Beautiful Ballet Couples: Nehemia Kish and Elena Lobsanova (Currently Nehemia is a Principal with The Royal Ballet, Elena is a Soloist with The National Ballet of Canada)
“Nehemiah Kish and I met while rehearsing for the annual Spring Showcase at the National Ballet School in Toronto. He was a second soloist in the ballet company, and I was just graduating from the school.
Some of us at the school were learning the second act of Swan Lake, and when my partner got injured, Nehemiah was called in as a replacement. Over the course of three weeks we would only have about six rehearsals to piece the tricky partnering together. In such a short period of time we would rely on each other for inspiration and passion to make it work. During rehearsals there wasn’t much time for words, but I remember there was a lot of unspoken communication between Nehemiah and me.
Three weeks before our first date, Nehemiah surprised me by showing up to my graduation ceremony. When I first caught a glimpse of him coming into the building, I was happily surprised. It was a four-hour ceremony, and he sat through the whole thing. Afterward he found me, and we shared our first kiss.
I then went to Europe to dance, and I really missed him. We kept in touch by e-mail and phone when I was away. When I returned we went for a walk at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto — our first official date. It was a misty afternoon, and the Toronto Symphony was playing Brahms’ Hungarian Waltz at the outdoor stage.
What have I learned in this, my first romantic relationship? That it’s so vital to listen. Everything stems from listening.”
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Seth Orza and Sarah Ricard Orza (Seth is a principal and Sarah is a soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Married in 2007
Class Act: “How did you two meet?”
Seth: “We met in New York at the School of American Ballet’s when we were both 13.”
Sarah: “We met at the summer course. Then we got together and started dating seriously when we were both at the School of American Ballet for their year round program when we were 17. And we’ve been pretty much together ever since then. We’ve been together now for 12 years and married for 2 ½ years.”
Class Act: “Congratulations, that’s wonderful! So what’s the best thing about being married to a fellow dancer?”
Sarah: “Well, I think that the dance world is just so small and intimate; sometimes it’s hard to explain or even relate to people who aren’t in the world on a daily basis—what’s going on, or what the daily ups and downs are like. So, if I’m having a bad day, Seth already knows why and that’s good.”
Seth: “We try to help each other out along the way through the pressures of ballet, performing, and all that.”
Sarah: “Oh, and travelling. If we tour, it’s great. It’s really nice to have your loved one with you when you’re going to all those places.”
Class Act: “How do you two plan to make this Valentine’s Day special?”
Seth: “Well…” he says with a sly tone, “it’s kind of a surprise.”
Class Act:(Laughing) “Oops! I don’t want to ruin anything!”
Seth: “We try to do something special every Valentines day, but it’s hard after twelve years to do something different every time.”
Sarah: “There was one year when I had the genius idea of getting chocolate covered strawberries from Godiva. So I got a dozen chocolate strawberries only to find that in the fridge at home, Seth had also gotten a dozen Godiva strawberries!” she laughs.
Seth: “We had a lot of chocolate strawberries!” he chuckles.
Class Act:“Great minds think alike! So, do you have any last words of advice for fellow dancers out there?”
Seth: “It’s nice being in a relationship with a co-worker—or a dancer—and it does work out.”
Sarah: “It’s definitely a balance, though. I mean, we’re together at work all the time and then at home all the time. So sometimes there’s days when one of us has to step back and take some space—be it at work or at home. You just find that balance with spending all of your time together.”
Class Act: “Do you ever have a day when you really don’t want to be with the other person but you still have to work with them?”
Seth/Sarah: “Oh no, never!” they laugh in unison.
Seth: “Of course, but I think that happens in any relationship.”
Sarah: “We have partnered together a lot, and that has challenges…”
Seth: “Yeah, working together professionally…I mean, if she’s just around it’s one thing, but if we’re working together, it’s kind of hard sometimes.”
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Heather Ogden and Guillaume Cote (Principals with The National Ballet of Canada)
Married in 2010
Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté met when they were just 17 and 16. Both had just joined the National Ballet of Canada and former artistic director James Kudelka quickly coupled the dancers to work together on several performances.
“There were a lot of stage moments when I felt like our relationship was deeper than what it was,” Côté, 30, says. “We have a chemistry on stage and you’d get lost in things sometimes.”
“I remember during the rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet [in 2002], I started getting a crush on her. You kind of go, ‘Well, I’m doing Romeo and maybe I’ve just blended into the character.’ I remember after performances having a hard time just letting her go.”
“He wasn’t very subtle about it either,” Ogden adds. “I could always tell.”
“He’s got that French thing going on,” Ms. Ogden teases him. “He’s not shy.” She flicks her glance to him again. “He’s a flirt.”
