Ice Network

Takahashi, Nichol come together on Beatles free

Famed choreographer describes program as 'poetic and profound'
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Lori Nichol says Daisuke Takahashi has a "very unique balanced blend of athleticism, vulnerability and passionate soul." -Getty Images

"Daisuke does not perform emotion and movement that is put on him; rather, the movement and profound emotion come from within him." - Lori Nichol

Nichol, the legendary choreographer who helped Evan Lysacek to win his Olympic gold medal in 2010, created Daisuke Takahashi's new free skate, a Beatles medley. This is the first time the two great talents had met in person and worked together. She talked about her experience working with the skater and the thought she put into this particular piece of work.

Takahashi will compete at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships, Dec. 20-23 in Saitama. 

Icenetwork: How did you come to work with him this time? I know it almost happened last year but didn't.

Nichol: Daisuke contacted me very soon after worlds. This year the schedule and logistics went smoothly for us to work together. 

Icenetwork: What was his best feature as a skater that you observed while working with him?

Nichol: There are so many 'best' features, how do I choose just one? Even though we hardly knew each other, I felt somehow I understood his heart -- not the details, of course, but the essence, the depth, the sincerity. It was very interesting because he had this strong desire to learn new skating skills, new ways of moving. He opened himself to the heart of the Beatles music and my philosophy on skating. It was quite funny, too; I could tell he was unsure of himself and perhaps of me as well at first, perhaps feeling a bit silly when he did creative movement, and I was quite nervous, as I have this huge responsibility to help this precious magnetic soul that put his trust in me.

Icenetwork: Is there anything about him that was different from other elite skaters you have worked with in the past?

Nichol: Many of the greats have very similar character traits that get them to the top. The greats I have worked with straddle this very fine line between having confidence in themselves and being perfectionists, and, therefore, in a way, have a skewed sense of how good they are. It is always sad to me that people so talented, accomplished and amazing are the last to ever realize just how good they really are. The skaters have different ratios of athleticism to artist; Daisuke has a very unique balanced blend of athleticism, vulnerability and passionate soul that make him a very honest and magnetic skater. He does not perform emotion and movement that is put on him; rather, the movement and profound emotion come from within him and travel outward. He is a very giving performer and doesn't succumb to cheap theatrics. I have this fun vision of him that, if I was an accomplished painter, would be fun to create: this sleek black panther that when his head is thrown back in passion, this magnetic energy emanates from him, and all things surrounding are pulled into his aura.

Icenetwork: What quality of him did you want to bring out the most? Anything in particular?

Nichol: I wanted to improve his skating skills, emphasize his magnetic sensual energy, give him space to perform an honest interpretation. 

Icenetwork: I know the base of your artistry always comes from skating itself. How did you evaluate his skating skills?

Nichol: I taught him some exercises and just watched closely how he used his knees, feet, lean, power, etc. I taught him the Swedish S, an old world figure that I was fortunate to have been taught when I was very young. I was so lucky to train in the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society and learn the history of skating in both theory and in designs on the ice. ... I have made it a mission over the last 20 years to teach it around the world to skaters and coaches. It is on this very small pattern I can assess a lot about what a skater understands about their body position on an edge, their knee rhythm, free leg action, blade action, and then teach them skating skills and exercises accordingly. My plan was to show him new things so he could be like a child again discovering skating, energizing his curiosity and motivation.

Icenetwork: Please tell us about his new free program. How did you pick the music and what is the concept behind your Beatles medley?

Nichol: I remembered his words that he wanted to do something different and something to thank his fans. I also felt he was amazing to tango music but didn't want a whole tango program. I have had the "Come Together" piece waiting for many years for just the right person, a tango version of a Beatles tune. Then it was about finding the other pieces that would work with it and work for his elements within all the rules. I loved the idea that he begins with "Yesterday," which was best for his feeling for the elements but also allows a nod to his past and then moves on from the past, the good and the bad. The "Come Together" for the step sequence was so much fun! I am very proud of this step sequence. I think it is a piece of art. Only Daisuke could do it like that. He becomes like a sleek, impassioned animal when performing it. Then there is the knocking, as if another part of his soul needs to be opened. To "Friends and Lovers" by the Beatles producer George Martin, he turns and glides toward the audience, pulling us in like a magnet. He skates FOR his friends and lovers, and BECAUSE of his friends and lovers, and he has loved them all, is grateful for them all. But it slides into "In My Life," where he does the Swedish S figure. And he gestures toward it as the lyrics would be singing "I loved you more" ... so poetic. "The Long and Winding Road," well, it has been! And that it is a long and winding journey through life, so enjoy it, celebrate it, it is the only one you have. In my opinion, the program is poetic and profound. As only Daisuke could do it. I hope people will care enough to really see it, and feel it.

Icenetwork: Was there extra pressure to work with him -- or anyone -- for the first time in the Olympic year? 

Nichol: Yes, there was extra pressure, and that would be an understatement! He is such a divine skater, and he has worked with so many good choreographers, and he was putting himself in my hands for the Olympic long. I took that responsibility very seriously and had trouble sleeping with worry. It was a time I am grateful for my age and experience and my nature of loving big challenges! But I had heard from many that he was a kind man and not arrogant ... this was very important in the decision to take on the project because I do not work well with arrogance or attitude. His letter to me showed a profound desire to learn and create.

Icenetwork:  If you have had a chance to see his performance on video, please tell us what your thoughts were. Were you pleased?

Nichol: I was very happy to see the progress from Skate America to NHK Trophy; of course, there are many details to refine, but the best part was his fighting spirit and obvious efforts in training.

Icenetwork: What is your prediction for the Sochi Olympics?

Nichol: I will never make a prediction or have expectations, especially for the Olympics! All any of us can do is work each day with deliberate, quality practices, leaving no stone unturned, with an ever-burning flame of hope and vision of a great performance, and then in competition trust one's training and just do it. It is a lot like a wedding: If you only think about THE day, you miss most of the fun, joy and satisfaction that come from the journey leading to it!

Icenetwork: Do you feel he has a good chance for a medal?

Nichol: Can you imagine the pleasure for all lucky enough to watch him if he can put together two programs displaying all that makes him great? It will be a special day for everyone, and a great day for the progress of the art of figure skating.