflatable replica of a vintage boom box, inviting the audience to join him in creating a memorable performance.
Still, don’t let this colorful appearance fool you: Misha Ge is no buffoon. He is actually one of the most serious individuals in the sport – a different type of person won’t be able to master such a diverse, tireless routine.
He does like to experiment, that’s true, to constantly amaze, to go in many different directions – and him choosing classical music for both of his programs last season did exactly that. He’s happy to explain it, in a long and thorough interview for Inside Skating, taken in Moscow, on August 23rd: “Many people had doubts, they thought I couldn’t skate to classical music. That I can only do fun, colorful, crazy programs. But actually, no. It was another proof that I’m diverse, that I’m more than just one style”. He’s doing it again for the season to follow, deciding “to go for a contrast”: “The short program is black, and the free skate is white”. And not Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”, but a combination of rock style and pure, beautiful ballet. Once again, he’s ready to take a risk, already knowing that, probably, the audience will divide. But he is Misha Ge – it’s in his nature to make you raise an eyebrow.
Skater, teacher, choreographer, manager, organizer, life coach, Misha is all of the above. But, most of all, he’s passionately in love with what he does. This interview does nothing but prove it.
Interview by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
Nadia Vasilyeva: You’re having an extremely busy off-season. From the beginning of the summer you’ve already worked with so many skaters: Gracie Gold, Anna Pogorilaya, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the whole group of Alexei Mishin… Did I forget anyone?
Misha Ge: That’s pretty much all of them. Yes, I worked with Gracie, with Anna, I also did a free program for Alexander Petrov and for Artur Dmitriev. There have been a lot of other requests: I’ve been asked by a Swiss junior skater to help him, also by a Canadian junior skater – both of them are competing at junior Grand Prix events; then the coaches of three junior Chinese teams asked for my help, and Korean girls, and also Elena Radionova – but unfortunately there isn’t enough time for everyone. Some of them asked me to do their competitive programs, some – their exhibition programs, skaters of different ages to work with. When I had time, in America, I also did a couple of programs for junior skaters.
So it was a very busy summer indeed, especially since I work not only as a choreographer, but I have also worked with the Chinese Federation on making a camp for the Chinese National team. We invited Alexei Nikolaevich Mishin, and I received that decree from the Chinese Minister for Winter Sports. This is the main person in winter sports, who is in charge of 7 or 9 federations. That seminar worked really well, we gathered almost all of Chinese coaches. At first, we’ve been told that it won’t be more than 50 people, but eventually 70 coaches from all over China arrived at the seminar. And I worked with Alexei Nikolaevich’s young students when he invited them to China: I worked on their programs, on footwork, on skating skills.
Also, I’ve been to Estonia, at Mishin’s seminar, and I did some work there too. Between those, I took part in Yuna Kim’s show in Korea, “All That Skate”. Now I’m also working with this Chinese girl, she’s like number two in the Chinese Team, and the Chinese National Champion as well: Ziquan Zhao. She and one ice dance team will come to Moscow to train, and I was doing the invitations for them, putting them through people here. They should arrive very soon, and maybe stay until the Grand Prix. That was a collaborative work of myself and the Chinese Federation. So, yeah, I was very busy in many different areas and aspects.
And with one of the media and TV producers in China, we’re working on a new project. It’s only in a stage of development right now, but there’s a possibility that it will come to life maybe at the end of this year or at the beginning of the next one. It’s a skating project for the Beijing Television Company. But it still needs time.
And in this project you will act as a…?
There are several options there, it depends on the TV-company. Maybe I will be a TV-host, maybe a judge, or maybe a performer. It depends on many factors, on my schedule, on how this project will work. We’re working on it right now.
You skate and work in different countries with so many different people. Is there a big difference between, for example, the Russian, American and Chinese style of work? How would you describe them?
Of course, there is a huge difference. It’s hard to say, there are so many things. One might say that Asian, European and American schools, they all have some things in common, but they are completely different.
