In their fourth season as a team, Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin decided once again to challenge themselves with one of Antonio Najarro’s bold choreographies – this time, in a reinterpretation of flamenco: they skate to an addictive piano piece in the first part of their free dance (“Orobroy” by David Peña Dorantes), to the haunting sound of the violin and the piano in the second one (“Puerta del Sol” by Ara Malikian and Manolo Carrasco), in an attempt to strip flamenco of clichés and show a lyrical, contemporary side of it.
“It’s a concept of taking something super characteristic and making it new. And Antonio was very good at making that fusion of modern and classic – you have to be a master of the technique, of the basics of flamenco, to then rebuild it in a different way”, Sara explains, while Kirill adds in all conviction: “These are not some ready-made programs – it’s a very demanding process. And he’s not doing some parody version of a Spanish style, or of some modern style. It’s all very authentic”.
And this word right here – authenticity – is also one of the best in describing Sara and Kirill’s creative journey so far.
Finding who they are, the common roots of their passion for skating in their first season together (with “Two Men in Love” by The Irrepressibles), embracing “Don Quixote” in the Olympic season, as choreographed by Antonio Najarro, and bringing it to PyeongChang, plunging even further into their possibilities as a team, with Iker Karrera’s creation to a peculiar, intriguing mix of Pink Floyd, Max Richter, Harry Styles last season, Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin are now taking a step forward with a dance that many consider – including us at Inside Skating – a real work or art.
And so this free dance has been the very core of our conversation in Moscow, during 2019 Rostelecom Cup – we talked to Sara and Kirill after the first part of the ice dancing event (they were sitting in third after RD), a sweet anticipation of their version of flamenco and their second Grand Prix medal.
But this interview is about many things, you’ll see that for yourselves – and some of their answers will surely stay on your mind, as they represent the philosophy of their partnership, the wheel that’s constantly on the move.
Take this from Sara and Kirill: “If you keep on getting better and better, you’ll grow in both the eyes of the audience and of the judges. And in your own eyes, in the first place”.
And then read the whole thing.
by Nadia Vasilyeva/Moscow
Nadia Vasilyeva: Congratulations on your rhythm dance here at Rostelecom Cup. You seem to be enjoying it a lot – is that the right impression?
Sara Hurtado: Yeah, it was really fun to skate here. I was a little in and out of it in the technical aspect, but it’s one of those programs that I would remember because of that joy of the moment. We have to find the balance between the joy and the technique, that’s how, you know, you get to the 80 points. We are working on it and I feel it’s the right way to do it.
Kirill Khaliavin: Yes, emotionally, that skate was very good. But we didn’t get the points for… Well, it’s totally objective, we got level 1 for Finnstep, and levels 1-2 for Partial Step Sequence, and that’s a lot of points we lost, because it’s all multiplied by GOE and, objectively, Finnstep wasn’t very clean. I can’t say for sure about Partials now, because I haven’t re-watched the program yet, but there is room for improvement.
And it’s great that it was a very emotional dance, and it’s always great to skate here in Megasport arena, the support is amazing. But we also need to earn the points, so we need to work on having the same kind of skate except with proper levels.
The music you skate to – “Hello, Dolly” – is a pretty classic Finnstep music, yet the dance seems very fresh. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you chose it, your idea of it?
Sara: When we knew it was going to be a Finnstep, I think we wanted to find a version of a classic beat for this year. Not to go super old either, and that’s why we put two rhythms together: not only Barbara Streisand, but to mix it with Frank Sinatra, a woman’s voice and a man’s voice, kind of like a skating team.
We wanted to make a Finnstep with the rhythm and the happiness to it, but in a style of this year, not too elaborated, just nice and easy. And clean, as clean as possible. We wanted to make a program to feel the joy of skating.
WORKING WITH ANTONIO NAJARRO: “HE’S A REAL MASTER”
Onto your free dance now: for you, Sara, it’s a third time working with Antonio Najarro, and for you, Kirill, the second one. It’s a great collaboration, of course, but how and when did you decide to work with him again this season? Who contacted who?
Sara: We are always in contact. He’s always very much involved.
We work with him, he follows our team and follows the competitions, and he’s cheering for us. So every season we have a chat and he says: “Guys, what are you thinking about this year, what do you want to do? If you need me, I’m free. Or not.” He always gives us the freedom to work with him or not.
