Stéphane Lambiel: “Having a company with skaters is possible, I want to believe it’s possible. And I want to do it”

Stéphane Lambiel and the cast of Ice Legends 2016

Stéphane Lambiel and the cast of Ice Legends 2016

This was intended to be an interview about Ice Legends, past and future editions. It turned out to be an interview about Stéphane and his love for skating. You’ll see that for yourselves, cause it’s all here: his first memories with skating, Bestemianova and Bukin, the first edition of Ice Legends and its joys, the second one: Le Poème, Carolina, Carmen – and a later rendition of Ilia’s Rhapsody in Blue, the hints for the third one – the piano and the cello, Diaghilev and the dream of having a company with skaters with which he could travel the world, the performances that touched him during this year’s edition of the Europeans, Deniss Vasiljevs’ presence in Ostrava and the emotions of their first Europeans as a team. And even if you can’t see Stéphane, literally see him, you’ll notice, from his answers, that he had a permanent smile on his face all throughout this interview.

by Florentina Tone/Ostrava

I’m meeting the coach-choreographer-creator of Ice Legends on January 29, the last day of the Europeans, just after the exhibition practice, in the skaters’ official hotel in Ostrava. And for the next hour we will travel to so many different, yet connected, directions. He is the link, of course – the heart of every single project he’s naming during our talk; and so this is an interview just like a tasty, multilayered cake. And Stéphane Lambiel is a spectacle himself – and we will have a lot of colored details inserted into brackets all along this marathon of moments, memories: we wouldn’t want you to be voided of all his spontaneous reactions.

The circle closes a few hours after the interview, when Carolina Kostner skates during the exhibition a beauty of a program, choreographed by Stéphane for last year’s edition of Ice Legends. “She’ll skate to Debussy’s Clair de Lune”, he tells me during our talk, his eyes sparkling. And then there’s that: the silence, the piano, and a girl, her hair in the wind, as if she were herself a heart on skates. And, somewhere in the half-light of the audience, a happy, smiling choreographer.

To my surprise, to everyone’s surprise, there’s a bigger circle that closes on February 16, when the team behind Ice Legends announces that the third edition of the show is postponed to 2018 – and so we add, at the very end of this interview, a couple of more details shared by Stéphane.

2 Stephane Lambiel interview for Inside Skating 2017 Europeans

[Stéphane has just returned from Ostravar Arena, where he had accompanied Deniss Vasiljevs at the exhibition practice, so our discussion starts with this.]

Stéphane Lambiel: …we needed to change our flights, with Deniss having been invited to skate in the gala.

Florentina Tone: Deniss made quite an impression here – it’s good that, being 6th after the short program, he could enter the last group of competitors for the free skate, “the lions’ group”, if I may…

It was very good. It was good, because it gave him confidence, and I think he knows that, even though he’s not putting a quad in the programs, he can still be in this group because of his strong skating and strong interpretation.

Of course, the quad is important, because without the quad to get a medal is almost impossible. But at least I think we realized that he has the package to bring a performance on the ice, to bring something that people love to see, and I enjoyed his way of expressing himself, he has something special. Of course, we work very hard on the quad, and we want him to get a very high technical score. And if the technical score gets higher, for sure the components will follow.

We will be closing our story with Deniss and his performances at the Europeans – but I suggest we go to Ice Legends first. I feel that we need to build some context here, so I would like you to lead me and the readers of Inside Skating into the story of the first edition. If I remember correctly, it all started with an anniversary, Switzerland and Japan celebrating 150 years of friendship, and the actual show took place in December 2014.

Yes, there was an anniversary [involved]. Because every time I go to the Japanese Consulate to get the visa, I have a very nice discussion with the employees there – and one of the employee asked me if I was going to celebrate somehow the 150 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan. And I didn’t know about this anniversary, so I started to think about how I could celebrate it… And one of my biggest dreams has always been to create my own show, so those two things kind of emerged together and, with a couple of friends, we started to talk about it and see if it was feasible.

Because, to realize it, it’s something incredible – and we had no experience in organizing such an event. But we really wanted to do it, and I started to think about what kind of a concept, what kind of an image I wanted to give to this show.

You know, figure skating for me started with a couple of images from TV – and by watching skating on TV, I got the interest in figure skating. And it was for me a big revelation, in the sense that this was not only a sport: there was music, and there was expression, and there was the feeling of connection with the music. To do something athletic with the music – when I was 7, I hadn’t experienced a sport that was so complete and complex.