For example, there’s this big difference: when you skate in America, there are individual lessons – it’s just you and the coach for the 45 minutes of the lesson, and this is it, you’re free to go. And after that, it’s up to you your own plan of work. There’s no such spacious system as it is in China or in Russia, like when you’re training in a group, and your coach gives you a plan of work, and he has a whole range of different professionals, and he tells you: Ok, after ice practice, you’ve got an hour of choreography, then a working out session, then this and that, stretching or whatever.
In America you need do everything on your own. The highest class of coaches, let’s say senior Grand Prix level, they might say something like: You should probably pay more attention to strength training. But how you’re going to do it – that’s up to you. He might recommend some specialist for you, or maybe you’ll have to look for one yourself. So everything is up to you. There are some pros and cons to both of these systems, but this is actually one of the biggest differences. But I, of course, really like the Russian school of coaching. I guess I like how coaches work, how they really make their athletes work, how athletes compete with each other, trying to do things even better. It’s in the motivation, I like this about the Russian school.
HIS GOAL: TO SKATE AT ANOTHER OLYMPICS
Does working as a tutor for other skaters help you personally as a competitive skater? Does it help to see things from a different perspective?
Yes, of course it helps. You really start seeing some things differently, from a different point of view, not only from a skater’s perspective, but from a perspective of a person who looks at skaters. So you look at them and, at the same time, you understand some things about yourself. It helps improving your own skating, as if you’re watching it from a coach’s perspective. And if your coach had told you something before, and you didn’t fully understand it, now you’ve stepped into his place, and when he tells you that again, you perceive it in a different way. So I think it’s an amazing experience for me, it helps me to grow as a skater, as well as a coach and choreographer. I’m really glad I had this chance to work with such amazing skaters this year.
This time in Saint Petersburg you not only worked with other skaters, but you also worked with Alexei Mishin on your own programs for the following season, right?
We worked on the technical side, yes. This time, my coming to him was of dual purpose. I helped with some programs, for example, I worked with Liza Tuktamysheva on improving her footwork, and also with young kids, with Petr Gumennik – that was one of the purposes of me being here. The second one was me working with Alexei Nikolaevich on my technical side. I’ve known Alexei Nikolaevich for 12 years, since I was very little, and I’m a fan of his technique, and I’ve been learning from his technique for a long time. And now we had time to work together on difficult elements, axels and quads. And I’m very grateful to him that in such a short period of time he gave me so much knowledge that I hope to keep on working with and improve further.
Judging by your twitter, you’ve mastered the quad now? [while in Saint Petersburg, Misha wrote on twitter: “Had a full SP test-skate in Mishin group today with 4T and 3A. Though just start getting in shape, but was fine run”.]
Here’s the thing: last year, I had some problems with my ankle, and now I’m trying to do things gradually. I know that everyone has quads, I know that everyone hastens, that kids are doing three or four quads, and good for them. However, my goal, hopefully, is to skate at another Olympics. And If I want my body to be able to make it, I need to do things gradually. And I know I want it [the quad], I know if I get really angry I could do it, but I need to take care of my health.
My ankle is still not in a perfect shape. I’ve been doing injections and different kinds of therapies, and the condition is still not so splendid, so I need to be careful with my legs. So it’s not that I can’t or don’t want to, I’ll just do it a little slower. I know that everyone is doing quads, and I need them, but I just need to take it a little slower. One should do what one can do, and do it wisely, and see things the way they really are, and not expect something miraculous. I want to, I’m trying, I’m working on it, but if I want to take care of my health and hopefully skate at another Olympics – I should take things more gradually.
So you’re not planning to include the quad into your programs this season?
If my legs will let me, of course I will. I’m doing quads on practice all the time now. But only if my health will allow me, God grant.
HE’D LIKE TO SEE MORE BALANCE
The technical progress in skating is really obvious these days, everything is moving very fast – and sometimes you can even hear the opinion that, maybe, four rotations is too much, too dangerous… Skaters injure themselves when attempting the quad all the time, including those who are still very young, plus other aspects of skating may suffer from it. What is your opinion on that?
