Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski: Interview
Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski teamed up in 1996 after Albena’s former partner, Hristo Nikolov, retired. Denkova and Staviski, who won the bronze at the 2003 World Championships, are the first Bulgarian skaters to medal at this event.
The team relocated to Russia in the fall of 2000 to train near Moscow under coach Alexei Gorshkov and choreographer Sergei Petukhov.
The team recently won their second consecutive silver medal at the 2004 European Championships. Earlier this season, they placed second at Skate Canada, first at both Trophée Lalique and NHK Trophy, and second at the Grand Prix Final.
The team is now preparing for the upcoming 2004 World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany later this month. It will be their seventh trip to this event.
Mary: Last season, your Original Dance was truly original as you were the only team to feature a Baroque theme. What was the process behind creating that dance?
Albena: We were trying to find original ideas for both the Free Dance and Original Dance that would make us different from the other couples. The idea came from our coach and choreographer and we accepted this idea right away. Of course we had some problems with the judges during the season because not all of them agreed with the theme we chose. This OD was one of our favorites.
Maxim: We actually wanted to continue the idea with the free dance but it would be a little difficult with the new judging system because the acrobatic lifts wouldn’t be appropriate with this theme.
American Fan: Albena, I read that your sister is also an ice dancer. What kind of advice do you give to her? Thank you both so much for the contributions you’ve made to the sport!
Albena: Thank you! My sister (Ina) is in the beginning of ice dance now, only ice dancing for one season. She gets excited when she watches us on the television and she really wants to skate and improve every season. I would say to her that’s it’s a very hard sport because it takes a lot of strength, power, and technique as well as being a good sportsman.
Ina started late because Bulgaria only has one or two rinks open in the winter and not a lot of qualified coaches. For this reason, after we retire, we would like to maybe open up a school in Bulgaria to teach the young people who want to learn this sport.
Melissa: No question. I just wanted to say that I saw you two at Skate Canada 2003 in Mississauga, Canada and am so proud of both of you! You make skating a joy to watch!
Albena: Thank you very much! This is a pleasure to hear from an American or Canadian fan. This is very important to us.
Maxim: I’m really happy to hear that the American and Canadian audience is starting to like us. We did not feel this way when began skating together up until the past two years or so.
Bethany: What has been your favorite country to visit so far?
Albena: This is a difficult question because actually we don’t see much of the country when we travel around. Just the hotels and rinks. But I like the smaller and more quiet towns myself. I like to travel and I like to be everywhere.
Maxim: I like Bulgaria but I think I like Australia the most.
Maya: According to the ‘ARD Gala’ program you are married. Is that true? When did you get married?
Albena: No, the program was not correct. Although we are involved with each other off the ice, it’s a little early for us to think about marriage and children as we are concentrating on our competitive career right now.
Clara A.: What advice would you give to a teenage skater just starting out?
Albena: It’s a very beautiful sport but unfortunately a difficult one. It can be a lot of fun but you have to be able to deal with the good and the bad.
Maxim: It takes a lot of courage. It’s not just a sport but an art.
Clara A.: How do you deal with losses and criticisms?
Albena: Sometimes you are not happy with the judges or the way you have performed but you just have to keep on going. We try to go on and to continue what we do. The important thing that helps us to continue is the support of the fans, seeing the Bulgarian flags waving, and hearing the cheering.
Maxim: From the beginning of our career we have had some of these problems. We try different things so we are not so like the other ice dancers but sometimes our choreography isn’t desirable as it is not considered a classical style. It’s difficult when we don’t do so well or our style isn’t accepted but we just try harder the next time.
Lisa: I think you are an extremely innovative pair and your programs are always exciting and different. Where do you get the ideas and motivation for your programs? Do you do any of your own choreography?
Albena: With our experience on the ice we are able to work on some of the lifts, but most of the ideas come from our coach and choreographer. During our first two seasons together, we didn’t have a choreographer, so most of the work was done by ourselves and our coach.
Maxim: We all work well as a team together and often agree with each other on the music and choreography.
Cher: I love your free dance this year and I hope you do well at Worlds. I was just wondering what your feelings were about the petition from the 2000 Worlds in Nagano and what effect you think it has had on ice dance. If you could do it all over again, would you still have handed in the petition?
Albena: We think that the decision was not fair of the judges and we would do it again. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s important that everyone understands that it was not a position against the Israeli team or the judges personally, but to express our opinion that we didn’t agree with what was happening. We didn’t feel it was fair. I think that maybe the some of the other ice dancers felt the same way since a lot of them signed the petition.
Maxim: Like Albena said, it’s very important for people to know that we did this because of the way we felt about the results. We admire the Israeli couple and this was not against them. All the ice dancers work very hard.
HopeStar: Will you be competing in the 2006 Olympics? What are your plans after you retire?