And then my sister was skating, and we decided one time to watch a figure skating show. It was Bestemianova/Bukin, they were doing a kind of a tour with a show – “Phantom of the Opera” on ice, I think – and they came to a city not far from my home town, so we went there, and I saw this show… It was the first time I’ve experienced a show, a live show! So I had those images from TV, and then this figure skating show that was the first thing I’ve seen live, and I was very impressed. And I thought: Wow, this sport is incredible!

If you brought this up, which are your very first memories when it comes to figure skating? Are the ones you just mentioned, or something else? It might very well be something you saw on TV, of course – one of my first skating memories is the colored shirt of Viktor Petrenko in Albertville…

My first image… Of course, Albertville was something very strong because it was the first Olympics I have watched. And Lausanne 1992: it was the Europeans before the Olympics. This one I was able to watch live. Yes, I went to Lausanne to watch the Europeans, and I remember, I remember…

Digging and digging, until you get to the bottom of this…

Yes! I remember something very clear to me: I was a big fan of Viktor Petrenko, of course, but I was also a very, very big fan of Viacheslav Zagorodniuk. And I remember that I was in the audience watching, with my sister, and we saw Viktor and Viacheslav sitting together in the crowd. And we were like: Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Do you think we can go and ask them for an autograph? [there’s a big smile on Stéphane’s face while he recalls, relives the moment]

It was really the first time we got so close to someone that we admired, and, yes, that is a very special moment that I didn’t remember until now! But it stayed in my mind, and it’s the first time I realize that…

And the year before, it was the Worlds in Munich, I think. In 1991. I don’t remember it so clearly, but I remember that my mom was recording the event, there were a lot of tapes – so, afterwards, when I got more and more involved [in skating], I was rewatching the videos and, for sure, with my sister, we were watching Tonya Harding. Not the drama later on, but she was very strong in 1991 at the Worlds, where she did the triple Axel. And Midori Ito, of course… These are memories that are somehow [blending], but I remember those first videos that I was watching from figure skating.

Glimpses from 1991 Worlds in Munich: Tonya Harding (silver), Kristi Yamaguchi (gold), Nancy Kerrigan (bronze); an all-American podium in the ladies’ event.

It might be a very good moment to come back to the plan of having your own show – and the thought of bringing together legendary skaters and legendary programs, that it later became the trademark of Ice Legends

Yes, when contemplating the idea of a show, I started to think about what I wanted to do with it. And what inspired me in figure skating were all those special moments, those special performances that have changed figure skating’s history, but also that have changed my life, because it inspired me to become a figure skater.

And so I thought: well, in the show that I want to create there is a part where I want to choreograph – I wanted something to be my creation, like we’ve seen in ballet; that was something that I wanted to have – but, apart from that, I also wanted that the skaters bring their special performances. Since we don’t have time to make a lot of rehearsal, we only have a week or so, we needed to find a way to make the magic happen with not months of preparation. And since I always got inspiration from special performances, I wanted to ask the skaters that are my favorite skaters to perform the program that is very meaningful to them. What made this person special at one moment, what was the moment when we could see that it all clicked! [snapping his fingers]

It can definitely be a program that was connected with an Olympic medal or a title, but it can be also a program that gave something special. I remember, for example, Kaitlyn and Andrew, and their performance in Nice, to “Je suis malade”. This performance touched my heart…

And so when I contact the skaters, I tell them: Listen, my idea is that this special performance has touched me, and it has touched probably a lot of people, so I would love to see it again…

And they usually say Yes?

They usually say Yes…

Only Ilia didn’t want to come back to the giraffe… [we’re both laughing right now: Ilia Kulik was Stéphane’s guest during the second edition of Ice Legends, and he chose to skate other program than his free skate from 1998 Olympics, to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue]

Actually, it’s very funny, because he came and he did the show – and I didn’t want him, of course, to do, in 2016, the Olympic program like in 1998… 18 years later it’s pretty hard to do it… But after Ice Legends, Ilia and I went to Japan, to Fantasy on Ice. And Kotaro [Fukuma], the pianist who was playing for us in the first edition of the show, he was too in Fantasy on Ice.

