As I've mentioned many times on the blog before, it was actually the flood of professional competitions and wonderful skating that came out of them in the mid-nineties that drew me to the ice. It's funny how particular performances stand out in my mind but I vividly remember watching TSN broadcast the men's and ladies free skates from the Masters Miko professional competition in France one night and just being in awe of Sandra Garde's program. I must have worn out the tape (yes, we had tapes back then). Dressed in this red catsuit with this very imperious collar skating to Alexander Moussorgsky's "Night On Bald Mountain" under theatrical lighting, Garde wove a complete spell. With only a peppering of double jumps, she imprinted this vision of good artistic skating in my mind that made me understand that it wasn't about the jumps or the technical side; skating was about performance. That way of looking at the sport has stayed with me to this day and I guess I have Sandra Garde to thank for it. It was an unbelievable pleasure to speak with this very accomplished skater and choreographer! For those of you who aren't familiar with her skating, as an amateur she won the French junior title and three senior medals at French Nationals and represented France internationally at the World Junior Championships, Skate Canada and many other international events. Professionally, she's won the Lalique d'Or event in France, toured with Holiday On Ice, Willy Bietak Productions and Disney On Ice and choreographed for a who's who of skaters. You know all of those amazingly creative performances you see coming from French skaters? Chances are Sandra's had a hand in that! I'm excited to share this one so first things first, grab yourself something to drink and when you're back, get ready for an amazing interview!:
Q: The first time I ever saw you skate was at the 1995 Masters Miko competition, when they televised your magical "Night On Bald Mountain" program. Between the costuming, lighting, music and choreography I was just so taken away by your skating! I later learned this program was adapted from a free skate you did during your "amateur" career. How did you come up with the concept and choreography for this program and what can you share about the story it told?
A: All of my numbers or programs were always a story or theme. It's more interesting and exciting to skate and express a character or a feeling. This program was about Adam and Eve and I was the devil. The first part was the snake with an apple trying to hypnotize Eve (the public was Eve) and then the devil showed its the real face in the second part.
Q: Your "amateur" career was filled with so much success - a 4th place finish at the Junior Worlds, the French junior title, 3 medals at the senior level at French Nationals and medals in international competitions. You turned professional in 1990 at the age of seventeen. What are your most special memories from your "amateur" career and what made you decide to turn professional?
A: My best memory was my last French Nationals in my home town, just because at that time it was difficult to get my jumps done. I worked so hard but would fall so many times. I had no hope anymore; even my coach didn't believe in me anymore. My gym coach Frederic Goyonech was still behind me staying very positive and pushed me a lot every day and in the end I skated this competition without making a mistake in the two programs. When it's very hard and then the performing is good, you are proud of yourself and extremely happy. Before I turned professional, I stopped skating for about a year. I had to recover... physically but more mentally. Now with the years past, I know high level competition is hard but it brings you a lot of strength and courage for life. I started as a professional with amazing luck. Patrick Hourcade, who was organize the Masters Miko (a professional competition), invited me to participate. At that time this competition was on television live and only champions were invited - Katarina Witt, Denise Biellmann, Petr Barna and many others. First I refused this invitation because in one month I had little time to get ready. My gym coach Frederic pushed me again and then I put my skates back on again and practiced a lot of course. This is how my professional career started and today I have to say those years were the best time in my life.
Q: Professional skating was where you achieved your most competitive success, winning the Lalique d'Or competition in France that was judged by the audience and also finishing third at the U.S. Open Challenge Cup in 1994. What are your thoughts on professional competition and do you think it is something that will and/or should return?
A: Professional competition brought a lot of audience and made the best publicity for the sport, amateur or professional. The audiences were packed for those competitions and it was a big mistake not to keep those competitions going.
Q: You toured as a principal skater for twelve years with Holiday On Ice, Disney On Ice and Bietak Productions. What was the most interesting thing that happened during your touring career?
A: Everything was interesting, exciting and amazing. Each company taught me a lot of things. Holiday taught me how to be always sensual and pretty. Disney taught me acting and making dreams on the ice for kids and adults who want to dream again. Willy Bietak Productions were great shows and taught me you could put on a show and perform hard jumps at the same time. Touring with skaters from all over the world and working, living, discovering new countries for me as for them... We did everything together and opened our little minds about absolutely everything. As I said before, this was the best time in my life and I am rich for the chance that just a few people have had. I'm extremely lucky.
Q: You really have such a wonderful sense of music which comes across not only in your own skating but in your work with other great skaters such as Vanessa Gusmeroli, Marie-Pierre Leray, Maé Bérénice Meite, Candice Didier and Kim Lucine. I know that you have almost 20 years of classic, jazz and modern dance training (which is evident) but where do you get such innovative ideas for the programs you choreograph? They really are so brilliant and unique!
A: As I said, I've been travelling everywhere and meeting people and coming upon unique situations.
For sure, that inspires me a lot today. I try to respect the personality of each skater when I propose a program, a theme or a story. Most of the time, it takes a little time and it is important that the main coach and the skater trust my choice for them. In the end, most of the time they follow my ideas.
Q: As a technical specialist, you've certainly had to evolve with the sport. What are the best and worst parts of the "new" judging system?
A: The best is the perfectionism of this system. It pushes this sport and all the skating family to go further and further each year technically but also aesthetically. The bad part of this system is not the system in itself but certain humans who use it not for the sport, but just for themselves... but that is just for the same for everything and everywhere in life!
Q; Who are your three favourite skaters of all time and why?
A: Katarina Witt, for her charming. Toller Cranston, for his way of skating. He was in the forefront of skating progress and avant garde style. Scott Hamilton, for his courage... and many others!
Q: What's one thing about you most people don't know?
A: (laughing) I have no idea! Maybe the things they don't want to see.
Q: When you're not on the ice, how would you spend a perfect day?
A: Those days are rare but I when I do have one I enjoy spending time with my husband Bruno of course. My reassurance is my garden (an anti-depressant) and my little dog (he's also my traveler friend) and two weeks per year flying on the other side of the planet to discover a new country or a new part of a country.
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