Regardless of Côté’s crush, a romance did not immediately bloom. The pair worked together for years. They dated others. Côté was promoted to principal dancer at the company in 2004, and Ogden the year after.
Then in the summer of 2006, something changed. Côté had been absent for periods at a time, performing with American Ballet Theatre.
“There were times when it would cross my mind having a relationship, but I would always wave it away,” Ogden says during a break from rehearsals. “When he was away somewhere I thought, ‘Why am I missing him? That’s not normal.’”
Côté then returned from a trip in New York and the pair went to a pub near Ogden’s apartment to catch up. “I think it started with a kiss. Nobody asked anyone out. It was just, ‘OK, this is happening,’ ” the Toronto-born ballerina says. “I remember thinking, ‘If we dated, it will either be disaster or we’ll get married.’ ”
Côté asked her to marry him on a bridge across from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence in 2009.
Did he get down on one knee?
“Both knees,” he says.
“It was pretty storybook romance, and Guillaume started acting really weird, ” Ms. Ogden says, giggling. “He started fumbling with his bag, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God!’”
“You people have no idea how stressful it is,” Mr. Côté explains, shaking his head; miffed at our hilarity over his engagement nerves.
“Some people have love at first sight but most people get there gradually and it’s a combination of seeing so many parts of a person,” Ogden says. “We’re so focused and concentrated [at the company] and spending downtime together, we had so much fun. We’re both kind of silly.”
Côté notes that when they were frist dating, she supported him through a stress fracture in his leg. “I was going through one of the hardest time of my career and she was there every step of the way,” he says. “It’s easy to love someone when they’re at their greatest. But it’s hard to be loyal to that love when …”
“The for better and for worst, is that what you mean?” she asks him. They laugh. “When I dance with Heather, I want to take care of her, I want to make sure that she has the greatest show she can. And she thinks the same with me. It makes for a really special performance.”
Ogden adds: “I get to kiss the person on stage that I’m with.”
Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to act on stage, even if they’re often portraying lovers. “The last time we didRomeo and Juliet, we were involved [romantically]and Magdalena Popa [principal artistic coach]told us we were being too familiar, too real, too smooth, and that it had to be more awkward,” says Mr. Côté. “You’re Romeo, a 15-year-old boy. You’re not Guillaume who’s a 28-year-old in love with the person he works with.”
Ms. Ogden smiles shyly again. And how old is she?
“Twenty-nine,” she says with exaggerated dismay.
“Yeah,” says Mr. Côté, just under his breath. “She’s an older woman. A cougar!”
She bats him on the knee. Laughs. “Oh, don’t get him started!”
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Haiyan Wu & Yang Zou (Principals with Oregon Ballet Theatre) Married in 2006
The way they dance the Sugar Plum pas de deux says a lot about a relationship that began in Miami, where they met more than six years ago. Wu, a Beijing native, had gone from the National Ballet of China to Miami City Ballet in 2003, the year after she won the gold medal at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi. Zou, born in Changsha, joined MCB in 2005, after dancing with China’s Guangzhou Ballet.
They had watched each other dance before they met. “The first time I saw him was on video,” Wu says. “Edward Villella showed me and asked if I knew him. Nice dancer, I said. He has a nice, expressive quality.” Zou first saw Wu at a competition in Shanghai in 2001, where she won the gold medal and he was a finalist. “Pretty girl, good dancer, I thought. She didn’t notice me, because she was focused, the way she always is, on her performance.” It’s clear they love dancing together, whether it’s in the classics in which they were trained in China, or in the Balanchine and Robbins repertoire, in which they were frequently paired in Miami. “When I dance with Yang, it is very special,” Wu says. “I feel I can trust him. Every ballerina tries to be perfect and he can help me.”
“I most enjoy dancing with Haiyan,” says her husband. “I know her so well, I feel more connection with her inside my own body.” When asked by a Portland reporter last summer about their favorite roles, Wu answered readily “Giselle.” Zou, after some thought, responded, “Anything I dance with my wife.”
They have been together since 2006, living, breathing ballet most of the time, practicing at home as well as in the studio. That changed when their son was born in 2009 and he is the reason they left Miami. “We had to rehearse so many different kinds of ballets,” Wu says. “The schedule was very hard; there were more performances and we traveled a lot. It was too hard to be responsible dancers and responsible parents, so we chose our son.”
At OBT, where the workday is shorter than many places because of a dearth of studio space, and since several company members also have children, they feel they can be both. “We are so lucky,” Zou says, “to find this company where we can enjoy our careers and take good care of our son.”
