Misha Ge is one of the most popular guests on Inside Skating, and anywhere in the world, it seems. People just can’t get enough of him – and he can’t get enough of figure skating, much to everyone’s delight.
A true artist, a very hard worker and a high achiever – moreover, he strikes us as one of the biggest fans of figure skating. It is obvious when you see him on the ice that he enjoys every second of it, and he puts his whole soul into skating. He also creates wonderful programs for about half the world, and he’s always ready to help his fellow skaters. That’s who Misha is: appreciating skating to the fullest, both by dedicating himself to it and by having an eye for the accomplishments of others.
by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
In this interview we talked about his agenda, the decision to stay in competition for another season, the cost of success, the desire to make figure skating more popular around the globe, and some of his ideas on how to do so – and his deep admiration for the skating legends of the past.
The interview took place during Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, at the end of October – but after his glorious performance at Internationaux de France, we just couldn’t help reaching out to Misha for an addition to this talk. And so, a month later, we discussed, half enthusiastically, half smilingly, about the first Grand Prix medal of his career, and the electrifying exhibition number to music from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Or should we call it – for a more accurate description of his versatile personality – “Fifty Shades of Ge”?
WHEN MISHA GETS TO PRAISE THE PREDECESSORS & AIMS TO MAKE FIGURE SKATING MORE POPULAR
Nadia Vasilyeva: Misha, congratulations on your amazing performance here at Rostelecom Cup. Are your happy with the results, with the way you skated?
Misha Ge: Yes, I’d say I’m very happy. Because, first of all, I’m really glad to skate at my favorite Grand Prix event – but it also means a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure since I wasn’t here only as a skater, but also as a choreographer. There were skaters here that I worked with, such as Andrei Lazukin and Elizabet Tursynbaeva – and it adds even extra responsibility, I guess.
But I’m glad I was able to show one of my best performances so far, and to improve my personal record. Still, I’d say it’s not so much about record, but what really pleased me the most was the feedback: comments from people who watched it, how deeply they felt the programs, and how much they loved them. People wrote me and said that many teared up watching my programs, and I think that’s bigger than any points, scores or medals.
At the end of last season you we were thinking about retiring, but eventually you stayed in competition. What influenced your decision?
It took us long to decide, a few months, with the whole team, the family. Eventually we chose the option to stay for one more season, but in a slightly different position: not only as a competitor, but as a choreographer as well, to do both at the same time. Which, actually, is very hard, because it means twice as much work, but it’s also a very rare case in figure skating – so it was one of the reasons.
Then, in a way, my country asked me to do it. We are progressing now in the field of figure skating, finally a new rink is being built, so it was also done for the future generation of skaters in Uzbekistan.
How’s your leg that was bothering you last season doing now?
Almost the same. Held up by injections, by therapy. It may seem like I have no pain, but still, just now I was skating – and here’s inflammation again, I need to put ice and bandages on. So my condition is slightly better, but I have to train very carefully. Everything has to be calculated: how many elements to do in a day, how to rehabilitate. You may say it’s a very precise planning, up to every element, so the leg could survive one more season. Actually, it’s not one ankle now, but both. And in the same place: it’s a wear of the tibio-tarsals. And it seems like a small thing, but when you need to do difficult jumps, it doesn’t let you use your full potential. And if you do use it, you get to the point when it’s painful to walk.
That’s probably why you abandoned the quad attempts?
Yes, because I want to have healthy legs. I try to do what I can, and not lay emphasis on one element, but on the whole performance, including jumps, spins, steps and everything. So this year is about improving all details, not being hung up on just a couple of elements.
Your short program this season is to “Ave Maria”, to which you skated before, in 2014-2015, but this time you chose the instrumental version. Why such a choice?
It’s one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking versions of “Ave Maria”.
One of the things I wanted was to make “Ave Maria” one of the last programs of my career. For one thing, it’s one of my favorite compositions – this music is sacred, so to speak. And also as I was travelling around the world many people told me that one of their favorite things that I did was “Ave Maria”. So we decided to bring it back, but make a much deeper, more grown-up version than before.
Actually, in both the short and long program this season there is a double story. The first story is in the music’s title. The second one is my own story, which I took from my life, but, at the same time, it can be everyone’s story. This one is also called “The Pain of the Heart”. I wrote a little explanation on Instagram – every one of us had the most painful moments in our lives. For some it’s losing a family member, for some, breaking up with a loved one, for some, losing a beloved pet – there can be a lot of them. But when we look back we understand that, even though after many years it’s still very painful, it made us stronger, it made us who we are now. So everyone can see their own story in “Ave Maria” – that’s what the short program is built upon.
