Cousins Continues to Entertain
- Published: December 6, 2003
Robin Cousins began competing in 1969, where he won the British Novice National Championships. There was no turning back. After winning the Olympic gold medal at Lake Placid in 1980, the four-time British champion went on to win the 1980 European gold medal as well as the 1980 World silver. During his eligible career, Cousins stood on the podium of more than 24 various national and international competitions.
A highly successful career as a professional skater followed. Appearing as special guest star with Holiday On Ice, with whom he set new, and currently unbroken box office records, and made many “Special Guest” appearances with Ice Capades in the United States. Cousins started is own Ice Company in 1983, choreographing the shows Electric Ice and Ice Majesty. In addition, Cousins co-produced and choreographed Symphony of Sports (NBC TV USA), produced and choreographed Skate for Life (UK). He served as the technical advisor and choreographer on the Hollywood movie The Cutting Edge, directed by Paul Michael Glaser, also performing some of the stunts in the movie.
In addition to starring in numerous international TV spectaculars, he also performed on stage and had various male leads in some of the productions. Some of Cousins’ recent choreography, production and co-production includes: The Wizard of Oz on Ice, Starlight Express on Ice, Disney’s Toy Story on Ice, the Skaters Tribute to Broadway, and Skaters Tribute for Hollywood, Improv-Ice, the StarSkates series. For Holiday on Ice in the late 1990s, Cousins was the choreographer for their productions of Colours of Dance and In Concert.
In 2000, Robin formed his own company, Cousins Entertainment Limited, which is a full entertainment and event production company, also supplying and managing both real and synthetic ice rinks.
Cousins is currently the co-director of the new Diamonds show, along with Sarah Kawahara, for the 2003-04 Holiday on Ice production. The show will be part of the 60th Anniversary Diamond Tour. Cousins is also the choreographer and director of the Celebration production, currently touring in Holland and the UK.
He has also been confirmed as the ice choreographer for the ceremonies at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games.
Robin is a regular guest presenter and commentator for BBC television among others, for the Olympic, European and World figure Skating Championships. In 2002, he was appointed as Ambassador for the Skate UK programme by the National Ice Skating Association. For his services to sport and Skating, Robin was awarded the M.B.E. by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1980.
Mark: We’ve seen you do some pretty inventive stuff on the ice, both as a skater and as a choreographer. Is there anything brewing in your head in terms of projects that you haven’t been able to do?
Robin: There is always something going on in my head that I would like to do on the ice that I haven’t done before. The best ideas are the ones no one has done on the ice before but I wouldn’t say that I am restricting my ideas to the ice wither! I am not a fan of repetition so I am always looking for new ways to do things.
Ann: As you look back on your career, is there anything you would have done differently? Is there something that you regret not being able to do, both personally and professionally?
Robin: Looking back I have to say I have been incredibly lucky with my career. I started performing internationally in 1972 (St. Gervais, France) and retired in Jan 2000 (with Holiday on Ice in Brighton) and I am still in a position where I can skate when I feel like it for fun and work. No regrets but as you see per the next question below, probably a little disappointment!
Patricia Wilkinson: As a lifelong fan, let me first thank you for the continuing pleasure your skating has meant to me. You are the ‘Renaissance’ man, and have done so much professionally! However, is there some opportunity (or fantasy) you would have like to do but haven’t had the time or resources?
Robin: I have always wanted to be on Broadway, whether on ice or on the boards. I came very close with my production of Electric Ice. We had the theatre booked (Virginia), the costumes were designed (Theoni T. Aldredge) and the casting was pretty much as we had in London. I was working with the amazing Michael Peters, the choreographer who had put Michael Jackson on the dance map. Unfortunately the bottom fell out for the producers and the whole thing was put on hold, never to be revived. I was disappointed but then my show went back to the UK, Australia and Malaysia. Plus I did get to play Radio City Music Hall, so I can’t complain too much!
John Gordon: Do you have any words of advice for an adult skater who is now changing disciplines from free skating to ice dancing? Congratulations on your past successes and keep up the great work with your choreography!
