One of the positive aspects of the internet is that every once in a while you stumble across some undiscovered gem that is enjoyable and revelatory.
Such was the case recently when I listened to an interview with renowned choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne from last January on the @SkatingPj podcast, which is moderated by Canadian announcer PJ Kwong.
Kwong’s voice would be familiar to skating fans around the world, even if her face is not.
It is she who uttered the famous words at the Pyeongchang Olympics, “The score please. Yuzuru Hanyu has earned in the free program 206.17 points, a new season’s best. He has a total score of 317.85 points and is currently in first place.”
Kwong spoke with Bourne on Jan. 27, just two weeks before the Pyeongchang Games, and asked her about how she constructed Hanyu’s free skate to “Seimei” back in the summer of 2015.
Hanyu reprised that program this past season when he won his second consecutive Olympic gold medal.
Bourne’s comments were insightful and provided a window into her thoughts and Hanyu’s creative genius. At the time of the interview, Hanyu’s physical condition was very much in question after his ankle injury three months earlier.
“I had created a playlist for Yuzu but as I sent it to him, he sent me this music from the film (‘Onmyoji’), wanting to skate to that two years ago now,” Bourne, the 2003 world champion in ice dance with partner Victor Kraatz, told Kwong. “He’s bringing it back. I really liked it.”
Bourne admitted that “Seimei” was not something she would have come up with on her own.
“It’s not something I would have found,” Bourne commented. “Most likely wouldn’t have, unless I had really immersed myself into the Japanese world. So he found something, and he’s the type of skater that knows what he wants.
“He knows what costume he wants. He knows what jump order he wants. He makes a lot of the decisions on his own,” the Canadian continued. “You can’t say ‘no’ to that ever. You know, with music especially, because he is going to skate with conviction. So he made the right choice of the music.”
Bourne said she made a few adjustments as she and Hanyu worked together.
“I tweaked the way the music was organized. The edit of the music, so that it would have a better feel,” Bourne told Kwong. “Then I watched. I did as much studying as I could of the culture and the dance and the movement, mannerisms. Even the movie, to understand better because I am not Japanese.
“Although I have worked with a lot of skaters, it’s not quite the same. I loved it. I loved watching and learning and trying to get it inside of me.”
Bourne noted that the collaboration with Hanyu was smooth from start to finish.
“It actually went so quick to make that program with him. It’s just seamless,” Bourne recalled. “Kind of easy to move with him. He was very trusting to work with me.
“We had one season together before that, and he was open to all of the ideas. He’s the type of skater that follows everything you do. And he’s doing his jumps in the practice.”
Bourne remembered how Hanyu would insert his jumps as they plotted the program.
“The first year we worked together, he was doing his triple axels while we were making up the program,” Bourne stated. “He was planting them in so he would know how he feels.
“A lot of them (skaters) make programs right after worlds, so they are in good shape. They are able to do that. That’s really smart of him (Hanyu) to plan it this way.”
Bourne could sense that the music was just right for Hanyu.
“It was a week long of work, maybe five days. I felt the character of this movie was so him already,” Bourne commented. “That’s why he connected with it. We didn’t go completely with the story, but we went with the idea of that story.”
Bourne detailed how the communication between the two was excellent.
“A lot of it came down to talking with him. What does he want to say?” Bourne said. “I told him what I think it should be about. We shared our idea of the story from beginning to end. Each moment means something and ties to the next, all the way to the end.
“Even visually, I would tell him at the end, there are all these clouds and darkness that is coming towards you before the dun, dun, when he starts the footwork.
“And he is like this light that just clears all the evil. Kind of takes away all the clouds and you have light again. We tried to make it really visual. That only he would know.”
Bourne felt Hanyu was completely invested in the program.
“When the skater has this inside, it touches you in a different way. You might not know how or why, but it’s touching you,” Bourne noted. “And he really believed in it and believes in it.
“Just by studying and feeling the music myself, and seeing his physique and how he moves, I then found a way to kind of create something for him.”
Bourne concluded by saying that Hanyu’s potential to achieve even more greatness with “Seimei” was possible.
“I hope he will be healthy to show this again, because I see him when we are making the program and I see all that he is capable of,” Bourne stated. “You know how when the skaters go to compete, something is still held back a bit because of the nerves and all that they have to do now, with all the jumps and all the concentration it takes.
“I know he can do even more as a whole package. He was certainly, when I saw him last, on the right track to get to that level. I pray that he will be at his top condition and really able to show it off again and even better than that year.”
Bourne’s prayers were answered when Hanyu used “Seimei” to become the first man in 66 years to defend the Olympic title in most dramatic fashion.
Yamamoto working way back
Sota Yamamoto came from sixth place after the short program to win the season-opening Asian Open Trophy in Bangkok on Sunday with a total of 198.92 points.
Yamamoto, who is continuing a comeback from two serious ankle injuries, claimed the title in the Challenger Series event for his first title since winning the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, in 2016.
Skating to “Nobunaga Concerto,” Yamamoto did not attempt any quadruple jumps, but did land seven triples on the way to victory over Taiwan’s Tsao Chih-I (195.40).
Japan junior champion Mitsuki Sumoto came in fourth (182.39).
Yamamoto, an 18-year-old from Kishiwada, Osaka Prefecture, enjoyed a fine season in 2015-16, when he made the podium at all of his junior events, before breaking a bone in his right ankle just before the world junior championships.
Yamamoto missed all of the 2016-17 season after breaking the same bone again, then skated in just a handful of competitions last season. He finished ninth at the Japan nationals last December.
Now hopes are high that he can recapture the momentum he had before he was first injured.
Yuna Shiraiwa (173.01) finished second behind South Korea’s Lim Eun-soo (184.33) in the women’s event in Thailand, with Mako Yamashita (163.45) taking third in her senior debut.
Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto (154.75) came in third in ice dance.
Japan’s younger skaters excelled in Bangkok as well, with Yuma Kagiyama (174.90) and Tatsuya Tsuboi (168.01) going 1-2 in the junior men’s classification.
Sara Honda (Marin’s youngest sister) and Hana Yoshida placed second and third, respectively, in the Advanced Novice Girls field, while Shunsuke Nakamura took second in the Advanced Novice Boys.