Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi

Interview Juni 2012

Q: What did you do ever since Worlds?

Alex: We flew to Moskow, then for a short time to Oberstdorf, and back to Moskow. We build our freedance there. We did it at once, saying that we should do it as long as we could still skate good and don't have such a long break in between. I then spent six weeks with the army. It was six weeks because of the holidays and long weekends, usually it would have been just five weeks, starting in mid April. I then got back from the army at May 23 rd or 24 th . I wend to Oberstdorf, while Nelli flew to Moskow saturday morning. I went to Munich and got my visa and also flew to Moskow the following thursday. Actually this had been our week off, we originally planned to go on a vacation, but of course we took our skates with us and designed the freedance costumes. So that was the plan. But then we spent some time on chosing the music for the short dance. Three days or so. We then started to work on the freedance, just for two days, to create an ending. We then wanted to start working with Ilja, but he then flew to Nelli's brother and created their programs. He said, the Zhiganshin family was surrounding him. (laughs)

Q: You were working with Ilja Averbuch for the first time. What was it like?

Alex: It has been great. It was a lot of fun. One can see that he did 3 billion programs over the past few years, or at least it feels like it. They did count it while we were there: The musician who selected the music was there with us. It was hard work. They had four seasons together and he had to create eight programs a week without repeating anything. He couldn't use music of previous seasons. Thus they had cut music for an incredible lot of programs. Ideas and steps were repeated sometimes, but the music was always different. That guy really is something! The entire day he searched for music. I was sleeping on the couch or reading a book and he was still searching, six hours in a row. We then met and at the café he was cutting the music, Averbuch was dancing, presenting his ideas. That was fun. He is quite the professional! Our programs were well recieved among them. Both coaches like the free dance. Of course it's not completely done yet, but it definitely is different. We didn't continue our work with Max (Staviski)on purpose. We like what Max did, we were working together for four years, but we were saying to ourselves that we simply had to do something else, something new. Even the best choreographer is repeating himself and in the end, people see that, too. So we decided on Ilja and he at once agreed to work with us. Nelli called him, after all she had been training with him for two months before the two of us got together. So they already knew eatchother. He really knows his stuff, knows what's going on in skating. He created a few programs now.

Q: Last season, he created a short program for Ksenia Makarova.

Alex: Exactly, and now he created a program for Gerboldt/ Enbert. The guy is constantly on the phone or sends texts, he is talking to you, demonstrating a step, and simultaniously writing a text message. I think, he does miss the competition. He is well informed, even knows about the new regulations. I didn't expect that. I thought, I would meet a full time artist who is no longer completely involved in the matters [of competitive skating], but on the contrary, he was totally in. Everything was happening really quickly. When we were in Moskow, we always had to practice at night, from one a.m. To three p.m, in Beljaevo. That wasn't too far away from Nelli's place and she knew the director of the rink. It is a problem to get ice time in Moskow with nobody watching you. That was what we wanted. Thus we skated at night in Beljaevo. Two or three times we also trained with Nina Mozer. Pair skaters are ok. They are allowed to try and copy something. (laughs) This time we didn't have much time and were searching for music to use, that was actually our main task. We had some good ideas and even brought music: A french waltz we got from Mr. Skotnicky, but that failed. The waltz was great, but we couldn't find a polka song to go with it. We then decided on something completely different.

Q: And now, the big question – what is the mysterious free dance like?

Alex: I have no clue what the music is called! You know the music, Stefano (Caruso) and Tanja (Kolbe) did it in their first year together, it's a rumba song, „Tore my heart“ and then a little piece in between that nobody knows, I found it somewhere, it's by a guy who makes French-Jewish Folk. The third part is what Albena and Maxim used for a gala program, their Zombieprogram, Ramalama Bang Bang. The music is cool! It's all a bit crazy, no drama. It was one of our goals for last year to change ourselves and not do something funny and lighthearted every year. I think it was ok, not overly great, but we proved we could do something else and now we returned to what we like best.

