Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat: “When your time is limited, you want to make the best out of it”

Two-time European Champions and 2012 World bronze medalists Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat of France entered the final season of their long career.

Q: How did the preparation for the season go for you?

Fabian: It was quite relaxed, because we started to build the programs when we were still with Anjelika (Krylova) and Pasquale (Camerlengo). We started working on the elements, putting the choreography together, everything that goes into the building of the program. Once we did that we left for shows in China. After our return from China we switched coaches and went to Igor (Shpilband). He accepted the programs the way we presented them. We changed the coach and had to adapt to his training methods, so we decided to change the step sequences and we have improved the lifts and changed certain parts of the choreography. After that it was hours,hours, hours, hours of training. We have spent a lot of hours on training the spin, that was one of our weak points. We worked a lot with Adrienne (Lenda) to do a spin that has a high level and is short, because to do spins that take a few hours … we could do that, but it’s less interesting. We have worked also a lot on the step sequences that we changed with Igor. With the new steps there were new blocks to master. We did full run-throughs again and again.

Q: What is the difference between Igor Shpilband and the other coaches you worked with?

Fabian: I find again this respect that you have towards your coach. We are not friends, but we aren’t subjects either, so we really have a connection. It’s really adults talking to each other. Even if we follow everything he suggests, it is a relationship that is much more mature. He is very intelligent and strategic. When he saw the programs for the first time, he evaluated the elements, where they should be placed in regards to the judges, how they are distributed on the ice so that not all the elements are on one side. He has really helped us in this aspect to add the technical touch to get the points to this program that we had mounted choreographically. I like training with Igor a lot. It is also an advantage that we don’t have to think about things all the time. When we need to change something, we tell him and it’s him who changes it together with us. It is not us looking for a solution and bringing it in. There is a spiritual liberty that allows us to come to practice easy-going and focus on what we have to do. It is for us to focus on the performance and training and not on things apart from that. Before, when we had to change a lift or something else, Nathalie and I thought about it for days and tried new things on the ice and we lost a lot of time, obviously, when you don’t have a coach who tells you what doesn’t work. That is difficult. When had to work on the spins – we always worked on the spins in the way we know it, with our basis – Adrienne came and told us, I want to see this kind of spin. We said, we can’t do it. She said, you try and you show me. We tried all kind of spins, in one direction and in the other, on one foot and on the other, with different position. We eventually found a compromise. It was the same for the lifts, we worked with an acrobat. We had a basis and we find different thing to follow. It is much more interesting and powerful to work like this. For the choreo lift at the end of the free, we had kept the salto for the Masters. We were told that this is not a lift, also we had to find something else. We discussed it. Adrienne said, you can so something like an artistic lift and we went into that direction. We improved the lift and changed it with the acrobat. Igor is very professional, very intelligent, and most of all he know his job.

Nathalie: It is more strict, there is more discipline. All our coaches were good, but he is very focused and strategic. That’s good and that pushes us. He knows exactly what to do and how to do it.

Q: How did you find “The Little Prince”?

Fabian: “The Little Prince” is an idea that came to us at the Cup of China in Shanghai last year. We knew we wanted to skate to something like a mix of “Four Seasons”, “Circus” and “Chaplin”, the programs that the audience and the judges liked best. We looked for something that was like this, but at the same time had a relationship between man and woman. We knew that Cirque du Soleil has been done a lot and we didn’t want to go to the grotesque characters that had been done before. So suddenly, the Little Prince came up. One morning I woke up and thought, we could skate the Little Prince. Plus this is French, it is international, because it was translated into many languages. It is a story that suits us well.

Q: How did you like Fabian’s idea of the “Little Prince”?

Nathalie: It was good. We had already talked about what we wanted to do and in which direction we want to go. We didn’t have yet the character or the story we wanted to tell, but we knew that we wanted to do something imaginative. We had a lot of fun with it, he told me, you can be the fox or the snake. But actually there is only one female character, that is the rose, so it was obvious that I’ll be the rose. I really liked the idea. This is one of the most beautiful stories in the world. It is for children and adults and it is very accessible. It’s nice, because it is a way to deliver a message without needing to rack your brain.

Q: How did you bring your idea to life?

Fabian: We knew what we wanted to do, so we had to talk to the choreographer and we asked Julien Cotterau who had worked with us on “Circus” and “Chaplin”. The only advantage of the injury before Europeans last season was that we had time to meet him at that time, because he was very busy and to finalize the times that we wanted to spend together to build the program. Later we had a lot of trouble to find the music. The musical is a disaster concerning the music. So we said to ourselves the music or the titles of the music are not important, it is most of all what it expresses. Like in the season of “Circus” when we used “Life is Beautiful” for the beginning. We tried to find music that helped us to think of that. We took excerpts from Cirque du Soleil that was transformed by Maxime Rodriguez and most of all the middle part, Jeux Interdits.

Nathalie: Finding the music was indeed very difficult. There is also a symphony and the musical, but that’s no music you can skate to. We took a long time to find the music and we looked everywhere. It was a big part of the work to find the music and to identify the four parts to fit our story.

Q: Please tell us the details of your story.

