Yuzuru Hanyu: ‘GIFT’
With two Olympic victories and a Super Slam under his belt, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu had achieved legendary status as an amateur skater. On February 26, 2023, the skater, who announced his retirement from competitive skating six months ago, took us on a journey with GIFT.
A full 35,000 visitors stormed the Tokyo Dome, one of Japan’s largest event halls, to experience his one-day show GIFT firsthand. Weeks before, advertising posters adorned the trains of the million-strong metropolis, and on social media, fans’ excitement was almost unstoppable. With streaming sites broadcasting the performance around the globe, and 30,000 more viewers in Japan, Korea and Taiwan who watched the event live in movie theaters, GIFT proved to be a very successful ice show.
An enormous wave of applause rolled over the hall as soon as Hanyu opened up new worlds to The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky, accompanied by the tunes of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Light as a feather, he floated across the ice on wings of fire while taking the audience’s breath away with emotional choreography. Immediately following his first program, he began to tell the story of GIFT: a story of loneliness, affliction and giving up on his dreams.
“Of course, I have experienced being alone many times in the past, and I still feel alone today,” revealed the two-time Olympic champion. “It may be something that will always be a part of my life. But it is not just me, it exists in everyone, big or small. Although this is a story of my life, it is also a story that I thought everyone else might have experienced as well. I created GIFT in the hope that it would be a gift to everyone’s heart and that it would provide a place to return to whenever people find themselves alone.”
Hanyu took the audience by the hand and led them on a journey through the worlds of his personality, each of his “persona” being accompanied on a screen by picturesque landscapes that seemed to have sprung from a storybook.
“Rather than wandering my soul…there is a psychological term used by (Carl Gustav) Jung called “persona.” Everyone uses a face or a mask when they are in society, and I think that even while I am talking here, I am showing the Yuzuru Hanyu that I want you to see me as. But I am sure that there is also Yuzuru Hanyu who is smoldering in my heart even as I speak right now. That is probably not only me, but also everyone else. I hope that this time will be a time where I can recognize, even if only a little, the essential persona that I have, and that you can all recognize your own personas as well.”
With the piece “One Summer’s Day” from the Ghibli anime hit Spirited Away or classics like Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 op.” Hanyu sparked genuine enthusiasm in the audience, earning a thunder of applause. The highlight of the first half, however, was his 2022 Olympic short program to Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, which he designed like a competition number and had announced accordingly. While the focus of the other programs was on the choreographic elements, Hanyu went all out on the jumps, nailing the quad Salchow right at the start, followed by the quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel.
“I strongly felt that I was not able to pull off (Rondo Capriccioso) at the Beijing Olympics,” admitted the 28-year-old. “In that program, I have a story of ‘grasping my dream’ in my mind. Dreams also play a huge role in GIFT. In that sense, I chose to simulate the “Rondo Capriccioso” of the Beijing Olympics as I wanted to show in the first half that I had grasped my dream. On the other hand, there are still some dreams that I haven’t grasped yet, such as the quadruple half, but I skated with the image that I will continue to push forward.”
Hanyu continued the second half with a rocking performance to Robbie Williams’ “Let Me Entertain You,” to which the audience swayed their glowing bangles to the beat as if at a concert, turning the hall into a sea of stars. As the show progressed, he pulled true program gems like “Phantom of the Opera” and “Notte Stellata” out of his trick bag, giving the audience a completely new experience with a light show and torches at the edge of the rink. The 28-year-old superstar ended his performance with two encores to “Haru yo, koi” and “SEIMEI,” receiving not only standing ovations but a storm of applause and cheers.
“It was really a lot of hard work,” said Hanyu. “Well, first of all, it was more difficult to create a skating entertainment of this length by myself, than to perform in the dome. This season, I skated a complete program by myself for the first time, and I honestly wondered if it would last for two and a half hours. However, I now realize that we were able to create such entertainment because of the fact that we were able to perform at a place like this and because of the help of MIKIKO (choreographer), Rhizomatiks, the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, and other famous members of the company.”
“To be honest, of course, there are issues that I need to work on,” he continued. “There are things that I could have done better. But GIFT was a one-time-only event, and I am very proud of the fact that I was able to give a once-in-a-lifetime performance that is truly unique to figure skating. I would be very happy if even a small piece of my performance will remain in your memory.”
Since becoming a professional skater last July, Hanyu has continued to take on new challenges with his first one-man show “Prologue” in November and December of 2022. His next show, “Notte Stellata” will be held from March 10th to 12th at the Sekisui Heim Super Arena in Miyagi Prefecture. There, he will dedicate his performance to the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.