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Dance partners

(Globe Staff / Essdras M. Suarez)
Email|Print| Text size + By Susan Chaityn Lebovits
Globe Correspondent / February 12, 2008

When Boston Ballet presents "Romeo and Juliet" at the Citi Wang Theatre starting Thursday - Valentine's Day, of course - it will not only be performing the acclaimed choreography of John Cranko, set to Sergei Prokofiev's lush musical score. In exploring Shakespeare's iconic tale of passion, Boston Ballet will be drawing on a few love stories of its own.

Eight dancers in the company are married, and all will be in "Romeo and Juliet." Mikko Nissinen, Boston Ballet's artistic director, says that over the years he's worked with many dancing couples, and that when love sometimes goes sour, he's extra-sensitive to casting. "Regardless of their personal lives I always deal with them as individuals," he says.

The four couples recently discussed their romances - and how they maintain their marriages amid the stresses of their working lives.

_______________________________________________________________

Erica Cornejo: 29, principal dancer
Born: Mercedes-San Luis, Argentina
With Boston Ballet since: 2006

Carlos Molina: 33, principal dancer
Born: Cali, Colombia
With Boston Ballet since: 2004

Years married: 2
Live: Jamaica Plain

Carlos Molina and Erica Cornejo met while dancing with American Ballet Theatre in New York City. They had a four-year friendship before any romance began. In fact, Cornejo's brother and sister-in-law, also dancers at ABT, encouraged the relationship and tipped off Molina about Cornejo's feelings.

"We were performing 'Cinderella' at the Metropolitan Opera, and after one of the shows we got together for dinner, and that was it," says Cornejo. Not long after, Molina proposed in front of the enormous fountain at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Molina and Cornejo say that because of their intimacy they can dance together without too much rehearsing and still feel very comfortable. The downside of that comfort, they say, is that they may not be as courteous with each other as they are with other colleagues.

"Since you feel that you can say anything, sometimes during rehearsals you start to fight," says Cornejo. "The same thing happened when I danced for many years with my brother."

When she's not dancing, Cornejo likes to draw portraits and cook. Molina spends his spare time creating wire sculptures and making music. He has an alto saxophone, a guitar, an Andean flute, and a set of maracas.

"He's always there when I need him," says Cornejo of Molina. "Every day is Valentine's Day for me. Taking care of each other and being together, we always try to do something special for each other - not just for a holiday."

_______________________________________________________________

Dalay Parrondo: 27, corps de ballet
Born: Havana
With Boston Ballet since: 2004

Jaime Diaz: 26, corps de ballet
Born: Bogota
With Boston Ballet since: 2004

Years married: 4
Live: South End

Jaime Diaz began dancing at the age of 12 in Bogota. The following year he won a scholarship to study at the Cuban National Ballet School, where he met Dalay Parrondo, then 14. The two became good friends. In 1999 Diaz joined Jeune Ballet de France and toured Europe. When he returned to Havana the following year to join the National Ballet of Cuba, he was reunited with Parrondo in the company. Four years later, while on tour together in the United States, Diaz asked her to go out with him.

"She brought along a lot of friends," said Diaz. "I guess she was a little afraid."

In 2004 Diaz auditioned for a spot in Boston Ballet. Since Parrondo, a native of Cuba, was unable to leave the country, Diaz brought along photographs and a video of her. Mikko Nissinen offered both of them contracts, but National Ballet of Cuba founder Alicia Alonso didn't want them to leave.

"We had been dating and planned on coming to Boston together," said Diaz. "I knew it was an opportunity that we wouldn't have again, so we got married, as I'm from Colombia."

Diaz and Parrondo admit that emotionally, neither one was ready for marriage at that time, and under other circumstances would not have done it.

"I was wearing shorts and sandals, and the witness was my best friend and his mother," said Diaz. They have been together as a couple for six years, four of them as husband and wife.

Diaz said that they hardly ever argue, and when they do it's usually over something insignificant, like when he forgets to do the dishes, leaves his clothes all over the apartment, or has the television on too loud as he watches soccer every night.

Diaz said he'll never forget how Parrondo nursed him back to health after he had his appendix removed.

"Every day during her lunch hour she'd run back to the apartment to cook for me, then return to the studio," said Diaz. "She'd come back at 6:30 after working all day, cook more food, and take care of me."

