For the last few seasons, Maia and Alex, now 22 and 25, have taken a larger creative hand in their routines. That includes the music for their "Evolution" free dance, which underwent some final editing before Helsinki, five months after its debut at Skate America.
The program's first half is set to "Spiegel im Spiegel" ("Mirror in the Mirror"); only now are the skaters ready to talk about the second-half selections, including "Truman Sleeps" by Philip Glass and Max Richter's "The Departure," from the HBO series The Leftovers.
"Maia and I really liked ["Truman Sleeps"], but the original track didn't have a strong enough ending for our program," Alex said. "I had ["The Departure"] in my head, and we listened to it again and again on our way to the rink. There was a moment when I realized the two pieces fit together. So it was again about talking to Ryanimay and Hok and Marina, and working with family friends in the San Francisco Orchestra, to arrange pieces a certain way. It involved a lot of adjustments over the season.
"We didn't end up listing our music selections; we just titled it "Evolution" because our process was continuing," he added. "It turns out it has taken almost the entire season."
Keen-eyed fans may notice a late addition to the siblings' ISU bio.
"For worlds, we'll actually put down the pieces," Maia said, laughing.
Throughout the season, the siblings kept their collaborators -- including the L.A. group, as well as Peter Tchernyshev, Stéphane Lambiel, Jeffrey Buttle and others -- in the creative loop by emailing and texting links to their latest performances.
"It's always about looking at the program as a whole," Alex said. "So we'll send a link without any comments because we don't want to influence or guide their feedback."
The Shibutanis began working with Onik -- who competed on Season 11 of FOX's So You Think You Can Dance and choreographs live stage shows, music videos and commercials -- at the suggestion of Meryl Davis. Since 2015, Onik has worked with several U.S. ice dance teams, including at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp, to polish programs.
"Just sending me the links, with no comments, lets me tell them if I think a part was improved, what I felt was lacking or if it was brilliant," Onik said. "You have to constantly keep curating, and they know it. When you work with people that hungry, it's easy to keep the choreography growing."