There were some discussions concerning the polka, though. We knew exactly what we wanted in the free dance, even though we didn't have the music yet, but we had seen a dance of Maxim and his wife, on the dancefloor. He performed a wonderful dance. Thus we said to Averbuch that we wanted something like that performance. When we were in Moskow, he called the dancers who originally created that dance and we got two hours with them. It was incredible. We placed a camera, put it on and let it film for two hours. They showed us everything, did dance it on their own as well, we tried a few moves, did some brainstorming. That's something we will benefit from for years!

That's the great thing about Averbuch, he's just got it. He sends a text and people come and meet him. He is the boss. That's impressive. Well, except for the ice. He only gets the rink for himself when his show is being recorded.

So, the freedance is done, the short dance... There was a suggestion to do something Bavaria related again, but having a funny freedance already would make the two programs too similar. Plus Nelli did not really want something Bavarian. If we wouldn't have found something else, we would still decide on something Bavaria related. But I'm sure others will do it. We then there was something serious, armyrelated, soldier and a girl in love at a great ball. That is something we will also see a few times this season, the guys in uniform. So then we said that we didn't want that either. Weaver/Poje are better at that. I think, they actually chose that theme. Hearing certain pieces of music quite often

will be an issue next season, Strauss and all that stuff. It certainly is a serious theme, never underestimate polka. First, it's really fast, second there are not many usably polka songs. Programs and music will repeat themselves, will be similar. That's why it's hard to find something individual. So, we don't want to use some Bavarian music, no classical uniforms, so let's do something French! They have polkas, too, using accordions, as folk music. Plus a nice waltz... We had found a wonderful waltz by Mireille Mathieu and just couldn't find a matching polka. The waltz was brilliant, no polka could stand up to it. That guy was searching for music like a maniac – I'm sure noone else will use tha piece- It's some Russian-German-Jewish composer, I think. We will make up a name so no one can find it. We then said to ourselves, the polka is great, we listened to it for a few times and everything else we had heard before wasn't nearly as good. So we then decided on that piece of music and tried to find a matching polka. The waltz won't be used by others, either, it's from a Russian epic movie called „Admiral“. The movie was terrible. It's never ending. However, this, no one using the same music we do, is a good thing. We are satisfied with that. We also have some ideas, but we have to put them down on the ice first, which is why I don't want to say anything about them now. It's a complicated idea, after all, it's one of Averbuhk's. He gave us like a million ideas so it want be that banal a program. It's completely different from the freedance, but sure, it's a lovestory, the music is suggesting that.

Q: What kind of story are you telling in the free dance?

Alex: The freedance simply came from the grave. Two out of the grave. We don't want to call it Zombies, but it is definitely closely in that direction. Anyways, it will be lots of fun.

Q: That means you are close to completion.

Alex: Yes, the free dance is ready, we start to skate it. Both coaches liked it very much, it's different. We reached the goal, for now.

Q: What are your plans for the coming season?

Alex: We have two IceDomes, then a DEU-seminar, where everyone will be visiting us. That's always a nice thing, everyone comes over to us. (laughs) Then we will have a short break, the second IceDome, then, in late September, Nebelhorn Trophy. I don't know if we will fit something in between that, probably not. We got the first GP in Seattle. It will depend on how the GP went, if we have to adjust the programs or not. And then: Moskow. After that, finally, German Nationals, and this time they are finally held before Christmas holidays. We will then relax for a bit. Then there is Euros and Worlds and after that the season is over, once again.

Q: What are you aiming at this season?

Alex: To be even better. Become German National Champion. We didn't really discuss it yet, but seeing the entries for the GPs, making the podium won't be possible. There are very strong skaters in all the events. Making the podium might not be possible, but coming in fourth will be. In both competitions. Plus we will have a fight between siblings in Moskow. That will be interesting. We definitely want to beat them. (laughs). That will be fun.

Q: Exactly what we talked about last year.