Diaz and Parrondo plan on having a "real" wedding in the near future, with family and friends. They laugh and say that now they're both very ready to get married.

_______________________________________________________________

Lorna Feijóo: 33, principal dancer
Born: Havana
With Boston Ballet since: 2003

Nelson Madrigal: 32, principal dancer
Born: Havana
With Boston Ballet since: 2003

Years married: 8
Live: Jamaica Plain

Nelson Madrigal and Lorna Feijóo met when they were 13 and 14, studying ballet in Cuba. Their friendship grew when they both performed with the National Ballet of Cuba.

"We'd finish a show, then go to a disco until 7 in the morning, return to the hotel to take a shower, then go to ballet class before another performance," says Feijóo. "When you're young, you can do this."

They began dating in 1997 and decided to join the Opera de Zurich together to gain experience in another company and see where the relationship would go. A year later they returned to Cuba, and Madrigal popped the question.

"He asked me to marry him when we were on his parents' balcony," says Feijóo. "I didn't wait long to answer."

Feijóo says there's so much that she adores about Madrigal, especially the way he takes care of the people around him and is loyal to those he loves. She says she will always remember how supportive he was when her father passed away.

Madrigal says he admires Feijóo's passion for life, and the way she works so hard to perfect everything that she does, from dancing to cooking a chicken.

"We're so different," says Madrigal, "but that's probably what makes the balance between us."

Looking back, Madrigal says he never imagined he'd be married to Feijóo. "In Cuba Lorna was a celebrity," he said. "On the street, on the beach, they all know Lorna."

Like other couples, Feijóo and Madrigal acknowledge that sometimes they're less than polite with each other during rehearsals. "If I have another partner I'll say, 'Please, do you think that you can do this?' When I speak to Nelson I say things more directly," says Feijóo. "But I love dancing with him!"

They add that they make a point of not bringing their work home. "When we leave the building we forget everything that was wrong," said Feijóo. "After six hours a day you want to forget about ballet."

Feijóo and Madrigal say that gifts have never played an important role in their relationship, so gearing up for Valentine's Day is not a priority. But when Madrigal is asked if Feijóo has ever given him a particularly thoughtful present he smiles and says, "Yes. An Xbox."

_______________________________________________________________



Melanie Atkins: age undisclosed, soloist
Born: England, raised in Acton
With Boston Ballet since: 2002

Sabi Varga: 27, soloist
Born: Budapest
With Boston Ballet since: 2002

Years married: 2
Live: Jamaica Plain

Sabi Varga and Melanie Atkins met while dancing together with Alberta Ballet under Nissinen. Atkins had just moved to Canada, so when Varga invited her to join a group from the company for dinner one evening, she quickly said yes.

"After dinner the two of us went out for drinks, and that was it," says Varga.

Three months later Nissinen asked Atkins to join him in the United States, where he would become Boston Ballet's artistic director. Varga and Atkins realized they could be separated. "Panic set in, and we knew the relationship was serious," says Atkins. Fortunately Nissinen also asked two other members to join him, including Varga. The couple moved to Boston in 2002, and they have since spent every day and night together.

"You have to be good at giving space and expressing your feelings," says Varga. "Even though you might be right [about something], you have to be sure that you don't hurt the person who you love."

Atkins stresses the importance of trust in a performance environment that exudes sensuality.

"I've kissed men onstage, he's kissed women onstage," says Atkins. "There's no jealousy or worry - that's the nature of the business." Kissing, Varga says, is just a step - another part of the choreography.

Atkins and Varga quickly dispel all ideas of calorie counting in their meals. "We eat meat nearly seven days a week," says Atkins. "As dancers we have the most horrible diet." Last Wednesday they had pasta with ricotta cheese and sausage, and the night before that it was spaghetti Bolognese with Parmesan cheese. Bacon and eggs are weekend staples.

Despite being accounted for all day, they've still managed to sneak in some romantic surprises.

"On Valentine's Day a few years back, I walked into the house and candles were lit, dinner was made, and there were presents and balloons all around," says Atkins. "I had planned on doing laundry."

Related

Boston Ballet
presents "Romeo and
Juliet" at the Citi
Wang Theatre
Thursday through March 2. Tickets:
800-447-7400,
telecharge.com

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