April 1, 2002
Photo credit: Laurie Asseo
Us: Everybody was really thrilled to see "Rhapsody" again. We're
just wondering how it came about that you brought "Rhapsody" back.
Ilia: It just all started with the "Celebration of Gold"
show…where the organizers asked me if I can do my long program. Or like any
program and I said, I'll try. I practice it a little bit and I was feeling very
good and I just perform it on "Celebration of Gold" really, really good.
I was so happy with that and I said let's try it on Hallmark Championship too
because I think it would be really fun to do like all the strong
jumps and everything, and show to the audience that I still have the jumps and
the technique. I was really feeling very good about this program.
Us: It was so exciting to see that…it was the most thrilling
Ilia: Right after the Olympics I was on Tom Collins' tour and I
did 74 performances with this program and I just felt right. It probably…from
somewhere inside my body, you know, I just turn on the music and—
Us: And there it was.
Ilia: Yeah, there it was again, in like three years. It was
Us: It felt as though it came back very easily then?
Ilia: There was a little bit of effort but not that much as I
was expecting. It was like, probably two weeks effort just getting the, the
just the double jumps and just trying to get through the whole thing and just
feel easy about that, and then squeezing the jumps in, you know.
But basically it worked very well.
Us: It certainly did…If you had only seen the faces of all the
Krew members sitting in our row—
Ilia: Yeah?! (laughs)
Us: When they heard the first couple of notes of that…I mean—
Ilia: Yeah, I made it a little surprise! (laughs)
Us: It was surprise and delight and awe and a whole a bunch of
other things, it was just wonderful.
Ilia: And also you probably didn't expect it because the costume
was different, right?
Us: That's right, I mean nobody knew exactly what that was
supposed to be.
Ilia: Yeah, (laugh) you would see right away if it was the same
costume, but it was just a surprise.
Us: It was the best surprise you could have given us. At
Hallmark though, you also did "Pick Up the Pieces".
Us: I know you added a few little things there, for the judges,
like the cantilever?
Ilia: Yeah, cause on Stars on Ice, I have this move on the "Rubberband"
but over there I thought, you know…it would be good to use it.
Us: PUTP has been a real crowd pleaser this year…and it's
something you did yourself… the choreography.
Ilia: Yeah, it's a fun little piece, it's like, I won't say it's
something like choreographically very spectacular, but it's just something that
my energy going, you know, and I heard this piece of music on the radio once,
and I just loved it, this music really get me going and I had to
find this piece, and do something with it, and because it just…energetically it
was just awesome.
Us: So is that the way it usually works for you, that you hear
the piece of music first, and say ‘that I can spend some time on,
I can commit to that piece of music’?
Ilia: Um, most of the time…some other times when I just come up
an idea, and try to find the music for that, I think it works a little worse for
like for my energy level, I usually try to get off the music…
Us: So the music can carry you, even on the worst night?
Ilia: Yeah, but there is actually some experiences where I just
come up with the idea and I was searching the music for the particular idea…with
Average White Band it was just all about the music, cause I felt it right away,
it was just right there, you know, and it took me probably like two
hours to get the routine down.
Us: Really, because it just sort of grew out of the music for
Ilia: Yeah, it just, it just because first of all, at first I
was trying to make it as a short program for Master's, you know when you put the
down you have pretty much you have the counter and everything, you have your
eight elements, so once you jump places, then you just need a
couple things here and there, and that was very easy to do, to create something.
Us: So you put your elements in first, and then fill the rest of
Ilia: Yeah, that's what you usually do, you just fill out the
pattern for the elements…once it's a short program, and you know exactly the
because they are required, pretty much, and then you see how the music goes, how
your uh, like layout goes, cause you don't want to have... like
some people like three jumps on top of each other, some people like it to have
like spin in between, or some people have footwork in between,
just to feel right, to love it. And after that, you just put some footwork on
top of it.
Us: Are skaters aware that fans actually see those patterns,
time after time, and know that they're patterns?
Ilia: Yeah, yeah... firstly it's a sport, and there is a
pattern, and you want to make yourself comfortable during the jumps, and during
because the price is a little too high if you miss something, just because you
wanted to be, not like last time, you know?
Us: Exactly, ok
Ilia: With pros, it's different, because we don't have any
[rules], but if you're competing in amateurs, or with amateurs, it's like, there
are rules, you know, so.
Us: When you are doing a pro thing, when you don't have any
requirements, do you have your own list, in your head, things you would like to
then you create the piece around that?