Alex: And whoosh...there it is! Sure, it's not the best thing to skate the GP in Moskow, that's not the best premises for us. He have to get together and talk once more about where our route should lead us to. We hope for Euros to be a bit more fair again. We have to admid, we were a little disappointed. We did skate well, but the placement was kind of odd. Finally being able to place among the top 10 at Worlds and we missed it. It could have been if I didn't mess up in that stupid twizzles. So we hope to be able to place in the top 10 next time. The pre-olympian fights will start by then.

Q: Which leads to our next topic – what about Nelli's German citizenship?

Alex: That's work in process. I think the papers are now at the gouvernment of Schwaben. We are really optimistic concerning that right now. Though there are no deadlines made concerning stuff like that, they [the government] won't say a date when to expect it all to be done, but we are still optimistic. Everyone is being positive right now, even the DEU (German Skating Federation). Hans-Peter Jokschat is working it out. He is pulling the strings, so to say. I do think we will get her passport until the next Olympics. World is turning and up until now everything is as it should be. We are staying in Oberstdorf for three years now, the time before that, with the visa and going back and forth not counting. It would be seven years then. We wanted to do it the right way, be honest. Sometimes being honest gets punished.

Q: How would you describe your character as a pair on ice?

Alex: I hope we have more than just one facatte that we can project. It has always been our aim to play different characters in each program. I think, up to now we succeeded. In general, on ice, in practice, with eachother and with the coaches, I would say...oh wow, that's a tough question... We are not divas, like many others, overly extravert. In practice and in warm-ups it's always us who avoid confrontations. I don't need that. The others can be very aggressive. We are – I wouldn't call it defensive, but we think about things. We are definitely based on tecnique, thanks to Mr. Skotnicky and Mr. Sinicyn. We see ourselves among the top teams in the world, concerning tecnique; we proved that for two years. Concerning presentation, we still lack something concerning dynamics. But that's not character related. I relate that to our programs and of course that we can play different characters. Be convertible. That sounds good. We might not be the most hard working skaters in practice, we need somebody to push us. But all in all we are satisfied with ourselves. We can say that we always took the next step and never stood still. We still have a lot to improve in, for ourselves. But there is still time for that until the next Olympics and maybe even after that.

(Nelli joins us after she helped with preparations for Musicals on Ice.)

Q: Did you like working with Ilja?

Nelli: I did! We are really satisfied. It was interesting to work with him. He has tons of ideas, suggesting something new all the time. He is also a nice person and also can demonstrate what he is suggesting. It was just perfect.

Q: Who's idea was it to go and work with him?

Nelli: Actually, that would be me. We worked with Maxim Staviski for a long time, but even the best choreographer in the world has his own style and keeps repeating things. And presenting the same things for a fifth year was not what we wanted. We wanted to switch choreographers. That's what lead to the decision. We saw what he [Ilja] does in his shows and what kind of ideas he has.

Alex: He's a think-thank. It's more than just building programs. There is something more to it. Well, sure, he has his crew helping, plus the skaters put some effort in, too. But all in all it's just crazy what they did. Icedancing can benefit from their ideas for decades.

Nelli: We also saw some dancefloor programs designed by Ilja. Practically every idea in those dancefloor routines could have been transfered to ice skating. Everything was interesting, new, different. In theory we could just use it and it would be very different from all the others.

Q: What are your thoughts on this year's short dance?

Nelli: I have to say I don't like polka very much. For me, blues, paso doble or tango would be the better choice. Polka is simply not my thing.

Alex: We all hoped for the tango, especially for next year. But they decided on the Finnstep now.

Nelli: We still chose a polka song and another piece of music which is not the standard choice. It's still different and I like that very much. I even like the piece of music itself. IT's not what all the others will skate to.

Alex: It's funny, we listened to a lot of polka songs and a few of them were quite unique, sometimes sounding like rock music and no one would even think they are actually polka songs. So it's possible to find some outstanding stuff, if you want to, that is. You can even find crazy thing. We found this heavy metal piece, which was really cool. And it was a polka song! I'm looking forward to this season, as all the skaters had similar music and I hope that this year that will be different and some teams dare to chose music different from Strauss.

