On The Big Screen with Slavik & Karina
World professional Latin finalists, Slavik Kryklyvyy and Karina Smirnoff, were suddenly interrupted from a morning practice in New York City in summer 2003 to meet a flustered Richard Gere. Gere was struggling through an early Shall We Dance? rehearsal, and the star-struck dancers gladly performed a few numbers to demonstrate the art of partnering. Gere was delighted and amazed, but his shock was no match to that of Slavik and Karina when they found out they would be dancing in the movie as well. ?We were not supposed to be in the movie at all," says Slavik excitedly, his dark brown hair slicked back in the usual manner. "We were just there to teach choreography." But things changed quickly when Slavik was cast as Jennifer Lopez's standard partner and Karina was offered a separate speaking and dancing role with Stanley Tucci. Tracy Jo Figueroa caught the dynamic dance pair between travels to discuss their experience on and off set.
You must have been pretty excited when you found out you would be in the movie?
Slavik: Oh, of course. Karina and I have always dreamt about being in the movie business ? even if just to see the stars and get the chance to say hi. I was a movie freak when I was growing up in Ukraine and I used to dream about seeing some actors. So you can imagine how exciting it was for me, after all of this, to end up in the same place with such great actors. My heart was beating like crazy.
Karina: I was on cloud nine. I could not believe that I would get to meet Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez, Stanley Tucci and Susan Sarandon. Then Richard came in one day and I had to dance with him just like that. I thought I had died and had gone to heaven.
You were originally selected to teach choreography, so did you have to audition for your dance roles with Jennifer and Stanley?
Slavik: Yes. The assistant choreographer, Liz Curtis, told me they were looking for someone to play Jennifer?s partner, but he had to dance standard. So I was like, "wellll..." (laughing). I didn't think they would choose me because I only dance Latin. Liz asked Karina and me to improvise some ballroom, so I tried to remember some steps I learned when I was young. She told me she would call to let me know if I got the part and I got the good news a few days before a competition in London. I couldn?t believe it.
I guess that made dancing the competition a lot easier.
Slavik: Oh yes! I was so excited, when I got on the floor I was flying. I mean I get to see Jennifer Lopez and dance with her and touch her...I was like, wow. So, yes, the competition was very good.
Karina, you have a speaking role as well. What was your audition process?
Karina: The director met with Slavik and me to look at a piece of Tango that we choreographed for the scene where Jennifer gives Richard a private dance lesson very late in the evening. After we performed the routine for him, the director asked me to read a few lines with the other actors. Then he told me I was in if I wanted the part. How could I refuse?
So, how was it to work with Richard? Was he nervous?
Karina: He was very nervous in the beginning and actually somewhat pessimistic. When he saw the Tango he said, ?This is absolutely out of the question. I?m calling my agent.? But Richard came back after a few minutes to start practising. And I believe he really enjoyed it because he was very relaxed about a week into the practice. He was making jokes and having a great time with all the dancers.
Slavik, you got to spend a lot more time with Jennifer. Were you nervous?
Slavik: Let?s just say I had a lot of pressure on me [laughing]. Well, I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself. I actually had the best time when I was dancing with Jennifer. She is so intense and very hardworking and I felt very comfortable with her from the first time we danced. But I guess any guy would be excited to dance with Jennifer Lopez. I was no exception.
Both of you also share a quick dance scene in the Latin nightclub. Can you describe the filming process?
Slavik: That scene took a whole day to film. Karina and I were rehearsing with Richard and Jennifer the day before. We went to the movie set when we were finished and the choreographers asked Karina and me to improvise some Latin. Then they suddenly decided to shoot us in the scene as well. So the next day we started filming at 10 am. and finished around 1am. It was a long day.
With such long hours, how did the filming interfere with your practice and competition schedule?
Slavik: It was hard because we had to travel a lot. Karina and I were doing a lot of shows and competitions in Japan and China at the time.
Karina: We were together in Canada only once to film the club scene. Otherwise either Slavik or I would fly to Canada when we had to film our scenes and then fly back to Asia to continue working. It was a lot of extra flying time ? which was difficult and tiring ? but we were so happy to work on such a big project movie.
Were there any dance doubles?
Slavik: Not at all. Richard, Jennifer and Stanley did everything by themselves.
Karina: Richard was very hardworking. He would spend a whole day dancing and would never complain. And I can assure you that I made sure he had sore muscles.
Slavik: The same with Jennifer. She was always rehearsing and she wasn?t just trying to learn the steps, like me. She was always in character 100 per cent. She made me realise that I sometimes focus too much on technique instead of paying attention to the woman I have in my hand.
What was it like seeing yourself on the screen for the first time?
Slavik: It was great. It was very little, though. It's like three seconds and then it's gone (laughing). But it was wonderful to see myself in such a great project next to Jennifer and the other actors.
Karina: It was incredibly exciting and we would definitely love to work like this again.
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