Both are interested in performing new work, even when not dancing together. In OBT’s fall program, they shined in Christopher Stowell’s new Carmen, Zou as a macho Captain of the Guard and Wu a highly nuanced Micaela. Impeccable classicists they may be, they nevertheless enjoy, as Zou puts it, “the process of exploring new ways to put ourselves on stage.” Preferably, the way they do everything else, as partners
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev (ex-principals with the Bolshoi Ballet, currently principals with St Petersburg’s Mikhailovsky Theatre)
Engaged in 2011.
“What I love about her is her emotion, her true emotion. She’s a ball of energy and emotion all together, quite an amazing thing. From the first time I saw her, I thought I want her to be my girlfriend.”
‘When we dance together it’s not like two people, we’re like one,’ says Osipova. ‘We can’t be separate, only together - one performance and one story.’
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg (Principals with the Royal Ballet)
Engaged in 2011.
Kobborg surprised Cojocaru when he proposed to her on her 30th birthday on the Met Opera House stage. She said yes.
“We danced our first Romeo & Juliet in February 2001, and that was it,” says Johan Kobborg. “I never looked back,” he adds.
Cojocaru stepped in on that fateful evening as a last-minute replacement for an injured colleague and over the past two weeks at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Kobborg.
“I’m very into design,” admits an enthusiastic Kobborg, “I call myself a home fanatic, DIY the lot, though I don’t paint the walls as often I used to. I want to create a dream environment for us.” They share a flat a couple of miles east of their workplace, the Royal Opera House. “I also do a lot of gardening in our roof garden,” he goes on. “As for me,” Cojocaru jumps in, “I sit in the dream house he’s created and do cross stitch. I love it. You have to concentrate on every detail, your thoughts can’t just wander off like they do when you read. When you are following a complicated design you cannot think about that awkward variation you have to do the next day.”
There are no doubts as far as Alina is concerned about having children. “We haven’t talked about it much but there’s no question that we will have children.” Nearing 40, Kobborg’s retirement is fast approaching. “When we have children I might have stopped dancing anyway but it has to be thought through before the child is born,” he explains.
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Lucien Postlewaite and Olivier Wevers (Ex-Principals at PNB)
Olivier is now Artistic Director of a new company, Whim W’him. Lucien is in Olivier’s company and also accepted a position with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. The two were married on November 2nd 2008.
One groom (Olivier Wevers) wore Versace, and the other groom (Lucien Postlewaite) wore Prada. The couple married in November 2008 in Santa Cruz just days before the clamp-down on gay marriages wrought by California’s Proposition 8. It was a glorious day, the culmination of years of building a relationship, and now, an artistic productivity that would make any dancer envious.
The two Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers were attracted to each other early on when Postlewaite joined the company as a wide-eyed apprentice in 2003. Both acknowledge a brief encounter in a PNB performance of Nicolo Fonte’s Within/Without, during which a caress of their hands was the spark to an intense romance.
Like other dance marriages, this handsome couple doesn’t have to deal with the stress of trying to balance a career with spending quality time with their spouse. “Our schedule is pretty similar, which helps with spending time together,” says Olivier. Additionally, Wevers cherishes the many emotional benefits a relationship with a fellow dancer brings. “We understand and support each other, and know when the other needs a little support or criticism. The dance world is a very mental world… it plays with your insecurities and your mind. Having a spouse that deals with similar issues really helps. Also, we push each other as artists. We have both the same set of values, and help each other identify what our priorities are!”
Says Postlewaite: “It is hard to separate our lives from the business. So often our free time is spent at networking events; it can be tiring.” Both admit that the working life together can be sweet, too, as when Postlewaite flew out to New York City last year to be with Wevers as he accepted his Princess Grace award for choreography.
“The deep love and respect is what enables our working relationship,” says Postlewaite. “We have our moments, but we work through them. I also get the chance to work with someone who motivates me every day with his wit, musicality, and creativity.”
For Wevers, it is simple: “Lucien is the dancer that I always dreamed of being and now, choreographing on. I can’t imagine my life without him. He is a constant source of inspiration.”
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette (Principals with NYCB)
Married on July 24th, 2011.
Even in ballet, opposites attract. New York City Ballet’s Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette are about as different as can be. She’s shy; he’s outgoing. She’s careful; he’s a showoff. She’s a good girl from Salt Lake City; he’s a California rebel.
“This sounds super cheesy,” Ms. Fairchild, “but from the moment we started dating, we never spent time apart, and we’ve always known eventually one day we’d get married. But we were so young, we had to wait.”
Until one day… “Andy tossed me a little white box … I thought it was earrings or something, and then opened it to find the ring! I actually screamed ‘No!’ because I couldn’t believe it, but then I said yes.”
As soon as Ms. Fairchild joined the City Ballet, Andrew Veyette noticed her pixielike spirit and started flirting with her. “The whole first year I was in the company he tried to get my attention,” Ms. Fairchild, 27, recalled. “I thought it was a hazing kind of thing.” She was often backstage while he danced. “He’d look back at me and say, ‘What are you looking at?’ That went on for a long time.”
