At first, you could hear only this: pucks banging against the walls. It was Canada, after all, where hockey reigns supreme.
But in a corner rink of a Toronto suburban arena complex on a hot, bright summer day, there was world champion Daisuke Takahashi, quietly walking in, skates in hand, clad in a track suit. The rink was frigid. It didn’t matter.
David Wilson was ready for it, toque planted on his head, thick sweats, warm jacket, scarf, thick socks. It was time to do the choreography for Takahashi’s short program. Finally, beautiful music filled the echoing space, and beautiful movement followed. On the first day of choreography, they surprised themselves, working quickly, forming many of the movements, even though Takahashi had arrived from Japan the previous evening and was undoubtedly suffering from jet lag.
Takahashi won’t announce his new programs until he shows them off in ice shows in mid to late August. So we won’t either.
Takahashi left it up to Wilson to find his music. The last time he had worked with Wilson for a program in the 2011-2012 season, Takahashi had given him some direction as to the kind of music he would want. And Wilson found his short program to “In the Garden of Souls,” a world fusion work by Vas. (And the lyrics go like this: “In a world where all is borrowed/And time like elusive dust seems to/Just slip through our fingers/All we really have are these precious moments/Where we can make fertile the soil/In the garden of our hearts.”) Strangely enough, it would work for Takahashi’s situation today.
“It was very exotic sounding music and very mysterious and kind of spiritual sounding.” Wilson said. “He had said to me he wanted something exotic. We had separate pieces of music that we wove together. There was one that was just rhythm, just percussion. And the other had this beautiful melodic feel. We mixed them. It was something that didn’t exist, but we made it from parts.”
Takahashi loved it. “We had the best time,” Wilson said. “I can just remember thinking at the time, I couldn’t wait until the next time. But then there wasn’t a next time.” Until now.
So when Takahashi asked him to choreograph a program seven years after that heady time, Wilson was taken by (pleasant) surprise. “I was really thrilled,” he said.
Wilson knew a couple of months ago that Takahashi was coming, but he thought the Japanese champion was showing up to get a show number designed. A few weeks ago, after Takahashi made his announcement that he would return at age 32 to competition, Wilson said he was shocked. He hadn’t expected Takahashi to make a comeback.
And for a change, this time, Takahashi had left the decision on the music up to Wilson completely. “I think David found that really hard,” Takahashi said with a laugh.
So how to choose? In ice shows, it’s easy to figure out. In Takahashi’s former competitive career, the choice was often dictated by what he had skated to the previous season. So you’d find something different. “But this time, with this sudden return to competition, it was hard to remember how it was done,” Takahashi said.
At first in his search for the perfect vehicle, Wilson didn’t know what he was looking for. He just started looking. But one thought process leads to another, and Wilson remembered a piece he had choreographed for Jeffrey Buttle. (He has choreographed many for him.) Buttle had never performed it, because he had retired. But another piece Wilson had never heard before leapt off the CD at him.
Takahashi got the music only the weekend before he came to Toronto. “His choice came as a total surprise to me,” Takahashi said. “But I love this music. And I can really tell that by working with this piece, we are going to create a great program. It’s just so totally me, this music. I love it. It’s such a bull‘s-eye strike. So bang-on.”
When the music came on in the arena, Takahashi just felt like he wanted to start moving to it.
The last time Takahashi was in Canada for choreography, he and worked with Buttle for a show number called “Lilac Wine.” He hadn’t worked with Buttle before.
During his career, Takahashi was used the work of many choreographers and has learned from them all. “Each has his own sense of timing, of how to gauge the pauses [between movements] in the music,” he said. Sometimes he has found it difficult to synchronize his timing to a choreographer.
But he feels a comfort working with Wilson. “The way he picks up a note [in the music], I’m thinking: ‘Yes! I get it! I get it!’ And I can get into it really smoothly,” Takahashi said. “I feel like he is able to bring out the person that I am, in my most natural state.”
Sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
So Wilson has created a vehicle for Takahashi, who will be going through a challenging experience in his comeback. “It will be very stressful,” said Wilson. And this short program will be his first, stepping on the ice again after years away. “I’ve been through this with other skaters,” Wilson said. “It’s hard, no matter how experienced you are.
“When you’ve been away from competition, you forget how hard it is.”
Takahashi has already completed his long program, turning to French choreographer Benoit Richaud, who used to be a competitive ice dancer from the school of Muriel Zazoui. (Takahashi went there once to work with Olivier Schoenfelder, whose skating skills he always admired.)
Richaud has also choreographed programs for Mai Mihara and Kaori Sakamoto, as well as Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Alexei Petrov, Denis Ten, and Denis Vasiljevs.
“I’ve been noticing his work and I’ve seen a few of his pieces and he’s quite good,” Wilson said. “He’s got an interesting take. His movement is refreshing.
“I’m interested to see what he did with Daisuke because this boy is a choreographer’s dream, especially now that he’s had his own experience being a dancer and leaving the sport,” Wilson said. “He has so much more to offer now, a different sensibility.”
But Takahashi represents “everything that people are worried is going to disappear from our sport,” Wilson said. The elegance of movement. A program that speaks, and doesn’t just rumble through elements, chalking up points.
(One of Takahashi’s triumphs)
As for Takahashi himself, he’s a thoughtful sort: intelligent, candid, humble, accessible. Still uncomfortable with doing an interview in English – it gets difficult if you don’t speak it often enough – his spirit comes through in translation easily enough. He is embarking on an interesting journey.
And we’re along for the ride. Takahashi overcame so much to achieve what he did the first time around. He knows how it works. He has always had to buck the odds.