SalomĂ© Brunner: "People he loves will always stay"
By Reut Golinsky
Photos © Reut Golinsky, Silvia Ulenberg
Let's talk about your other work. I saw you during the rehearsal of "Art on Ice" show. Are you usually involved in the shows of "Art on Ice"?
I've worked with "Art on Ice" for about fifteen years, since their first show was made. At the beginning I did only small things. I was just there with all the skaters and made small parts of the choreography, and then more and more. But every year I am there, it's a lovely time of the year for me. I will work on "World's Best" show in December too. Oliver (HĂ¶ner) should come here and maybe we will find a moment to discuss the show.
Is the approach different when you create something for competitions than when you work on the show? You're free to do what you want, but you need to work with the invited skaters you know less, to invent choreography for the group numbers.
Yes, the approach is very different. My work goes in the same direction but it is intended for the bigger audience. Everything should have lots of visual effects. There are other rules for the shows than for the competitions. Everything should create a common context.
In group numbers, for the finale, for example, you think of how to unite the single acts the skaters have, right?
Exactly. Also for two years now we've been working together with the dance choreographer (Marvin A. Smith), who also brings dancers to the show. So his style of work with the dancers should be in the context of the show. The big part of the work is in the connection between dancers and skaters, so I have to - and I like to - learn from him, from what he is doing on the stage, and to try to translate it to the ice. So I am more a translator sometimes than a choreographer.
I saw "Art on Ice" this winter for the first time live and I really loved it. I think, on TV you can't see the whole thing. I hope that in years to come this show will go beyond the Swiss borders. Though technically, I think, it can be complicated.
Yes, Zurich's show has a big technical aspect to it. A similar show goes each year to Lausanne too. But this year because of technical complexity we couldn't reproduce the whole show, as it was in Zurich, in Lausanne, so to travel with such a show might be a problem. Many preparations should be made for this, I suppose, I don't know much about this side of the show, but it must be very difficult.
I think this is the best European show now, and maybe it's even better than "Stars on ice". Because of all those things you can't move, and also dancers and live singing adds a lot.
I always liked the "Stars on ice" shows.
You performed yourself in some ice show, right?
Yes, I was skating with Torvill and Dean's show. It was a nice show tour. Later on Christopher and Jayne were working in "Stars on ice" as skaters and then also as choreographers. And I always thought that it was a wonderful show, but for many years I didn't see it, so I don't know how it looks now. I would like to see it again.
I know that they are working on the "Dancing on Ice" show, where professional skaters skate with celebrities. Have you seen it?
Yes, I've seen and it's fantastic. I saw the live show in London, in Wembley, and I went without much expectation. People cannot really skate in this show. But they know how to make this show emotional, and you really want the non-skater to do well, and it was very well done. After this show I thought that maybe figure skating needs more public attention and such kind of show brings more attention to figure skating, even the taxi driver knew about it. And also people like the idea that they can go, learn for three months and they'll be able to skate.
Yeah, but then some skater fails in the competition and everybody says: this celebrity was good after few months and this one a loser...
...not even after a few years of training. Yes, there are always two sides to everything.
As a choreographer what do you think about the new system, the Code of Points? Did this make your work harder?
Yes, it's harder. Now [after a few years], it is a bit easier because we learned how to deal with it, but sometimes we think to ourselves 'Why do we have to do all those things?' and we are nostalgic to the time when we could do whatever the music asked for. We need to compromise a lot because of the rules. We feel that the free program is not free anymore, because you have a little space to create something Â– you have to find a few seconds here and there where you can add some movement.
But it's the system where StĂ©phane got his first World title, so it cannot be all that bad...
...so we love it. Actually he himself had some criticism about it when we talked with him in winter.
Who are the other skaters you're working with? With Mr.Grutter's pupils?
Yes, with Noemie Silberer. Also with Loran (Alvarez), another boy he has. But not with the Italian boy (Samuel Contesti), his wife is his choreographer, and he has his team who works with him.
You mentioned once that while you work with StĂ©phane and Sarah you prefer not to work with other skaters on their level, with their rivals.
Yeah, I don't like such a situation. I have this situation in Switzerland, and it's difficult because at the end of the day, everybody wants to do better than the other person.
But after they finish their career will you work more? Do you have non-Swiss skaters at world level that approach you?
Not so many, but yes. It would be nice [to work with others]. There is the Philippine skater who made the choreography with me [this season], he was supposed to come here, but in the end he didn't.
