Ice Network

Pechalat, Bourzat say Shpilband has them on track

French ice dancers plan to compete at senior B competition in Salt Lake City
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Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are ready for the Olympic season. -Getty Images

In May, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat shocked the figure skating world when, prodded by the president of the French Ice Sports Federation, Didier Gailhaguet, they left the Detroit Skating Club and coach Pasquale Camerlengo to train in nearby Novi, Mich., with Igor Shpilband.

According to Shpilband, he was as surprised as anyone when Gailhaguet called him and then visited the Novi rink to suggest Pechalat and Bourzat join Shpilband's group.

"My schedule was already full, and I had to think overnight and make a new plan," Shpilband said. "But because they are a great team, I wanted to work with them. I saw their strong points and thought I could do a lot to improve their elements."

In 2012, Pechalat and Bourzat won their second European title and the world bronze medal under Camerlengo. They could not compete at the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships due to Bourzat's groin injury. With limited training time, they competed at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships and placed sixth. met the skaters in Pechalat's home, less than a mile from their new training rink in Novi. How did the coaching change happen?

Pechalat: At the beginning, it certainly was not our idea. After Fabian's injury, we were already at work with Pasquale for the new season, and it was less than one year before the Olympic Games. We were really busy in our creative work for the two programs; we were looking for different pieces of music, working with our French choreographers. So it was a strategic idea of [Gailhaguet], our federation president. When we left Alexander Zhulin in Russia two years ago, it was different, because it was our idea to go to Pasquale Camerlengo.

It is always a difficult decision to change coaches. But we agreed with this decision because we wanted the maximum for ourselves.
Bourzat: When we worked with Igor, we saw that it turned out to be a good idea. We were impressed by his qualities. We quickly adapted to his way. He changed our three step sequences, and he created a new spin with us within a few days and made it look easy, but technically more demanding. We also worked on our lifts with Igor and [Oleg Ouchakov], the acrobat from Cirque du Soleil, and with the mime coach (Michael Lee, a pupil of the legendary Marcel Marceau). Igor has a whole crew of people around him who complete his own knowledge, and we want to take the most of everybody in his crew. We are really becoming better, and that is our goal.

Pechalat: We are working with him now for about a month. Igor has a very strict work ethic; he is a very disciplined worker and sees every tiny mistake right away. He knows very well where to put the elements in the program. How are you integrated in his training group now?

Bourzat: It is never easy when you come into a new group, but we understand each other quite well, even if we are not always on the ice at the same time as the other top teams. We have known most of Igor's teams from the many competitions we have done together. The training is very Americanized, which means that there are no rivalries on the ice, no jealousy. You are friendly and open with each other. But Igor's best teams (including Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte and U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates) will certainly be our rivals at competitions. Which music did you choose for your short dance?

Pechalat: We chose well-known pieces from Bob Fosse. The first part is the foxtrot "Big Spender." The second is the quickstep "Sing, Sing, Sing." Why not choose something well known? The third part is "Mein Herr" from the musical Cabaret, sung by Liza Minnelli. Talk about your new free dance.

Bourzat: This is a longer story. We had thought about it for months. One morning last November, I woke up and it suddenly came to my mind that the theme of our ultimate free dance could be the story of The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. The little prince discovers love but sees that each rose also has thorns. This reflects our career as skaters. We were looking for something poetic, in the style of our circus, Four Seasons and Chaplin programs, which the public liked very much. Is there a soundtrack of The Little Prince?

Pechalat: No, we wanted to select well-known pieces of music which have a relation to this character. We thought of the Cirque du Soleil right away; therefore, our first piece of music is Quidam. The second part is from the soundtrack of the French film Micmacs, and the third piece is the well-known "Jeux Interdits," from the film Forbidden Games. Maxime Rodriguez composed the fourth part and arranged the whole program. You just returned from a week in France. What did you do there?
Pechalat: There was a small summer competition in Lyon, and after the competition we showed our programs to some French judges and federation officials. Even if our programs are not 100 percent ready, they saw the progress we made with Igor. They were surprised that we made such quick progress, which made us happy, and they gave us some technical advice.
We also did some final work with our French choreographer, Julien Cottereau, and we picked up our competition costumes from the same French tailor who has done a great job for us for many years. Which competitions are you planning?

Bourzat: Our first competition will be in Salt Lake City in September (the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic), because this is not overseas. In early October, we go to France for the [French] Masters competition, and then we have our Grand Prix in China and France and, hopefully, the Grand Prix Final. A week later we have our nationals. Will this be your last season as competitors?

Pechalat: Yes, definitively. We were not totally happy with the result at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. We decided to compete four more years, to try to win a medal at the next Olympics. What will you do after this season?

Bourzat: We are thinking now only of this season and do not know exactly what we will do after. In March, right after the Olympics, we will do shows with Art on Ice in Europe and shows with the French team, and then we certainly will continue skating with shows, but no more competitions after this season. There are other French couples who want to make a career now. I do not know yet if I might coach. Everything is possible, and no details have been decided yet.
Pechalat: I would like to maybe work as a judge or technical specialist, or for my federation one day. Now we have to follow the rules, but why not contribute to new rules in the future? But now it is "Olympics, Olympics, Olympics" in our heads every day. Certainly, our goal is an Olympic medal. Then, we can talk about the future.