The figure skater talks ballet, peeing his pants at the thought of meeting Baryshnikov and his best idea yet---becoming Carmen.
Mon Oct 17 2011
Do you study ballet now?
Actually, I have never studied ballet. Not a day in my life. Most figure skaters do ballet to learn grace, but when I was young, I grew up in the country, in Pennsylvania, and I wasn't overly exposed to musical culture. I didn't really know who Whitney Houston was, for example, until I was 12 years old when I moved to Delaware and started training in figure skating. And Whitney Houston was huge at that time! It was the late '80s and early '90s. That is Whitney Houston and Madonna and I had no idea who they were. I listened to Tchaikovsky and Chopin when I was young, and I think that kind of raising myself up on classical music—I remember I had a little red Sony radio with blue speakers, and I would put my cassette tape in and just dream and listen to these amazing composers. It would just give me this very artistic feeling and this soul and warmth, and I just sort of naturally learned about my body and how to hold it and everything. And then I got into sports. I was a great skier when I was young and then I was nearly on the national equestrian team before I started to skate, and those sports both teach individuality and body posture and alignment and understanding how your body works. That helped me a lot when I became a figure skater, because I had all of this bubbling emotion inside of me that I wanted to let free, and at the same time I understood how my body worked so I was able to emit that and never have to do ballet. I think ballet's great for people that don't really have that understanding of how their body works: how everything moves from your belly button and how to hold your hands artistically. People need to learn that. I was lucky that I didn't because I think doing that rigorous ballet—one, two, three; one, two, three—would kill me. I would hate it. There isn't a lot of freedom in that.
Twyla Tharp choreographed After All for John Curry. Do you hope to work with a choreographer of that level one day?
I think that piece is gorgeous. But it's very, very difficult unless the choreographer is very open-minded and the skater is also very open-minded—which I like to think I am—to transfer dance onto the ice, which is why Ice Theatre is great, because they try to do things like that.
They try. It's hard.
It's super hard. The ability to move on the ice is so different from that on the stage, but if there's a dance choreographer, somebody who really understands ice and skating, then it's easier to do. But if you get some of these crazy, amazing, dance choreographers that only know dance, then it's going to be hard. But I absolutely would. Again, Baryshnikov is somebody who I would absolutely work with in a heartbeat. There's, not a super close friend of mine but a friend of mine is Nikolai Tsiskaridze—he's one of the premier dancers at the Bolshoi.
He's so fantastic and he is Georgian, so he has a lot more of that southern blood and it's fiery and hot blood and I'd like to incorporate that somehow into me, because I'm Scandinavian, so I'm super cold-blooded and fragile-looking and he has a hot, almost Italian or Spanish style about his dancing; and then with ABT now, there's a young dancer called Daniil Simkin. I would love to work with him as well. I've never met him, but I think he is the bee's knees. He's fantastic.
Do you know David Hallberg, who is joining the Bolshoi from ABT?
I know of him, but I've never met him.
You should probably try to get to know each other. When you do reenter competitive skating, what kind of music are you thinking about using?
I am thought of as a very controversial person, especially in the skating world. But in terms of my figure skating, I'm a purist. I don't try to push that boundary. I know what my body looks like and how to use my lines, and I don't veer from that very much, unless I'm doing a Lady Gaga thing and I can do crazy monster arms. But I've been thinking a lot about Bizet's Carmen and actually being Carmen.
Oh, that's great.
I got super inspired looking at old skating videos. I watched Katarina Witt do Carmen at the Calgary Olympics, and for modern skating, she didn't really do anything that outrageous or difficult, but she was Carmen on the ice, and that's what I would like to try to do. It's the same as if I did Dancing with the Stars—I would want to be taught to dance the women's parts because I can probably do the male part pretty easily. But I would love to dance with Max [Maksim Chmerkovskiy] and learn to do the girl's side. That would be more difficult for me. So dancing Carmen and skating Carmen seems like such an interesting idea. I am super effeminate, but to be a Spanish lady with all that passion and fire would be such a stretch for me, and it would challenge me. I'd like that.
Plus Carmen is a masculine woman. She's tough.
Oh, she loves a shoulder pad and broad shoulder!
What an amazing exploration of gender.
Absolutely. I mean that's kind of what I'm all about. [Laughs] Born this way!