And it was very funny because during practices, during Ilia and my practice, Kotaro was coming to play on stage. So he was also practicing during our practice – and, every time, we would go to him and we would ask him for our favorite pieces. And it was very nice, actually, to practice with a live piano. It was the first time for me to have this feeling, like in ballet… In ballet, there is a piano accompanying all the steps, the exercises, and for the first time we had someone there, and we could just go and say: Ok, now we want this! [laughing heartily] And we could skate!

And then, suddenly, Kotaro started to play the edited version of the Rhapsody in Blue from Ilia’s free skate! [at this point, Stéphane’s enthusiasm, emotion are almost tangible] So we were in practice, Ilia, my favorite skater, the piano live and… Kotaro started playing this, and Ilia was skating!!! And it was just amazing! It was exactly what should have happened in Ice Legends! But it was fine, because I saw it and I was there, and I could live it!

The pieces came together in another show, but it’s fine. I mean, what I like is to live these moments! And it was practice, it was only us, but the magic was there.

Stéphane’s favorite skater, Ilia Kulik, skating in Stéphane’s own show (Geneva, Ice Legends 2016)

Stéphane’s favorite skater, Ilia Kulik, skating in Stéphane’s own show (Geneva, Ice Legends 2016)

Coming back to the first edition of Ice Legends, have you thought about it as an on-going project or just as an one time thing? After all, not everyone is willing or wanting to have his/her own show…

It’s not a small thing. I mean, to have your own show is a big risk.

But when did you start thinking about having your own show? Taking part in other people’s shows, like Kings on Ice, Intimissimi on Ice, might have had you thinking, of course, but can you trace this in your mind? The presence, evolution of this thought-turned-into-plan?

I have always wanted to create my show, I have always had this idea of creating a show, creating a choreography, and I think it got stronger and stronger by the fact that I was watching so many different performances, ballet, musicals, that I was attending and skating in figure skating shows. I got a lot of images from all of those.

[The thought] was in me since “Phantom of the Opera” from Bestemianova/Bukin – from that very moment to Ice Legends no. 1 it was the process, I think. It was in me, and I was just getting all the info – and I’m still learning, I’m still trying to understand how can I proceed with the next one, what are the ideas, how can I connect them with the choreographies, with the skaters, how can I use their power, how can I use their time the best possible way, so the rehearsals are not too long, but we can work efficiently… So, yeah, it’s a constant process. It didn’t come like: Ok, today we will organize the show!

If we’re thinking about the first edition of Ice Legends, which were the defining moments? The “it moments”? For me, I don’t even need to think about it: it was clearly Alexei Yagudin’s Winter, my favorite short program in competition for many, many years.

Mine too! This program really changed [me]… it gave me so much power! And I remember, from Salt Lake City, Alexei gave me a lot of motivation for the rest of my life. I remember trying quads and triple Axels in the practice, and I was so confident, I was so sure I was gonna do it!!! [laughing]

I didn’t land them there, but it was really like the turning point to me: Ok, if I want to be like Alexei, I need to really bring it on and do it! [Stéphane’s fist hits the table between us]

What else from the first edition… Nathalie and Fabian did The Mummy, I choreographed for Akiko Clair de Lune, and I choreographed for Carolina Clair de Lune the next year, and we choreographed Gershwin’s Preludes for Nobunari, Denis and me. We also did Money on my mind for Denis…

Denis Ten, not our Deniss…

[laughing] Yeah, Denis Ten. Nelli and Alex were also there, but Tania and Max couldn’t participate because Max had an injury in his shoulder. Carolina did Ave Maria from Sochi…

And she also did a Chopin piece, if I recall correctly…

Yes, she did La Valse, and Salome choreographed La Valse with Kotaro – that was also very, very beautiful.

And I skated Rachmaninov, and Rachmaninov was the program that kind of opened my professional career. It was after competing, and after having always the goal to perform, with the points, with the scores, that I was finally able to be free and to create a classical piece. Because you usually don’t think classical for an exhibition, right? Because you used classical music for competition for so many years that you want to use something else. And finally I was able to do a classical piece, and not thinking about how many jumps, and how many spins, and where do I put this or that… It was just: Ok, let me be creative with this piece.

And Brian did Matrix, yes, of course! Matrix, because…

…because he is Matrix! You cannot separate the two.

Exactly! And it’s hard for me also to separate my competitive career from Brian’s, because he’s been one of my friends, and my rivals, and I think what represents him… The first year I wanted Matrix, and the second year I told him: James Bond. And he made this kind of edited version of James Bond, and I think that’s where he’s strong, and where he has his spirit!

