Russian dance couple Alexander Stepanov and Ivan Bukin won the Rostelecom Cup of Figure Skating in Moscow. This is their second victory; the first was at the Grand Prix in Helsinki. That means the couple qualified for the Grand Prix Final, which was held in Vancouver this weekend, where they placed 4th in as well the Rhythm and Free Dance. When the Rostelecom Cup ended they talked to a group of journalists and I was present. .
Congratulations on your victory! You set a world record in the free dance yesterday. Have you reviewed the scoring and are you satisfied with your skating?
Alexandra: There are always some flaws. Yes, we reviewed the dance scoring yesterday. We sat together and noted many points for ourselves that we would like to improve on to execute our program better. We analyzed the details, not the technique. For example, we did not sort out steps and levels. For ourselves we noted where we can add on to current scores.
Ivan, on TV, we saw that you had a wound on your neck.
Ivan: This is a “work injury”.
Alexandra: I scratched his neck during the rotational lift.
Ivan: The wound just does not heal. At every dance session, Alexandra scratches me and I have a small scar. We cannot fix it with a plaster, because it could fall off and we would get a deduction for it (dropping an object on the ice).
It is no secret that there is a certain queue in the ice dance events. It is difficult to start as seniors and immediately enter into the elite. When you started in ice dance, did you realize how long you would have to wait, or did you think that success would be quicker?
Alexandra: We did not think about waiting. Every time we had to prove our position to the judges and the public, to follow this way step by step. We cannot sit and wait, we have to work hard to earn our place at the elite level.
At the Junior World Championships you beat Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
Alexandra: This is an eternal question for us, well, it happened. There was a junior level, a completely different one. They started on a senior level as the first couple in France, we were far from the first couple in Russia, so to everything there is a season.
Ilya Averbukh often praises you. What does his praise mean to you?
Alexandra: This is very pleasant to hear. He invited us to his show, to tour some cities. It was interesting to work with him, and it is very important to hear kind words from him. He is a professional; he manages the show, which is very popular. If he appreciates our skating this way, then this is really cool.
Did you get any offers to work with him to choreograph your programs?
Alexandra: We are working with Peter Tchernyshev for the third season, so for the time being we will not change anything, we will skate his program this season, and then we’ll see.
Was there a difficult moment in your career when your thought you would break up?
Ivan: In my opinion, there has never been a single time.
Alexandra: For us, this is impossible even in thoughts. We cannot think about it. Everything is going well with us. If we don’t get the result we would like to get, then it’s not Ivan’s fault, it’s not my fault. We have certain goals; each of us performs its part. We didn’t have thoughts to break up. Probably we just did not have such obvious problems leading to rupture. We are very lucky with each other and with coaches.
What is the main goal for you?
Alexandra: Our main goal is to win the Olympics.
Ivan: I think it is the same for all athletes who want to achieve the best. Of course, everyone wants this, and we are not the exception. We work every day, we try to improve ourselves in order to achieve this goal. This is a dream, it is even more than a dream, it is our life.
Alexandra: I have this idea since childhood, maybe my parents or relatives have led me to it. Always, wherever I came, everyone told me they would see me on TV soon, and I was a child, only seven years old. I realized that I had no other way, I understood that this is my life, my choice, there is no other.
Which dance couple did you admire in childhood?
Alexandra: Probably, Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. Everyone loved them, and I am not the exception. They are champions loved by all.
Last season you ended up in the terrible situation of not getting an invite for the Olympics…
Ivan: We have already talked many times about this, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Did you ask the IOC to give an explanation for that decision?
Alexandra: We wrote letters, collected signatures from Olympic champions, a lot was done. The thing is that they have a right not to explain the reason. That is, if we were competing under the Russian flag, they would be obliged to explain the reason, but since we are competing under a neutral flag, they may simply not invite you. Similar to be, or not be, invited to a birthday party. So that’s the situation.
How was your collaboration with Valentin Yudashkin? How do you feel skating in “haute couture” costumes?
