In January 2018, Matej Silecky appeared as one of the professional ice skaters on the returning ITV series of Dancing on Ice and partnered Coronation Street’s Brooke Vincent where they finished runners-up to Jake Quickenden and Vanessa Bauer. Matej has competed at junior and senior level, and alongside being an ice skating coach, he has also produced a documentary about Ukrainian children in World War II. Wanting to find out about the American skater, Matej took time out of his busy schedule to tell us how he found appearing on Dancing on Ice, what he does in his spare time and more about his documentary.
How and when did you get into ice skating?
I was about four when I first skated in a hockey program. That didn’t really hold my interest, but I asked to go back to the rink about a year later to “skate without the stick”. Jumping and spinning was more fun for me than shooting a puck.
Were there any skaters who inspired you to get into the sport?
I definitely wasn’t a young skater who watched someone on TV and then said, “I want to be like so-and-so.” However, from a young age, I had the great fortune to train in rinks where many skaters were working with well-known coaches, training for international competitions and the Olympics. Thus, I think I completely missed that “dream” phase because I saw what it took every day to reach that level, and also how different the demands and opportunities were depending on whether one competed for a country like Japan, Russia, the US, etc. versus countries that didn’t have as many competitors in the sport. Because of this, as I grew older, I had a realistic view of what I could achieve as a competitive skater, and what the limits were if I didn’t choose to compete for a country other than the US.
You had a great debut series on Dancing on Ice by finishing runner-up, can you describe how this felt?
It was an incredible feeling to help Brooke achieve what she did on the show. I was confident from the beginning that Brooke could go far; my opinion never changed. I am grateful that her fans continued to believe in her too so that she had the chance to see progress and believe in herself. From that point, the weekly improvements were obvious. It meant more to me to share that journey of improvement than to simply start out with someone skating at a higher level and just maintain that. I do wish that, as runners-up, we had the opportunity to tour and thank our fans, but it was not to be. So, one more time from me – thank you so much to all of our fans!
How did you find appearing on the show?
The weekly live shows were a great experience! I was disappointed that I didn’t have more opportunities to perform in the pro numbers – I wish I could have shared more of my skating with everyone – but being based in Manchester made that difficult, and I wouldn’t have traded advancing each week with Brooke for those pro numbers.
What was it like being paired with Brooke Vincent?
I really can’t imagine having been paired with anyone else. Brooke and I developed a good friendship and solid working relationship. We had very limited ice times due to her filming commitments, but we focused and made it work. Her family and Kean were really positive and supportive too. Our partnership was a highlight of the show for me.
Do you think it made a difference to the celebrity skaters when they danced to a live audience?
I don’t think I can really answer this question for the celebrities but imagine the answer might differ depending on the celebrity’s background. I am used to live performances, as most of my performance experience is in skating, dance and musical theatre versus film. A performer is typically excited by a live audience and familiar with continuing on after a mistake. With film or TV, there is typically not an audience and there are “second takes”. This could make performing before a live audience more challenging, but it really depends on the individual.
What was your favourite routine to perform on the show?
I can’t pick just one! Of course, having the opportunity to choreograph and perform Bolero as a finalist is a highlight, especially since we weren’t really expected to get that far. We were advised to be “traditional”, but Brooke and I felt we needed to be true to our view of the piece. I’m quite pleased with the result. Of course, Sing Sing Sing was a favourite because it was a “breakthrough”. Performing to Ariana Grande’s One More Time was the most emotional piece for us though, for obvious reasons. For Brooke, Manchester is home. For me, I spent nearly all my time in the UK in Manchester, and I feel a special bond to the city. I am honored to have had the chance to choreograph to a piece that has such deep meaning for Manchester.
Do you enjoy the choreography side of routines?
I have always enjoyed doing choreography, doing parts of my own programs and programs for other competitive skaters. I enjoyed it on the show too, but it is much different: we have to take an assigned piece of music and create a routine within the parameters of our partner’s abilities in a week. That’s a big difference compared to how much time one has to perfect a program over a competitive season.
Was Dancing on Ice your first skating opportunity in the UK?
Yes, it was.
Did you enjoy attending the I, Tonya premiere?
I did enjoy it, though my perspective of the actual events is not in full accord with the film. Still, viewed as a narrative film, it is very well done and thought-provoking.
Was this your first time at a big red-carpet event?
No, it wasn’t – I’ve attended other premieres in the US and Ukraine and the DOI pros attended the ITV Gala as well.
Would you like to star in an ice skating movie?