Brian Joubert as Matrix, during the first edition of Ice Legends (December 2014)

Brian Joubert as Matrix, during the first edition of Ice Legends (December 2014)

Nathalie Péchalat, Fabian Bourzat – and one of their trademark programs: „The Mummy” (Ice Legends 2014)

Nathalie Péchalat, Fabian Bourzat – and one of their trademark programs: „The Mummy” (Ice Legends 2014)

The highlight of Ice Legends 2014: Alexei Yagudin skating his Olympic „Winter” program

The highlight of Ice Legends 2014: Alexei Yagudin skating his Olympic „Winter” program

Stéphane Lambiel skating to „Three Preludes” by George Gershwin (Ice Legends 2014)

Stéphane Lambiel skating to „Three Preludes” by George Gershwin (Ice Legends 2014)

Sweet ending of a Chopin performance: Carolina Kostner and invited pianist Kotaro Fukuma (Ice Legends 2014)

Sweet ending of a Chopin performance: Carolina Kostner and invited pianist Kotaro Fukuma (Ice Legends 2014)

The whole cast of Ice Legends 2014 – this was the beginning of a magical story

The whole cast of Ice Legends 2014 – this was the beginning of a magical story

Here you have him, the host, the master of ceremonies, the creator of Ice Legends, exhaling joy, enthusiasm, at the end of the first edition of his show (December 2014)

Here you have him, the host, the master of ceremonies, the creator of Ice Legends, exhaling joy, enthusiasm, at the end of the first edition of his show (December 2014)

After this first edition of Ice Legends, did you immediately start thinking about a second one?

Not immediately. I mean, it took a while… We were very happy with the first edition, but, as a team, we had to sit down to understand what happened, what worked, what didn’t.

If you’ll allow me a remark here, if there aren’t good videos on youtube from the first edition, you’re “responsible” for that: the first show wasn’t officially recorded, if I remember right…

No, unfortunately not. We didn’t have the budget to make a recording. I mean, we asked a couple of productions, but it was way too expensive to have a professional recording. So there are probably only some videos of fans from this edition.

This was really the beginning of beginnings…

Yes, it was tight. I mean, when you organize something like that, time flies, and you are like: Now we have to do this, and this, and this. And we couldn’t manage to put that into the budget. The second time we were able to make a deal with the Swiss TV – and we are very happy with the images.

And everyone could rewatch the show during Christmas holidays…

Yes, it’s true, I actually rewatched the show myself. It was very funny because it was probably at the same time with Intimissimi on Ice on the Italian TV.

Lead me a bit into the second edition of Ice Legends, the one that took place last year, in April. I’ll put it differently: if you think about it, what do you see? Are there any particular moments, performances, that stayed in your mind more than others?

I think Le Poème is very present. There is almost not one day that I’m not thinking about it.

11 Stephane Lambiel Carolina Kostner pas de deux at Ice Legends 2016

I mean, the whole work behind it, the whole story of how it developed, from the point when I meet Khatia [Buniatishvili] and I talk to her about the music pieces that she would play, to the creation of the choreography in Champéry with Carolina, where we were creating her solo, I was creating my solo, and then we were creating our pas de deux, the whole process with Salome to create Mao’s part to Chopin, and integrate it into the bigger story…

So it was very interesting, the whole process surrounding Le Poème gave me a lot to think, a lot to create, a lot to live! Good moments with Carolina, good moments with Salome, it’s something that I cannot forget. Of course, the result was great, but all that we lived was… And, you know, we also had someone who came to make some videos, to show a little bit our work…

I remember that video in the kitchen, with you and Carolina making a soup…

Yeah, exactly. So there are moments like those, that are very, very nice, and very peaceful, and very creative… And Carolina was a big inspiration. When I was watching Le Poème in the show – I mean, I had to focus on my part, which was quite difficult – but when I was watching her just before doing Clair de Lune, it was just magical. And the connection with Khatia, and this atmosphere where you could hear the flies flying and the time was suspended… I really enjoyed the process, the result, and the souvenirs now. The memories.