Albena: We hope to. It is our goal but you never know what might happen with injuries. It is hard to see into the future, but we definitely would like to compete there.
Maxim: We would like to keep on skating after we retire. We would like to continue as professional skaters and then coaches in our country.
Laura B.: Who have been your favorite teams past and present, and why?
Albena: I liked Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin. I was very impressed with them when I was young. I also liked Pasha Grishuk and Evgeni Platov when they were with Tatiana Tarasova. There is something good in everyone so it is difficult to choose favorites. There are so many that I liked in the past and that I like now.
Maxim: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean and Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. Like Albena said, all the ice dancers have so many interesting ideas and are unique so it is hard to choose a favorite.
Thomas: I would like to know if you can make your Free Dance music of this season available for your fans to download. Many of us would love to have your special composition that you got from Smulan.
Albena: When we hear Silvio Smalun’s music we loved it right away. He is a very artistic skater. We asked if we could use it and then we recorded it and gave it to our coach and choreographer. They liked it too.
Maxim: I don’t know where you could get this music. It was made for Silvio especially so I would have to ask him. I will try to find out.
HM: Well first of all, congratulations Maxim for being the most photographed skater at the ISU Grand Prix Final! I have been a fan of your team for several years, and I especially love your innovative approach to music and modern dance. I was thrilled when you won bronze at Worlds last year. My question is about your OD this year – the criticisms I’ve heard is that the Swing part does not mesh very well with the Blues; do you have any plans for changing the dance before Europeans and Worlds to address these concerns?
Albena: I wasn’t aware of this criticism. We did have some technical problems with the second part so we tried to change it a bit. A lot of people seem to enjoy it.
Maxim: We have not made any changes since Europeans as there is not enough time. It is important to skate clean so we are working hard with our program to improve it overall.
Bethany: What would you say has been your most favorite and memorable experience in skating?
Albena: I’m not sure. We have some good memories and some bad. I like when I go on the ice and can feel the people around and I see that they enjoy what we did. This is the nicest moment for me. It’s not always about winning a medal but the support from the fans and that they don’t care if you are first or second or last.
Maxim: The most memorable moments for me are when we skated a very good Free Dance at the 2003 European Championships.
Erin and Tara: What kind of program that you haven’t done before would you like to do in the future?
Maxim: Our goal is do a unique program to the music of Bolero. We tried to do it one year, but it didn’t work out then.
Albena: We were so impressed with the way Torvill and Dean skated to this music. We wanted to try it but it didn’t work well. We need to be a little more mature for this music.
Layne: What skaters did you look up to when you were young?
Albena: I started to skate late, when I was nine or ten years-old, and there was not much skating on the television. When I saw Torvill and Dean and Bestemianova and Bukin skate, I admired them because of their artistic style and expressions.
Maxim: Torvill and Dean and Klimova and Ponomarenko. And Scott Hamilton!
Ann (Belgium): Hi! I really enjoyed your performance at Lalique and I was wondering if either one of you has any special rituals you just have to do before you can go out on the ice. Best of luck this season!
Albena: We are not superstitious so we don’t do anything special. We talk words of encouragement and support to each other before we take the ice.
Maxim: We try to relax and concentrate on the program we are about to do in our minds and try to go through it in our heads before we perform.
Ellen P.: Thank you again for answering questions! This opportunity is such a privilege and honor for your fans!! Have you taken or do you currently take lessons in the different styles of dancing? If so, which styles do you mainly study? Who are your teachers?
Albena: Our choreographer, Sergei Petukhov, does our ballet and modern dance classes. He used to be a famous ballet dancer in Russia and has a lot of experience.
Ellen P.: You mentioned in an interview your instruction in modern ballet. What is the difference between modern and traditional ballet?
Maxim: I think that Maurice Béjart of the Béjart Ballet company is an example of the modern type of ballet and Bolshoi Theatre company would be the traditional style.
Ellen P.: What languages do you use to talk to each other, your coach, and choreographer?
Maxim: We speak Russian with our coach and choreographer. When we are on the ice we speak Russian. When we are off the ice, we speak both Russian and Bulgarian. When we are in Russia, we speak mostly Russian. In Bulgaria, we speak mostly Bulgarian.
Ellen P.: Albena, you once mentioned that Americans are not as appreciative of ice dance as Europeans? Why do you think this is so? Please keep up your fantastic magical work!
Albena: I cannot explain but it seems that the Ladies event is the most popular event in American and Canada. Maybe it’s because they have very good competitors in these events and it’s easier to understand the scoring system because of the jumps and other elements. I could be wrong about this. Maybe now, with Belbin and Agosto and Canadian dancers becoming more popular this will change.
Lirpa: What motivates you to come back each year? How do you set goals?
Albena: We really love skating and we enjoy the practices as well as the competitions and we have fun when we skate. I think this is very important.
Maxim: It’s difficult to make goals right now but it’s important to enjoy what we like and to perform as well as we can. Once the season is over, we look at it and see how we can improve and then try to set goals.
