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Pechalat and Bourzat ready to keep on winning

French dance team head into Final after best season yet

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won the gold medal in dance at the Trophee Bompard.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won the gold medal in dance at the Trophee Bompard. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(12/08/2010) - Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat have won every competition they have participated in this year -- five of them altogether.

Currently, they are in Beijing for the ISU Grand Prix Final. Just before heading to China, Péchalat talked to icenetwork.com about their incredible season, and to discuss bit more on her relationship to Bourzat and how they work to create their trademark innovative programs.

icenetwork: You have won five competitions already, how do you feel?

Péchalat: We have never done so many competitions in a row. Yet, we really thought that it was necessary in order to test our short dance. We are glad we did it. Now, we must admit, it is rather difficult to go from one competition to the next, and we start to feel that our bodies are tired.

This first part of the season will have taken its toll. We feel it when we step on the ice for practice. Now, we have to skate for shorter sequences, even though they remain just as intense.

icenetwork: The start of a season has been incredible for you, have you taken any time to celebrate?

Péchalat: Actually we had never won at the international level, so, yes, it is a big "premiere" for us! And a great joy.

Our biggest emotion came in Oberstdorf, when we finally stood on top of the podium and listened to La Marseillaise [French National anthem]. We had no French judge and no coach with us. We had placed only third in the short dance, and finally we had won.

After that, we did not really celebrate, but we took the time to share our victory with our family and friends. That gold medal at the Trophee' Eric Bompard was really the expression of our gratefulness to all those who have encouraged and accompanied us throughout the years. If (or may I say "when"?) we get a title at a major championship, then for sure we will celebrate. But, the road ahead is still quite long.

We still have two main competitions to go in the next two weeks: the Grand Prix Final and French Nationals. We feel very committed to both. We were forced to withdraw from our nationals last year because of an injury. This year we do not want to skip it. We owe that to our Federation, and also to our sponsor [a dermatology laboratory with which Péchalat has done an internship in Moscow].

You know, they will put us on their packages for lipstick this season, we are so proud! They have supported us to go train in Moscow, and we owe them the opportunity to pursue our dream.

After that we can have a long rest. Fabian has been plagued by a tendinitis on his leg muscles. Nothing really serious or risky, except he is suffering all the time. What he needs is some rest. Christmas break will help him recover.

icenetwork: Fabian said that he loved playing roles, because when he did not feel good he could smile and then change his mood simply by feeling his smile deep inside.

Péchalat: Oh yes! Fabian is a real artist, you know. Creation is his hobby. Playing roles helps him day after day.

Everything is a matter of perspective. Change perspective, and the world will change, even though objectively nothing has changed. We compliment one another quite well in that respect. I have the optimistic look. He is focused on what does not go right, and I tell him what goes well.

Seeing success along the road helps him a lot. He knows that he has good chances, so it helps him overcome his injury day after day.

icenetwork: Your ability to create new and innovative programs has become a trademark. Where does this come from?

Péchalat: We both love it! Building a program has always been a real joy for us. We need our programs to carry us. We need to tell a story, we need to feel that we are giving some emotion to people who are watching us. That is what we like most. That is what makes us work so hard. It is much more important to us than making a step sequence get a Level 4 (even though we will do our best to get a Level 4 as well!).

Last year's free program was so difficult for us. The theme was much more abstract, and then the choreography was so dense, as we had so much to pass along. It was too heavy to carry, and was giving us a big stress each time. This one [to "City Lights" by Charlie Chaplin] is much clearer and people like it.

icenetwork: One thing you have been known for is your ability to create your programs first on the floor, then on the ice. Is it not a challenge? Was it not the reason why you had to change your short dance earlier this season?

Péchalat: No, not at all. We have never been frightened to organize a program on the floor and transfer it to the ice. Actually we have done that for many of our programs, like "Cats," or even our "Circus" routine. The problem with the first short dance we made this year was different. We devised it also on the floor with Antonio Najarro, the great flamenco dancer. In fact, there was too much dance in our number, and too little glide. We have understood afterward that judges wanted to see more gliding and fluidity and less choreographic moves. That is why we had to change.

Creating on the floor and transferring it to the ice is a must, when you want to work with choreographers outside of the skating world. We feel that we need some new eyes into skating. People who will bring a new look to our sport. That is why we went to Antonio again this year.

icenetwork: How then did you create this year's programs?

Péchalat: When we create a program, we usually spend an incredible amount of time and energy upfront. We usually have several ideas years in advance, and we let them mature. What we like is to build what story we are going to tell, and how we are going to tell it. Four minutes make a mini spectacle, and we design our programs this way. We talk together, we select the perspective we want to use, and then we choose the persons we think are best suited to help us develop it. Then we have to design everything -- from the musical selection and arrangements to choreography to costumes, what to do when and for what purpose. Just like we would do for a show, actually: we view each one of our programs like a show, to be honest!

We will work the same even for a much more technical program like our short dance. We spent about two hours on the ice to create our Dr. Zhivago new short dance (also, we had so little time to do it, just before departing for the Cup of China). But, we had spent about two weeks to choose our theme, the musical excerpts to skate to and the characters to portray. It was the same when Sasha told us that he was thinking of Charlie Chaplin for our new free dance for this year.

icenetwork: Who did you turn to then to help you?

Péchalat: We thought immediately of a great clown we know in Paris, named Julien Cottereau, who is very successful in France and everywhere. We had worked with him two years ago already when we wanted to develop a theme around clowns. He taught us how to use a clown's red nose to tell a truth or to declare one's love. It is truly amazing to see how much you can take up with a red nose, from intimate feelings to the difficulties of life.

The reason why we chose to go back to Cottereau this year was not to do a clown number again, as we had already done that in our Circus program. We do not like to stay in just one style. This year we wanted him to teach us about lyricism and poetry. As soon as we knew that Charlie Chaplin would be our theme, we started working on which axis we wanted to develop and propose to the judges and audiences. It can never be a matter of saying: 'Oh yeah, let's do Charlie Chaplin, we'll take his most famous music and skate to it', or 'let's make them laugh.' We wanted to go much beyond and explore new themes and angles.

We hope it works...

Péchalat and Bourzat's victories do not owe much to chance. Two years ago they finished sixth at the Grand Prix Final, last year they were third. For this year, the answer is just days away.