But we really like the way he listens to music and understands the music, the way he puts emotion into a move. And the way we’re working together. In just three days, you feel so inspired and so filled with energy. His energy is so pure and passionate, and a big inspiration for us.
And this season we started with a different idea than this music, actually. We wanted to do a kind of a tribute to a Spanish artist, but to make it modern. We already did “Don Quixote”, which is super classic, everyone knows the piece. And, this time, we wanted to bring another side of flamenco. Like, with no guitar. Our music this season has no Spanish guitar at all in it.
We wanted to bring another face of flamenco, that can be a bit contemporary, modern, new, that can be mixed with the violin and the piano.
And Antonio was very good at making that fusion of modern and classic. And you have to be a master of the technique, of the basics of flamenco, to then rebuild it in a different way. That’s why we chose him, he’s a real master.
And he’s really good at adapting things for the ice as well. After all his experience with all the other skaters, I think it’s plus for us. Because we do a lot of work off the ice first, when he tries moves on our bodies, and he goes: “Okay, that looks good, that looks bad, try this, try that”… It’s like a brainstorming, you’re like: “What? What? I don’t know what’s happening!” [laughing].
But then he’s really good at making a selection of what’s best when we put everything on the ice. It’s always great to work with him.
So you create a kind of a draft of the dance on the dance floor and then you move it onto the ice…
Sara: Yes – [the process is that] we make our elements on our own, with Sasha [Alexander Zhulin] and our team. All that technical aspect that Antonio doesn’t really understand, the ISU rules and all that. For him, it’s like Mars, it’s like another planet [smiling], especially with all the changes every year. So we make a kind of a layout, we give him the order of the elements, and he makes all the links and he adds that spark to the elements.
Does he offer any suggestions along the season? Do you keep on working together after the dance is created?
Sara: He sees the videos and gives us feedback, yes. But it’s hard to match out our schedules. He’s a bit freer now that he’s not the director of the National Ballet anymore, but he was working with the National Ballet until last summer, so he was very busy. Even if we were in Spain for a few days it was so hard to have him free for a couple of hours.
But he’s always giving us feedback and comments. He’s there for us, and he’s amazing, I wish we could take him everywhere with us [laughing].
And who chose this particular music for the free dance, was it you or him?
Sara: It was like an “in-between”, because I gave him a few options. And we tried doing option no.1 on ice, and it was something very dark, and we didn’t feel like doing something so dark this season.
So we started looking for many other options, and we were looking for feedback, first with Kirill and the coaches – we needed to feel the music on the ice, ’cause it’s something you’re gonna listen to for the rest of the season, and so you need to be clear on what you want.
And once we made the right choice, we sent it to Antonio: “Antonio, what do you think?”, “I like it”. And we made it work.
When did you work on it specifically – and how long did it take to create the dance?
Sara: It was in two parts, because we were able to go to Madrid and work with him again, but the first part was in Moscow, during holiday in… May? [she looks at Kirill]
Kirill: Yeah, he came to Moscow during holidays in May  – this year, we created the programs much earlier than usual. He came and we made the beginning, the choreo steps and some links. And later on we added the elements, when we had time off we went to him and continued working on everything altogether.
Sara: But overall it was like five days. Very intense, but – [snaps her fingers] – five days. It was like: “Okay, okay, okay! And one-two-three-four!” [making fast gestures and laughing].
When inspiration strikes, it can be very fast.
Sara: Absolutely. And, suddenly, you have been working for 8 hours and you’re like – Already? Oh, that’s why I feel like I’m hungry! [laughing].
Kirill: He works very fast and it’s a very high-quality work.
What makes him one of the best choreographers is that in a span of two-three days he can create something almost complete already. It’s not a draft you’ll need to finish up later. When we do something, we do the layout, the steps, for an hour we learn the steps, the technical aspects of it all, then we move it onto the ice and he starts polishing it all. So by the end of the first day you can already see if it will work or not.
And then, for the next two or three days, we add some easier parts and smoothen it all out together.
It’s amazing that if he comes for three days – he can do everything we need within those three days. And it’s a rather big amount of work. Well, and I hope that we are not the worst students, so it all can be done in three days.