Robin: Advise for anybody – enjoy what you are doing, enjoy the process of learning and don’t be impatient. As an adult skater, you’ve waited long enough to get this far, so take your time and allow yourself a little pat on the back occasionally. As someone who at an early age did ice dance and singles at the same time (my first skating coach was a dancer), I can appreciate what your dancing will gain from having free skated. Just because you are now a dancer, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the freedom you had before. Ice dance should NOT be seen as a rigid conformist form of figure skating. There is a great deal of freedom and originality to be had.
Donna: Robin, you have always been one of my favorite male skaters. You gave me an autographed picture of you many years ago that I have lost. Is it possible to get another one? If so, do you have a fan site or address I can use to request another?
Robin: You can send the request to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will see that the photo is replaced.
Janet: When you aren’t busy working with others on the ice, do you still skate? Can we expect to see you on the ice in the future?
Robin: My skating is now for my own pleasure only. I get on the ice when I am choreographing and I am still in a position where I can demonstrate what I want. I enjoy being a part of the viewing audience now, and I am very proud watching the shows sitting with the paying public.
Sharon: Hi Robin! Did you ever skate to music from the film On Golden Pond? If so, is it possible to get a video of your performance? I think you are one of the most charismatic skaters the world has ever seen and I think England should be proud of the fact that we had the likes of yourself, John Curry, and Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean flying the flag for us. Also, do you think you could try and persuade the TV companies over here to start showing ice skating again on our screens?
Robin: Thank you for your very nice comments. I feel very fortunate to have been around at the same time as John, Jayne and Chris. We have all been successful in the same sport but with very different backgrounds and it shows that anyone can make the grade if the desire is there. I think we all had a passion for what we did that set us apart from others. I never did skate to On Golden Pond, but it is a beautiful piece of music. Unfortunately, we do what we can regarding the TV coverage but I have seen the producers desperate to get more coverage for skating events only for the time slots to be cut or moved. At this point, I think we are lucky to have any air time!
Huriye: Hi Robin! Since you live in the same vicinity as Jayne Torvill, Chris Dean, and Matthew Bourne (choreographer), do you ever get together?
Robin: I see Jayne at various events and we are both involved in a an Arena project in Brighton which is very exciting. I last saw Matt at a performance of his company’s Nutcracker. He is a very talented man.
Samantha Bennis (EIFSA): What is the status of your Rolling Thunder project? You have PICskates! What are your comments regarding Inline Figure Skating?
Robin: Rolling Thunder still sits as we try to find the best way to present it. We have looked at various routes, arenas, theatre (both indoor and outdoor), but the financial cost to do this show right is not so easy to come by. I am NOT giving up on it yet. I really do believe there is room out there for this kind of show. Inline is great fun, and if it allows someone who can never get to an ice rink to feel what it is like to skate, that’s a great thing. In doing the research for Rolling Thunder, I have been in awe of what can be done on wheels. I have choreographed for roller skaters and it is completely different. They can move in a way we never could on ice and vice-versa.
Anonymous: How would you reply to certain fans who feel your commentary at the Olympics was biased against some skaters? An example of this would be someone like Michelle Kwan. You repeatedly criticized her for not having the highest of jumps, yet you were ecstatic over Lipinski’s victory over Kwan in 1998 despite the fact that Lipinski’s jumps are famous for being so small.
Robin: I try to make my commentary about the event itself and not be swayed by previous performances. We are there to offer an opinion. I will try to give valid comments on why I prefer one performance/skater to another but counteract that by pointing out mistakes or differences that will gain points, lose points, etc. I was very luck to have seen Michelle Kwan grow up in Lake Arrowhead, both on and off the ice. Her sheer determination resulted in many crashes and lots of bruises but she made it work and has grown into a beautiful intelligent skater. She has (as we all have) had some pretty remarkable performances and also some she would like to forget (as I have). The best thing about her is that she is not a robot – she somewhat relies on feeling the moment. In comparison to other skaters, she does not have the size of jumps. This has been apparent in a few results, but she does have a complete package and when it works there is no beating her. However the result you refer to in Nagano was one of those moments when you (as a commentator) have to let the viewer know what is happening in the arena regarding the audience and judges as it affects the skaters on the ice. I always liked Tara as a kid. She has fun on the ice and there was a spontaneity I liked versus the somewhat calculated performances of her then competitors. Something happened in that arena that night that certainly did not translate over the airwaves. I watched the replay and Tara had one of those skates. The whole place was caught up in it and there was a visible and audible difference between the two performances. If Michelle set the bar height, Tara jumped over it. I doubt it would have ever happened again but that is what makes our sport unique. It can be all about how you feel at that time, one day you feel like it the next.. who knows?
