There is something about true talent that has a way of shining through regardless of any outcome. Though Garrett Kling finished fifth in last year’s Young Artists Showcase, his budding talent was evident to all in the skating world who took note of the competition. For the last year, Kling has immersed himself in choreography as he completed his college education. Whether he is skating, writing, choreographing, or otherwise working like a fiend, Kling’s skill, talent and drive and evident. The fact that his skating bears a slight resemblance to the lightness and charm of Kurt Browning is more reason to admire (and envy to the point of hating) the young impresario.
With a year of experience under his belt, Kling entered the Young Artists Showcase for a second time and has finished near the top of the leader board each week. Kling’s charming personality, wit and modern ideas make him one to watch in the realm of choreographers. After winning the second challenge, Garrett Kling spoke to me about choreography, skating, inspiration and how he kissed the Kween of figure skating and never washed those lips again.
AJ: How did you get into choreography?
GK: I first started choreographing my own show programs. By the time I was a novice competitor, my coach let me cut my own music and choreography my programs. I had worked with Rohene Ward on choreography for a few years and became more interested. I also got to work with Susie Wynne and Scott Brown during my singles career. I got into choreographing right before YAS2. It has only been a year that I’ve been diving into choreographing programs for people other than myself.
AJ: What was your first program?
GK: My first program was Another One Bites The Dust because who doesn’t love Queen?! I used to dance around my house in front of everyone to the song because I was a nerd and decided to put it on the ice because I was awesome like that. I rocked out a leather jacket and slicked hair. I was the Justin Bieber of my time…not so much.
AJ: You’re skating skills and edges are a tad ridiculous. I know you have ice danced in your day. Did you always compete in singles and dance?
GK: I started skating when I was nine and competed in singles through junior. My first coach was Kristie Mitchell in Chaska, Minnesota and we worked together for 10 years. I was the alternate for Nationals as a junior in 2011 and thought I was going to be done with skating. I was the alternate for Nationals four times in my life. I had a great way of being third in the short and fifth in the long, or eighth in the short and third in the long. I was a hot mess.
I really thought that I was done, [in 2011] but I got roped into ice dancing. I ice danced for one year never having ice danced before that. I did all of the tests [through novice] and competed for one year.
AJ: You’re graduating with degrees in English and Communications. Are you leaning toward being a starving artist or a starving writer?
GK: I’m interning for a web magazine in New York City this summer, but I’m committed to teaching [skating] in Chicago for the next year. The key is that skating and choreographing can’t necessarily be done forever. If it comes that my career is moving toward choreography I would be happy, but I’d like to combine both some way. I definitely want to do some performing too, so I have to figure out how to do it all or prioritize.
AJ: Maribel Vinson Owen says that in order to be a good artistic skater, one must study music. Did you study music growing up?
GK: I played the alto sax in my day. My family is very musical. My dad is a chorale singer. My sister is a modern dancer. I'd say we're a very artsy, musical family.
AJ: Do you and your sister ever collaborate? Do you have similar styles?
GK: We do our own thing, but we’re a bit similar and have played around here and there. We’re both a bit modern. One of the things I really dream of bringing to skating is that rebellion of movement that hit the dance world. Skating hasn't had that rebellion of movement yet. I actually am very into ice theaters and bringing that sort of experimental work to the skating world.
AJ: Do you study choreography at all?
GK: Kate McSwain and I take a class together over the internet with Jodi Porter called, "Master Choreography for Figure Skating." Jodi Porter founded the American Ice Theater in San Francisco and is now located in Chicago. She is trying to make the Ice Theater of Chicago on par with the Ice Theatre of New York. The class focuses on the four elements of choreography: time, space, energy and form. Jodi teaches us dance techniques and terminology and applies them to the skating world. We watch and critique programs together.
AJ: You recently worked with the ‘it’ kid of skating, Jason Brown, for the first challenge of YAS. What was it like working with Jason? How did it come about?
GK: I’ve known Jason for three or four years now. I approached his coach and they both agreed. Jason is like an angel to work with. I definitely had him in mind for the third year of YAS. I do want to win. I first found the music and thought of a bubbly ‘in’ person concept in my mind. Jason doesn’t necessarily get the steps right away, but I cam back the next day and the entire program was nailed. He worked at it like nobody’s business. He’s a dream.
AJ: Which skater would be your dream to choreograph for?
GK: Lambiel. I would do amazing things to Lambiel. I know that he choreographs and doesn’t need my help.
AJ: Which programs do you never tire of?
GK: Kurt Browning’s Nyah, Oksana Baiul’s Sadeness. Her Arabian program is just hot. Michelle Kwan’s Taj Mahal and Miraculous Mandarin. I actually kissed Michelle Kwan once, thank you very much!
AJ: You kissed Michelle Kwan?
GK: Yes. Michelle was giving a clinic at my rink. Everyone knew that I was in love with her. Oh yes, I was on the Michelle Kwan Forum and everything. Everyone dared me to give her a kiss and Michelle heard and let me. I went in and gave her a kiss. I saw her again in 2006 at Champions on Ice and she claimed to remember it!
AJ: How was Michelle Kwan as a teacher?
GK: Michelle was a terrible teacher. She watched my double lutz+double loop and acted like it was good, but she wasn’t critical or anything. She was sweet. She wasn’t about to be honest about my skating.
AJ: Where does your inspiration come from when creating a program?