I think there has to be a balance in all things. Just like in life, we say yin and yang and all that. Technical improvements, and the current generation is so talented and gifted… it’s wonderful, it’s a huge progress indeed. But I still think that there has to be a balance. It’s like they say: Too much meat is not good. Too much of other things is also not good. Too much emphasis on one thing is never good. So it’s amazing that we’re moving forward, but things should be balanced, so that we would progress and move figure skating to the highest level, but also not forget about all the other things. I’d like to see more balance.
So how do you find that balance?
Well, that’s the problem. And, unfortunately, that’s not up to us, the skaters.
Who is it up to then?
It depends on so many things, so many factors, it’s hard to count them all. We can only try and do what we can, and many things are often not up to us.
And how do you find the balance between skating and life? Is there enough time for it?
I wouldn’t say figure skating and life, it’s more like sports and life, since all athletes have similar training, schedule, difficulties. It is hard. You work most of the time. There isn’t much free time, especially when you’re a child. When you’re still young, and don’t quite understand everything, you don’t understand why your parents are trying so hard for you, why they’re yelling at you and scolding you. But still, parents are doing it all for you, taking care of you. But at that time, you feel like you’re just doing it all like a machine, and it feels like you don’t have a childhood, everyone is out there, playing – and you’re not. So this span of time is a little hard. But it is necessary, and when you go through it and look back, you understand it was all for you, and it was right. And without then, there wouldn’t be now. But it is hard indeed, and to gain something you have to give something. That’s how it is in sports.
What does your usual day look like?
It’s hard to tell because I’m always on different continents. One day it’s Asia, then Europe, then America, and I often have to adapt to the régime of the location. For example, when I trained with Alexei Nikolaevich, it was one régime, now I came here [in Moscow] and it’s a different one, then it will be another one. Constant rearrangements. But, usually, it’s about 3 hours of ice time, on average. It can be divided into four sessions: 45 minutes each, like we do in America, or two sessions of 1 hour and a half, like here or Saint Petersburg. Plus working out, which also can be divided into either two sessions before ice, for 30-40 minutes each, or one session at the gym for about 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours. So it’s usually about 4 to 6 hours of training, plus choreography. You divide your training into different sections and then it depends on where you are. Plus, there’s studying the rules, checking your own videos, comparing elements at home – it takes almost all day, with little breaks in between.
Little breaks for sleep…
Yeah, there isn’t enough [time for] sleep, that’s true.
THE JOY OF SEEING HIS FRIENDS
Apart from skating, you also keep on studying in a dance school in China, right? Should we expect some new dance projects from you in the future?
You know, it’s not unlikely. I do like dancing a lot, and it is possible. About a year or two ago, I was invited to take part, for two seasons, in a Chinese dance TV show, and to also do “Dancing with the stars”. But I had competitions then, and I didn’t have time. One time it was a Grand Prix event, another time, a Challenger event, and then it was about two weeks before the Olympics. So I had to say No to everything. There were these kinds of invitations, and I would love to take part in them, but now there isn’t enough time. Later, I think.
You also take interest in fashion…
Yes, when I was in China, I did design some T-shirts, caps, even rings with laser engraving. Last time I designed some caps, I think I did about 50, a limited edition, and I gave them all to my friends: Max Trankov, Kaitlyn Weaver, and many more. Now I think maybe I should do a special edition for girls, a different color, but let’s wait a bit with that. I am very interested in things like that, I can’t say that I do it professionally, but I enjoy it as a hobby. I love fashion and clothes.
What about skating costumes? Do you help others with those as well?
A little bit, with the details, not too much. Mostly it’s my own costumes. When we work on my costumes with the designers – my mom is a coach and choreographer, and she used to draw some designs, so we try to do it all together. The designer, my mom and me, we work together on my costumes.