Nathalie: There are four parts. The first part is the meeting. The Little Prince sees the Rose and the Rose is a little shy and he tries to be super-attentive, pay a lot of attention to her. The second part is about friendship, people that are getting to know each other, who are learning that they miss each other, play together. The third part is when the Little Prince decides to leave, because he has the impression that the Rose doesn’t like him. She doesn’t show it too much. He decides to leave and she realizes that she was stupid that she didn’t know how to tell him that she loves him. But he was as stupid as she was, none of them made a move. Now, it’s the time to leave. She tries a little bit to hold him back, but he has to leave. This is the slow part, the sad part, when they have to separate. At the end, there are two interpretations possible. There is one interpretation, the Little Prince dies or the other interpretation that he says, don’t worry, that’s not that. You don’t know if the bite of the snake kills him or takes him back home. For us, we chose that he returned home and finds his rose again. We didn’t want to go in the tragic, dramatic direction, we chose a happy ending and the last part is their reunion, his return to his planet.

Q: How did you pick your short dance?
Fabian: For the short dance it was more Nathalie and our choreographer Laurie (Ayivigan) who decided. We knew that we wanted to do something different with the Finnstep. Nathalie had seen already the Bob Fosse musical and she liked it a lot. She likes this style, this Cabaret direction. We never had done something sexy. We wanted to show something much more mature and adult that you don’t see. You see a lot of ballroom and a lot of classical, but not much of relationships between man and woman in skating today. We are older than the others and have the possibility to express it. This is what was interesting for us. Bob Fosse is a selection, even if Sing Sing Sing is very well known, there is a central theme from beginning to end. It’s the story of a man that enters a Cabaret, who dances with a prostitute and at the end, with “Mein Herr” is kicked out.

Q: As you said, this is your last season. How does it feel to enter these competitions, knowing that it will be the last time?

Fabian: We don’t think about it when we get to the competitions, because we know that we have a job to do. At Cup of China, it was not easy, because the Russians were third at Worlds last year. We knew it is a big challenge. We don’t think about that this is our last competition. We first think of what we have to do on the ice, we think about that we have progressed a lot over the summer, that I am completely recovered from the injury and that we are back at the level that we were at the beginning of last season, that the work with the new coach is going well, about how the new choreography is received. It is only at the end of the competition that we realized that it was the last one. It is our third Cup of China with three different coaches and three victories. This is a competition that we especially like.

Nathalie: It is a special feeling, but more in the daily training. We know that we are training for the Olympic Games. It is good, it is motivating, because when you know that your time is limited, you want to make the best out of it. Even when we built our programs, we knew that in a certain time we won’t have the opportunity to be on the podium and listen to the Marseillaise. So we try to take the best out of it. That’s the game.

Q: What do you think about your chances for Sochi?

Fabian: I think we made a good point in China, in spite of the low levels in the Finnstep. Our program was appreciated and we had good energy. There is still a lot of work left to do, obviously. We know that the battle with the Russians will be very, very hard in Sotchi.

Q: There are also the Italians and the second Canadians…

Fabian: I don’t think so. Our main competitions are the Russians, not from the level of skating, but politically. We have to accept the rules of the game. We’ll do everything to be at a 100 percent. We proved at the Europeans in Sheffield (in 2012) and at the Cup of China that even after a somewhat chaotic start, we are still there. Our strong point is the free dance and this is where we get the points. We have all chances. Even if we are not in third in the short dance at the Games, we know how to fight to rally back.

Q: What do you think when you hear the word Sochi?

Nathalie: I can’t wait to be there. I would like to get a nice medal and enjoy it. I want to give a good performance and finish on a high note and positive, to be happy with what we have done. I don’t have a doubt that it will be great like all Games, especially since the Russians are super proud and will do everything to make it perfect.

Q: What are your memories from Sochi?

Nathalie: I remember that it was quite warm in December. There was no snow, there was the sea. This is a bit surprising for Winter Games, but it is even better. I remember that I really liked that area with all the stadiums. Even though it wasn’t ready you realized that all the disciplines will be together. Usually you have to travel a lot, here you have the whole cluster with the ice rink, the practice rink, speed skating oval, curling. All the ice disciplines are in the same place, that is cool.

Q: What are your plans after Sochi?

Fabian: After Sochi we do the tour with Art on Ice and for sure a tour with the French team in April. I’d like to go to Worlds in Japan but as a team leader. I will ask the Federation. We won’t do Worlds. Nathalie and I decided that. The training is getting harder physically. Mentally, we are focusing on the Games. When we have a medal to go after a silver medal at Worlds is not so interesting. The medal at the Games is what is really important. It would be hard to motivate ourselves after that, there will be a lot of euphoria. And if we don’t get a medal at the Olympic Games we probably won’t have the motivation to continue. No, we won’t go to Worlds. Afterwards we’ll do shows if we get offers. And then… I think I’ll coach. I want to coach. We have good French couples that could do nice things in the coming years. I don’t know yet if I go back to France, though. I like the quality of life in the USA. I will see who offers me to work with him, Igor (Shpilband), Barbara (Fusar Poli), Sasha (Zhulin).

Nathalie: We’ll do shows, but not for such a long time, I think, maybe one or two years. It is nice to have fun on the ice, but we have to think about other things. We won’t do shows for ten years. I’d like to find my life, return to France, to Paris, find a job. Maybe I’ll become a (technical) specialist to stay connected to skating. I am still hesitating. I’d like to stay in touch with skating, but maybe not right away after the career. It is after all a difficult scene and I’ve been into it for 20 years. But then I tell myself, that it is necessary that athletes who retired from the sport are getting into these positions in order to develop things. On the other hand I think that’s a bit naïve, because there are always the same people around.

Q: What kind of job would you like to do?

Nathalie: I have to finish my studies, I still need to write the thesis, then I’m finished. I could work for the French Olympic Committee, that could be nice or for a company that is involved in sport events such as Roland Garros.

Thank you verxy much for the interview and good luck!