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Lambiel enjoying new career as choreographer

Olympic silver medalist feels technical requirements limit artistic possibilities

Stephane Lambiel wants to bring the same level of artistry to his students' programs as he did to his own.
Stephane Lambiel wants to bring the same level of artistry to his students' programs as he did to his own. (Getty Images)

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By Vladislav Luchianov, special to icenetwork.com
(08/03/2012) - In the modern world of figure skating, there are many high quality and successful choreographers. The often-changing rules make high demands on those who strive to bring true originality and creativity to new programs.

It is not easy, therefore, for someone new to achieve recognition in the choreographic world; that is something that usually takes years. But there are exceptions to every rule, and one of those is Stéphane Lambiel.

One of the secrets of Lambiel's success lies in his specific approach to his work with skaters. Each program he creates is a unique world, where harmony of movement and music reigns. In his work, Lambiel tries to understand the essence of each of his students, their particular personalities and preferences. It takes time and requires a lot of dedication, but the result is worth it.

Icenetwork.com talked with Lambiel about his new career, his impressive list of students and the state of figure skating.

Icenetwork.com: Stéphane, June was probably not a very easy month for you because of some health issues. As I understand, the latest medical tests showed that everything is OK, and you can continue to please your huge army of fans with your amazing performances. Is that so?

Lambiel: Indeed, doctors diagnosed a small vascular problem with my right eye at the end of May, and I was advised not to skate for a month. Sadly, I had to cancel some shows as a consequence. In the meantime, I focused on choreography work for Tatsuki Machida and Miki Ando. I am relieved that everything is now back to normal and I can skate in shows again.

Icenetwork.com: What are your plans for your next performances?

Lambiel: I will be in South Korea at the end of August for All That Skate Summer 2012. Then in September, I will take part in Fantasy on Ice and Figure Skating Aore Nagaoka in Japan, and Opera on Ice in Italy. More shows will be announced soon on my website and my Facebook page. I am currently working on new programs, and I can't wait to perform them in front of an audience.

Icenetwork.com: You are now very much in demand as a choreographer, and many top skaters are seeking your services. How do you balance doing so much creative work, which takes a lot of time, and participation in ice shows?

Lambiel: I enjoy working as a choreographer very much. I only started in 2010 with Denis Ten and Daisuke Takahashi, so I am still learning, but it has been a great experience so far. It does take time and energy, but it is very rewarding. It allows me to develop myself as an artist, which is also valuable for my own skating. So, I would say that it is a good combination. I hope to choreograph full time some day, but at this point, I still feel a profound need to be on the stage myself as well.

Icenetwork.com: This summer, you've worked with two-time world champion Miki Ando of Japan, who returns next season to the sport. Could you tell us about your work with her?

Lambiel: It is very courageous of Miki to come back to competition. I will do my best to support her throughout the season. I know what coming back represents; it is a considerable effort, both mentally and physically. Miki is very talented; she has what it takes. We have worked on a short program in Switzerland in July. I think the music suits her well; she felt comfortable with the program, although it is definitely challenging. The step sequence is very difficult. We have also worked a lot on the spins, and generally on transitions and expression.

Icenetwork.com: What are your impressions of your work with other skaters? Is there someone who impressed you the most?

Lambiel: When a student is passionate about the sport and motivated to work, doing choreography becomes a real pleasure; we forget about the clock and just enjoy ourselves. We also spend a lot of time together off the ice talking, visiting, going to concerts, etc., to get to know each other's personalities. I think it is crucial that everyone involved is in the right state of mind. You can feel the effect in the resulting programs. I am lucky to have worked with very talented skaters, whether they were already world champions like Daisuke or newcomers like Denis, with whom I got along very well. Each one of these collaborations was special.

Icenetwork.com: There are many questions in the skating community about the current state of figure skating, judging system and so on. I know that you always have your own strong opinions on these issues. Could you share them with us?

Lambiel: Figure skating has evolved enormously over the last 10 years. The complexity of the programs has attained a level never reached before. Skaters are doing more difficult entries into jumps; steps have become longer and more technical. Unfortunately, the artistry has been somewhat lost in the process. There is little room left for creativity and expressivity as the judging system has become quite restrictive.

Judging is done element by element, component by component, instead of based on the program as a whole. Creativity, personality and the "je ne sais quoi" that has made skaters into legends cannot be analyzed objectively and, thus, are not properly rewarded. However, the system is being refined every year, and while it can never be perfect, it surely is improving. In my opinion, there should be more elements without levels: for instance, a spin.

Icenetwork.com: Many skaters complain that the existing rules stifle their creativity and that they have to do on-the-ice movements which are not aesthetic but which bring high points. What do you think about it as a choreographer?

Lambiel: Indeed, technical requirements limit choreographic possibilities. There is practically no freedom for spins this year: All the skaters will fulfil the same criteria, which are difficult but not necessarily aesthetic, in order to maximize points. Many will probably use the same in the short program and the free. Nevertheless, it doesn't prevent the very best skaters to shine through. I am always impressed by Carolina Kostner, for instance, or Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Every year, their programs have a real concept; they are original and well thought out. It is more than a series of well-executed elements -- it is truly an act.

For singles, I think there should be a technical program with specific criteria for the elements, and a free program that is really free. No rules, except for the number of elements and the duration. Elements would not be graded individually; the program would be judged as a whole. It would be a compromise between the old and the new system.

Icenetwork.com: You were and are a very successful skater, and now you have become a high-level choreographer. Can you imagine yourself in the position of "figure skating official" in the future?

Lambiel: I am not quite certain of what role I will take on in the future, but I will remain in the skating world for sure. I would rather work with the skaters directly, as a choreographer or a coach.

Icenetwork.com: Another passion of yours is singing. What does it mean to you, and will you continue to develop it?

Lambiel: I often sing before going out on the ice at shows. It relaxes me and helps me with my breathing. Of course, singing on a stage with people in front of you is another story. I actually took part in a revue in Switzerland where part of my role was to sing. I had two original songs and two covers, including "Paparazzi" by Lady Gaga, which I had to sing a cappella. I don't know if I was any good, but I had a lot of fun doing it! I do have a project in this area, so we will see what comes out of it.

Icenetwork.com: What are your expectations for the upcoming season, which will be pre-Olympic?

Lambiel: The competition next year will be tough in all four categories. There is just so much talent out there! I look forward to the return of Yu-Na Kim. She has developed a great deal as a performer since she last competed with her exhibition programs. The competition in Sochi should be pretty exciting!