At a certain point you posted an interesting tweet, saying that you were re-watching ’70-’90s programs of legends like Toller Cranston, Torvill/Dean, John Curry. And that you wanted to say something about your generation, but you won’t. Care to elaborate on that?
I’d better withhold my comments on that, ’cause I think everyone has their own opinion, and I respect that, and I don’t wanna say that I’m right or not. But what our predecessors could do – I’ll just say we still have a lot to learn, the things we can’t do the way they could. So by watching them I realized that with some things you have to start from zero and learn from them.
By your free program especially it really seems like you were inspired by that period. Is that the right impression?
Yes, largely. ’Cause they are true legends, whose performances are 30-40 years old now, but they are still the gold standard in certain aspects of figure skating. So really, there’s so much to learn, and I think they are a great example that we can use sometimes.
All three programs for 2017 Rostelecom Cup, including the exhibition, are very lyrical. Did you decide to be smoother, closer to the classics, in the Olympic season?
No. For starters, as for my exhibition, that’s a special number for Russia, and I am only skating it here. Maybe only once. Because it’s a real story from my life. The lyrics of the song are very, very close to one story that I had in the past. So it’s a very difficult program for me to skate, ’cause it means skating my own life and my own memories, which are quite painful to the heart. So it’s kind of a one-time program.
But later we can expect you to spice things up?
[Smiling] Well, I’m versatile. So it’s not like Misha only does fast programs or only slow ones. I always try something new. And this time I decided to try this.
I actually asked Yana Rudkovskaya [Dima Bilan’s producer and Evgeni Plushenko’s wife] for this music. Then it was approved by Dima [Bilan, the singer] and I took it. I wanted to take this song, “Ne otrekayutsya, lyubya“ [“If I Love I Won’t Let Go”, a famous Russian song recorded in 1977 by Alla Pugacheva], but I liked Dima’s version better, so I did that.
Did they see any extracts of the program, did you show it to them?
No, I just told them that I’m doing it, and Yana sent me a couple of versions of this song that Dima has, and I picked one that really touched me.
It is a great version and a beautiful exhibition program indeed. And if we came to that, what are your plans and goals for this season?
Participance. To participate in my last season.
The last one ultimately?
I actually don’t like to guess at the future, all this “maybe yes, maybe no”. And media completely turned my words around after the World Championships – when I said that maybe it’s the last season, a lot of people were like: “Oh, this is it, Misha has retired”. Doesn’t matter who and how turned my words around, but I did not say such a thing. I try to be sensible about it, so maybe, probably, this season will be the last one. But there’s no need to deliver the final verdict. So I’m just glad I’m able to compete one more season, and this is my goal, to do everything I can and, at the same time, to help the next generation and the guys that I work with.
So is it just “one more season”, or is it because of the Olympic season?
Well, the Olympics are one of the reasons, of course. Especially since we qualified.
What do you think about ISU’s idea of possible changes in the rules and programs’ format, to make one artistic and one technical?
I think it’s a good idea. Of course it needs to be evaluated and discussed a lot, but it’s an interesting concept, I’d say. Maybe it can help the world of figure skating to become more popular, to provide more opportunities for different young skaters – maybe attract more athletes, more sponsors, more venues. It will be a chain reaction: it will determine how many participants we will have, how many sponsors, which venues, what kind of shows we can have, for how many viewers and so on.
But the main goal is to make figure skating more popular all over the world – that’s what we should aim for.
So you think dividing these two parts, artistic and technical, will make skating more entertaining, more fascinating to watch?
It will maybe give rise to the development of figure skating on the world scene – the development of different athletic disciplines.
For example take NBA, the basketball association. Every year, they have the All-Star Game, where the two Conferences meet, and the players are selected by the league itself. And this year what they did, and I think it was to popularize this sport even more, they had three rules for the selection of two teams. The first one: the fans are voting, via mobiles, like “I want this one to be on the North team or on the South team”, for example. The second one: the captains’ choice. Like we had in primary school: you’re in PE class, volleyball game, here are two captains, two teams, and they pick players one by one. And the third one is coaches’ choice.
So they made it to get the fans more interested, to create a better atmosphere. I think after they made this move, they gave us, the fans, the viewers, the feeling of, how shall I say…
First the involvement, and secondly the feeling of our childhood: when we were school kids we were picked in the same manner, by the captain or the coach. It leaves you with a feeling of nostalgia, and also you feel like you’re involved. But, at the same time, it works for popularity as well, because people want to be a part of it. I think figure skating should evolve in the same way.
It would be really great to have such a thing as fan vote in figure skating!
I think it would be amazing if viewers could be a part of competition. I think NBA is a great example that already went that way.
You worked with so many skaters, coaches, choreographers already. But is there anyone that you always wanted to work with, but haven’t had the chance yet?
