Kwan Grows Musically

Times Staff Writer

Michelle Kwan had to win eight U.S. figure skating titles and five world championships before she felt ready to perform to “Bolero.”

And when the Manhattan Beach resident decided to tackle Maurice Ravel’s dramatic composition this season, she sought help from the ultimate source.

She turned to skater-turned-choreographer Christopher Dean, who teamed with Jayne Torvill in a gold medal-winning ice dance to “Bolero” at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

“I’ve always thought of skating to ‘Bolero’ but I didn’t think I was mature enough or experienced enough,” Kwan said. “You have to mature into certain types of music.”


Dean agreed to work with Kwan’s coach, Rafael Arutunian, and Kwan will reveal the product of their collaboration next Friday at the Campbell’s International Figure Skating Classic at St. Paul, Minn.

Kwan, 24, said that although the foundation of the program was set, the details were evolving. For one thing, she said, she wasn’t ready to try a triple-triple combination jump at the season-opener, where the women’s field is scheduled to include 2004 world champion Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, world bronze medalist Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel and 2004 U.S. bronze medalist Jennifer Kirk.

The men are led by 2004 world silver medalist Brian Joubert of France, U.S. champion Johnny Weir and Salt Lake City bronze medalist Timothy Goebel, who trains in El Segundo.

From the moment she first considered “Bolero,” Kwan was intent on interpreting it and not merely copying Torvill and Dean.


“From [Dean’s] masculine choreography, it has to grow on me,” she said. “The music is amazing and eventually, after a couple of months and at nationals [in January], it will be more of a finished product.”

The music has long been associated with the British duo, and Dean acknowledged his sentimental attachment to “Bolero” but said he and Torvill “don’t have any entitlement” to it. He described it as “mathematical in form, almost hypnotic” as it builds with passionate intensity.

“Michelle was watching the movement and taking it on technically. Ultimately, she’s going to find nuances in the music and make them her own,” he said from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he lives with his wife, Jill Trenary, a former U.S. and world figure skating champion.

To get a woman’s perspective, Dean consulted fellow choreographer Catarina Lindgren. Dean did the initial work with Kwan at her Lake Arrowhead training base and called the effort “from a structural and emotional level, pretty successful.”


He added, “ ‘Bolero’ is something that can transcend its time more than some of the other pieces of music skaters have used. With its passion and its depth of edges, it’s geared very much for the ice.”

Kwan will have two more chances to refine the program next month. She’s entered in two Grand Prix events, Skate America and Skate Canada. She said she was taking a day-by-day approach in deciding whether to compete at the 2006 Turin Olympics, although her third try for gold appears all but certain.

“That puts less pressure on myself,” she said.

Kwan finished a close second to Tara Lipinski at the 1998 Nagano Games and was third at Salt Lake City in 2002, behind Sarah Hughes of the U.S. and Irina Slutskaya of Russia.


“I’m not 16 anymore,” she said. “My body’s changing and my brain is changing. When the Olympics come around, or the end of the season, I want to know whether I’ve done the best I can. It’s that much harder physically and easier mentally, which is the opposite of what it used to be. In a way, it’s actually better to be older and wiser....

“Now, you put more heart into it. You do have that sense, that experience. I’m in a lucky position. I’m in this sport long enough to have experience and still young enough to keep going.”