Q: Are you looking forward to face your brother in a competition for the first time? In Moskow?

Nelli: Oh that is very, very difficult for me. I cannot explain what kind of feelings I experience concerning that. It is really, really weird to fight against your own brother, especially a younger brother. I know it's more interesting for Ruslan to compete with me than the other way round. For him, of course, it would be great to defeat me, the older sister. I'm still looking forward to skate with him, of course. But I was actually hoping to not meet him at a Grand Prix event. Sadly, that hope was not fulfilled.

Alex: We hope to meet them at Europeans and Worlds. That would be great for them. It will be hard, but it's possible. Question is, who will be chosen by the Russian skating federation. To be honest, there was not much going on in senior ice dancing for the Russians. Maybe they will try a new approach with young skaters. Maybe they have a chance to make it. But they still have to practice polka. So do we. Plus the new keypoints. Polka itself is already difficult. I think, the more difficult the dance turns out to be, the more wide spread the field of skaters will be. I think, that has been a problem last year, because the dance itself was not that difficult. But the Waltz was different, which has been lucky for us, as we have been doing well skating the waltz and scored high, which made us rank higher that year.

Q: How would you describe your character as a team?

Alex: I already said, it's our goal to always be able to change. That's the opposite of Bobrova/Soloviev. They have their own charakter for ten years and never change. We hope to change from program to program. I'm looking forward to see what Weaver/ Poje do this year. They are a great, very grown-up team and when they skate to Lovestory, people are buying it. But still, what are they doing this year? Do they skate something close to that?

Well, what would you say to describe our character?

Q: I would say your are a quite original team, always changing a little and always being authentic.

Alex: Yes, we like that!

Q: Did you ever dream of figure skating? And if you did, what did you see in those dreams?

Alex: Yes, you do dream stuff like that, about being too late for practice and such.

Nelli: Not anymore.

Alex: I'm usually free of thoughts like that, but I did dream about skating recently.My skate wouldn't be tied.

Nelli: Oh I was dreaming about being to late or having forgot to put make-up on. Right now I am busy with preparing the show and thus tend to forget things all the time.

Alex: She is organising Musicals on Ice, together with Claudia Huth, helping with preparations.

Q: Do you like that?

Nelli: Oh it is interesting. It's demanding, doing that and practice and do the gala, but it is a refreshingly new task for me.

Q: Could you imagine yourself doing something like that in the future?

Nelli: Probably not. Actually I would like to do something without any skating at all, and just skate along the way. I don't want to be a coach and be standing on the ice the entire day. I might want to go into the fitness industry. I'm afraid of not being so flexible anymore when I don't do anything for, say, a year. I want to be sportive and keep my body shape the way it is.

Q: What about you, Alex?

Alex: Of course I was putting some thought into the matter already. Retirement pension probably won't work for me. So maybe I could open up a figure skating bar and all former skaters could get a discount. (laughs) No, seriously, I am putting thought into that. There has to be something in between, something between retiring from skating and doing something else. I have to learn something. There definitely is a step in between. Nelli already walked that step. There are some things I am interested in and many things I don't want to do, including being a coach. Especially here in Germany people can see that is a position one can't be really happy with. As a full time coach you have to work your self off completely. It's an ungreateful position. It's not just here, but also in the US, i.e. Shpilband. In my opinion there are two types of coaches: Those who do it to provide their family, to make money. I think that works, but I also think that wouldn't be enough for me. If I would become a coach at all I would like to be a coach who is putting everything he has into coaching. That means sacrificing other things. It's worse compared to being a skater. Really worse, you have to put everything you've got into it. I think I might be too egoistic for that.

Nelli: See, when the skaters do well, the skaters are doing good, but when they skate bad it's always the coache's fault.

Alex: Plus it's not really paying off financially.

Q: Thank you for the intervew

Translation: Nicole Graff