Ashley Wagner & Adam Rippon: "We definitely make sure that we're always available to one another"
June 28, 2016
By Anna Zeitlin
Photos ┬ę Anna Zeitlin, Keiko Kasai, Oxana Shkrebtienko
I met best friends Ashley and Adam in the mixed zone of the Team Challenge Cup event, and due to the loud music coming from the rink asked if they wouldn’t mind talking in the media room instead. They agreed and we started to climb the stairs to the upper levels of Spokane Arena. After I apologized for the long ascent Adam jokingly said that it’s good for them and they should do this more often, as they’re not very used to climbing so many stairs. I then asked if going up and down the stairs was part of their training routine, and they both said in unison that it should be. Being slightly out of breath, we finally reached the media room and settled down for our talk.
I really liked your performances at Team Challenge Cup. What do you think about this event?
Ashley: I didn’t have much time to practice, as I just got back from Stars on Ice. This was my first full run of the long program since the Worlds.
Adam: Yeah, mine too. So none of us knew what was going to happen, and I think that was the hardest part.
You both participated in other team events, like the World Team Trophy and Japan Open. How does the Team Challenge Cup differ from those?
Ashley: To compete as Team North America - there's that difference, you know. Bringing the Canadians in to compete on the same team. We all have a great camaraderie, we've all known each other for so long, so that wasn't a very hard transition to make. And the way that this event was scored in general, with the events being separate - that was something that was totally different. And a lot of us coming into this were just going by the seat of our pants, no one understood the system.
Adam: No one knew what's going on. As it was happening, we were finding out how it was working.
Ashley: *laughing* But it was definitely a fun event. I think it was made for drama and excitement and that's a great thing to have in skating.
Are you looking forward to Stars on Ice USA?
Ashley: When we started out [with the SOI tour – ed.], we still had this competition in the back of our heads; we couldn't really enjoy it. So now we can just soak up the whole experience...
Adam, it's your first year as a regular in SOI.
Adam: Yes, I'm so excited! Especially during the rehearsal process. I kept going over to Ashley and saying - this is so cool! I've seen the show so many times. I've always imagined myself on the tour, taking the cast photo - it's just awesome.
Ashley, you took part in both the US and the Canadian SOI tours in the past.
Ashley: Yes, I've done the Canadian tour more than I've done the American, just because the timing usually works out a bit better. I love being on the American cast, because you go out in front of the American audience, and you're their national champion and World medalist, so they appreciate you in a different way. And in Canada the audience knows their figure skating so well and they really love skating, so they're two great audiences.
How do you choose your programs for the SOI tour?
Adam: We go over what we would like [to skate to] with the director of the show, Jeff Billings, and the artistic director, Jeffrey Buttle, and we kind of submit what we would like, and they come and give us the thumbs up or ask us to do something else. For me, I wanted to do a selection from my Beatles program, so that when I was doing the show I would sort of be preparing for this competition, and then I think Ashley was doing the same thing with her short program.
Ashley: Yeah, the short program is a great show program in general. I think it's really easy to turn it into something less competitive and more showy. And then I'm skating to "Dangerous Woman" which Jeremy Abbott choreographed. I chose that piece based on the kind of skater that I feel like I am in shows - I'm not the skater that goes out and skates to something pretty. I'm usually skating to something faster, more energetic, a little bit sexier, so that's how I chose that piece.
Ashley, your short program this year is "Hip Hip Chin Chin" and you said it's your all-time favorite SP. This song was part of a group number in last year's CSOI, so I was wondering...
Ashley: Yeah, that's how I found it! We were in rehearsals in Halifax and they played this piece of music to help us get an idea of what we were skating to, and I ran over to my phone and texted Shae-Lynn [Bourne] immediately: "I found the music; this is what I'm skating to". So if I hadn't done the Canadian Stars, I probably wouldn't have found that piece of music, or even thought of it, so that was perfect.
Adam, Jeff Buttle chose The Beatles music for you...
Adam: Yeah, I had a few other ideas and then he came to me and he said: "What about The Beatles?" and I was like "OK, maybe." I like The Beatles, they're great, you can't go wrong with skating to The Beatles. So we just kind of went with it and then throughout the course of the year we changed the selection of the music and it made the program come together.
You changed the selection to include "Blackbird", and you said it's your favorite Beatles song.
Adam: I love it. I think the words are so powerful, and even when I'm skating, especially at an event, and I can hear the words and it makes me smile and it just...
Ashley: Resonates with you.
Adam: Yeah, absolutely!
So does it help more when you skate to the music you love or is it too overpowering?
Ashley: I think there is never a scenario where it's bad to skate to something you love. I think that if the music draws something out of you that you can perform with, then that is absolutely a piece that you should be able to skate and go with.
Adam: I agree. I think that if it's something you love, you can perform to it a little bit better because you love it for some sort of reason. It brings out an emotion that you can relate to, it brings out a feeling that you can really feel, and I think if you can do that and bring that into your performance...
Ashley: It will make it special.
Adam: Yeah, and it's easier for people to see what you're doing and relate to your program.
You both use music with lyrics this year. Adam, you said in the first year that the lyrics were allowed that you were against it until you saw Ashley skating to "Moulin Rouge". So do you think now that skating to music with lyrics helps?
Ashley: I think it definitely opens a lot of doors for us and it gives us a lot more variety to be able to skate to. It depends on the skater. For someone skating to classical music, "Moulin Rouge" could be perfect. It really depends on what the music brings out in the athlete. For me, I like having words because I feel I'm a very emotional skater and for people to be able to listen, even if it's subconsciously, to what the words are saying and see me acting in a certain way, it makes what I'm trying to portray a little bit more clear and obvious. So I like having lyrics because I think it makes it easier for people to understand the story I'm trying to tell.