Few words about Sarah, do you know what happened, why she withdrew from Nebelhorn?
She actually trained very well and she was well-prepared. She is a very delicate person, sometimes her body just doesn't allow her [to work hard]. She had so much pain in her foot; she couldn't even put her weight on it. And few weeks ago she was almost without pain and she was very happy.
Is her injury she had during previous season healing?
Yes, she has a good control over it, she found a manual therapist, who is treating her. Now she says that the pain is always there, but even if she does 300 jumps, the pain is the same. And when it's so she is not scared to train. She knows she will feel this kind of pain, but it won't get worse, and everything is under control. She also tried to find the solution for the boots, as she didn't feel comfortable with those she had, so she changed to another type. Some problems she had with "Graf" disappeared, but something new, unfortunately, came up instead. And it's hard to give her advice what to do, it's very complicated. So it was pain that kept her from coming here. Actually I never heard her complaining about this pain, but I didn't see her the last three days in training, probably it became much worse then. I haven't talked to her yet, she only texted me a message. She doesn't need to qualify Switzerland for the Olympics, but she'll need to find some solution for "Japan Open" she was supposed to participate in (in the end Sarah needed to withdraw from that competition too and Elena Glebova was competing for Team Europe instead, but Sarah took part in "Golden Skate Awards" on October 10th, which means that the situation should be better by the time this article is published).
With Sarah, as far as I know, you usually work before the start of the season, while you choreograph the new programs, here in Oberstdorf. But we almost never see you in K&C with her, why? You are always there with Stephane.
Because her coach is her aunt, and they are very close. They've been a team for many years, since she was very small. So it's not that she needs me to accompany her. She doesn't mind me being there, because we like each other, but the only person she really needs is her aunt. I like to be near her and it's interesting for me, but I feel that psychologically for her it's not so important. So that's why I was in K&C with her only when I was there, in the competition with StĂ©phane.
Is the work of the choreographer finished before the start of the season? Or do you have to correct or adjust things during the season too?
Yes, always, to correct or change things sometimes. With Sarah we put the choreography together, then she needs to learn it with the jumps and then she decides which parts of the choreography she can really keep and which ones have to be adjusted. Working with Sarah is easy because we both live in Zurich, so we can meet every morning if we need to and all year round there is ice in Zurich, we can always find a place.
If it's all year round, why do you have summer camp here, in Oberstdorf?
Peter (Grutter) has come here with his students for thirty years, and I'm following him, because I like to work with him. It's a beautiful center, and this is very good for the students to concentrate just on the skating for a few weeks, without distractions and others things to do when they are at home. And Sarah likes to come here too, because there are many good skaters here, and it's good for her to train with them as in Switzerland there is very few at this high level.
In choreography where are you getting the ideas from? Are you going to lots of different shows, ballet, modern dance?
My interest in general was in this direction. I learned in dance school different types of modern dances, jazz, flamenco. And when I was working in Torvill and Dean's show, we had a ballet teacher, who was training with us every day on the floor. This teacher took me to all the shows in the places where we were touring, in States, in Canada, in England. I saw many big famous performances then. I learned a lot from the work with Torvill and Dean. It's not that you think 'We have to do this choreography' but mostly to learn the possibilities you have. I think it's important to see performances, to learn what other people do, because there are many other people who are working really hard [in the area].
Do you have an opportunity and time to watch and learn during the competitions?
A little bit, but usually my mind is not so open at this time. I should, but... sometimes I watch it after the competition, to see what other skaters do.
So can I ask you to name choreographers in figure skating whose work you like?
Of course, Torvill and Dean, my mentors, I think - they are doing fantastic choreography. There are also less famous choreographers who I respect a lot and I think they are doing fantastic work, like my colleague in Zurich, Sandra SchĂ¤r, Gheorghe Chiper's wife - she made choreography for Gregor Urbas (of Slovenia). Also I like the work of Yu-Na's choreographer, David Willson, but I don't know him personally. I know personally Lea-Ann Miller, I think she is doing beautiful work. When I was skating with her, I never knew she had this talent, I was surprised.
You mentioned "less famous choreographers", I think, it's a pity that most of choreographers are staying behind the stage, we don't see them. This was one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you, because I believe people should know those names and faces. And people should know to whom to be grateful for the beautiful things we see on the ice, who to thank for this. So I'm glad I had this opportunity to thank you personally.