Pechalat, Bourzat head to first 2008 GP assignment

French dancers ready for Skate Canada

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are known for programs that draw in the audience.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are known for programs that draw in the audience. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(10/30/2008) - French ice dancing is going strong. 2008 world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder kicked off the new season with a victory at Skate America. Now, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are on their way to Ottawa and the HomeSense Skate Canada International, their first Grand Prix Series assignment this season.

After skating to a convincing second-place finish at the French Masters three weeks ago, behind Delobel and Schoenfelder, the duo worked with their choreographers in Paris and then returned to Moscow, where they now practice full-time under the guidance of former world gold medalist Alexander Zhulin.

They took the time to disclose the content of their programs to just before they left for Canada.

"We had built both our original and free dances prior to relocating in Moscow," Bourzat explained.

Just like they had done in the last few years, the couple devised its own ideas and programs this season.

"Every year, we select a theme, and then we contact the right persons so that our project can take shape," Pechalat confirmed.

Since the duo's choreographer, Laurie May, remains the same from one year to the next, they like to turn to artists of different backgrounds to create their programs.

"We have chosen 'Lindy Hop Blues' for our original dance," Pechalat said. "That dance started in the USA and later came to Europe. We have chosen a piece by the Puppini Sisters, who have modernized what the Andrews Sisters were doing back then. This way, it bears both modern and nostalgic values. It is like 'modern nostalgia.' The music itself provides several changes of rhythms, which we both like."

"We asked Stéphane Olive, a professional specialist of Lindy Hop, to help us for that piece," added Bourzat.

"Of course, do not count on us to perform it in a classical way," explained Pechalat. "We do it as it was born: in restaurant kitchens, just like behind the scenes where no one would ever come to see you. It gives us more freedom to look like fools!"

What about their free dance?

"We have chosen to skate to a theme around circus," Pechalat said. "We turned to Julien Cottereau, who is a renowned clown and pantomime actor in France, to help us build our free dance [Cottereau is currently playing in a one-man show in a major theatre in Paris]. We love it, really. The story goes like this: Fabian is a bit lazy; he does not feel like doing his number with me. All at once, he feels like it again. It is fun to do and hopefully fun to watch."

"It is certainly our best program ever," Bourzat noted. "It is very visual, and it includes everything we have learned so far -- from emotion to theatricality and laughter. We are also emphasizing our current work on edges and gliding. Coming up with new ideas is always a challenge."

The couple has nevertheless always managed to evolve at its own pace and to find new ideas.

"We got the idea for our free dance last December, while we were in a plane," Pechalat said. "Actually it is always the same process. We always fear lacking ideas for the next season to come, and yet every year it ends up working."

Bourzat then added, "One of us starts by saying, 'What about doing something like...' Then a theme comes up, or a costume or anything else, and we start imagining what it could be like. We can get several ideas, but one thrills us more than the others, and we can not take it away from us."

Designing such programs, however, is not so easy, with their permanent training base in Moscow and their choreographers mainly in France.

Pechalat tried to explain the situation: "At first, when we were still in France, we worked on the idea and the choreography, and then we worked at it on the ice. We started by placing our bodies and the movement itself. Now, our programs are within us, and we master them technically. Yet after a while, we felt we still needed to work on our expression, our face language, the way we interpret our characters, our lines. We came back to Paris earlier in October specifically for that purpose, so that we could work with our choreographers and check that what we had done was in line with the original idea.

"In fact, we completely portray ourselves in our free dance. We love it. It is as if we were playing our own roles in an animated movie."

Bourzat then exploded in laughter, saying, "Yeah, it could be titled, 'The Mosquito and the Slow-to-Start Guy'!"

Pechalat and Bourzat's self-thought programs are rooted deep down in their hearts and souls right from the start. It may be one of the reasons why their audience is so quick to respond to them.