Anonymous: What were your favorites of the programs that you skated and choreographed over the years? What things would you most want to be remembered for in skating?
Robin: I really enjoy choreographing for anyone who has a passion to skate and try something different. One of my favorite people to work with was Denise Beillmann. She had been known to play it safe and do what she knew in her way. But after a few hours on the ice, we had a great understanding and I think we created some of her best material. She has an unbelievable work ethic which makes her a joy to be around on the ice. How do I want to be remembered? As someone who did his own thing, in his own way. And then did his best to help other skaters do the same.
Anonymous: Since you’ve performed on stage in Cats and The Rocky Horror Show, will you be doing any more musical theater? Do you prefer performing on the ice or on stage?
Robin: I would love to get back on stage, but unfortunately with my Holiday on Ice commitments, I do not have a large enough window of time to put in the work needed. I still sing and keep the voice in training but like most things, to do it well it can’t be done as a hobby. Will see what comes up in the future. There may also be a chance for me to choreograph on stage too.
Paula: What are your thoughts on the general demise of pro skating in North America, since the majority of your career was involved in skating in pro shows and competitions and choreographing for pros?
Robin: I think it is harder to present the type of pro events that were seen in the 80’s. There was such a definition between the pro’s and the amateurs that has now been blurred. I think it is confusing for the audiences with the regular championships. Like the Pro-Am events and other shows that are created especially for TV. Perhaps there is overkill too in seeing the same people in different shows doing some of the same material. It has the potential to be boring to the skaters, so you can imagine what it does to the public.
Anonymous: How are your knees holding up now after the operations? Do you still skate to demonstrate choreography, or just for fun?
Robin: I am coping! Knee surgery number 6 was in August, but just a clean-up arthroscopy. When I consider I had had two major knee surgeries (left and right) before I even got to 1980, I should say I am ecstatic at even being able to walk!
Anonymous: What is it like choreographing or directing a huge show like Holiday on Ice, instead of your own programs or those of individual skaters? Or even smaller shows like the Symphony of Sports skating and gymnastics shows? How long does it take you to choreograph an individual number or a complete show?
Robin: It’s great fun as I get to do things I would never do for myself. Some numbers get done in a day others need time, depending on the number of skaters involved. The entire rehearsal process is only six weeks from day one until the opening in front of the audience. I am very lucky as I have fantastic help and collaboration from Cindy Stuart in creating the shows for Holiday on Ice. I would never have so much fun doing them with without her.
Lynn Rahkonen: In the book Skating for Gold, you stated that at the 1977 Tokyo World Championships you taught yourself to reverse all the elements to the other foot because of a knee injury. Did you mean that you taught yourself to jump to the right? And if so, did you think about keeping it up as to be unique and jump in both directions?
Robin: As a child dancing I was taught steps and movement in both directions. When I was on the ice, I would try the same and I was encouraged to do so. I can spin in both directions and jumped up to double loop but only for fun. At the Worlds in Tokyo, I was under doctors help just to get on the ice as my left knee had given out several times in practice. I was lucky that the figures drawn were the best under the circumstances but my short program was a potential problem. I couldn’t pick properly with my left foot and I couldn’t do the flying sit-spin as required. My solution was to change the combination to a triple loop/double loop. Going back to my early days and just wanting to be different, I also did a flying back sit-spin with a loop take off. We had found it was acceptable and to my surprise it all worked. Unfortunately the long was a different story and I crawled off the ice after the knee gave out in mid performance. From that moment on, the Japanese loved me!!
Beth: I loved your first book and wonder if another might be on the horizon? You’ve done such interesting things in the years since, and it would be great to hear your opinion of the skating stars of today.
Robin: No more books at this point in time. I think there are some great personalities out there who will, in time give you there own accounts of their lives.
Gemma: What did it feel like when you where standing on top of the podium at the 1980 Olympics? After 20 years, is the experience still “alive and kicking”?
Robin: It was and always will be a highlight of my life. I can still remember what it felt like although I have never watched it. I want to keep the memory as I know it.
