Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin: “We would very much like to get to the Grand Prix Final this season”

1 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin SD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

Talking to Alexandra and Ivan was easy – they show great, believable emotion on the ice, and in personal interactions one immediately gets embraced by their “Russian openness”. We met right after the ice dancing event at Finlandia Trophy – they won their second gold medal in Espoo, two-year distance from the previous one – and the overall tone of the interview was joyous and relaxed, more like a friendly conversation. You’ll see that for yourselves – as you’ll also see Alexandra and Ivan make a great team, even off the ice: they speak in turn, finish each other sentences, without any disagreements, as if they were, simply, the two arms of the same body.

by Askar Ibragimov/Espoo

Thank you for agreeing to this interview for Inside Skating, and warm congratulations for your gold in Finlandia Trophy. It seems that everything worked out so well for you in Espoo.

Alexandra and Ivan: Thanks a lot!

Let’s start with your programs for this season – what are the stories behind them?

Alexandra: In the short dance we are a sort of rock bikers.
Ivan: Yes, in the beginning, and then we have this story, almost fantastic… At the start of the program we are such rockers, somehow out of control, not quite sober, two people that like to party hard, and then we appear at a ball. The blues kicks off…
Alexandra: Not a ball exactly… We become, maybe, a bit older and arrive in a group where such defiant attitude is not exactly appropriate, and we start dancing to a classic blues, but then anyway…
Ivan: It slips towards hip-hop.
Alexandra: And we let our hair down in the end. Because that’s what we’d always wanted to do.

I’ve noticed that, actually – with your short dance it feels like the energy is bursting out of you.

Alexandra: We are very pleased, thank you!
Ivan: We worked a lot on this.

2 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin SD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

3 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin SD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

4 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin SD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

Who choreographed your programs this season?

Alexandra: The short dance is made by Irina Zhuk, our coach/choreographer/director – she is everything! And Peter Tchernyshev is responsible for the free dance. The story of the free program is like that: we are a pair made of a very jealous man and a woman who likes to flirt. And he is expressing his jealousy the entire program: he can’t understand why I am behaving like this — and I become upset with him too. You know, I am with you, but I just like male attention. In the end, he wins over me, he tames me, so to speak, and we stay together.
Ivan (victoriously): I fought till the end and finally I won!

5 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin FD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

6 Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin FD 2016 Finlandia Trophy

Somehow, this free dance seems to go so well with your personalities.

Alexandra: Right – but we really liked all of our programs so far. I don’t remember a program where we didn’t have a great fun.
Ivan (rather accomplice): Except the one.
Alexandra: Yeah, there was that one year. Strange one. (they look at each other, and say nothing more)

Are you influencing the programs’ choice, to get the one that you really like?

Ivan: You know, somehow the coaches feel it – and choose the right thing for us. They’ve known us both since childhood, from the very start.
Alexandra: I have been skating for 10 years.
Ivan: And I’ve been doing it for 11 years. We live together. So the coaches know what program would suit us. When they show us the music and we start making the programs, everything just works out and we start living in the program. That program becomes a part of our souls, it gets inside us. And the older you get, the more united with a program you become.
Alexandra: You begin to understand things, feelings, emotions, as an adult – not just being smiling and dancy.

This is obvious with you two, being emotionally involved in a program…

Swing can be danced to, but juniors and seniors will skate it totally different. Masters might have a worse technique, this happens, but relationship in pair matters a lot to the level of expression in the program. The more the pair grows with time, the more experience…
Ivan: …it accumulates. This experience – it [grows thicker] like bark. То go through fire and water, through thick and thin, every season, year after year, adds something to the experience. One season adds to the technique, another one adds to emotional expression. And the experience gets bigger and bigger every season. And when you are a senior, you come to a start [again], and you are more nervous than in juniors, because… there is a will to succeed in expressing everything.

And perhaps you learn more ways to deliver your emotions. One thing with you is that it was very interesting to watch you during the press conferences here, in Espoo: you have a lot of eye contact, a lot of obvious interpersonal interaction. Do you also keep in touch when you’re not in the ice rink?

Alexandra: It happened that I am originally from Saint-Petersburg. And I came to skate with Vanya when I was a child, at his parents and trainer’s invitation.
Ivan: We saw her on video and we liked her very much.
Alexandra: Yes, they liked me, and I came to Moscow – and since I was from Petersburg, there was nowhere to live, and they offered me and my mother to stay at their home. So we are together since childhood. It happens so that we played together all the time, sometime Vanya had a crush on me, sometime I liked him, there were these moments, we lived through them, and today we just have a very warm and good relationship. He is my friend, I’m always ready to hear him out, and he would do the same and support me. Like we would do on the ice.

Alexandra and Ivan during the press conference after the short dance, at 2016 Finlandia Trophy; they’d just won this particular segment of the event, with a personal best score: 69.63 points.

Alexandra and Ivan during the press conference after the short dance, at 2016 Finlandia Trophy; they’d just won this particular segment of the event, with a personal best score: 69.63 points.

Ivan: And regarding hobbies, such as going to cinema or anything else outside an ice rink, we really don’t have the energy and the time for it. We give all of ourselves to training, especially lately. After all, every sportsman has a goal, and no matter how you look at it, you spend your life for that one goal. And we are very willing to reach that goal. So… I usually won’t leave home on weekends, because I really want to rest, gain back strength, so I can go back to training and work through another week, to do something new. We work from dawn to dusk and we are tired, so… what hobbies? Just food and sleep.
Alexandra: It’s also beneficial to have some rest from each other, because those pairs that are training and living together – at least I believe so, maybe it’s not true – this might become an obstacle. If something is wrong, for instance, in your personal life, it might become a problem on the ice too. Thank God we don’t have such a problem…

What about your goals for this season, which are they?

