France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won their first World medal, a bronze, in their home country in Nice, France in 2012. It was a satisfaction well deserved for the popular French ice dancers as they had narrowly missed the World podium in 2010 and 2011.
The French team have set their eyes on the Olympic Games in Sochi 2014. Right now they are getting ready for the important pre-Olympic season, and as always, have prepared some surprises for their fans and competitors.
The two-time European Champions were the first top dance team to announce their music to the public, the famous French Can-Can for the short dance, and a Rolling Stones Medley for the free dance.
“The prescribed rhythm for the short dance is the Polka,” noted Pechalat, who added that it was not very modern. “However, the French Can-Can is still performed today and it is the dance that represents France, or to be more precise, Paris, more than any other dance. This brings a certain freshness and modernity to the Polka.”
One reason the team chose the Can-Can is that it is a French piece and they have not used French music since their Les Miserables free dance in 2006.
“We feel that with the costumes, the atmosphere and the choreography, we can add a real “plus” to the compulsory dance,” Pechalat explained. “It is an entertaining dance full of joy, and the Parisian Waltz by Yves Montand adds poetry and romance to it. We have created a story about how a Moulin Rouge dancer meets a spectator.”
The three-time French national champions wanted something totally different for their free dance, hence, the Rolling Stones medley.
“We realized that we never turned to the 70s or 80s,” said Pechalat. “The Stones came up quickly. Their music spans the generations and hearing it you want to dance right away. Most of all, the group was founded 50 years ago and it’s still up to date with everybody talking about them. You see them everywhere.”
However, the team doesn’t just want to focus on “rock ‘n’ roll and leather” as Pechalat put it, but on “the hippies and the groove” and “peace and love” of the 70s. Songs that were selected for the medley are: Miss You, Angie, Sympathy for the Devil, and Start Me Up.
Long-time choreographer Laurie May Aiyvigan joined the team earlier this summer for two weeks in Detroit to work with the dancers and their coaches Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo on the programs. Once again, the dancers remained loyal to their vision of being different each time.
“This is enriching and we have the feeling of being dancers on the ice, to go from one style to the other, and to be able to interpret all kinds of music,” Pechalat, 28, pointed out. “This is our strong point and we love it, so this year you will discover yet another side of us.”
The French went home at the end of July to fine-tune their elements with judges and technical controllers. They met their costume designer, Marlène Weber, in Lyon, and also caught up with their choreographer. For them, it is important to create the perfect package of elements, choreography, story, and characters in the program.
“All our elements are new and fit the theme perfectly,” Pechalat shared.
Apart from two Art on Ice shows (Sweden in April and China in May), the French team did not take part in any other galas over the summer in order to fully focus on their preparation for the season. They had ten days of vacation time in June in which Pechalat went to Costa Rica and Bourzat went to Miami.
Back in Detroit, Pechalat and Bourzat are training with a lot of different dance teams from Canada, the USA , and Italy, most notably, close rivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
“It is a good stable with very good skaters,” Bourzat pointed out. “There are no animosities in the group, and all skaters get along well.”
“We are competing with each other, but on the other hand, it is a fair-play atmosphere that is very healthy,” he added. “We can develop every day as there are Kaitlyn and Andrew who are pushing us and make us to do better each time. This is very important and the coaches have everything that allows us to progress. It is a very good school.”
The ice dancers will debut their programs at the French Masters in early October, and are scheduled for the Grand Prix events Cup of China in Shanghai and Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris.
“We are very happy with our Grand Prix events as this kind of schedule at the beginning of the season suits us well,” commented Bourzat. “We are waiting impatiently to return to Shanghai, because we were there in May and the audience was very welcoming.”
“We haven’t done a Grand Prix in China in the past two years, but we have great memories,” he added. “I don’t have to mention that taking part at Bompard is a given as we are at home there and love that. We are confident and we hope that the audiences will like our program choices.”
This season, the Grand Prix series marks the beginning of the important pre-Olympic year.
“Our goals this season are to win our Grand Prixs, go to the Final, and defend our European title,” Bourzat announced. “After that, we’ll see what the Americans and the Canadians will do, but we are feeling extremely confident with our programs.”
“Since Nice, we have stepped it up,” the 31-year-old dancer continued. “The quality of our elements, especially the step sequences, are better than last year. We have changed all our lifts, as well as the spin, the twizzles, and the diagonal steps. We have decided to do less shows in order to be ready earlier for the season. We will perform our programs at their best in China for sure.”
At the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, the French felt that the gap between them and the dominating teams of Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White became smaller.
“That was really a boost for us,” said Bourzat, “because until then, we had to do our best knowing that we could not go higher up anyway to catch them. The only thing that could happen to us was that we could be overtaken by the people behind us.”
The French now feel that they are in a good position in terms of being pushed from behind, while at the same time, the Americans and Canadians are not untouchable.
“This motivates us to go higher, to give it our all,” said Bourzat.
Pechalat confirmed that this feeling is a new motivation for the couple.
“We once said that we were at our maximum, that the best we could do is to save our placement,” she recalled. “But now we think that maybe in two years, maybe little by little, we can come closer. It was very discouraging before.”
“Of course, our competitors are at a very high level,” Bourzat concluded. “In order to ‘attack’ the Americans and the Canadians, we rely on the fact that we love our programs, they suit us like a second skin, and we place the emphasis on our work on our expression and on the technique. This is reinforced by hard training to be at our best physically from the beginning to the end of the season.”