Hmm, it’s hard to say. I think it would be very interesting to work with Daisuke Takahashi [smiles]. But he is a master, of course. So to make some kind of collaboration would be cool.
We sometimes talk about collaboration with Yuzu [Yuzuru Hanyu], and maybe we’ll work together in the future, but so far it’s difficult, with his schedule and his scope. He has so many people who decide for him, it’s not him who decides, so even though we talked about maybe making an exhibition together, he needs so many permissions, like from ten people, managers, directors and everyone… Maybe one day [smiles].
Also one of the biggest stars is Shoma [Uno]. I think he has more potential that he hasn’t exploited yet, so I think it will be interesting to work with him. I think that’s it. And maybe some ice dancers and pairs, but this year I was lucky to work in all four disciplines.
Can you maybe briefly talk about who did you work with this year? Because sometimes it’s difficult to keep track… At least the biggest ones?
If we take the biggest ones, competition and exhibition programs, there are: Karen Chen, the US champion; Rika Hongo, Japan; from our team, Alexander Petrov, Andrei Lazukin, Maxim Kovtun, Sergei Voronov; Eun-Soo Lim, Korean national champion; then Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin; and Elizabet Tursynbaeva. I think that’s the main list. Also there had to be Gracie Gold and Adam Rippon, but it didn’t work out with the schedule. And some junior skates, in Korea, in Japan, in America. So, overall, there are 19 programs.
But how do you find time and strength for all of that?
Well, less sleep, more work. Sometimes it’s to the point of exhaustion, but that’s what you gotta do.
Are you planning to participate in any shows this season – or competitions won’t leave space for it?
Everything has its price. In life you have to pay with your time, with your heart, your health, many things. And to stay and compete this season I had to decline in total 37 shows, in almost 10 countries. Even such shows like “Art on Ice”. I also had an offer for four months in “Holiday on Ice” in Europe, where the main choreographer, Robin Cousins, basically approved me for one of the main parts. And I had to decline it all.
But in the future, after you actually finish competing, will we be able to see you there?
In shows, yes, but in which ones – we’ll see about that. Maybe in my own.
WHEN MISHA FINALLY GETS A GRAND PRIX MEDAL – AND SETS THE CROWD AND FANS ON FIRE WITH A NEW EXHIBITION NUMBER
Misha, we talk again – congratulations on your first Grand Prix medal. It was amazing, and it was about time, I think…
Thank you! Well, the fans already gave me a medal, now it was time for a real one [smiles].
[At 2014 Rostelecom Cup, before the skaters’ banquet, fans presented Misha with a medal, thanking him for the emotions, joy, inspiration. “Misha Ge. The Champion of Our Hearts”, is says on the obverse, while on the reverse: “To Misha from Russian fans. We always love you, believe in you, and will be waiting for you. Moscow, 2014”]
And how do you feel after finally winning a Grand Prix medal?
First of all, I’m very grateful to everyone, starting from my teachers, my fans, my friends… ’Cause for us, it really is a great achievement.
For some, maybe 3rd place is not such an achievement, but everything that the whole team, my parents had to go through for this – it was very hard work, and it amounts to so much, so it’s great to achieve such result on the last Grand Prix event, so to speak.
Does this change anything? Does this medal give you more confidence, or calmness, or anything else?
I’d say it gives me motivation to improve further in general aspects. Of course, there are certain things that have limits, but there are also a lot of smaller details that can still be refined and improved. So I’d say it motivates me to work even more thoroughly on my whole performance.
As for your new exhibition number, that I just can’t not talk about. How did you come up with the idea of this program?
To tell you the truth, I actually had this idea a few years ago. But for several reasons we didn’t do it. But now, with this last season and, in a way, with the luck to be able to put it all together, I decided to go for it. Of course, it wasn’t an easy task, for various reasons, but I’m glad we managed to put it in action.
But why did you decide to do it now, while still competing, and not save it for later in a show?
I love to experiment, I love to do unconventional things, to try something new. And understanding that this is the last season, I wanted to show a contrast. And, again, after I did this program, I received really good feedback from the viewers.
I tried to imagine what people would like to see, and I guess it worked. But when doing so, I had to take into account so many nuances…
So it was some kind of censorship involved, so to speak?
In the process of making this program… You see, I have teachers, choreographers, professionals who work in Hollywood – people that worked with Rihanna, Beyoncé, Britney, very famous choreographers – and they say: “When we dance – it’s a passion for dancing, not for something more”.
So creating this number was difficult in terms of the fact that there were so many details to attend to. First, I tried to make this dance really hot and passionate, but well-balanced – so there wouldn’t be anything over the top. Second, I had to take the audience into account, so it wouldn’t be too much for any age. Although in our era of social media there’s so much out there, [the program] is really nothing compared to that.
