Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Salute to Hanyu: U.S. ballet troupe paying tribute to legend

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Awards, medals, proclamations, trophies, monuments. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu has them all.

So what do you get the superstar who has everything?

How about a ballet tribute?

That’s what up next for Hanyu, who will be honored by the Crescendo Conservatory’s dance company at the upcoming Future Stages Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. The group from Overland Park, Kansas, will give a performance of “Notte Stellata” (Hanyu’s exhibition program choreographed by David Wilson) at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center on June 16.

The catalyst for the program is the company’s owner, Christina Valdez. She founded the Crescendo Conservatory four years ago and acts as its artistic director and choreographer.

Valdez spoke to Ice Time in an exclusive interview on Wednesday about how she first learned about Hanyu, his impact on her and the inspiration for the tribute.

“In February of 2018, I was coming home from teaching a dance class and my family, we are not very sports-minded, so my 16-year-old daughter said, ‘Hey, I would like to watch the Olympics. There is a rock star Japanese figure skater I think you would really like,’ ” Valdez recalled.

“She said, ‘He is blowing up the internet. He just arrived in Pyeongchang. He’s amazing.’ “

“So I said, ‘OK. We will take a look.’ Then we watched his short program and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness. What is this? I have never seen anything like this before,’ ” Valdez stated.

“The first thing I asked my daughter was, ‘Where does he train?’ Valdez remembered. “She said, ‘In Canada.’ But I meant for ballet in addition to ice skating.”

Valdez, who has a degree in dance from Texas Woman’s University, immediately noted the similarity between ballet and skating.

“Everything he did on the ice is exactly what I teach in class — flexibility, strength, breath, and all of it,” Valdez stated. “My daughter said, ‘I don’t think he trains for ballet. I just think he trains for ice skating,’ and that just blew my mind.”

After Hanyu won his second straight Olympic title, Valdez says she was moved not just by the Sendai native’s skating, but also his manner.

“We were thrilled when he won the gold, because from then on I was hooked,” Valdez commented. “We just loved what we saw with from his relationship with Shoma (Uno) and Javi (Fernandez). I thought they were rivals and didn’t understand why they were all hugging and so happy.

“My daughter said, ‘No. They are friends in addition to being rivals.’

“I thought this is an incredible story and what great sportsmanship,” said Valdez, who celebrated her 50th birthday this week. “So immediately I started talking about him at my studio. We are here in the Midwest, and I started asking some of my girls if they knew who Yuzu was, and some of them did. I have a couple of Japanese-American students. Most of them didn’t.”

From that point on, Valdez, a Dallas native, became completely enamored with Hanyu.

“I started watching his skating more,” Valdez remarked. “Instead of watching television, we have a Yuzu playlist and we will watch ‘Seimei’ and we’ll watch ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’ My husband is a big fan now, too.”

Valdez, who has lived in Kansas City for 11 years, then told Ice Time how her love for Hanyu morphed into the ballet tribute.

“We are having a dance recital this year, and my business partner and I decided that the theme would be ‘The Artist — Inspired.’ And I thought what inspires me now is Yuzu and his figure skating,” Valdez stated.

“I absolutely love ‘Notte Stellata’ and the music. I love what he did with it,” Valdez commented. “I especially love his sense of musicality. He lands on the end of his jumps from a phrase and it really speaks to me in a way that I choreograph.

“Also, ‘Notte Stellata’ really lends itself well to point work. I literally could see it as a point dance. So I thought, let’s do a Notte tribute to Yuzu and that’s kind of how it got started. So I watched ‘Notte Stellata’ like 500 times.”

Like so many others around the world, Valdez’s love for the legend is both profound and powerful.

“As soon as I became a fan, I told my husband, ‘I don’t want a birthday present. I don’t want a Christmas present. I don’t want any gifts for the rest of my life. All I want is to be able to go see Yuzu skate sometime in my lifetime. That would be just so incredible.’ “

Valdez says her dream is to someday come to Japan to see Hanyu skate in person.

Hanyu’s combination of athleticism and perseverance are at the root of Valdez’s respect for him.

“It’s just art supporting art. He is such an inspiration — not just as an artist, but also as a person,” Valdez commented. “Two weeks ago, I gave a lecture to my class about how Yuzu went through the tragedy of the tsunami, then moved to a new country in Canada, and how difficult that must have been for him.

“My girls are all between the ages of 12-18 and so (hearing his story) it became a lot more real to them. I think everybody at the studio has a great love and appreciation for Yuzu.”

“There are 40 girls in the company. For Notte Stellata we will have 24 dancers,” Valdez noted. “We were selected to perform on the big stage there. We get 20 minutes and we are going to end with ‘Notte Stellata,’ so we are very excited.”

Ice Time wondered if any members of the Crescendo Conservatory were skaters.

“We don’t have any dancers in the company who are skaters,” Valdez said. “We just have a lot of ballerinas who love Yuzu.”

As our conversation wrapped up, Valdez spoke more deeply about her view of how Hanyu resembles a ballet dancer to her.

“When I saw Yuzu skate in Pyeongchang, I thought he must be an accomplished ballet dancer who also skates,” Valdez stated. “That was my first assumption, just based on his port de bras (carriage of the arms), carriage of the body. He moves like a ballet dancer. I thought he was classically trained. It doesn’t matter, he is natural, so it’s beautiful.”

Wilson told Ice Time last year how Hanyu will spend hours in front of the mirror perfecting his moves, something that Valdez recognized right away.

“The carriage and the way he carves the space with his arms as he skates, it’s just very good ballet,” Valdez commented. “His musicality, he makes sure his arms are moving at the right place just on the note.

“I definitely think he will be remembered for all of his skates. He is so versatile, from ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ to Notte. It’s just amazing. His skating just speaks to my soul.”

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