Adam: I think I was against it because I felt that people weren't going to...
Ashley: Use it properly.
Adam: Yes. I thought it was going to be used like the radio. Like you just pick a song and skate to it and whatever. And what really changed my mind was when I watched Ashley's "Moulin Rouge" program because it added to her story and it still sounded like a competition [program] and it just added to the drama of what her performance was. It just added something to it, added another layer and as soon as I saw her "Moulin Rouge" program the first time I was like: "Damn, I need lyrics in all my programs!" I think she's right that maybe a classical piece is what you're feeling, it's going to be that amazing program for you and I think it's really specific to what you want to portray and what you want to put forward. And I think having lyrics kind of opens the door to a whole new realm of possibilities.
Adam, you had a rock theme this year which kind of organically grew to be that. What if you had thought first "I'm going to have a rock theme", would you have chosen these specific songs?
Adam: Probably not. It was one program that led into another and then I was like "I think I'm kind of finding a theme" and that's what led to me doing "Led Zeppelin". So I just liked having that whole theme because it was so out of the box for me personally that I don't think anybody really would have expected me to choose those pieces and for them to be successful.
The music was chosen by your choreographers, Jeffrey Buttle for The Beatles, Tom Dickson for Led Zeppelin. If you could choose rock songs yourself that you wanted to skate to this season, what would you choose?
Adam: I don't know; I don't know what would have happened, because I went to them both and I told them what I wanted the program to be. I wanted to be young, I wanted to be fun and they kind of saw me and they saw the words that I put out and they just thought "Oh, Led Zeppelin", I guess. I don't know.
I really liked your hair at the beginning of the season. Why did you decide to change it back before Worlds?
Adam: Well, you know, I think there was a lot of attention to what my hair looked like and I didn't mind it, but I thought that in a way I would get even more attention if I changed it back. *laughs* 'Cause there was a lot of "What color is it gonna be, what's going on?" You know, I had a lot of fun with it and I was just ready for a change. And we were talking yesterday, "Can you believe I walked around and I had purple hair?"
I think you looked great in that color.
Adam: I think at least once in your life you have to do something crazy.
Ashley, I don't know if you started thinking about programs for next season. Would you ever want to do something like Adam did, choose a theme and have all your programs aligned to it?
Ashley: I think it just kind of depends on the music and what I'm feeling. I've never gone into a season with a theme in mind...
Adam: And mine was an accident.
Ashley: Yeah, it would be an accident if it were to happen. It would just be a complete coincidence.
Adam, you choreographed a program for Ashley last year. Would you like to choreograph for her again?
Adam: Obviously I would like to work with Ashley again. I think we had a lot of fun.
Ashley: It was stressful.
Adam: It was really stressful. You know what, it was stressful because we had a program choreographed already and then Rafael [Arutunyan] never even saw it, he just heard the music, and was like "I don't like it". And we were like "OK", so then we were really in crunch time to get something together fairly quickly right after that. So it was really stressful for us, especially because we're so close. So you know you're not like "Oh do you like this?" You're like "Try this!"
Ashley: We would butt heads.
Adam: We would butt heads. So you know we were really lucky that...
Ashley: Raf actually suggested the piece of music and then we kind of had to just hunker down and get to work and work together.
Adam: And I think when we worked together it was best when we brought somebody else in, so that we could kind of speak to... We brought Cindy Stuart in who is the head choreographer for Disney on Ice, and we kind of went through Cindy. It was easier for us to speak [that way]. And she's brought a level headedness and professionalism.
And would you like to choreograph for someone else from the current circuit?
Adam: Of the current circuit, I think anybody who would want to work with me. I'm really inspired by so many of the skaters, even my competitors, and sometimes I'll hear music and be like "Oh, they'll be really good in this", but I think for the most part I'm just so concentrated on my own skating right now that I'm not like "Oh, let's work together", 'cause I just hear my coach and he's like "You have to work!"
Ashley, who would you like to work with apart from your regular choreographers?
Ashley: Hmm, I would really like to work with Benji Schwimmer, the dancer, so I think something might be in the works for next season, working with him. It will be really exciting.
You travel to competitions together a lot, but also of course apart. How do you relax during the competition? How is it different when the other one is not there for you at the competition?
Adam: I think when we go to competitions together… because we practice together, we have our breaks together. So, you know, we're practicing at a high intensity all day and then we have about an hour break where we kind of come down and get ready for our next practice. And when we're at an event together, I think we do the same thing and it makes us feel like we're just at home. We're just going to do another program, just like we do at home. So it brings some normality and familiarity to it. And I think when we're separated, I mean we're both professionals and adults and...
Ashley: *laughing* We can live without each other.
Adam: We can function without each other.
Ashley: Not as well though.
Adam: It's really nice when we do an event together because it really does bring that normality.
Ashley: Yeah, it's more just the sense of being home, a regular schedule.
Adam: Just a normal day at the office.
Ashley: Yeah, and it kind of takes a lot of pressure off. And then when we aren't at a competition together, we're always in touch. If I ever need him before an event, he'll sit down and talk to me and vice versa. We definitely make sure that we're always available to one another when we can be, no matter where we are.
With that final example of Ashley and Adam’s great friendship we had to part, as they needed to attend their exhibition practice. I can’t wait to see what their programs will be like next season and I wonder whether they climb more stairs now…