I even switched the roles. I made Madison [Chock] the leading part, and it’s me who submits to her. And I switched it, because for me it’s about showing more respect for women. I’d rather have myself crawling there on my knees, than her. So that was one of the difficult details.
Then, accessories and costumes. Of course, it was possible to add a lot more there, but again, I didn’t want it to be too excessive. So it took quite some time to select the masks and everything.
Then, the choice of a partner. Madison is no accident there. First, she skated to “Fifty Shades…” herself a couple of years ago. And, of course, she is very beautiful, sexy, unrestrained. I don’t think you could find anyone who’d fit the role better, from today’s figure skating world. It’s not just the visual, but she’s also able to really feel it, and she’s great at acting. So special thanks to her for agreeing to do this number.
I actually wrote her a few weeks before: “Madison, I have something to ask of you – do you want to be in my number? If we both make it to the gala”. She said: “Yes, of course, I’d be happy to”. But I didn’t tell her what the music was. But she agreed instantly [smiles].
And when we got there, I also asked Evan [Bates], her partner, for permission. I asked if he’s okay with her being in my number, of course granted that I’ll be careful and behave and everything [smiling]. He said: “No problem”. And then I said we’d skate to “Fifty Shades”. And the first reaction was: “Oooooh!” [laughs]. But I knew she’d manage perfectly.
And it turned out to be very cool and unconventional indeed.
Did it take long for you and Madison to rehearse this?
Since it’s a long-nurtured idea, I started preparing it bit by bit, thinking through a few months beforehand. But with her, we had very little time. In the morning we were in different groups for gala practice, and we had only about half of the practice to work together. Then, in the evening, we were planning to get on the ice earlier and practice some more, but they changed the schedule and she arrived only like 10 minutes before the start. So on the floor, in the shortest time possible, we tried to do the impossible. But I have to give Madison credit here, ’cause she’s very quick to catch on, and get the idea. That’s why we were able to do it in such a short period of time. If it weren’t for her catching everything so quickly, a lot of things would be very difficult in this program.
Are you planning to develop this program further?
No, I don’t think so, not yet. Let them cool off a bit, otherwise it might get too hot [laughs].
But we’ll see, maybe in the future we’ll do something like that, or repeat this one. But the thing is, in this number the partner is very important too. If she’s not in the character, if she’s not feeling it – it’s hard to make it this hot.
This time, the circumstances also played right. Madison was there, but there might be other competitions or shows when she’s not. You go through a list of participants and you’d think – will that person be able to play this? Is she unrestrained enough? ’Cause many girls would be too shy for this part, they wouldn’t be able to open up properly in such a short period of time. We’ll see, it depends on the situation.
Did you have any kind of message you wanted to convey in this program?
Well, the message is: “Don’t make up dirty fantasies about it” [laughs]. This is especially for the parents. I really wanted to make a program that would fascinate and allure with its passion but in a way that people wouldn’t get the wrong impression of it.
Dancing is very multifarious and diverse, and there are many styles. And I worked in my different styles over the years – and this was a style many people wanted to see, but because of the fear that some would take it the wrong way, we were putting it off. But I think, all in all, it was a success, and I’m happy with such experiment and such unconventional number.
But, of course, there are some people who make it very confusing.
Does such reaction upset you, or did you expect it?
I think the reaction actually exceeded expectations. Even the comments that people left after it were so sincere, and emotional. People were like: ”Wow! This is so cool, so unconventional, so fresh”. I thought people might say: “It’s not so bad, it’s a good number”, but not to that extent. So special thanks to the people who took it so well.
And for those who aren’t happy with it, I wanted to say – Guys, I’m not 16, you know. And there was nothing to it, really, it’s not the movie, nothing like that. I would actually give it a different description: the song is called “Crazy in love” – so for me it’s a story of when you’re in a relationship, there is such fire between the two, it really makes you go crazy about the other person. But since it was a soundtrack to “Fifty Shades of Grey”, it somewhat altered the perception of it, and the program itself.
How about the reaction of people around you, like your parents?
They were okay with it. My father – well, my coach – actually told me to be in character to the full extent, to not be shy about it. ’Cause making such outrageous numbers, crawling on ice – it won’t be easy for everybody. So he told me to do it to the fullest, as a professional. And by the fullest he meant the range of movement, the style, the character, the eyes, the passion, all that.
So in the nearest future if you’re in an exhibition, we won’t get to see this program again?
I think for now, no. Let’s make it a one-time thing, as a remembrance. You know, good things always come in small packs [smiles].
SEE MORE: Misha Ge at 2017 Rostelecom Cup in Moscow