Ilia: Usually like trying to see what's going on this particular
season, what's the elements that I think, will affect the audience a little bit,
maybe something new, maybe something, if not, like what the jumps I'm most
comfortable with right now, and try to get a new pattern for that,
like some footwork into that, or some unusual unexpected location (laugh), or
something…and then I'm still trying to get a little bit, uh, an element of
surprise for the audience, in pros.
Us: Like swizzles into a triple jump, or cantilever into a
Ilia: Yeah, like that, like all those, some flights into a jump,
but definitely more complicated, and especially on Stars it's complicated,
you don't have any warm-up, and I mean right before the skate you don't have any
warm-up, and the lights and you feel different every time, so if you
making it a little more complicated, you have double trouble for yourself…
Us: Right. (all laugh)
Ilia: Every night, cause sometimes you just don't feel well, you
still put it on yourself a little more heat.
Us: Where did the idea for "Rendezvous" come from, the music or
the idea? What happened first with that one?
Ilia: That was just the music also. It was something that the
music I heard like long, long time ago and I really loved it. It’s like a really
and I just wanted to one day, wanted just to skate with this power, you know,
and tried to carry it out.
Us: Jarre has been good to you.
Us: You and he get along.
Ilia: Yeah. I’ve been actually big, big fan of his work.
Us: Because "Revolutions" was his too, right?
Ilia: Yeah, I really enjoy his work and he has so many pieces I
like. And the energy level is just so great…music that I like it very much.
Us: About the Olympics [referring to his performance in the
Closing Ceremonies at Salt Lake City], that was wonderful. Did you have as good
as you seemed to be having?
Ilia: It was a great time, yeah. It was some, like technical
difficulty with my…body doesn’t want it to skate in the outside and you know, a
of altitude and breathing cold air, but otherwise…(laughs) it was very, very
fun, fun night. Even before, the rehearsals were great and we just tried to
come up with the thing - because first it was just, it was just nothing, you
know. No music track, we just got together like me, Savion, Sarah Kawahara,
Kenny Ortega… And they said, "Okay, what are we gonna do?" So you didn’t have
anything like how long. They said, "Okay, three-four minutes will
be okay," and we said, "All right. And do you have a music? What kind of music?"
And we don’t…
Us: And you didn’t even have Connick’s version of "America the
Ilia: Right. It just was creating kind of from scratch, from
nothing. Because first we were just, uh…Savion was tapping, I was trying to
out and…okay, let’s put some drums – Savion has his drummer with him. I think he
was in also "Bring in the Noise, Bring in the Funk" with him on tour.
And he was just awesome. He was just giving us like some drum tracks and we’ve
been counting the beats and all that musical thing and then just okay,
like it was just really fun but it was really unexpected. We really started from
nothing, from scratch.
Us: Wow. How much rehearsal time did you get with him?
Ilia: We had like two days, two hours…four hours first, then we
got together in January again for another two hours, and then we got together
before for another, like maybe four or six hours.
Us: So that really wasn’t a lot of time.
Ilia: No, it was not, not a lot of time especially when you
don’t have your track down, you know? Then you have music and it’s like, "Whoa,
Us: What are we doing here!
Ilia: It’s hard to…you know, we…especially skaters used to feed
out of the music.
Ilia: You don’t have it, it’s a little tricky.
Us: So when did you first hear the actual music?
Ilia: We heard it, um…close to the Olympics like two weeks
before that. But it was awesome, awesome music right away, then, you know, when
Harry Connick just came up with this music and we heard it, it was just great.
Us: It was the right thing?
Ilia: Yeah. Then I could relax a little bit because…First of
all, I was shaky a little…all by myself, not knowing. And there was stuff for
choreographers for the Olympics, there was so much stuff going around, you know,
and we were trying to schedule all those rehearsals because it’s so many
people, so many busy people trying to get the space at the same time and it was
just not working for a couple of days.
Us: That must have been frustrating.
Ilia: Yeah, it was just…and I was on the road also, like before
already, so just…it’s kinda hard to…
Us: Yeah, because the ice seemed to be a bell…I don’t know, was
it shaped unusually, or…well, it had the lights and things on it and all these
Ilia: Yeah, yeah, it needs to be rehearsed for sure and…but
everybody was really professional about it. It just…in no time, it just…pretty
spectacular thing, I think.
Us: You really did.
Ilia: I really enjoyed it.
Us: It looked like you having a great time.
Us: At least by at the end of it, it looked like you were having
a great time.
Ilia: Yeah, the best time, the best feeling was like when I
really, right before the performance, came up to the arena and I saw 60,000
people – that was just
unbelievable. I never experienced anything like it.
