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Encouraging routine cultural exchanges

Renowned French choreographer keen to incorporate traditional Chinese elements into his programs

By XING WEN | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-22 09:32
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Renowned choreographer Benoit Richaud instructs youngsters during a recent figure skating camp in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

A crowd of young figure skaters, all with varying levels of skill — some still stumble and occasionally fall on the ice — can be seen learning some basic maneuvers. However, their instructor is no ordinary skating coach. Imparting his wisdom to the next generation of skating stars is former Team China figure skater Tong Jian, a two-time world champion in figure skating pairs alongside his partner, on and off the ice, Pang Qing.

Parents line the edge of the ice rink, holding up their phones hoping to capture their child skating alongside Tong, while loudly encouraging those who have fallen over to get back up.

This once-in-a-lifetime experience is part of a figure skating public welfare class held at a newly-built ice rink in Beijing's Tongzhou district.

A husband-and-wife team, Tong and Pang have been actively promoting winter sports since their retirement from the pro circuit in 2015.

Joining Tong in coaching the class is Benoit Richaud, a French figure skating choreographer and former competitive ice dancer, who was invited to run a weeklong camp of master classes for young figure skaters at the Pangqing Tongjian International Skating Club in Beijing.

"We have had an amazing week here," Richaud said. "I can feel that these young Chinese skaters really want to develop their skills."

When quizzed how the youngsters are able to polish their skills in such a short period, he noted that he has created a special training system based on repetition.

Tong Jian helps a young skater during a public welfare class in Beijing's Tongzhou district on May 18. Provided to China Daily

"With experience and maturity, I know how to transform skaters within a short period. Essentially, I guide them through a few exercises to be repeated throughout the entire week," he said.

Richaud has risen to become one of the most popular choreographers in world figure skating. He works with skaters across all age groups and levels, from novice to senior, and his expertise is sought by skaters from all over the world — including those from Japan, Russia, the United States, Hungary and France. China's Jin Boyang and An Xiangyi are also among his clients.

In his creation of skating programs, he holds that music is key. During his stay in China, he was inspired to incorporate Chinese music into the creation of future routines.

"This week, I was just so inspired by the people I met here that, maybe one day, we can bring the historical, classic music and dance from Chinese tradition to the ice. I can't say that I'm a specialist now, but I'm very interested in learning and extending the vision of music and dance in China, and trying to bring these elements into the rink," he said.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France, and Tong hopes that such cooperation between his club and the French choreographer can promote further figure skating exchanges between the two countries.

Renowned choreographer Benoit Richaud instructs youngsters during a recent figure skating camp in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

Richaud has been involved in choreographing new programs for the club's members.

"I hope he can see the development of figure skating in China and, from his perspective, that he can showcase the understanding and passion of Chinese people for figure skating in his programs," Tong said.

"In the fourth quarter of this year, we will jointly create an ice culture performance for teenagers," said Tong.

Richaud added that, in recent years, the development of figure skating in China has been rapid, and he's very much looking forward to collaborating with Chinese coaches and athletes to explore and create more exciting figure skating routines.

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