Dancers In Love

January 29, 2008

He’s driven her crazy and then tried to lift her spirits with a big bouquet of flowers; she’s treated him like easy prey before being swept off her feet. One day they’ve gone at each other like the most harried of creatures; the next, they’ve come together with angelic grace.

For husband and wife Luis Serrano and Katia Carranza, it’s all been part of their lifework. Fleshing out favorite classics such as Giselle and Diana and Acteon, darting through contemporary choreography, or staying true to Balanchine—they’ve made a star team. For a decade they were at Miami City Ballet (where Carranza is still a principal) and are now at Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey, where Cuban-born Serrano was named artistic director last year.  

But, having just toasted to their seventh wedding anniversary, they prefer to keep all the drama onstage. “Once you go through the door of the house,” says Serrano, “you’ve got to leave work outside.” Carranza has agreed, especially since her husband took over his new post and she joined the company in Monterrey. As it happens, Monterrey is the place of her birth, her early training, and—she brightens up describing this—their dreamy church wedding.

“We respect the positions we have as director and dancer,” she says. “If he gets a call from work, I give him his space and don’t demand to know every detail. Home is where we chill out on the sofa and give ballet a rest. There’s so much more to talk about!”

She mentions family and movies. He can catch her up on investments and the fun of his latest passion: tooling around the Mexican countryside on an all-terrain motorbike. “It’s all about good communication,” adds Serrano, who admits the road to a mature relationship proved rocky for him. His parents divorced when he was a baby, and ballet school served as a second family when he trekked off from his tiny Cuban town to train in Pinar del Río, the provincial capital, and later in Havana. His own first marriage failed, though it produced a daughter with whom he remains close.

For Serrano, learning what to say and how to say it has worked as positively in art as in love. When he’s coaching Carranza, he always comes up with just the right tip to help sustain a balance or speed a turn, expertise he now applies on a large scale in Monterrey.

In 2002 Serrano guided Carranza and partner Mikhail Ilyin to a bronze medal at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson. An especially sweet victory since she and Luis had met there in 1998—with Edward Villella, MCB’s artistic director, as an inadvertent agent for Cupid.

“Luisito knew my teacher, and we started doing warm-ups together at that first competition,” Carranza explains. “One day we ran into each in the lobby of the hotel where Edward was staying and found out he’d offered us contracts—me as a corps member, him as a principal.”

Friendship blossomed as both faced the challenges of a different environment. “I didn’t have a car, a big problem in Miami,” says Carranza. “Luis would offer me rides, and we’d trade stories, share our feelings.”

What may have clinched the attraction, Carranza laughs, was discovering Serrano’s skill in the kitchen. “He’d invite me to dinner and I loved all those Cuban spices in his arroz con pollo. It was a little embarrassing not to return the favor since I could barely warm up a tortilla!”

She’s learned a few recipes of her own since then, but the most important has been to stir the right amounts of gratitude and mutual comprehension into the mix of life. “We feel very lucky for the opportunities we’ve had,” she recognizes. “But the going can get tough. It’s great to be with someone who understands this from the inside.”

—Guillermo Perez


Photo: Kevin Hamrick