Us: That’s what we were talking about last night when we were
getting ready for this is, what is it like to skate live in front of that many
people? It’s phenomenal.
Ilia: Skating, skating was kind of a little bit in myself
because you know like the weird conditions…And when you on the ice, the audience
really, on that
layout of the ice rink, it was really far, the audience was far.
Us: They’re very far from you?
Ilia: Yeah, like you could barely feel them. But it was fine,
like I was a little bit, you know, nervous about— just trying to get the work
done, you know,
because it’s a fresh piece so…but, I mean, just before going on and like after
and everything, you know, it was…and occasionally skating when I was just
seeing or something, just when Savion was tapping…that was unbelievable.
Us: Have you seen tape of it so you can see how big it all
Ilia: I didn’t see the tape yet.
Us: You should. It’s just wonderful, it’s just…maybe someone
will bring one for you if we see you in New York.
Ilia: Yeah, it’ll be great if you can. [please note that we
passed this information on and at the luncheon in New York Laurie Asseo provided
Ilia with a tape of his Salt Lake performance]
Us: Um…and especially at the end, with you and Harry and Savion
sorta tapping off the ice…
Ilia: Yeah, it was cool.
Us: Would you rather choreograph all of your pieces if you have
Ilia: No, of course not. It’s just… when I… if I feel like I
have some material to do something…and sometimes you just run out of it, and
when I go on the ice
and I mess around for a couple of days I can say if I have something or not to
create a piece, but I definitely need to work with somebody, just, you know…work
out the details, work out the timings because when you work with people you
really get new materials to… so you can grow in you… some more stuff out of you,
so it just, it just like growing up everyday. More you work with somebody, more
you watch even…it grows in you.
Us: Mm-hmm. Do you ever think you could choreograph for somebody
Ilia: I definitely will later on down the road. And I’ll get
more experience because you know, choreography for somebody else, like I think
it requires a little
more attention to the person. Because, you know, I cannot… some things
that feel right for me but will not feel for anybody else, right?
Us: Right, so you have to sorta get inside that skater’s head.
Ilia: Yeah, and I don’t want to mess up the rhythms or
something…so… because some stuff I do it’s like, sometimes I’m watching this
thing: "Man, that’s weird," you know? (laughs) I don’t know how you, anybody
taking it, but you know, if you’ll try to choreograph or something like that for
anybody else it might be like painful, so…
Ilia: Yeah, it’s like when I work with Christopher Dean and like
first, you get together first day…mess around with all the movements, then
you’re in pain. Like for a week you’re in pain. So, you need…I need to figure
out how to deal with it if I’m gonna work somebody else and do something.
Us: He’s got that dancer flexibility and figures everybody is as
flexible as he is.
Ilia: Yeah, yeah, and it’s… you know, if you have longer time to
work with a person, I think it will work out better, but if you said we have
three days to do the number…then you in trouble because you really, you know,
the energy is really high and you like take the music and you start working and
you really excited
and you do all that in the first day, try so many stuff and then you don’t feel
how you’re getting tired and how your muscles really working, overworking, you
But then you’re in pain.
Us: Right. You were telling me that with "Chairmen" it was
Ilia: "Chairmen" was bad. (all laugh) There’s all the visual
stuff… and we tried so much more stuff than you eventually saw in the
performance. There was so much more stuff everybody came up with and Chris was
just, you know, shared so many stuff—
Us: It sounds like part of your process and part of Chris’s
process, that you do a lot of ad-libbing at first and trying to find what feels
Ilia: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You have the basic material, you just
work, you just put on the music and just listen to the music, you just not
you just feel what’s the music makes you to do You have like 50 movements or
like, I don’t know, 30 movements, then you start placing it. If something
|doesn’t feel right, you throw it away or keep it in your luggage for the next
year with some changes, you know, so it just… it’s very, very interesting way of
Us: Yeah, it is. How long does it take you most of the time. I
know you said some things are quicker than others, but to feel as though you
don’t even have to
think about a routine, it’s sort of in muscle memory and you can just go out
there and it’s there.
Ilia: You mean after it’s already choreographed?
Us: After it’s already set, yes.
Ilia: Um, usually like two weeks. If you really work on it and
do the run-throughs every day maybe five days. But I usually, I just like to do
some pieces and just then a couple run-throughs, and again some pieces, you
know, because it’s really physically challenging just to go for the run-throughs
right away, you know –
Ilia: So… and first run-throughs I’m not even making till the
end, you know, because it’s just…
Us: Getting the whole piece together.
