Love hurts. During the Stars On Ice tour that wends across Canada to the end of this month, Javier Fernandez will show you just how much.
This is Javi Fernandez like you’ve never seen him (but knew him to be): the leading man, the gentle, sensitive soul, the man finally at home in his own culture and language. He skates to music by Spanish pop star, Pablo Alboran, who created this achingly beautiful music: “Prometo.” In English, it is “I Promise.”
The wizards behind this creation are choreographers David Wilson, who has long worked with the Spanish skating star at his Toronto base, and Sandra Bezic, who has never worked with him.
Wilson asked Bezic, as creative a genius as there is, to do a number for Fernandez back in January. Ideas floated about. What to do? He’s known for that fun aerobic superathlete thing in the cape, which never seems to get old, where he performs to his own voice with its charming accent.
Bezic didn’t talk to Fernandez at all; he was busy competing. “I didn’t want to bother him” she said.
But one thing Bezic knew: Fernandez had spent the bulk of his career fitting into the western world of English and it was time for him to find his own space. “I remember back in the day with Katarina [Witt], as fluent as she was in English, how exhausting it was for her to always be in the English world,” Bezic said.
“I thought maybe it was time for us to bring him home and introduce us to his world,” Bezic said. She was also thinking of his fans at home. She knows he has shows lined up in Spain, particularly in November and December this year. Right now, the home fires are important to Fernandez for many reasons.
Her first impulse: listen to every Spanish pop singer she could find. She’s not familiar with the Spanish pop scene. She sent a flood of Spanish tunes to Wilson, tunes that really worked for her. But after a time, they all seemed to sound the same.
Then up popped this Alboran masterpiece. Alboran is a huge star back home, and everywhere: His first album reached No. 1 in the charts the first week it came out. In 2011, he was nominated for three Latin Grammy Awards. At 12, he composed his first song, and used it in a later album. He plays piano, classical and acoustic guitar. He began his first world tour in 2011, when he was 22. He’s now only 28. “Prometo” is part of his fourth studio album, released last November. “Each song is a piece of me,” he said. And Bezic found it.
Bezic sent “Prometo” to Wilson. She was actually looking for something a little more upbeat, with a quicker tempo, but told Wilson: “I think this is the one.”
She wrote Fernandez with the reasons why she wanted to do Spanish pop for him. She did not send him the song. “I didn’t want to presume,” she said. She asked him what his thoughts were on her idea, and what artists he liked, just to get the ball rolling.
Besides, Bezic didn’t want to fill his head with too much extraneous matter. It was just before the Olympics.
The Olympics? Fernandez realized a dream by winning an Olympic bronze medal, after being second in the short program. He’s had a long career: 21 years with skating boots on. He’s 27. In that time, he’s collected a series of firsts for a Spanish skater, first to get a medal at the Olympic Games, first to win a world title (he won two), first to win a medal of any kind at Grand Prix events. The Spanish government awarded him the Gold Medal of the Royal Order of Sports Merit in 2016, after he won his second world title in a seemingly impossible situation.
At that world championship in Boston, he was injured and panicking in the final practice before the long program. From somewhere, he pulled out the performance of his life and skated as if on wings. It was the stuff of Disney movies.
After the Olympics, Wilson and Bezic buzzed back and forth, not quite sure what was to happen. “Are we going to do this? Is it happening? When is it happening? What are we doing?”
In the midst of all this, without knowing what song Bezic had in mind, Fernandez sent the Pablo Alboran song to Wilson.
Well, was it the same version? There are three, one fully orchestrated, another less intense.
Strangely enough, it was the very same version that Bezic had sent to Wilson weeks earlier. All minds were magically in synch.
Although Fernandez had his reasons for liking the song, Bezic loved it because she wanted the Spanish skater to be the leading man. She wanted his routine to be romantic and sensual. Perhaps not necessarily so achingly romantic. “But this song just spoke to us,” Bezic said.
Translated, what is it about? It’s about a breakup that the leading man wants to undo. Bezic choreographed some literal elements of the lyrics into the music, so that the English-speaking crowd might subliminally understand what story Fernandez was trying to tell. It’s not all literal. There’s lots of creative licence. But it goes like this…
“I want to be once again the one that loved you
Like a child’s play,
Bring back the green [naivety] of your look
And dry off the pain that drenches us.
I would like to wake up in the morning like I used to, naked with you
Healing the love, breaking the clock
At a strike of hot and cold.
And breathe what is left to us.
We will dance our tango in the salon
If you dare, don’t let me go.
I promise that years will not pass.
I will rip the gray goodbyes out of the calendar.
Happier days haven’t come yet.