Matt: Bulgaria isn’t a country a lot of people think of when they think of ice dancing or figure skating. How have your success and the success of other Bulgarian skaters help to change the view of the sport in your country?
Albena: In the past few years, figure skating has become more popular in Bulgaria. We don’t have many ice rinks and coaches so that is why the skating is not so big as it is in other countries.
Maxim: Maybe we can change this in the future after we retire from skating.
Susan from Toronto: The two of you are such a pleasure to watch and such fabulous skaters! Do you think you will come back to Canada next year, and do you enjoy skating here? Also, do you live in Bulgaria, but train in Moscow?
Albena: I think we will skate again in Canada because it seems that we go there a lot for the Grand Prix events. We cannot say for sure as the ISU makes the decisions but we probably will. We like to perform in Canada and the people there are very friendly.
Maxim: We spend more time training in Russia since there are more ice rinks to practice, but off season, we do train in Bulgaria a bit.
Rebecca from Houston, TX: How did it feel to do so well at Worlds? What do you define as a “turning point” in your career, and what do you think of as a highlight? I love your skating! Good luck in the future!
Albena: Thank you! We were very happy at worlds. It was so unbelievable to get a medal. We had hoped but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon. We are trying to get better so we can win more medals! I really hope that the high point in our career has not come yet! In the beginning when we ended up in the finals, it was great. Later, when we were in the top ten, it was even better.
Maxim: Maybe the highlight of our career is anytime we place in the top five. It feels amazing. To make the podium is even better.
Bethany: What is your favorite candy?
Albena: I really love everything sweet! I don’t know which is my favorite I like so many!
Maxim: Ah candy! I like chocolate. All kinds!
Elizabeth R.: What are your favorite and least favorite rhythms?
Albena: I enjoy the Argentine tango. I also like modern dance. I don’t enjoy the quickstep or the waltz very much.
Maxim: I like the blues and tango. I don’t really like the quickstep and the usual waltz or standard dances.
Guillaume: Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas were great competitive skaters, but their nationality seemed to cause a drawback. Do you, as Bulgarians, think this is the case with you versus the other teams (Russian, US, French)?
Albena: I think that now it’s not so important about the nationality but the skills you have and what you are doing. I think it can still be a bit subjective because when you come from the bigger countries there is more recognition.
Maxim: I agree with Albena. If you come from the smaller countries, sometimes you may have to skate better than the others in order to get the marks you deserve.
lluvia: Dear Albena and Maxim, I’m wishing your success and health! What are your thoughts on the Code of Points (COP)?
Albena: I think it is not bad but I will miss the old system. When I grew up with the 6.0 system, it was my dream to have the opportunity to win that mark. But I think the new system will improve the technical level of ice dancing. I think there are some things in the new system that needs to be improved but it is still new and will take time.
Maxim: It’s interesting. It’s a difficult system to understand, but good for us.
lluvia: What do you feel are your weak and strong points as a team?
Albena: First of all I’m very critical of myself so it’s hard to say which are our good points. We try to be different from other skaters with our music, costumes, and choreography so I think this is one of our strong points.
Maxim: I think the fact that we are different is one of our strong points. We try to improve our style every year with every program. Our artistic presentation in the Compulsory Dance needs to be improved and we will work on that.
Ashley C.: Hi Albena and Maxim! First off, I’d like to say that you guys are my FAVORITE dance team this year. Love the free dance to Handel! What is your secret to holding out strong and clean edges and edge control?
Albena: Maxim has better technique than me because he is Russian and has had better training. I had to learn a lot from him when we began to skate together. He really helps me.
Maxim: It comes from skating for 23 years!
Ashley C.: What kind of off-ice training do you do to get in shape for each season?
Albena: Before the competition, we are not practicing so much. Maybe 5 or 6 hours a day. In the summer, we do a lot of ballet and modern dance, and work a lot with our choreographer on the floor with our programs.
Maxim: We also work sometimes in the gym for strength.
Ellen P.: Do you have a website where either of you post entries about your work and life? Your fans would love to learn more about you!
Albena: We appreciate that our fans support us so much! Maxim and I do not spend a lot of time on the internet so we are not sure if we could do this, but we will think about it in the future.
Paula: What is your goal for the upcoming World Championships?
Albena: We really just want to have a good and clean skate. There is so much pressure for all the skaters and ice dancers to do their best. That’s what we want to do. Skate our best.
Maxim: At Europeans, our coach and choreographer seemed to finally be satisfied with our skating and we hope to do that again for ourselves and our fans.
Paula: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer questions from your fans! Is there anything you would like to add?
Albena and Maxim: We would like to thank our fans very much for their support. It is incredible that so many people all over the world enjoy our skating. The feeling is not easy to describe so all we can say is that it means very much to us and our skating and helps us.