‘It’s certainly going to be different without him’: Pasha Kovalev on his shock at departure of Brendan Cole
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Strictly Come Dancing professional Pasha Kovalev is heading back to the region with his new show. He tells Simon Parkin about his Russian childhood, winning the series with Norfolk's Caroline Flack and his shock at the departure of Brendan Cole.
'It is certainly going to be different without him, that is for sure,' says Pasha Kovalev after a thoughtful pause as he ponders the surprise announcement that his fellow Strictly professional dancer Brendan Cole won't be returning for the next series.
'It was very unexpected, but every year you never know whether you will be asked back or not. That is the same for me and the other dancers too,' adds the Russia star who joined the BBC Saturday night show in 2009, when it was already in its ninth series.
By contrast New Zealand star Brendan has, alongside Anton du Beke, been there since the start, which made his axing all the more surprising.
'That is the nature of the show. Every year we get our contracts renewed or not. Brendan has been on the show since right at the beginning and he has been a huge part of all its success, so it was a surprise to see that the production decided not to ask him back.
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'Brendan was always a great friend. Whenever it came to helping anyone out he was always there, whether with advice or support or direction and guidance,' says Pasha, dismissing any talk of backstage feuds or fall outs.
One thing Brendan and Pasha do have in common is that they have both partnered celebrities to the series' coveted glitterball trophy. While Brendan won the very first series with Natasha Kaplinsky, Pasha was champion in 2014 alongside Norfolk actress and performer Caroline Flack.
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'It was a huge milestone in my career, not just on Strictly,' he beams, clearly still delighted with the achievement. 'I've partnered some amazing celebrities throughout my time on the show, but winning it was really like the icing on the cake.
'Caroline is very talented in many different ways and when it came to dancing she opened up. It took us weeks, if not months, to get there because she was questioning her ability and whether there was a dancer in her. But then the last couple of shows, and those last few dances, I think she finally tapped into that inner dancer and connected it to her emotions and her personality.
'It was quite an interesting journey with Caroline because I knew she was capable of picking up the choreography and making it look good, but my goal was to incorporate a lot of things which all together complete the dance. It's the story, it's the character and of course it's the technique.
'When the audience look at you they can feel what you are expressing on the dance floor. And of course it is decided by the audience.'
Aside from his win, Pasha has made it to the final on two other occasions, taking the runner-up spot with both Kimberley Walsh and Chelsee Healey. But he has not always ranked so highly. Back in 2013, he and his partner, Countdown maths whizz Rachel Riley, left during week six's Halloween Special. Their American Smooth to I Put A Spell On You, failed to put a spell on the voting public. And last year he and Holby City actress Chizzy Akudolu were the first to be eliminated.
'You can never know how it is going to go,' he says. 'You don't choose the celebrity that is done for you. And of course someone has to leave first and you never know in those first one, two or three weeks what is going to happen.
'Our job as professionals is to make the person in front of you the best dancer they can be, and if you last two weeks or 10 or 14 weeks, every time you perform you just want to make sure they do their best.
'It's like anything in life, when you meet someone new you have to learn about the person, see what they are all about and find the best way to communicate with them. I have to make them believe in themselves in order to bring out that dancer and let them shine.'
Pasha will be back in the region next month with his latest show The Magic of Hollywood which promises to transport the audience into the world of ballroom and Latin dance with added Hollywood glitz and glamour.
'The whole show is based around music from Hollywood movies, the glamour, the beauty and those artists we all know and love,' he explains. 'The range of music varies from songs that were sung by Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly right up to pieces from films at this moment. It means that no matter how old you are there is something you'll will recognise and like.
The show features a cast of dancers and singers — 'I don't sing, because I can't to save my life!' — and is very much in the style of Strictly Come Dancing. 'Lots of lights, beautiful glamorous sparkly costumes, amazing dancing, all mixed together with a love story that runs throughout the show,' he adds.
The choreography is done by Pasha himself, something he is passionate about. 'I specialise in Ballroom and Latin and that's what this show mainly is, with a contemporary feel. I prefer to do my own choreography even if we take iconic movies like, say, Dirty Dancing. You might use one move that everyone knows but I think the rest should be your creativity and your vision.'
He will again be joined by his professional dance partner Anya Garnis. Until 2000, Pasha competed with Anya in the Amateur Latin Category in Russia, and in 2001, the couple moved to the US where Pasha clocked up the achievements, including becoming a US National Latin Finalist, and an Ohio Star Ball Finalist.
'We love to create together,' he says of their partnership. 'When it comes to Latin and Ballroom it is always about a couple. So when you make up the choreography and create something new, it is always better and more rewarding if you do it with someone who have worked with and know so well.'
The show will also again see the involvement of local dance schools. He says: 'They come before the show then join us on stage to perform alongside us. That is amazing it really brings another side to the show and some of these dance studios have been part of my shows for a number of years now. It is interesting to see how they progress in their journeys through their dance careers.'
It takes Pasha back to his own first childhood footsteps into dance. He started dancing when he was just eight-years-old in the Siberia city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia's Far East, almost 4,000 miles from Moscow. His mum took him to one of the region's biggest ballroom dancing competitions.
'When I was young there were always a lot of boys joining the dance school. It was quite popular. Of course over the years many Russian dancers had dominated ballet and in Ballroom, and in gymnastics too or ice skating. That is all linked to Russia having such a cultural tradition of dance.
'In every country people dance, but in some it's only when they have a couple of drinks! However in Cuba or Latin American countries they dance all the time too. And Russian people love to dance. Perhaps it is because it is so cold. Perhaps that's the secret.'
• Pasha Kovalev: The Magic of Hollywood is at King's Lynn Corn Exchange on March 28 and at the Princess Theatre, Clacton, on April 22.