Le Poème stayed in Carolina’s mind too. I remember talking to her on the morning after the show, and that’s what she remembered also: the connection with Khatia, the emotions…

[Stéphane chuckles a bit, more like a kid who is about to share a secret]: She’s gonna perform this number, Clair de Lune, today – and every time I watch her I feel like she’s pushing the limits further. And, yes, it brings me back to Ice Legends.

...this moment, this spellbinding, suspended, ethereal moment: Carolina Kostner skating to Debussy’s „Clair de Lune”, with Khatia Buniatishvili playing the piano

…this moment, this spellbinding, suspended, ethereal moment: Carolina Kostner skating to Debussy’s „Clair de Lune”, with Khatia Buniatishvili playing the piano

[At the time this interview was taken, at the end of January, the third edition of Ice Legends was still ON. Eventually, the show got postponed to 2018, but we decided nevertheless to keep the information regarding Ice Legends no. 3 in this final edition of the interview. If not for anything else but for Stéphane’s enthusiasm and joy when talking about his dearest project. And some of the little things he shared might still be on his mind for next year. So keep an open mind, and ear, and hear him talking about his next Ice Legends.]

You had Kotaro Fukuma in the first edition of Ice Legends, Khatia Buniatishvili in the second… Will it also be a pianist in the third edition, on April 28?

There will be a pianist, yes, and there will be a piece where there will be the pianist with a cello.

He or she, the pianist?

[He laughs, he doesn’t want to reveal that yet]: I’m not ready to say. We’re still discussing about the pieces that they will play, I’m still trying to fit the pieces into the creation and into the skaters’ performances, so it’s still in the process. It’s a big puzzle – but we will probably announce it in 2 or 3 weeks.

Let’s try a different approach then, with hints, and not so much specific answers. Like: have you already thought about who you want to invite – or already invited?

[Smiling] Oh, yes, yes, yes! I already invited the skaters – and this week and next week will be the confirmation of all cast. So they are all invited, and I already have confirmations, and I’m waiting for a couple of more confirmations.

I don’t want to spoil the fun, that’s clear. The team behind the show is very good in creating anticipation, and last year’s social media campaign of announcing the skaters was a hit, so I will only ask that: are there any skaters from last year’s cast?

[He doesn’t even blink]: Yes. Yes.

Additional ones?

[laughing] Additional, yes.

Because thinking about those skaters that you invited last year, they clearly have more than one legendary program…

True. I mean, the cast from last year was fantastic! I told them right after the show: You know what? You’re all invited for next year! Because it was a very good atmosphere, good cast, good people, good performers. I mean, Tessa and Scott skating to Carmen was…

[I can’t help it] I missed that program so much!

Me too! And I was so sad during the season they were performing it that the judges didn’t understand it. I don’t remember specifically where they skated it, but I remember it was a hit! For me it was a total hit! I was able to see it in Geneva, and I was so excited! And when I watched the performance in the show on TV, I was as excited as when I saw it live. So I’m happy that they were in Ice Legends last year…

No „Carmen” like this „Carmen”: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in Geneva, at Ice Legends 2016

No „Carmen” like this „Carmen”: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in Geneva, at Ice Legends 2016

If we’re inserting a bit of a bracket here, what do you think about their comeback? You probably saw some of their performances this season…

Yes, and I love their short dance, I looove it! [he emphasizes the word, prolongs it, and his enthusiasm clearly shows] I love it so much! I think they take risks, and they are strong, and she’s amazing!

I mean, he was always my favorite dancer, his presence, his personality, everything – but she is amazing! She’s so strong, and she’s so spicy, and sassy, and she shines, and has the rhythm, and she has the power… yeah, she’s everything! To me, they were always great, and now she just put more spices into it – I love them!

And I love Gabby and Guillaume, and it’s really hard to compare them, because they are so different! Yeah, they are very, very, very different! And that’s why sometimes in ice dance I’m like: God! They are so good! Can we have a podium that allows everyone to be on?

It’s like going to the museum and… you cannot choose! Like: I love Monnet, I love Van Gogh, I love to watch new arts and more ancient arts, and I cannot compare. Something touches me and… it touches me! It touches me, I’m happy! [You should have seen him now, shrugging his shoulders and exhaling joy]

Maybe judges need to have a Happy-button on their tables, like those you have in supermarkets, to show if you were satisfied or not with the interaction with the vendor…

Exactly! Yes! [and then there’s him, pressing an imaginary button] Satisfied!

I have always thought changes need to be made for the emotions to be well represented in the scores. I mean: how do we score emotions?

