By Matteo Morelli | Photos by Yoriko Suzuki

Mariia Ignateva & Danijil Szemko have been skating together for two years representing Hungary, working hard to grow as a team and create their own identity. We met them after the European Championships to find out more about their journey together so far and what they want to bring to the ice.

Mariia and Danijil, did you enjoy participating at your second European Championships, where you secured a tenth place finish?

Mariia Ignateva (MI): It was a beautiful and important event for us because it was a big competition. The setting up was really good, everything from the bus schedules to the hotel was well organized and the setting up was perfect.

Danijil Szemko (DS): We enjoyed it. We had a big responsibility on our back because the next European Championships is going to be in Budapest (Hungary) and with our tenth place we can bring two couples now. Mostly we wanted to enjoy it and I think it happened, there was a really warm and nice audience there.

Your free program this season is based on music from Cirque du Soleil, which you perform on the ice bringing in your own interpretation, alongside very distinctive makeup and purple costumes. How did you come up with it?

DS: It was me and our choreographer, Maxim Staviyski. He came to Budapest and we were doing the short programme, really concentrating on technique and how to do it clear. We had one idea to do another music for the free, but then I later met with Maxim in his hotel for a drink and we randomly came up with the Cirque du Soleil idea, thinking about the choreography and cutting the music. The next morning, we went to see Maria and told her we had a great idea and music to bring to the ice! Overall, there is a big contrast between our rhythm dance and free dance. We wanted to do something for the audience to remember.

MI: I couldn’t even imagine I would have skated something like this! Maxim wanted to do something different, something that people would notice, a dance that they could remember.

You are still a relatively new team, with this being your second year together. How did you find each other and decide to skate together?

MI: I have been looking for a partner for more than half a year. I was hoping to find someone tall: it was very important for me but I knew it was rare to find tall ice dancers!

DS: Mariia is quite tall too, it could be hard to find someone who would fit. We found each other through the Ice Partners Search and before then we found each other on Instagram. Mariia was the one who wrote to me.

MI: I was updating my profile twice a day at that time! I really wanted to find someone and I immediately saw when Danijil created a partner search request: I was the first girl to write to him.

DS: It was still the pandemic time, there were no flights, but we managed to get Mariia to Budapest for a try out.

MI: We founded our couple on Christmas Eve! It was December 24th when we decided to skate together.

We are happy that you found each other via Ice Partner Search, the now twenty years old portal managed by our editor Daphne Backman that has helped a lot of skaters to find each other.

DS: Wow, that’s cool! We need to thank her then!

Have you always been ice dancers?

DS: I’ve always been an ice dancer! I was quite tall and came late into figure skating, I started skating when I was seven years old. My coaches were trying to teach me the jumps, but I was more into the music and was moving a lot and doing choreographies for myself and another kid, so my coaches told me to go to ice dance.

MI: I was a single skater from the age of three to twelve. I am nineteen now and this September it will be sixteen years of skating for me! When I was in single skating, I was afraid to jump: I could do all triple jumps except the triple axel, I could also do triple-triple and triple-double combinations and a double axel. I was a really good skater but I was already tall, so if I were a single skater now I would struggle as it is difficult to jump with my height.

How would you say your partnership has been developing since you decided to join forces?

DS: We are working on our partnership, constantly! We come to the ice every day to practice. Mariia and I are very different, but I think we work well together.

MI: Every day, we are learning to understand each other and our body language. It is in a stressful situation like competitions that when something changes you have to understand the body language and the mindset of the person next to you.

DS: We can see that we are definitely starting to understand each other.

With this being your second competitive year, you have already earned two national titles and participated in a lot of different competitions including the Four National Championships, two European Championships and one World Championship. What did you learn from these competitions and what do you aim to achieve for the future?

MI: After every competition, we learn more and more to be together, how we skate and how we feel.

DS: We go to the ice every day and do what we learn and what we work hard for. We are learning to not stress ourselves too much with the big competitions. I hold Mariia’s hands, get on the ice, focus and do what we have to do. Our aim is to slowly get to the top!

MI: Everybody wants to be at the top! We will try, step by step.

Are there any teams that you take inspiration from?

DS: For me, the Italians, Charlene (Guignard) and Marco (Fabbri). They are great, the way they do what they do. The way they deal with stress is remarkable. At Europeans, they had so much pressure on them, but they did it for each other and their coach. There are a lot of really good couples this year, for example the Finnish couple (Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis).

MI: I also like Charlene and Marco, and Julia and Matthias.

DS: This is at European level, but at world level there are so many great teams, it is going to be interesting at the World Championships. Everybody is trying to find their own style and way to impress the audience. After 2014, everyone was trying to copy Papadakis and Cizeron, but now everyone is trying to find their own style.

MI: It’s a really positive development in ice dance, because everybody tries to be different, it’s good.

What do you enjoy the most when not training? Maria, we can see from your social media that you like to paint?

MI: Yes! I love it, I can show you [she shows a work in progress], this is a painting of my dog. I paint at home and in studio. It is not easy but I try!

And you Danijil, what do you like doing?

DS: I am doing music and working on coaching kids. I really love Budapest, so I love walking and finding new places in town.

Thank you so much for sharing all this with us, it was great to find out more about you. There is something else you would like to say that is important to you.

DS: I wanted to say a couple of words of support for Solène (Mazingue) and Marko (Gaidajenko), the couple from Estonia. She had a terrible injury this season: they are really nice young people and she is going through such a hard situation. We want to share our support to them: Solène is a little hero and we hope they will be back soon.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo