Changes abound for Pechalat, Bourzat

French ice dancers discuss their new coaching team, new programs and Grand Prix assignments

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are seeking their third medal at Trophee Bompard.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are seeking their third medal at Trophee Bompard. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(11/16/2011) - Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat ended in second place at Skate America four weeks ago, behind 2011 world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. At the time, Bourzat was sick and could not even talk. The team withdrew from Skate Canada the following week. The duo has now recovered and is ready to fight at the fifth stage of the Grand Prix Series, Trophée Eric Bompard, to be held in Paris this week.

They took the time to talk about their skating lives with just before leaving their Detroit training base for Paris. So, how is Fabian now?

Péchalat: Excellent! He is back in his usual great shape, fortunately. What made you decide to leave Alexander Zhulin, who coached you for three years?

Péchalat: We would never have changed coaches if [Russian prime minister Vladimir] Putin had not said that he did not want Russian coaches to train foreign athletes who would compete against their own skaters. Sasha [Zhulin] had already told us at the start of last season that he might not be able to keep us as regular students. He was very open about it. So, he knew that we would be leaving eventually. We left Sasha and Oleg on very good terms, and we call one another regularly now.

Bourzat: The sad thing, though, was that when we called him right after settling in Detroit, he told us that Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who used to train with him as well [they placed fourth at the 2011 European championships and seventh at worlds] had also left him. So now he is not even training a Russian pair anymore, and we would have had no Russian competitor on his ice anymore. We do intend to go back to Moscow as soon as we can for training sessions.

Péchalat: Sasha is full of talent -- he has a lot of projects, shows and TV specials -- but it is sad that he has no pair to coach anymore. He and Oleg are excellent coaches, and we owe them a lot. Sasha had a unique way of giving us confidence -- the way he talked to Fabian was not the same way he talked to me. After three years working together, he really knew us well. How did you make the decision to train with Pasquale Camerlengo?

Péchalat: We told ourselves that we had 2 1/2 years left in our competitive career, so we needed someone who already knew us well.

Bourzat: Pasquale was an assistant coach to Muriel Boucher when we started in Lyon, France, so he knew us when we were just babies! We are also coached by Pasquale's wife, Anjelika Krylova, who is just as highly regarded as Sasha in terms of ice dancing. Also, Pasquale, Anjelika, Oleg and Sasha talk on the telephone regularly. With whom did you create your new programs this year?

Péchalat: We did, as usual. We already had our ideas when we arrived in Detroit, and started working with the choreographers we had chosen: Ilia Constantin helped us for the short dance and Kader Belmoktar for the free dance. Then Pasquale took it to the ice; he is so gifted with that. What did you select for the short dance?

Péchalat: Pasquale wanted us to skate to "Prado," the music Daisuke Takahashi had so brilliantly skated to. Fabian wanted a stricter theme, either Cuban or Brazilian. We finally went for something that would feel like the Carnival of Rio.

Bourzat: (Laughing) We wanted something really fun and wild and entertaining. We like the idea of taking the audience to the beach as soon as the music starts!

It was no small task creating this program. We wanted absolutely no dead time. We hate it when spectators start thinking, 'OK, one more element.' It is not that difficult to do some Latin ballroom dancing on the floor; it is much more difficult, however, to remain consistent throughout on the ice, given the constraints.

Péchalat: We have worked hard to make a real story and entertain the audience. We did not want to do something like a 'mambo ... samba ... rumba.' We crafted our dance to insert the compulsory rumba in the tune, so that it is completely integrated into full Latin dance choreography. We hope people have as much fun watching it as we had devising it. What about your free program?

Péchalat: Some years ago, we had devised an exhibition program to an Egyptian theme. Fabian and I were mummies. It was quite successful at the time, and we thought we could do a long program along the same theme. Anjelika has seized the opportunity right away. Pasquale was a bit more difficult to convince. All he could visualize was belly dancing. (Pechalat laughs.) So Fabian, Anjelika and I started to look for the musical pieces we needed. As soon as Pasquale could visualize it, he OK'd it right away.

Bourzat: I am the pharaoh, and Nathalie is my mummy!

Péchalat: What is becoming more and more important to us, as we grow in experience, is harmony. We strive at finding complete harmony between theme, music, choreography, costumes. In ice dancing, harmony is really key to a program's appeal. The audience will tell us if we succeed or not. As soon as the music starts, they should understand that they are in Egypt and that I portray a mummy. [To make it clear, Péchalat's costume is bright white and incorporates a dangling bandage.] This year the French Federation registered you for Skate America and Skate Canada, plus Trophee Eric Bompard Trophy. Why did you make these choices?

Péchalat: We would never have made such choices. No one really understands what happened. Some even said that we were willing to challenge our main competitors on their own soil -- this is not true at all! We love to skate with Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir, the 2010 world and Olympic gold medalists] in Paris, as we did with Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White] at Skate America, but to be honest, we would have preferred to secure a spot at the Grand Prix Final, which is now at risk. Anyway, we will fight and give our best! Finally, how easy was it for you to relocate to the U.S.?

Péchalat: On the one hand, life is much simpler in Detroit than it is in Moscow. We live just one block away from the rink, and the facility is incredible. On the other, we cannot go to the Bolshoi every night anymore, and we still need to find more cultural activities.

Bourzat: Life is not as hectic as it was in Moscow, but it is not bad, because we are here to train anyway! Regarding culture, we missed the last "Dream Cruise" on Telegraph Road last summer in Detroit, and I will make sure to be there next summer. I am a great fan of old 1960 Mustangs!