Yes, very difficult.

How do you score Mao Asada’s performance last year, in Boston? How do you score that?

I think she was completely underscored there.

Same thought here.

Of course. But what can we do? I mean, yesterday, for example, when I watched the ice dance, Stepanova/Bukin for me were great! They were fantastic! I was like: happy, happy, happy, happy, happy! [his palm hitting the table with each and every “happy”]

And then I watched the Danish [Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen] and I was also happy! I was like: Yes, this is a great performance! And then Gabby and Guillaume, of course! I mean, you see those performances where it just goooes, and it just giiives, and it’s amazing!

Leaving this behind for a bit, the Europeans, I was wondering if we could go into something that you said last year, at a meeting with your fans, just prior to Ice Legends no. 2. And, luckily, someone recorded it, and I could hear it…

[curious] What is that?

You said: “I would love to be a new Diaghilev…, and having a company with skaters, that’s actually my dream”. And I would like you to develop on this, because I think that’s an amazing dream to have. Diaghilev made history with Les Ballets Russes, and, from where I stand, figure skating world owes him a lot: so many musical works, ballets were put together under Diaghilev’s enthusiasm and efforts, such great pieces were commissioned by him, and now people are skating to them, or use them as inspiration – The Firebird, Scheherezade, Afternoon of a Faun… So let’s talk about this plan of yours…

[smiling] Well, you said it all. I think Diaghilev left behind so much material to get excited, and to get enthusiastic about, and to learn from all those projects, from all those living experiences.

He was on the road with his team, he created, he was trusting his people, he was giving work… He was a visionary, someone who is not scared to go forward! And, I mean, that’s life. That’s life, that’s how you create excitement, that’s how you create love, that’s how you create affection, that’s how you create sharing times with the people that you love, and even with the people that you don’t.

And there’s Stéphane himself, creating excitement at Ice Legends 2016

And there’s Stéphane himself, creating excitement at Ice Legends 2016

And I’m not pretentious to say that, but he is a model, an example! Someone that I look up to, and that I feel: Wow, this person was so courageous! He had contacts, he had connections, and he was using them to make something good, and to make people dream. It’s amazing, it’s crazy, it’s like a movie director. And I’m thinking about movie directors that I love, like Xavier Dolan: when I watch one of his movies, I’m thinking about it for weeks, and I’m completely bouleversée..

One of the movies that I watched not so long time ago was “Yves Saint Laurent” – with Pierre Niney, because there are two movies with that name… And I see this movie, and I see that Yves Saint Laurent in fashion was also making people dream. And putting so much effort into it, and opening doors, and creating something magical, something that you cannot explain, putting a lot of people in a good flow… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but those examples make me think that this world needs this kind of stories. These kinds of projects, where you can just join the wave and go with the flow.

But a company with skaters… is this thing doable?

I don’t know, I don’t know… [reflective, like he was thinking again at this idea, as we speak]

…because I was kind of full of regrets last year, with that sole performance of Ice Legends. That particular edition could have travelled the world – that good it was.

I know. The show was ready to travel.

But this idea, to move the cast from one place to another… do you think about it? Or is it virtually impossible, with the skaters’ schedules and everything? Some of them are still competitive, some are not…

It is possible, I want to believe it’s possible! And I want to do it. I want to.

It is indeed very difficult because you have skaters that compete and there are also other shows, and I will have to put a lot of thoughts into that. But, I mean, I’m sure I’m not the first one to think about it – in North America, with Stars on Ice, they were already putting this kind of thing into practice, they were putting a lot of energy into a project like that. And if we just come back to the first show that I was watching, with Bestemianova and Bukin, it was like that: they were on the road with their skating. And if I think about John Curry’s company, it was also like that.

You wouldn’t be the first to do it – but for whatever reason it seems harder now.

It is. But I think it’s definitely possible, you just need to find the right group and everyone should want to join this kind of project.

The magnificent cast of Ice Legends 2016 – and Stéphane will admit, his eyes glowing: „I told them right after the show: «You know what? You’re all invited for next year!»”

The magnificent cast of Ice Legends 2016 – and Stéphane will admit, his eyes glowing: „I told them right after the show: «You know what? You’re all invited for next year!»”

Before going back and closing the circle with the Europeans, what should we expect from this next edition of Ice Legends? [the one that was set to happen on April 28, 2017, in Geneva]

Well, we should expect the creation part, with live music, which is classical – I mean, I love classical music, I think it fits figure skating – and then we have the legendary programs.