Ivan: We have a goal, of course: we would very much like to get to the Grand Prix Final. We will work having this goal on our minds. The Grand Prix Final is like a mini-Worlds, and… we really want to get there!
Alexandra: We want to skate as we really can skate. Unfortunately, that’s not always happening in competitions, and it is our biggest dream to skate as we know we can.
Ivan: To skate as we do it in training. We would like to skate to our best ability.

Are there any persons who inspire/inspired you in figure skating?

Ivan: I have two. My father and mother. They inspired me from early childhood to take up figure skating – for the rest of my life. [Ivan’s parents are Andrei Bukin, 1988 Olympic ice dancing champion, and Elena Vasiuk, former ice dancer – ed.]
Alexandra: Well, I don’t have such persons that would “inspire me to do figure skating”.
Ivan: My mother, my father, they are figure skaters, right.
Alexandra: Your parents – this is natural.
Ivan: And in your case there was no one?
Alexandra: Nope, nobody. I just went there because I liked to skate. That was it. I’ve never wanted “to be like someone”.

Well, I’m always trying to ask people not only about their currents programs, plans, goals, but also to bring out some of their personalities. Can you tell me a bit about yourselves? What kind of people are you?

Ivan: You know, the truth is I am a lazy person. I like to rest! Now, with me getting older [Ivan is 23] I became more or less active, but earlier, in my adolescence, I liked to lay down all the time at home, watching television or playing some video games. I’m such a person, I’m calm, I don’t like to hang out at some parties every weekend. I’m not like that.
Alexandra: How do I spend my free time? Well, since I like to sleep…

So you do have this thing in common (laughing)

Alexandra: I basically every weekend, if not two days in a row, but one day I will sleep as long as possible. I can wake up at 6 pm and then go to bed again before midnight. To party out, I simply don’t have the energy. We could go to cinema, to a cafe, to a walk in the park, any of the above, but nightclubs are not for us, apparently. Maybe we are too old for that.

Is there a strategy on how to approach the Grand Prix events this season? [Alexandra and Ivan’s GP events are Skate Canada and Cup of China]

Ivan: Well, we’ll come back from Finlandia Trophy, maybe we’ll rest for a day or two, and then we’ll go back to training and start working.
Alexandra: We will, of course, watch the videos from here, and we will take into account all our mistakes in this competition. This was, let’s say, a “training start”: in the short dance everything was, I may say, successful, but in the free we have a couple of moments where further work is needed, where we need to think how to make things better. More skating, more skating, that’s the plan.

Alexandra and Ivan started the 2016-17 season in the best possible way: with a gold medal, at Finlandia Trophy in Espoo; still, there’s plenty of work to be done during this pre-Olympic season, and the two are ready to give all of themselves to training, so they could reach their goals.

Alexandra and Ivan started the 2016-17 season in the best possible way: with a gold medal, at Finlandia Trophy in Espoo; still, there’s plenty of work to be done during this pre-Olympic season, and the two are ready to give all of themselves to training, so they could reach their goals.

Do you happen to already have some thoughts when it comes to next season’s programs and music, given it’s the Olympic season?

Ivan: You know, we’re thinking about “here and now”. We got these two current programs and we will work on these. What it will happen in a year, we do not know.
Alexandra: Maybe we’ll start thinking about it, but only close to the end of the season, when it starts to be necessary. But I believe the coaches are already selecting the music.
Ivan: But they never tell us.

Usually, you are given the music, or you suggest it?

Ivan: Well, sometimes we suggest some music, and coaches too. We work together.
Alexandra: But for the most part they’re the ones suggesting.
Ivan: We would suggest something, but typically someone from the team would not find that suitable.
Alexandra: The reason is that we just like the music, but they will already envision it on the ice…
Ivan: And in order to skate to a certain piece of music, it should be properly laid out, aiming to have some accents.
Alexandra: And on ice such a music may not look too good. A cool music may become nothing on the ice.

You gave up on your trademark twizzles in the short dance, but added more new elements instead. Do you like to innovate?

Alexandra: Every season we do something new. We’ve never had a season without it.
Ivan: Only the twizzles stayed.
Alexandra: Yes, but twizzles were just the same, like, ten seasons, and we like them because they are our trademark element. And why won’t we show it at least in one of our programs…
Ivan: But we moved away from it [in the short dance] because we did it quite often, and the current program…
Alexandra: It’s just so that a different set of twizzles fits this program.
Ivan: They totally weren’t suited for the music, so we went for different ones.

I need to ask you that too: what do you think of the current state of ice dancing?

Ivan: The progress is huge. For a certain time span, about eight years, everything has grown a lot: technique, expression, the programs themselves. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron – they were very strong as juniors. And now they are just super cool, I like their presence on the ice a lot. When we were at the Worlds in Boston, I was watching them and almost not breathing, because it was so great. They are excellent.

At some point, the interview had to stop, since we had to move to a bus taking us back from the arena to the hotel. We still had some time to reach that final bus, but suddenly an “obstacle” appeared: in front of the press area there were these three little girls, who waited about an hour after the competition for Alexandra and Ivan; and now they’re super happy to see the pair approaching. What to do? Bus might leave any minute, there’s no time to spare. “Sasha, wait”, Ivan decides. “We have to”. And, as they’re staying for a couple of minutes with their tiny fans, I’m off to tell the bus driver to wait.

Interview by Askar Ibragimov/Espoo; editing by Florentina Tone

FURTHER READING – 2016 Finlandia Trophy

Intriguing and addictive: Mao Asada’s programs for this season

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford: coming home and lessons learned

The ladies’ event in Espoo, a preview of the Worlds in Helsinki