There is nothing greater in life than fulfilling a dream.
For Christina Valdez, the artistic director and choreographer for the Crescendo Conservatory in Overland Park, Kansas, the fantasy became a reality last week when she traveled to Oakville, Canada, to see Yuzuru Hanyu skate in person for the very first time.
Valdez is the owner of the ballet troupe that honored the two-time Olympic champion with a performance of “Notte Stellata” (Hanyu’s exhibition program choreographed by David Wilson) back in June at a festival in Kansas City, Missouri.
The American and her family flew north to Ontario to attend the Autumn International Classic and she told Ice Time in an exclusive interview this week that it was the experience of a lifetime.
It was more than just seeing the Sendai native skate that moved Valdez. It was also interacting with fans from around the globe who share a common love for the legend.
“It was incredible. He was amazing,” Valdez told Ice Time by phone on Monday. “We got to meet so many lovely fans from all over the world. I received many gifts to give to the Notte Stellata dancers, so that was really nice.”
Hanyu won the event for the fourth time in the past five years and Valdez was overjoyed to be there. She said the experience was magical.
“My analogy for seeing him skate for the first time was, if the first art museum I ever went to was the Louvre, and the first painting I ever saw was the Mona Lisa, that’s how I felt about watching him skate live,” Valdez stated. “It was a privilege.”
Valdez gave her ballet teacher’s review of both of his programs.
“I thought ‘Otonal’ (Hanyu’s short program) was absolutely gorgeous,” Valdez commented. “His jumps were so powerful and graceful. My favorite part of Otonal was the step sequence where he went from the depths of the hydroblade up into a balletic jump and it’s like effortless. Also, the twizzle into the triple axel into the twizzle, I had to keep reminding myself how difficult it was. Because he made it look so easy.”
Valdez, who turned 50 this year, noted how Hanyu’s love for his sport resonates.
“He just has a passion for skating that radiates from his soul and comes out,” Valdez remarked. “The other skaters were incredible also, but Yuzu was just on another level.”
Valdez spoke about the buzz in the arena for Hanyu’s free skate.
” ‘Origin’ was electric because he was obviously on fire that morning. You could feel the energy of the crowd before he skated,” Valdez said. “My favorite part of Origin was when he added the pantomime to the violin, when he did the spread eagle, and his hands were absolutely gorgeous. It was perfectly timed with the music.
“The choreography and the skating skills were exquisite. The energy just built and built and built for Origin, and afterward everyone was just speechless,” Valdez added. “My husband and I just looked at each other and hugged and we were moved to tears. It was an honor to witness it. Origin was just amazing.”
Valdez recalled how the roar began when Hanyu started to take off his jacket for the six-minute warmup.
“It was so much fun to see was the costume reveal, especially for Origin,” Valdez said. “When he unzipped his jacket, everyone in the arena lost their minds. How he was able to maintain his focus during all of that was incredible. He did not break focus at all and continued to work on his jumps while everyone was going crazy.”
Ice Time wondered if she had reached out to other Hanyu fans at the event or they had approached her.
“It was a little bit of both. I brought gifts to give out. On Thursday I was handing out buttons,” Valdez noted. “After that people started to come up to me. I was recognized as the ballet sensei. Many Japanese fans came up to me and we took a lot of pictures. There were fans there from all over the world, so it was great.”
Valdez was overwhelmed by the generosity of her fellow Hanyu supporters.
“I came home with bags full of gifts for all of my dancers and for myself,” Valdez said. “I have handkerchiefs from Sendai. I have multiple Winnie the Poohs. One of the girls made these beautiful handmade cookies of each of the costumes. I have bags of stuff. I didn’t have to purchase anything. Everybody was handing out gifts and it was so lovely.”
Work will keep Valdez from seeing Hanyu during the Grand Prix season, but she already has her eyes on the world championships in Montreal next spring.
“Because I own the dance studio, we produce ‘The Nutcracker’ and are right in the middle of it now,” Valdez noted. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to any events in the fall. We are hoping to get to the world championships in Canada in the spring.”
The Valdez family is also lining up a trip to Japan next year.
“We are planning on going to Japan next summer,” Valdez stated. “We are already trying to learn the language. We want to go to Sendai and see the monuments. I’m sure we won’t get the chance to see Yuzu skate, but just to go Japan and experience the culture will be amazing.”
Valdez, who founded the Crescendo Conservatory four years ago, is still uncertain about whether Hanyu has seen her troupe’s salute to him. I inquired as to if she had sent a video of the performance to him.
“I’m a bit of a modest person and I don’t want to force myself on him,” Valdez commented. “Fans tell me he may have seen it. I did make a Notte Stellata Pooh and had all my dancers sign the card with a picture of it and we left it in the gift box. If he wasn’t aware of it before, he might be aware of it now.
“I’m just a mere drop of water in the sea of Fanyus (the nickname for Hanyu fans). I know I am just one of many, many, many people who adore him.”
Ice Time wanted to know where seeing Hanyu skate live ranked on Valdez’s all-time list of life experiences.
“Probably right at the very top with every thrill of my life. Giving birth to my children and getting married, this is probably second to those two events,” Valdez commented. “I was the last person to leave the arena. They had to kick me out. I didn’t want to go.”