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Three couples on being married and dancing
Dancing with the one you love—isn’t that everyone’s dream? Our Valentine special brings you three couples who have made a lifelong commitment to each other, as well as to a life in dance. What are the pleasures—and the challenges—of sharing your stage life with your partner in marriage? Reading these stories will warm your heart.
Haiyan Wu & Yang Zou
The music swells and Haiyan Wu soars with it, landing on her husband’s shoulder with the ease of a bird on the wing. She and Yang Zou are rehearsing the Sugar Plum pas de deux from Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, a duet they have performed together many times, but not as principals with Oregon Ballet Theatre. December’s Nutcracker run was only their second opportunity to dance as a couple since their arrival in Portland last August. (The first was an outdoor appearance with the Oregon Symphony on the city’s waterfront, when they danced “The Man I Love” segment from Balanchine’s Who Cares?
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. —Martha Ullman West
Haiyan Wu and Yang Zou in "The Man I Love" from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Photos by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy OBT, ©Balanchine Trust.
Linda Celeste Sims & Glenn Allen Sims
While learning a duet in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, most members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater confer with their partner—figuring out tricky lifts and transitions. But on one side of the studio, Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims work together silently. They seem to communicate through their bodies and gaze rather than through words. A strong physical connection may not be surprising for a pair that just celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary. But the way the Sims use it to elevate their artistry is.
Veterans at the Ailey company, both dancers are stars in their own right. But the chemistry between them when they share the stage magnifies their respective gifts. “When I dance with him, I can feel what he’s feeling,” says Linda. “It’s like a metronome or a heartbeat; our rhythms are the same. We know each other’s breaths.”
Sparks flew the first time they danced together—in a very different setting. The couple met in 1997, on Glenn’s first day of work (Linda had already been in the company for a year). He was smitten, but she initially saw him as just a friend. As Glenn puts it, “I wasn’t her Patrick Swayze.” Things changed one evening on tour in Zurich, when they went out to a nightclub. “That was my secret weapon—she didn’t know I knew how to salsa dance,” he says. They began dating but kept it under wraps for six months because they didn’t want the relationship to interfere with their careers. Three years later, after a proposal that was both over-the-top (rose petals, bubble bath, champagne, strawberries) and down-to-earth (Linda’s hair was in rollers), they were married in January 2001.
It’s clear how much they inspire each other creatively. “He moves with such elegance and finesse that I think of an Egyptian king,” Linda says of her husband. Glenn describes her dancing in equally evocative terms: “She has so many different facets to her. She’s like a butterfly at moments but can be fierce as a lioness.” In fact, one of the challenges of their shared careers is not getting to perform together as often as they’d like. Some choreographers avoid casting couples, the Sims say, out of fear that they’ll argue. That’s one reason why it’s so special when they do get to be paired together onstage—especially in Festa Barocca, in a duet created on them by Mauro Bigonzetti.
Although their professional and love lives are closely intertwined, the Sims strive to keep those worlds separate. “When we’re at work, we’re in work mode,” Glenn says, adding that they don’t bring personal issues into the studio. And they make their home a place for relaxation and romance, not rehearsing. They joke about having regular dates at “Bar 543” (their street address)—code for sipping cocktails in their condo.
They’ve also grown to respect each other’s particular needs. For Linda, that’s a good listener. “Especially in this environment where you’re like a lemon—you have to squeeze yourself and give yourself all the time—sometimes you just want to vent,” she says. Glenn handles stress differently, but under her influence he’s beginning to open up more. “I was not a communicator at first,” he says. “She brought that out in me.” Linda in turn has learned to give her husband space after a long day of rehearsal.
There is one significant downside to their arrangement, though, as Linda points out with a laugh. “When you want to go home and get a foot massage…I’m like, ‘Honey, rub my feet.’ And he’s like, ‘No you rub my feet!’ ” —Elaine Stuart
Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Allen Sims in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Festa Barocca. Photos by Nan Melville, Courtesy AAADT.
Olivier Wevers & Lucien Postlewaite
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. Eight years later they are still together, the last three as a married couple.
At PNB Wevers was known for his sensitive partnering and dancing, though he rarely danced with Postlewaite (the 40-year-old Wevers retired as a principal last year to direct Whim W’Him—see “Transitions,” June 2011). When they were cast together, the connection between the two was sensational, as in Victor Quijada’s Suspension of Disbelief.
Wevers is very clear that if it hadn’t been for Postlewaite, there would have been no Whim W’him. “Lucien is central to this project, he pushed me for a year to do it. He understands the vision and is himself inspired by it,” says Wevers. “Randomly he will have a thought, You should do this. It’s almost like the company is his and he’s trusting me with it.”
A principal at PNB, Postlewaite has danced close to 60 leading roles with the company. Now 28, he finds he can be the virile, attentive prince at PNB, and with Whim W’Him, the raw monster, brimming with emotion. Both men acknowledge that working together can be tense and frustrating.
The tension is not so obvious watching them in rehearsal. In the studio, with PNB’s Andrew Bartee, Wevers calmly guides Postlewaite in a stunning duet, parodying a boxing match that becomes a slow strip-tease between the two men. The mood is almost playful, his dancers eager.
Wevers admits to the weight of responsibilities of paying (and inspiring) dancers, and raising money for the company that now claims resident status at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. He works at a frenetic pace on his dozen or so choreographic commissions a year. Combined with a wild creativity and sensitive ego, Wevers can be fragile at times. The work, ever constant, is brought home at night, too.
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. Olivier lives the life of directing Whim W’Him. I live the life at PNB but also this freelance life.” 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. (Postlewaite had won his in 2008, making them the first married couple in the country to have won Princess Grace awards).
“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.” —Gigi Berardi
Olivier Wevers and Lucien Postlewaite in a Whim W’Him rehearsal. Photos by Kim and Adam Bamberg, Courtesy Whim W’Him.