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Busy Buttle deftly juggles dual career paths

World, Olympic medalist thriving as performer, choreographer

Jeffrey Buttle has greatly enjoyed working with Chinese and Japanese skaters.
Jeffrey Buttle has greatly enjoyed working with Chinese and Japanese skaters. (courtesy of IMG)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(09/06/2012) - Three-time Canadian men's champion, world champion and Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle is spending a lot of time on the ice these days. In addition to being highly sought after as a choreographer, Buttle has continued to perform and -- coming in October -- even compete.

"It's been a little overwhelming at times," said Buttle, who just turned 30. "I enjoy having a lot on my plate and keeping busy, but sometimes I really have to force myself to make sure that I'm getting my own training in, especially with shows approaching. I don't want to show up ill prepared.

"I do my best to sort of suck it up at the end of the day of choreography, and I get on the ice and do my own thing."

It's been a busy summer of performing and choreographing. In June, Buttle went to China and performed in several shows. He returned home to Toronto and was soon joined by Chinese men's competitor Nan Song, for whom he choreographed both his short and free skate programs for the coming season.

"He's got really a ton of potential, a nice quality skater," Buttle noted. "The Chinese skaters have always been known for their technical abilities, which he has of course, but he also has some lyrical qualities to his skating, which is nice to see."

In July, Buttle headed to Japan, where he began the trip by working with skaters around the age of 9 or 10 at a national camp. For the most part, he focused on basic skating skills, which at that age he feels is critical. He had not previously worked with such a large group of young skaters, but he found this experience very satisfying.

"Nine- and 10-year-olds in Japan are like mature adults," he said with admiration. "They're so responsible. It's really impressive.

"I thought it was going to be overwhelming, but because they're so mature, it was fantastic. They listened. They tried everything."

After the camp, Buttle choreographed for Japanese men's skater Yuzuru Hanyu. Then they both appeared in some shows.

"He was performing the short program that I choreographed literally a week before the shows," Buttle said. "It was still very new, but I was pleased with the way it was developing."

Buttle found Hanyu to be open-minded and engaged in the creative process.

"It's always nice to have someone who will sort of play along with the choreography instead of just standing and waiting for me to say something," Buttle said. "I really like him because he moves on his own and tries things."

Also, this summer Buttle worked with reigning Canadian and world men's champion Patrick Chan. They transformed a program that Chan had previously used for an exhibition into a short program.

What Buttle opted for is a short program that highlights Chan's skating skills. Instead of a jam-packed program, Buttle hopes this will showcase the quality of Chan's movement. Buttle will attend Skate Canada's national team training camp in September to hear the feedback of the judges and technical specialists, and then work with Chan to fine tune any corrections.

Buttle's also been working on his own new programs, which he let others choreograph. Longtime choreographer David Wilson created a new program that Buttle will perform at the Japan Open in October. For the new Medal Winners Open, also in Japan, Buttle turned to contemporary dance choreographer Linda Garneau.

"Choreographing for yourself is so hard," Buttle said. "You're not able to take a step back and see what you've done. Sometimes it's good to bounce ideas off of someone."

He's found training a 4:30 free skate a definite challenge (Buttle retired from eligible competition in 2008), but it's also been a great motivator.

"Truth be told, the nerves part, I don't particularly enjoy doing that again. The performing in Japan part, I do look forward to that," he said.