Nathan Chen as Nureyev? It's really not a surprise

Leaping high (as usual), Nathan Chan performs in a 2011 Ballet West production of the Nutcracker.  (Courtesy Ballet West)

Leaping high (as usual), Nathan Chan performs in a 2011 Ballet West production of the Nutcracker.  (Courtesy Ballet West)

Search the internet for still pictures of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev dancing Le Corsaire.

Then compare your findings to screenshots from the first 30 seconds of Nathan Chen skating his short program to music from that ballet.

In several instances -- especially in the time before Chen begins jumping -- the parallels between the skater and the dancer are striking. There are moments when Chen's arm carriage, known as port de bras in ballet, and the positions of his feet are virtually homage to Nureyev's performance.

That is not surprising, given that Chen and his choreographer-coach, Marina Zoueva, put together the program after spending hours looking at YouTube video of Nureyev in Le Corsaire, a mid-19th century ballet to the music of Adolphe Adam.

"We basically modeled it right after Nureyev and tried to make [it] as similar as possible," Chen said.

Madison Young (left, foreground) and Nathan Chen in the garland dance" from "Sleeping Beauty."  (Luke Isley / courtesy Ballet West)

Madison Young (left, foreground) and Nathan Chen in the garland dance" from "Sleeping Beauty."  (Luke Isley / courtesy Ballet West)

That Chen can reflect Nureyev seems surprising until you talk with people who taught him and danced with him during the 6 1/2 years he studied at Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City. It surprises them that some figure skating judges apparently find it hard to recognize the artistic ability, musicality and dance skills they saw in Chen soon after he enrolled at the school as a 7-year-old.

Listen to Madison Young, 18, runner-up in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne ballet competition last year and now a member of the Houston Ballet company. She and Chen danced together in Ballet West productions of The NutcrackerSwan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.

"If he wanted to be a dancer, I have no doubt he would be amazing, a star," Young said.

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