And there are not some ready-made programs, it’s a very demanding process. And he’s not doing some parody version of a Spanish style, or of some modern style. It’s very authentic. And it’s a very big plus of working with him. He’s very scrupulous about what he’s doing.
“I THINK WE FOUND SOMETHING SPECIAL”
So you had quite a lot of time with this free dance already, since you started early, and you’ll be skating it tomorrow again at Rostelecom Cup. Do you think that, at this point, you’ve already done justice to it, or is it still a work in progress?
Kirill: It’s always a work in progress. Well, we’ll see tomorrow, but we always keep on working.
Sara: Also, in each competition it feels a bit different.
Kirill: If we skate it like we do in practice – it will be great, and a big progress.
Sara: What I can tell you is it’s a program that I don’t think I will get tired of skating. Sometimes you have a program that’s like: “Okay, I’ll skate it for three more times and I’m good with it”. But this is a program that I really like. I think we found something special.
Kirill: There is definitely room for improvement in this program and it’s got really high potential. It can be taken further up to a very serious level. In the choreography there are no conventional or formalistic things, and there are a lot of things we can work on.
We are going to show what we’ve been working on since last competition – and it was a lot of work.
Is there a particular story, or an idea behind this dance?
Sara: It’s more of a concept, it’s not really a story. It’s a concept of taking something super characteristic and making it new.
Of course, everyone knows flamenco, and they think of a girl in a skirt with ruffles, and the colors, and the parties… But flamenco has so much more to show and to express. It’s not always, you know… [Sara claps and imitates loud passionate music]. It’s not always hands and all that, moving the fan and moving the skirt.
It’s that energy, it’s in the eyes, in the posture.
There’s a lot of maturity to show in flamenco, and it can also be super lyrical. Like in the second part of our program – there are no claps or anything like that. And that’s what we wanna show. A new twist of something that everyone knows. We try to break that prejudice of flamenco.
Well, I guess if anyone can do it – it’s you.
[Sara is nodding and smiling]
“WE TRY TO BRING MORE AND MORE OF OURSELVES ON THE ICE”
So how do you feel in this season so far, and what goals are you setting for yourselves?
Sara: I feel like we grew a lot. And the goal is always the same, we put it together at the beginning of the season: never stop growing. You always want to keep the wheel moving, and I think we are achieving that.
So we are taking one competition at a time, and give as much as possible.
Nothing in concrete. If you start being too concrete you miss the joy and the learning process. That’s our focus every season, isn’t it? [looking at Kirill]
Kirill: Yes, that’s true. There is no final goal, we just try to work and bring more and more of ourselves on the ice, and never stop growing.
And I agree with what Sara said earlier: the free program we are skating now – we couldn’t have skated it in Olympic season. “Don Quixote” was great, but this one is much more complicated, and it’s also much cooler. Well, in my opinion [smiling].
And our goal is to always keep improving. That’s it. There are no particular goals. If you keep on getting better and better, you’ll grow in both the eyes of the audience and of the judges. And in your own eyes, in the first place.
And if you focus on some situational achievements – it’s a very primitive approach. You need to love what you do and try to do it better and better. Skate better, move forward during the season, and take it with you to the next season. And then move further again, and keep on moving. And that as long as you’re skating. For us, that’s the only goal.
SEE MORE: Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin at 2019 Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. A photo-story.
“We wanted to make a program to feel the joy of skating”, Sara and Kirill say – and their “Hello, Dolly” rhythm dance is the exact embodiment of their wish.
And now let us invite you into this beauty of a free dance, as prepared, as skated by Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin during Rostelecom Cup in November.
Our photographer in Moscow, Natasha Ponarina, attended both the practice sessions and the actual free dance event – and so she captured Sara and Kirill’s intricate movements from a richness of perspectives.
Facing her, facing him, the camera seized the moment – the very same moment, at times – encapsulating everything this free dance has to to offer.
And you will love the pictures “with two faces”, so to say – and you will love this embroidery of a dance choreographed by Antonio Najarro.
For the exhibition, Sara and Kirill went Spanish again. And they took it very seriously as well – their gala program is as skillfully constructed as if it were a competitive dance.
They skate to “Algo baila en mi” by Delaporte – and the program is addictive.
And you don’t have to trust us – watch them dance, see the pictures.
[interview by Nadia Vasilyeva, Moscow/intro and editing by Florentina Tone/photos by Natasha Ponarina, Moscow]