Are there enough legendary programs to fill… let’s say, 10 more editions?

Yes! Of course! Oh my God! I think every skater has a couple of legendary programs. I mean, Carolina… every program of hers is legendary.

Will Carolina be a permanent member of Ice Legends’ cast?

[Smiling] I hope so. I really hope so. She’s a treasure. Yes, she is.

Have you watched her here at the Europeans?

Yes. [and this is one of the moments we regret this isn’t a video interview – tons of love and admiration into this simple yet revealing “Yes”]

Because I wanted to ask you, from a fan’s point of view, if some performances here in Ostrava, from the ones you saw, touched you more than others…

Well, yes, from ice dance yesterday, the three performances that I told you about. I mean, Anna and Luca were great too, pity that the twizzles didn’t work perfectly, but I’m happy that finally everything ended correctly. Gabby and Guillaume are definitely the highlight of the competition for me, and I really enjoyed the Danish couple, they were very, very good and very strong, good performance. And Stepanova/Bukin are my favorite Russians at the moment.

In pairs, I love Tarasova and Morozov. I love, love, love, love, love, love, love them! I love them and I think they deserve to be Olympic champions. But I was very happy with the French team also [Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès]. Performance wise, they were very strong – in the short and in the long program. And it’s really hard to perform with the pressure. To be able to perform well in the short and then, with the pressure, to perform well in the free – I think that’s remarkable and great, and I’m happy for them.

I was expecting a bit more from Nicole and Matteo, because I know they are capable, and I love their skating. We’ll see how they react after that.

In the ladies… I mean, Carolina is Carolina. I don’t need to talk and I don’t need to say how much I love her. It’s another category. I mean, Medvedeva is incredible and I really admire her, and, you know, it was not easy for her to skate, probably, against her idol. I mean, everyone’s idol is Carolina, and to skate against her was definitely not easy, but I admire Evgenia because she went for it, she did her job.

And in the men… I put all my focus on Deniss and I’m very happy with his performance.

Attentive eyes on Deniss Vasiljevs at 2017 Europeans in Ostrava – Deniss skates his short program to „Voodoo Child” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

Attentive eyes on Deniss Vasiljevs at 2017 Europeans in Ostrava – Deniss skates his short program to „Voodoo Child” by Stevie Ray Vaughan

17 Deniss Vasiljevs SP 2017 Europeans

And this was a great routine, hence the big smiles in the Kiss and Cry

And this was a great routine, hence the big smiles in the Kiss and Cry

Let’s talk about that. How was the experience of your first Europeans as a coach?

Yes, it’s all very new, but this was already our fourth competition. And we spend a lot of time together, so I know pretty much how he functions, and I understand that as a coach you have to be kind of a sponge. A sponge and a rock. To absorb all the emotions and everything, and a rock because you have to be there and you have to support the skater to be strong, in case of something. You’re the support, you’re the guide. And for me it’s new. Because I was the type of skater that had to get all my frustrations, my nervosities, everything out – and Salome and Peter were the rock and the sponge. And now I have to [do it myself].

With Salome Brunner and Peter Grütter, one of them was the rock and the other one the sponge, or…?

They were constantly sharing and changing… Because I was exploding everywhere, so they had to be like the sponge and the rock at the same time. And now Deniss is this kind of explosion, and I have to be the sponge and the rock! But it’s great! I mean, I love to learn, I love to experience new things, and it’s definitely a learning process that I enjoy, that I hope I will do for many, many, many years.

We have a good connection with Deniss, so that helps. That helps for the learning process, that helps to enjoy the moment, because we like each other, we understand each other. Of course, there are moments when there is tension and when I have to be a little bit hard with him, but in general he’s a very good student, an amazing skater, very good potential, and I’ll do my best to guide him as far as possible.