Alexandra: For us, this is a masterpiece, in fact. Valentin turned out to be a kind-hearted man, so open, calm, smiling. We constantly keep in touch, we inform him about our issues. Therefore, we are really very lucky that it happened and that he invented these images, these costumes.
Did you create the costumes with him? Or was it his idea?
Alexandra: It was originally his idea. We sent him our music, we showed ourselves, we came to his boutique.
Did he see the dance then?
Ivan: No, he didn’t see it at that moment, it was at the beginning of the season.
Alexandra: We showed him videos of our previous programs. He looked at us, figured it out and then the next time we arrived, he had a bunch of sketches. Valentine showed them to us, and then we already discussed the details: what we like, what to add, what, maybe, to remove, but he gave us the first idea. That is, we invented it together. There was no such thing: “I will sew it for you, and you will skate in it.”
Your dress looks very different in static and in motion. In dance it seems to start living its own life – and it is so beautiful.
Alexandra: Thank you so much! It really turned out very unusual. Not what I could have imagined. Because for the tango it is customary to take standard colors: red, black, maybe purple or green. But then suddenly gray, but in the end it looks cool. It is original and very, very beautiful.
This season your both dances are so hot and sexy. Are these images new for you?
Alexandra: From season to season, we try to change and show our different sides. Last year we had a lyrical, slow program, this year we decided to change up drastically. Therefore, Peter Tchernyshev offered us blues for the free dance.
Ivan: We immediately fell in love with this music. We came to the first practice with him, he began to show some movements, it was very stylish. We liked the way he interprets this music and sees us in this music. It was very interesting to work and quite simple.
Alexandra: It happened that the rhythm of the dance of this season is tango, and it was choreographed by Irina Zhuk, and this tango is also one of our favourites. In this dance, we show our best . So, we got two very sexy, powerful images.
Looking at you we can see that you are close to each other, you communicate well on the ice and off the ice. Is it possible to act this passion if there is no such understanding between the skaters?
Alexandra: Actors play love, and in real life they can hate each other. We have a different story. We are very lucky with each other. Somehow it all came together. This is such a force – to understand each other completely. We are happy we manage to show passion so well that people believe us. Frequently asked questions: “Are you a couple in life?” This is a very good compliment to us playing on ice.
But you are not a couple in life?
Will your unique element twizzles-pistols come back?
Ivan: We didn’t completely remove them. In the free dance they are in the choreo steps.
Alexandra: But I think that in the short program we will not return them, because we can lose too many points. I don’t think it’s worth the risk, especially since the new twizzles fit the music very well, maybe even better.
Ivan: In this season it definitely won’t be back, because we’ve got already a lot of criticism. At three starts we were told to think about and to perform something else. They are very hard to execute correctly.
Alexandra: To execute them is just not hard, we make them easy. Just the judges explained to us that they do not see which edge we are starting from.
Don’t you think that this is just a niggle and you are deprived of your unique style?
Alexandra: I don’t think so.
Ivan: No, we have already done them many times. And people who love figure skating know that there is such an element. I do not think this is a big loss. Rules are rules, we are all in the same predicament. We must do everything as prescribed, and cannot break the rules for the sake of some exclusive elements.
How did you feel about the expansion of the grade of execution (GOE) from three to five? Is it easier or harder?
Alexandra: It is neither easier nor more complicated. It’s so nice when you see in the protocol: “five”, “four”. Everything changed in the first season after the Olympics. A new Olympic cycle has begun …
Ivan: It’s really hard to judge, this is just the beginning of the season.
Alexandra: But we have already received very large increases in marks. At this competition we lost a lot of points in technique in the short program, but the gains were huge, and this is very cool!
But, again, this double-edged sword. You can lose as much.
Ivan: Of course, if you make a mistake, then the punishment will be twice as serious and painful. But perhaps this is correct. If you made a mistake, you should be punished, and if you performed well, then you should be well rewarded for it.
Thank you and good luck in your competitions!