I promise you I will forget my scars
And give back what I have stolen
From your two sad eyes.
I promise you that soon we will move
From failure and confusion
to the street of silence.
I promise you that we will become eternal.
I want a forest, a gap in the night,
A pause in the middle of all the mess.
I want a fight of kisses without restraints.
I want a canvas to make your beauty spots with colours.
Today we will be in the afternoon news
Because we knew how to love each other, untouched by the disaster
When nobody knew that.”
The choreography: how it was done
She and Wilson took out a verse, to shorten it. It’s above half the length of the original. (“We wanted to do the whole damned thing,” she said. “It was hard to let go of any of it.”)
She wanted the start to look like a Saturday morning in Madrid with Fernandez in his apartment, light streaming in the windows. It’s a feeling of throwing on clothes to head to a café “because you’re feeling horrible,” Bezic said. When Fernandez gets to the street, he reaches out to every woman in the street, but he sees Her in every woman. “I just wanted his heart to be naked,” Bezic said.
When he wipes the ice, he is caressing Her in his mind. He falls to bed, imagining that She is there.
Mention a tango? Fernandez does tango movements. The music repeats and so do his footwork sequences, although the presentation for each is slightly different.
Bezic didn’t feel compelled to have Fernandez jump in the routine, but she wanted passionate leaps. “I wanted things that we don’t always see,” she said. “And movement that we don’t always see in competition. Spareness that we can’t see any more. But it’s what the music said. Basically we were just trying to do what the music said.”
Fernandez flew into Toronto the Friday before the Stars On Ice tour started in Halifax, landing at 11 a.m. The threesome – Fernandez, Wilson and Bezic – began to toil at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club by 2 p.m. They worked for five hours, starting right at the beginning of the music, although Bezic doesn’t always start at the beginning. They worked Saturday. They worked Sunday. On Sunday night, Fernandez took a flight to Halifax for the first show.
That same weekend, he had also been moving out of his apartment in Toronto. “His brain was spinning,” Bezic said. “He was fabulous with us, but on overload. I didn’t really know what we had made. I knew bits were really good. But we never saw the whole thing.”
During that weekend, Bezic also figured out his costume, telling Fernandez this is what she wanted him to wear. He did. She sent lighting notes to Wilson, specifically how he was to appear which set the tones and the vibe. As the former choreographer for the whole show, Bezic knows how it all works. “And we crossed our fingers,” she said.
Fernandez’s trial by fire
Bezic saw Fernandez perform the routine for the first time in Toronto, but managed to get a couple of hours with him before that to reinforce bits that he may have forgotten. Fixes in general. The performance was strong, but the program wasn’t completely settled. But by the show in Hamilton, it was more settled. He has it under his belt now. The best is yet to come. It will still grow.
Fernandez picked up the feel of the piece instantly, Bezic said. “He’s a dream,” she added. “I think because of the language thing, things don’t move quickly with him. But what’s quick is the understanding. He knows where you want it to go. And he understands the subtlety of an honest movement rather than an affected movement.
“There’s such a fine line between overselling and just being. He really, really, really understands that. All the work that David [Wilson] has done with him has really educated him to all of that. He really understands nuance and works for it, and gets it when he misses it.”
Bezic sat beside a woman who watched the performance in Toronto. In the darkness, she noticed tears streaming down her cheeks. It was the best compliment.
Best of all, after the Montreal show, Fernandez got a message from Albaron himself, congratulating him on his Olympic medal and thanking him for using his music.
“I was sort of hoping that as artists, the two of them would get together,” Bezic admitted. “I think they kind of have the same heart, that romantic, gentle side.”
Fernandez: beloved by many
It’s been a quick trip home to a country that has adopted the gentleman of skating. He’s not sure what his future will bring. For a few days, the staff at the Cricket Club were overjoyed to see him back for the first time since the Olympics. They all adore him, Bezic says. “They all came running. They all wanted to talk to him. You could tell how much they adored him. It’s the way he treats people.”
Yes, he opened doors for Bezic, not in a flashy gesture, just out of politeness. He bought Bezic dinner at the club.
“He hasn’t had a moment to figure to figure anything out,” Bezic said. “Right now he’s swept up in the tide. But he’ll need to take some time and figure it out. As a performer, there isn’t anything he can’t do. And with this last one, he’s also a leading man. And that opens up another avenue for him of expression.”
For now, Fernandez says he’s just going to enjoy the summer. He has a lot of shows on his roster, some summer camps too.
And then – be still our hearts – he said he might do a few more competitions this coming season, “just to kind of say goodbye to everybody. I think it has become my time to step away from the figure skating competition.” He hopes for a coaching career in Spain.
There will be a big hole when he’s gone.