Deniss Vasiljevs during a practice session in Ostrava, prior to the men’s free skate

Deniss Vasiljevs during a practice session in Ostrava, prior to the men’s free skate

Coach and student at the boards – a photo-documented radiography of their interaction

Coach and student at the boards – a photo-documented radiography of their interaction

19 Stephane Lambiel Deniss Vasiljevs during practice 2017 Europeans (2)

An innovative spin, under the eyes of the spins’ master, Stéphane Lambiel himself

An innovative spin, under the eyes of the spins’ master, Stéphane Lambiel himself

19 Stephane Lambiel Deniss Vasiljevs during practice 2017 Europeans (5)

Deniss finished 7th overall here, in Ostrava, which is absolutely great, but after the free skate, in the mixed zone, he looked a bit disappointed…

He was unhappy. He was unhappy about the Axel [Deniss missed the triple Axel at the beginning of his free skate], and very unsure about what he had to do in the program. Because he thought that he needed to pull the plan B out there. He told me: I was trying to look at you to see what I have to do. And I said: Deniss, I was there, but I’m not on the ice. I’m there, but I will not push you for anything. I mean, if you feel like you have the strength in the second part to go for another triple Axel, you do it. And I think it was great that you went for the planned, the program as it was planned. It was great! That was the right decision! If you decide something, just do it!

Because after the performance, he was like: Maybe I should have done differently… No! You did correct! You did what was planned! You had two options: you could either make a second triple Axel in the slow part, or you could have also done a triple Sal, triple Toe, double Loop, to gain the marks on the second triple Toe. Those were the options. And since we haven’t really… I mean, we have practiced a couple of options, but it’s not like we do that every day. And since we don’t have this consistency, yes, do as planned. And that’s fine. And you do it, and you do it well.

But how was it, the 7th place and the performance here, from the coach’s point of view? How do you see it?

As a magnificent competition. No, for me, his skating was a-mazing! I mean, from the inside we are with those thoughts, of course, but from the outside, with the general picture, I’m so happy! I’m happy that he could show the work that he has put – and he’s been so responsible, and he’s been working, going for it, never giving up. Yeah, that he was able to show the work that we have done since the beginning of our collaboration.

And I’m here to make his situation as peaceful as possible, so he can keep the same peaceful training, and be healthy. Because at the beginning of season the main focus was to get him healthy, because he’s a very sensitive skater, so every single muscle he knows how to activate and, if it doesn’t activate the right way, he will be thinking… so I just have to make sure that everything is fine, the health is good, the situation is good, and now Go!

One more thing: have you already saved some perfect music for a perfect Olympic program somewhere in the computer?

Oh, we have! We have a good playlist. We have a great playlist, actually, and he’s already very excited about the choreographies… I mean, everyday on the ice he’s following his mood, and music mood, and it’s great. I see a little bit of myself in him.

And to qualify for the Olympics he has to…

He has to place Latvia in top 19 at Worlds – and there’s also Nebelhorn for the last six places. So we’ll see. He just has to perform, to perform, to perform, and to work, and it should be fine. I mean, he’s practicing well and he’s ready. Physically and mentally he is ready.

Clenched, confident fists for a remarkable young man – Deniss Vasiljevs takes the ice for his short program in Ostrava

Clenched, confident fists for a remarkable young man – Deniss Vasiljevs takes the ice for his short program in Ostrava

ICE LEGENDS’ postponement to 2018 – additional info from Stéphane

The fans were disappointed with the postponement, that’s an understatement – but the most disappointed of all must be you…

It was a difficult decision to make, and of course I’m disappointed. We started working on the new show almost right after the last one, and we really wanted to make it even better in every aspect. But at some point we also have to be realistic. All things come at a cost. Unfortunately, we were not successful in obtaining the support we needed. We didn’t want to compromise on the quality of the show, so we thought it’s best to take a step back and return in 2018, stronger than ever.

Some of the plans you made for 2017, will they still be ON for next year? In other words, will you start from the beginning with the concept, the skaters, the performances, the invited artists, the musical choices, or will you just pick everything from where you left off?

Of course we won’t start from scratch – the work is just continuing. We will use the extra time to let our ideas develop further. And we will also have new ones, based on our experiences in the coming months and the inspiration of the moment. Just thinking about it now as I’m writing this, I really can’t wait to show what we’ve already worked on to the audience. That next show really is going to be legendary!


Stéphane Lambiel’s Ice Legends: A Midspring Night’s Dream

2016 Ice Legends. Act One: let yourself be amazed. A photo story

2016 Ice Legends. Second Act: a marathon of masterpieces. A photo story

Carolina Kostner: “I can search for my own best version, and then that’s my gift”

“Captain Zebra” and “philosopher Vasiljevs” – a story told by Stéphane Lambiel and Deniss Vasiljevs