She liked his attention but didn’t like what people said about him. Ms. Lowery said: “He had this reputation for being a bad boy, and she was tentative because Megan always does the right thing. She got straight A’s, she was at the top of her ballet class.” Ms. Lowery added, “Andrew’s got the biggest heart, but he didn’t want anybody to know it.”
Mr. Veyette was also persistent, and Ms. Fairchild was interested enough to join him for drinks. At that time, Mr. Veyette was known in the company for going out a lot. “He was that cool smoker and drinker, that cool guy you think you can’t have a chance with,” Ms. Lowery said. “But Megan caught his eye.”
But their relationship probably saved his career. Veyette was having a rough year: He was skipping the daily dance class, and the company threatened to let him go. Once they started dating, he began shedding his bad-boy reputation. He went to ballet classes regularly, as she does. He got out of debt, he said, and gradually lost interest in partying.
Asked why she began studying ballet, Ms. Fairchild said that she liked the “control and discipline,” adding: “Now, it just feels so good to stretch my leg out or point my foot. It feels good to my body. It feels like home.” When asked the same question, Mr. Veyette replied, “You look at the male-to-female ratio and you think, This is a lot more fun than soccer!”
Veyette said they dilute the intensity of their jobs through humor. “Megan is really beautiful and smart and funny,” he said. “We spend a lot of our lives laughing.”
On July 24 they were married in the backyard of Crabtree’s Kittle House. Some bridegrooms avoid eye contact with their brides, and vice versa, but Ms. Fairchild and Mr. Veyette, who wore a tight-fitting gray suit, stared at each other throughout the ceremony. “He just adores her, and she’s worth adoring,”
Beautiful Ballet Couples: Gillian Murphy and Ethan Stiefel (Principals with ABT)
Together over 15 years. Ethan recently proposed to Gillian onstage after a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House.
”We both love dancing together. There’s something exceptional about being on stage with someone you share your life with. And there’s a difference about how you go through the rehearsal process. You can speak differently, with a different level of honesty, knowing each other so well. You can be more direct.”
When Gillian Murphy met Ethan Stiefel, they were at opposite ends of American Ballet Theatre’s roster. She, at 18, was new in the corps de ballet, and he, at 24, was a principal dancer and ABT’s newest star. The first year they were just friends who hung out in a group in which she was often the only girl among five guys. Stiefel says, “It was a loose, fun camaraderie where there were no levels of rank.” Within a year, the friendship had turned to romance.
The couple shares an unmistakable bond, finishing each other’s sentences and often deferring to one another. But they are also strong, independent, and refreshingly candid.
Murphy, a delicate beauty with deep-set, sapphire-blue eyes, is serene and smart, with a strong sense of herself. “Gillian is one of the most direct and brutally honest people I’ve ever met—which was one of her attractions—apart from the obvious,” says Stiefel. She is also courageous.
What impresses Murphy is Stiefel’s leadership quality. After he delivered an impassioned speech to the dancers’ union, some of the dancers began calling him “General.” A natural clown, he also makes his girlfriend laugh. “We can be really silly and romantic,” says Murphy, “but we both have a dramatic and more thoughtful side too.”
They both adore children and someday want their own, but for now they lavish love on Selah, their cat. These days their careers take up almost all their energy and time.
Alina Cojocaru & Johan Kobborg (now engaged)
“We danced our first Romeo & Juliet in February 2001, and that was it,” says Johan Kobborg of his on and off stage partner, Alina Cojocaru, both Principal dancers with the Royal Ballet. “I never looked back,” he adds. Cojocaru stepped in on that fateful evening as a last minute replacement for an injured colleague and over the past two weeks at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the golden couple have recreated their special moment in Kenneth MacMillan’s modern masterpiece about Shakespeare’s star crossed lovers. “It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Kobborg.
But there is a fundamental fact in the life of Kobborg, 37, and Cojocaru, 28, reared in Bucharest in Ceausescu’s Romania, that for most of us would seem at best unwise, at worst, madness. They live and work together 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 months of the year. How do they cope when the only obvious way out of a stressful domestic is the imposition of a severe shaking of your other half? Needless to say, Danish born Kobborg’s answer is Nordic cool. “When you do the same job, in a way it gives you more tolerance, it makes you more understanding.” Cojocaru continues, “I’m a perfectionist and sometimes in rehearsal I get very frustrated, and take it out on the pianist, the teachers and Johan. I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously. I don’t try to be perfect every day.”
Gabor and Peggy (married in real life!) in Carolina Ballet’s, The Little Mermaid
Principal artists of The Royal Ballet, Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares, on their wedding day.