That would really depend on the content. I feel that many of the existing skating movies don’t portray skating in a positive or meaningful way – or even that they are great stories, and what is a film without a good story?
Can you tell us about the Dundee Summer Training Camp?
The Dundee Summer Skate Camp is designed for levels from beginners through to world competitors. It is an intensive weekly training focusing on skating skills and choreography, along with technique sessions. There are top class coaches, including two Olympians and three Olympic coaches, among them are the camp organizers, Simon Briggs (also an ISU Technical Specialist) and Debi Briggs. I’m excited to be a part of this camp because I first worked with Simon over ten years ago, attending a summer training camp run by Alexei Mishin. These camps were a big part of my training and always a fantastic experience. I’m really looking forward to being a part of creating that experience for younger skaters. You can find more details and the registration information on the Ice Coaching Elite web site (http://www.icecoachingelite.co.uk/summercamp2018.aspx).
Do you enjoy visiting the UK?
I’ve very much enjoyed my time in the UK, but I didn’t get to see much while working on Dancing On Ice – I often worked every day of the week and was almost exclusively in Manchester and at the Bovingdon Studio. I only made it to London one time – for the I, Tonya premiere. Fortunately, I had been in London and the surrounding areas on prior trips, but now I need time to see the rest of the country!
How often are you on the ice each week?
When training, it was about twenty hours per week on ice. I skate for myself about seven to ten hours per week now, plus teaching time.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of teaching people to skate?
Whether it is skating or other areas that I teach, like digital arts and photography, the most rewarding aspects are helping people learn new skills. It is great to watch people achieve and develop confidence.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time… what’s that? Outside skating, my main projects right now are completing post-production on my documentary film, Baba Babee Skazala [Grandmother Told Grandmother] (www.babababeeskazala.com) and digital art. You can see some of my art on my Instagram and some pieces are up in the ETSY shop Baba Babee Skazala (https://www.etsy.com/shop/BabaBabeeSkazala), where proceeds support completing the film.
Can you tell us more about your documentary Baba Babee Skazala?
Baba Babee Skazala [Grandmother Told Grandmother] tells the little-known story of Ukrainian children torn from their homes in the crush between the Nazi and Soviet fronts in World War II. Spending their childhood as refugees in Europe, these inspiring individuals later immigrated to the United States, creating new homes and communities through their grit, faith and deep belief in the importance of preserving culture.
Forced to choose between two evils, these families were forced to flee Ukraine, leaving behind their homes in order to survive. Rather than just focusing on the horrors of this time, this film considers what came after – the resilience of these people as they redefined “home” and established new communities. How do you choose between Satan and Beelzebub, and still maintain your own morality? How do you feel “at home” when your home and family is taken from you? These are questions still confronted today, and these individuals have much to teach us about how to answer them.
You can hear more about the historical aspects of the project here: https://soundcloud.com/krynytsya/kitsune.
Where has filming taken place?
We’ve filmed over thirty-five interviews in locations across the United States, filmed other footage in the US and in Ukraine, and obtained access to previously unseen archival footage from Ukraine. All of the interviews will be archived in at least one US museum, the Ukrainian Museum Archives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Was there anything that inspired your decision to film the documentary?
The entire project was developed during my final semester at the University of California, Berkeley, which I describe in detail in this blog entry: https://kitsunetaleproductions.com/blog/2016/6/29/turangawaewae-standing-place. The concepts of “Standing Place,” ancestry and “home,” and the inspiration of my own grandparents led me to take on this project, which grew far beyond initial expectations. (That blog entry also teases a little secret about the non-Ukrainian side of my background: my mom’s adoptive family is English, tracing their lineage back to the Herbert family of Wilton House & the Earl of Pembroke. No kidding!)
When are you hoping to release it?
I’m a first-time filmmaker, and I’ve been told many times during this project that starting with a feature length documentary was either bold or crazy, or perhaps a bit of both! I developed the project in 2015, received initial grant funding in early 2016, and did most of the filming in 2016 and 2017 before Dancing On Ice began. We’ve been editing, completing animations and AFX since then, and I’m excited to say that we are nearly there! It’s been a busy three years, but I’m thrilled to have completed so much in that time!
We’re aiming to screen at film festivals and then move forward with the next phases of our distribution plan, which will likely include community outreach and educational distribution. We’ll be updating our web page with details in the next couple of months.
What skating events do you have this year?
I’m at the rink most days, so if anyone wants to give skating a go when they visit New York City, they can reach out to me. I’m also scheduled to be at the Dundee camp and will probably head back to California – the San Francisco Bay Area – later in the year too.
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