Lisa: I recently started working on the double flip and although I have landed it once already, I want to make it more consistent. I don’t have a problem with the rotation, I am all the way around, but a lot of times when I do my check out, I seem to slip backwards to my heel and fall instead of being able to complete the jump. What am I doing wrong and what do I need to do to fix it?
Robin: I hope you have asked your coach this question? Learning new jumps can be a problem but try to get consistent with each element of the jump before you leave the ice. Timing is important and spatial awareness too. Most people will try to ‘feel’ the jump or make it happen. If you are in the right place and have the blades positioned correctly, let the motion of the body and the blade work together then it shouldn’t be long before it becomes a consistent jump in your repertoire.
Lee S. Krause: I live in the United States and am wondering if you will be doing any work here in the future?
Robin: You never know, I enjoy working there and it has been a while.
Nicole Moore: Robin, I am a long-time fan of your skating, and I’ve enjoyed the innovative shows you’ve produced. Will you be producing future figure skating events, such as Improv Ice or other “themed” shows?
Robin: I think too much of a good thing is not a good thing! Improv worked so well for three great years. I never imagined it would have the support it got but because it was so very different. Rather than let it get stale or have to change format which the network was interested in doing, it wouldn’t have been the same. The spontaneity was what made it work and because we were live, it added to the tension. I think the skaters understood I would never have put a piece of music into the hat I wouldn’t have skated to myself so they felt safe to a certain extent. It may return who knows?
Helen: Why do you think it is that British skating in the past 20 years has not lived up to the standards set by John Curry, yourself and Torvill and Dean?
Robin: Skating everywhere is unpredictable, no amount of money or facilities is going to create a skating star. You have to have a skater who is dedicated, passionate, and willing to learn. A little talent goes so far but if they don’t want to use it properly, it will never happen. Like most countries, we are always looking for the one who is hungry for it… perhaps we will have to wait a little longer than most.
Tamayo: What do you think is most important in choreographing other skater’s program?
Robin: Never forget who you are choreographing for. You are there to make them look and feel better – not to make them look like you. You are there to challenge and push themselves in new directions without loosing sight of the goal. And certainly not to make them look or feel uncomfortable.
Jamie: What do you think of the young British talent Jenna McCorkell? Are there any other young British skaters you are excited about?
Robin: Jenna is a great talent and seems very fired up. Let’s hope the people around her know how to work it and protect it at the same time.
Karen Aberdeen: If you had to choose one piece of music or a particular song to skate to, what would it be?
Robin: Great question… tough to answer. I have always wanted to skate to Night Creature by Duke Ellington, especially the symphonic version. But I would want a cast of hand-picked skaters to help me do it justice! The Electric Ice cast would have been perfect!
Naomi: What was it like working on The Cutting Edge? Were D.B. Sweeney and Moira Kelly able to do much of the skating? Did you spend a lot of time on the set? Interacting?
Robin: They were both very different. Moira was not a skater, but after she auditioned for me I set her up at Sky Rink. She worked religiously with Evelyn Kramer to get her skill to the point where she felt she could look the part and know when she was delivering a line on the ice, that it was done right. She ended up dong a lot more of her own work, in fact, she held up filming for a few weeks after she sprained her ankle falling while skating during a lunch break. We couldn’t keep her off the ice. D.B. had played Hockey as a kid and a grown-up, so he was much better. They worked together well and it was a hugely enjoyable time.
Ann Le: Who among the eligible skaters would you most like to choreograph for?
Robin: Easy one! Yagudin and Cohen. They both have such musicality and a good understanding of what the blade can be used for. It would be a pleasure and a challenge not to let them leave with more of the same.
Carol: Of the top eligible skaters in each discipline, who do admire the most as a skater and why?
Robin: I think of the skaters around today, I can watch Yagudin and know that’s how I used to feel. I can go with his choreography. It makes sense to watch and each move has a purpose. He has the package, spins, steps footwork, and the jumping isn’t bad either! As a technician, it’s hard to fault Volchkova. When you watch her in practice, you will NEVER see her true potential in performance. There is someone who has no idea how extraordinary she is. I hope someone tells her before it’s too late!
Paula: The fans and I would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer questions! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Robin: Thanks to all of you for your questions and I hope the answers shed a little more light for you? As skating fans you are what keeps our sport alive so thanks on behalf of all those who will be performing for you this coming season. Enjoy!!!