You have so much going on in your life right now, and so little time. Where do you find energy and inspiration for everything?
Yeah, sometimes it’s not easy. A lot of moving around, a lot of time zone changing, habits changing. You have to switch back and forth really fast all the time, you have to adapt. And I’m not only training, I have to work as a choreographer as well, and as a manager sometimes, and I also work with the federations. Sometimes I feel an overload. Like it’s time to get on the ice, but I’m thinking: Okay, I got a call from the Chinese Federation, I need to call them back, but they have a different time zone, and oh, it’s time to get on the ice already. I’m switching between several directions at the same time. It’s not easy, and I have to work on myself and find the energy, I have to reload my brain. But it’s mostly about working on myself.
Is there anything that helps you relax, for example, before competitions?
The biggest joy at competitions is seeing all my friends. Sometimes we see each other only a few times a year, or even once a year, so just the atmosphere where you get to see all of them feels nice already. As for the rest… Well, working on oneself really helps. Finding some things, some little hobbies from time to time… that helps to switch the focus, so I could go and work again with a fresh mind.
So one might say that working with other skaters also helps you to have a fresh mind…
Yeah, switching focus helps you see things differently.
It seems that you’re very good in providing emotional support too: for example, when you worked with Anna Pogorilaya, one could see from your tweets and photos together how you inspired her… And you did the same for her at the World Championships in Boston…
Yeah, I really like to help my friends… If anyone has some difficulties, needs some advice, guys or girls… And sometimes, of course, I tell them: Just because I tell you something, and offer you some advice, it doesn’t mean I’m perfect at everything. It’s just what I heard, or learnt from someone famous, who achieved a lot, who is older than us. Successful people. And, of course, I try to share the information with close friends, especially when preparing for competitions or other situations. I try to help in the way I can. It’s just the way I am, it feels nice for me to help my friends.
A TRIBUTE TO DAISUKE TAKAHASHI
Can you name some people who inspire you the most, skaters or not?
There are many skaters. I guess the generation I grew up on inspires me a lot: it’s Zhenya Plushenko, Alexei Yagudin, Johnny Weir, Jeffrey Buttle, Daisuke Takahashi. I grew up watching them and I learned a lot from them, and, in many ways, it’s because of them that I have the style that I have now.
I remember when I was in Beijing, and I was at the gym, and Zhenya and Johnny came in, we had a little chat. And Zhenya complimented me, like: You work so hard. And I told him: I’ve been learning from you ever since I was little. And he was like: Oh, come on, stop it. And I was like: No, seriously. The way I am now, my style, the way I skate – I learned a lot from you. And I told them both: Sometimes I really miss your generation of skaters. It was so emotional, so spectacular, so much of individuality! They were all different, so unconventional, each had their unique personality. And they both smiled when I said that. You really miss it because you grew up on that, and because it was such a great time for figure skating. Sometimes I go on youtube to watch, and it just sends shivers down your spine!
What programs do you re-watch the most?
Oh, a bit of everything. As for Zhenya’s, I’d say the most memorable for me – I remember watching it when I was a kid – is the 2001 World Championships. Both of his programs. Of course, both Yagudin’s Olympic programs. The Gladiator was amazing, 2001 Grand Prix Final, maybe it wasn’t the cleanest performance from him, but the way he skated was mesmerizing. If my memory doesn’t fail me…
Johnny’s… Ooh, there are so many of Johnny’s programs. I guess 2003, 2004, then I remember 2007, I watched it in Harbin, China, at the Grand Prix: his free program was really good. And he also skated that year at Cup of Russia, he had that costume with a horse on it.
Then Jeffrey Buttle of 2008, Jeffrey Buttle of 2004. And Daisuke Takahashi… well, I think, starting from 2005 and till his last performance.
