Ahead of the new season, I spoke with men’s singles skater Shunsuke Nakamura, and ice dance teams Kaho Yamashita/Yuto Nagata and Sara Kishimoto/ Atsuhiko Tamura: Japanese Junior skaters who have shown their talent in the past year, and who were preparing for their upcoming competitions. Whether working to polish and enhance old programs or craft new ones, each skater was aiming to build on from last year and attain new heights; their passion for the season that lay before them was evident in our conversation.
At last year’s Junior Grand Prix Final, Shunsuke Nakamura narrowly missed out on the podium and finished fourth behind Italy’s Nikolaj Memola, USA’s Lucas Broussard, and Nakamura’s compatriot Nozomu Yoshioka; he explained that “making the Junior GP Final was one of my main objectives, so I was very happy to qualify for it. However, I could have made the podium considering the content of my programs, so there were also feelings of frustration.” Also coming in fourth place at the 2022 Junior Nationals, a competition where he was aiming for a medal, he summarised the past season as being “overall quite frustrating”. Yet this year, he is pushing himself even further, and when asked what his objectives or dreams were for the season, he stated that it was to “win Junior Nationals, the JGP Final, and Junior Worlds”.
Nakamura will enter the 23-24 season with the same Short Program as last year, ‘El Conquistador’. Asked to share the reasons for this decision, he stated that he “love[d] the Short Program, and wanted to spend another season brushing it up to give an improved performance.”
Are there any specific elements which you are working on at the moment?
Regarding jumps, I’ve been working in particular on the quad toe-loop and the quad salchow, and within my program I’ve been focusing on the steps and transitional content in my practices.
As for his Free Skate, he will be performing to ‘Child of Nazareth’. He explained that he was a big fan of three-time national champion, American skater Johnny Weir’s program which used the same piece of music, and had “really wanted to skate to it”. Nakamura worked with Kenji Miyamoto for the program’s choreography and said that the process involved “working on expressing the music with flexibility and beauty, paying careful attention right down to the fingertips”.
Could you tell us a bit about your costumes this season?
The Short Program will be the same as last season, and the Free [Skate] will be blue.
The high level of attention to detail and movement is something which Nakamura is aiming to convey to the audience this year: in his Short Program, he wants spectators to notice the way in which he “dance[s] to the music”, as he has “been working very hard on the steps”. As for the new ‘Child of Nazareth’ program, “there are changes in the music, and I will be working on expressing this change in my skating, so I would like the audience to notice and keep an eye out for this aspect of the program.”
Whether in terms of technical skill, or artistry, which skaters inspire you or serve as a stimulus for you?
In terms of inspiration, Daisuke Takahashi, Yuzuru Hanyu, and Shoma Uno. Kao Miura serves as a stimulus for me.
Nakamura will be making two appearances on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, and has been assigned to the events in Osaka and Yerevan. With the opportunity to skate before a home audience at the former, he shared that it was the competition that he was looking forward to performing at the most.
Kaho Yamashita/ Yuto Nagata
Third at last year’s Junior Nationals, ice dancers Kaho Yamashita and Yuto Nagata described the past season as one “that really changed the way we approach ice dance”. Having moved their training base to Kurashiki FSC and experienced a change in their environment, the two explained that they “were helped a great deal by our coaches, families, and a lot of other people.” They described their training mates Utana Yoshida and Morita Masaya as a constant source of inspiration, and a fellow ice dance team who they often speak with; Yamashita and Nagata also added that there were many skaters who they admired both technically and artistically, but that they “especially like Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson.”
This season, the team’s Free Dance will be ‘Anytime Anywhere – Beethoven Scherzo’, following a discussion with their coach. On creating the new program, Yamashita and Nagata revealed that “the first and second halves of the program each have their own respective theme, and we are working to be able to convey this to the audience”, describing the Free Dance as an interplay of “Light and Shadow”.
“[The FD] is different to what we’ve done up to now, with a more mature-feeling song to anticipate skating at the Senior level. It is challenging to give weight to the way we skate or use our bodies to express the movements, or to make sure there are no weak points in our performance that would be noticeable to the audience. We are looking forward to making it an even stronger program and to showcase it at competitions and events.”
Asked which competition they were most excited for at that moment, they answered that it was the Championnats Québécois d’été that took place from the 10th to the 13th of August, explaining that “it will be our first international competition, so we are looking forward to it a lot.” At the competition, Yamashita and Nagata were fourth in both the Rhythm and Free Dances, and placed fourth overall. The team also performed their new Rhythm Dance to ‘Whip It/Africa/Love Shack’, showing the versatility of their skating through the effective contrast of their two programs.
Can you share what your costumes will be like this season?
The base colour for both of our Free Dance costumes will be purple, and the costume for the Rhythm Dance, inspired by 80’s fashion, will be colourful.
It will be exciting to watch the team’s growth this season as they work to showcase a new dimension to their skating. Their commitment to honing their craft was evident as they shared that in practices, they are “currently working on bringing both our Free and Rhythm Dances to a high level. In particular, we are focusing on our steps in our practices.”
Sara Kishimoto/ Atsuhiko Tamura
For fellow ice dancers Sara Kishimoto and Atsuhiko Tamura, last season was their first together after becoming a team. The two, who began training last summer at the renowned Ice Academy of Montreal, placed second at last year’s junior nationals and treasured being able to compete internationally by the end of the season, describing it as a “very intense and fun year”.
During the 23-24 season, Kishimoto and Tamura will be skating to a ‘Mr Roboto’ Rhythm Dance. Regarding the music selection process, they shared that they “were looking for a piece which would appeal to the audience, and our coach Marie found one that was perfect for us.” As for the Free Dance, it will be the same ‘Pulp Fiction’ program that the two showcased last year. Chosen because they “wanted to make an impact” in the first season together, it is a program which has quickly become a fan favourite and has garnered millions of views on Youtube. Playing on their strengths of dynamism and expressivity, the Free Dance foregrounds the pair’s ability to bring the program alive, and this is reflected in how they approached the choreography process going into the season: “We spent time creating an image of the characters for each piece of music, even outside our practices, so that we could convincingly portray them on the ice.”
What parts of both your programs do you want the audience and fans to notice and keep an eye out for this year?
For the Rhythm Dance, the unique choreography. For the Free Dance, the lifts and twizzles, and especially the last part of the program.
As for what they are working on at the moment, the team said that the pattern dance is the current focus so that they can obtain a level four for the element, and in addition they are “also working on developing a new lift!”
What will your costumes be like this year?
For the Rhythm Dance, it is a grey costume, and people will immediately know what our program is when they see it. As for the Free Dance, it will be the same as last year, as we are keeping the program.
How would you describe your RD and FD in one word, respectively?
Rhythm dance: Robot. For the Free Dance, it would be Thief.
The team recently competed at the Championnats Québécois d’été, where they were first in the Rhythm Dance and third in the Free Dance, finishing first overall. They performed both of their programs at the competition, and their new Rhythm Dance displayed innovative choreography and infectious energy, with dedication shown throughout towards the theme of their program. Kishimoto and Tamura will make their Junior Grand Prix debut in September, and will compete at both Osaka and Gdansk. Building on their breakthrough successes from last season, they are aiming this year to be “in the top ten at the Junior World Championships, and to qualify for the Grand Prix Final”.
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