Ilia: Yeah, really gotta go into your body and feel like you
know where to relax a little bit because once it’s a new and fresh piece if you
constantly like 100%-- you know you cannot get through the program with no place
Us: Yeah! (all laugh)
Ilia: Yeah, pieces here and there and you better figure out…
Us: Where you can breathe and where your legs can take second
Ilia: Yeah, exactly.
Us: When you’re developing a new program, how long during the
day would you actually be on the ice? Does it depend on how tough the
Ilia: It depends, it depends on my mental state. You know, if I
want to skate or not. Because when… in amateur, I was… kinda regular schedule
gotta be on the ice every day, this and this and…but right now, I just… I need
to have a desire first. And, because if I don’t have a desire, I can go for two
three hours but I cannot make myself move at all. I’m just wasting time. So I
just… I wake up, you know, and listen to myself: What do I want to do today?
(laughs) And sometimes, like in the summer, sometimes there’s a week I don’t
want to do anything, like I don’t wanna skate at all and I kind of go with that
because I know it’s gonna change and you know, maybe in one hour I’ll say, you
know, that’s it, I need to skate like so bad. That’s the best time when I work,
I just go
and it’s the best things I will come up with on the days like that. It’s not
even like planned but a huge desire to skate from suddenly, right away, from
And it feels the best.
Us: And that’s nice you know at this point in your career you’ve
sort of earned the right to decide what you want to do on a given day.
Ilia: Yeah. I can really afford doing that, but as long as I
know that I’ll be in a good shape for the season.
Ilia: And on the end, closer to the season, I’m certainly gonna
– even if I don’t want to – certainly going to force myself into a pattern and a
really get my jumps done…
Us: After all these years you know what it takes.
Ilia: Yeah, yeah. It just became more professional about it, and
right now I can understand what’s professionalism means a little bit. You know
exactly how to prepare yourself and keep yourself happy also, and not like
overuse your body also.
Us: Right. So it doesn’t get stale or you don’t get injured.
Us: So when it hits the first of September you think, "Hm…Simsbury
in three weeks, I’ve got to get my act together."
Ilia: Exactly. (laughs) But … the act didn’t worked on the whole
summer and there, so you’re pretty much ready to get a little into work, you
Us: Yeah, I was very surprised when once you said – this was a
while ago – I said, "Did you take a month off?" or something and you said, "No,
take that much time off."
Ilia: Yeah. I wouldn’t say that like I took a month, straight
month off. But in summer months, when I have three, couple of summer months, I
when I wanted to. And sometimes I can skate like two times a day and then don’t
skate for couple days, then I can skate for four days straight and not skate for
five days, you know. And I kinda like it because it’s really… I’m really
recovering well from the season and I really… I need to get my desire to skate
again, you know, because after the tour sometimes, you really don’t like skating
Us: Well, you’re sort of skated out…
Ilia: Yeah, yeah. You’re really worn out.
Us: Tired of the whole thing?
Ilia: No, but it’s fine. And for the show, nobody will even know
just if I have a good day or a bad day, you know - because we can make it look
still… but you can
really feel when it’s a great day, it’s a great day, you know?
Us: Right. And when it’s not, it’s work. But you do it.
Ilia: Yeah. You do it and maybe not even find a difference, you
know. It’s just, just energy level maybe not that high.
Us: Yeah, I wonder sometimes because you are very professional,
as are all the people you skate with, whether the average fan could tell from
day to another if your energy was different. I bet largely it looks the same to
Ilia: So interesting, like some friends, some fans coming for
the show and like I really feel it was a bad day today – it was like I barely
hang through, there
was something bothering me, it was just hurting or tired or… and they just came
up after the show like backstage and say, "It was a great show, so
unbelievable" and I was like say, "I was a little… not today, not that good
today, it didn’t feel right," I say, but it looked unbelievable. It was very,
entertaining, very good, very high level, energy, and it just didn’t feel the
same for me, you know? (laughs)
Us: Right. But you’re putting the same thing out there somehow.
Ilia: Yeah, you just probably using something else, I don’t
know, put some more muscle work on it—
Ilia: Is it heart, I don’t know.
Us: Yeah. And there are probably times that okay, you know maybe
you’ve made a mistake on something but we haven’t noticed, right?
Ilia: Yeah, yeah.
[by the clock our time was up, so we covered a few Krew business
items like the luncheon in May 2003 and the capability of his laptop - then Ilia
had to go]
Us: Thanks, Ilia, so much.
Us: Have a good day off.
Ilia: Bye bye. Good to talk to you.
[Many thanks to Madley for transcribing the Journal tape and
assisting in the editing, and to Laurie Asseo for the title page photo of Ilia -
Joyce and Nancy]