I remember the story when I was at Mao Asada’s show [The Ice, in 2015] and I did a special program, a tribute to Daisuke Takahashi. And it was a surprise for me that at one of those shows was Takahashi’s manager, who was with him for 10 years. And as I was leaving the ice, he was clapping and cheering me, like – Yeeeeah! And I was like: Thank you! Guess this means it wasn’t that bad. I remember it took me a long time, almost a month to create and rehearse this program. It was very difficult: three programs of Takahashi in 3 minutes, and three of his step sequences, which, at that time, would be considered about level 4, and constant changing of style, in one breath! That was the most difficult program for me. But it was worth it. The fans were crazy about this program. They [the organizers] even asked me to come back with this program this year, but, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
So it was exclusive, and you’re not planning to repeat it…
We had 11 shows and the organizers requested this program for almost all of them. I came with three programs, and on 8 shows I skated this one. But then I almost injured my back because of it. I worked flat out for it, and sometimes the show was twice a day. And I remember the most difficult show was in Osaka, since it’s the city where Daisuke lives, and everyone there knows him, plus it was broadcasted live on TV… Whooh, that was something! [his eyes glittering]
And it’s hard because you’re not skating your own program, you’re skating someone else’s. You have to make it as close as possible, you have to do the best you can, and it’s live on TV, and you can’t have any mistakes. It was such a pressure! I felt like it was as difficult as competitions, maybe even more difficult in some way. When you’re skating your own program, you can go like: Okay, here I can have some rest if I’m tired, or something. But here you have to do it 130%. You have to do it exactly like Daisuke Takahashi. I saw it coming, and the fans really did that: they put the two videos together, videos of me and Takahashi, and compared them. Thank God it was close enough! [laughs]
How did you feel when you were watching that?
I felt… happy. Kind of sheepish. It’s so unusual to look at that, I just sat there with a goofy smile. I was really happy that a month of hard work paid off. Such a program will stay in [everyone’s] memory, especially at his home and being broadcasted live. Daisuke liked it, he said: Wow! And I think it was at these World Championships when he was a commentator, and before my program, the Japanese TV had put on 10 seconds of me rehearsing this program, and they said something like: A guy à la Takahashi. And his reaction to that was also funny. It was a very interesting experience.
Which of the modern skaters do you consider the most outstanding, who do you pay attention to the most?
Javi [Javier Fernandez]. I think he has a very distinctive personality. And also Shoma Uno. And, of course, Yuzu. Well, Yuzu is Yuzu, it doesn’t even need saying. But I really like Javi and Shoma, I like their style, the way they skate, the way they perform. I watch them closely.
BLACK AND WHITE
For the last couple of seasons, after the change of rules that allowed the skaters to take music with lyrics, a lot of them decided to go a little wilder with their choices, decided to experiment a bit. You, on the contrary, switched from contemporary and fun style to classics. You decided to go against the world trend?
Well, first of all, I like all things offbeat. Second, with the music, I was one of the first ones… It was me and Florent who took vocal music even when it was against the rules [Florent Amodio performed his free skate to music with lyrics at 2011 World Championships, and Misha had lyrics in his 2013-2014 FS music]. But it was worth it, especially at the Olympics. But, of course, we wanted it to work for the development of figure skating, to diversify it for the future allowance, to support this idea.
As for me, I like contrasts. I took music with vocals, now I need to take something opposite. At the same time, many people had doubts, they thought I couldn’t skate to classical music. That I can only do fun, colorful, crazy programs. But actually, no. It was another proof that I am diverse, that I’m learning many styles, that I’m more than just one style. That was another thing that made me turn to classical. I skated to classical music before, I worked on it a lot when I was a kid. But on the world stage I haven’t been seen a lot with it. So many people had the impression that I only mastered fun and crazy technique, and I can’t do classical. That’s why we chose it, and it worked out really well. The judges were surprised that I could do that. And many people said: Oh, wow, how did you gain so much in only one year? How did you do that? No, actually I had it in me since I was a kid, I just didn’t show that side. So I’d say it was a good choice, and good that people saw me in a way they haven’t seen me before.