GK: My inspiration in creating a program for the skater has to start with the music. The music is what initiates all my ideas about movement and choreography. What frustrates me most about skating right now is that it seems like many choreographers aren't taking time to find new music. One could look all day on iTunes and find a ton of music that has never been used for skating that would transfer perfectly onto the ice. But we seem to resort back to the same "Top 20 greatest hits of figure skating music" all the time. If I am going to use a well-known piece of music, the movement better be something that is unique and different that has never been done before. It's putting the skater at a direct disadvantage when we give them the carbon-copy program of Sasha's Swan Lake or Chan's tango short program from a few seasons ago.
We all cringe when we hear another Tango De Roxanne or Turandot. Judges do too. There is so much interesting music out there in the world. Choreographers just need to take the time to search for it. Over the years I have acquired hundreds and hundreds of pieces of music that I want to use as a choreographer that no one has ever used. Not that Rachmaninoff and Vanessa Mae don't have good pieces of music. That's why they are overused. There are so many neo-classic artists that have incredible music out there that is different, modern, and still classical so it easily lends itself to skating.
AJ: What is your goal when creating a program?
GK: My goal as a choreographer is to give each skater I work with their own distinct style. So many of these kids have vibrant personalities off the ice, but once they skate their program, the music they skate to entirely disconnects them with the audience and the judges. And that is what is most startling today about watching skating--there is so much disconnect between the music and the skater. Some are born with innate musicality, but it can be learned to a degree. The movement comes from the music and if the music is a crapshoot, the movement becomes suffocated.
Whenever I create a piece, I want the skater to confidently declare that, “this is MY program," and feel ownership in what they are performing. I want it to become meaningful to them and that can be whether it is a senior long program or a spring show exhibition. Skating a program in front of people is a very vulnerable and personal thing. Skaters need to realize the importance of that and skate with that conviction.
AJ: Which are your favorite programs that you’ve choreographed?
GK: The springtime program for Jason [Brown]probably has to be my all-time favorite so far. The most satisfying thing about being a choreographer is when your skater skates the piece exactly like you imagined in your head. My vision was directly transferred to Jason's skating. It was a perfect union of music, movement, and emotion.
Once I heard the music, Attaboy by Goat Rodeo), I immediately thought of Jason and his skating. His skating is so light and effervescent and his personality is so genuine and personable. I was so honored to be able to use him for my piece and he was incredible to work with. There is nothing that kid can't do.
The First Kiss program I did for YAS2 has become a favorite of mine as well. I performed the program this past spring in many shows. I can really relate to the awkward, dorky, nerd (as being somewhat of a band nerd in high school myself) so the whole concept came naturally to me.
The most vigorous program I have created thus far was certainly "Falling Angel" in YAS3. I tried to take a lot of time to develop the movement and emulate Jiri Kylian's style onto the ice. It was super fun trying new movement and pushing the boundaries of what the body and blade could do.
AJ: If you have free reign to pick music and create programs for some of the top skaters, what would you pick?
GK: I spend countless hours doing this in my head. I have a list:
Meryl Davis and Charlie White - "Un Amore" soundtrack by Ezio Bosso
After going light last year, they again need something intense and dynamic. This piece (along with the entire album) would be a great direction for them--it is modern, it has driving rhythms, and would force them to create new shapes on the ice.
Czisny - "The Last Emperor" Ryuichi Sakamoto
Alissa needs to stop skating to music that is played at funerals or in elevators.
In order to make a comeback, she needs a transformation -- and that starts with the music. Since she is limited in her range of style, she has to pick something that allows her to still be ethereal, but pushes to go beyond her limits. "The Last Emperor" by Sakamoto has an exotic tinge and is driving enough to show a different side of her that is much needed.
Virtue/Moir - "Emo" by Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Pohjonen, Samuli Kosminen
I can picture it now - Tessa is a lost warrior (plenty of face stroking in order) and Scott comes to the rescue in his armor as they skate together in rabid angst and passion...YES.
This piece is just wacky...I love it. It would be totally out of the ordinary and a risky move, but if anyone could do it, it's Virtue and Moir. The amazing Kronos Quartet paired with a Finnish Accordian player is a sick combination. This type of music would push them artistically and I think it's perfect for a free dance.
Lambiel - Szamar Madar
I picture him being a creature...an ugly, frantic, centipede of sorts. He could do a quad and then do crazy body rolls the rest of the routine. It would be love.
After the 2:40 mark in the music, it is an Elgar Cello Concerto mixed with the beats of the Venetian Snares. PRETTY SLY stuff.
Patrick Chan short program - "Eighthundred Streets by Feet" by Esbjorn Svensson Trio
This music has a neo-jazz feel. We know Patrick does well with the laid-back and cool style and this piece would have room for him to show off his amazing edges.
Jeremy Abbott - short program to "Time is Running Out" by Section Quartet
We have seen Jeremy branch out a bit in style with his free skate this season, and a short to this piece of music would just keep up that progression. The music screams skate to me with a killer step sequence.
Michelle Kwan - exhibition to "Rambling Man" by Laura Marling
Kwan angst + Laura Marling = win win win
Ashley Wagner - Luminous by Max Richter
I'd like to see her pick a passionate piece of music that allows her to express movement throughout her entire body and not be frantic. She has the ability to emote and connect with her audience and so she needs music that allows her to really convey a feeling and emotion.
Look for Garrett as a possible finalist in this year’s Young Artists Showcase.