What can we expect from you this season? If you can talk about it yet…
I’ll tell a little bit. Won’t name any names yet, but I’ll tell.
Last year, we did two programs of similar style, both SP and FS were classical. (I actually did three SPs last year…) Since many people liked Chopin, we decided to do a bit more of what people like, so we took another version of classics, it was Rachmaninov. We thought about it for a long time, and last season we decided that we’re ready to do it.
This year we decided to go for a contrast. So far, if we won’t change it… [smiling]. We decided to make a striking difference. The short program is black, and the free skate is white. The short will be rock style, and the free will be a ballet. Two completely different things. But it’s not like pure rock, it’s more like hints of rock. Well, later everyone will see why I’m saying rock. The free, on the other hand, is pure, beautiful ballet. Black and white, two elements opposite each other. I like to do things coming from different directions, things people don’t do often. I think this year the audience will divide: some people will really like the short, but they’ll say the free is so-so. And some will be like: No, the free is amazing, but not the short. I think it will be hard this year to get people like both programs; it will be two kinds of people with different tastes.
And some people will probably be in awe of the exhibition. Can we expect one hell of a show, as usual?
Well, we’re working on it. The costumes are already done. I think it will be interesting, we chose something fun this year.
And the exhibition you mentioned on instagram, to Alexeev’s song… Is it specially made for Plushenko’s show? [Misha posted a little preview of a new exhibition program, to the song “Пьяное солнце» (‘P’yanoe solntse’, Drunken sun), by Ukrainian singer Alexeev; lyrics in Russian]
It’s specially made for Russian shows. It’s a second program for exhibition. I would like to skate to it in other countries as well, but people don’t know the song… So when I was invited to a show in Russia, I wanted to do an exhibition to a Russian song. And Alexeev’s song is just amazing, the voice, the music, everything. I remember when I was texting with our girls [the girls from the Russian team, whom he is friends with], and asked any of them, they were like: Oh, my God, this song! They were crazy about it. And I thought: Okay, then we should take this song. I think it was one of the most remarkable among Russian songs in the past few years, a really strong song.
And people can only see it in Tolyatti? [Misha skated in Evgeny Plushenko’s ice show in Tolyatti, Russia, on 26th of August – this interview took place three days before the show – n.ed.]
Probably. Maybe somewhere else, depends on my schedule. I was already invited to some other shows, we’re working on a schedule up until December. There are some options in Europe, and other places too. But we’ll see about that, as the case may be.
A FUNNY LITTLE GAME OF ASSOCIATIONS
Do you have any plans for some Challenger series events for the beginning of the season?
We’re thinking about it right now. First, I’ll have to fly back to L.A. and from there we’ll decide. I’ll have one Challenger event before the Grand Prix and now we’re trying to figure out which one. It’s not quite clear yet.
What goals have you set for yourself this season?
To improve slowly every day. To try and be better than last year at some things. Maybe some things won’t be possible this year, not because I don’t want to, but because of the legs, because some of my injuries. But I think one can improve in different aspects. So I think I’ll improve where I can. My goal is to be better than I was before. Based on the possibility of what I can do. Because many things you can’t predict – you can’t predict yourself, or the competition. But we should keep on working and do the best of what is up to us now.
That’s a great goal, good luck with everything. And in the end, let’s play a little game of associations. Since you constantly travel all around the world, I’ll name a country, and you’ll have to tell two or three associations, first things that come to mind.
Fresh air, sun, cleanness.
Food and shopping.
Cleanness-cleanness-cleanness! [laughs] Culture, cultivated people. Very polite. Everything’s veeery clean. Seems like USA is losing here, I didn’t know there will be such a rival as Japan. [laughs]. Everything is very thought-through, up to every detail.
Friendly people. Home, I guess is the first. Many tasty things from my childhood. Places I’ve walked, things I ate, people I knew, who are close to me, a lot of childhood memories. Home and childhood memories.
[Interview by Nadia Vasilyeva, Moscow/intro and editing by Florentina Tone]