San Francisco Ballet principal Mathilde Froustey and her fiancé Mourad Lahlou. Photo courtesy Froustey

When a Ballerina Decides to Marry a Michelin Star Chef

Before Mathilde Froustey met her now-fiancé, she invited him to come watch her dance—even though he'd never been to a ballet. He's now seen every single performance she's given since that night. "Even when I did six Nutcrackers!" Froustey exclaims.


A mutual friend brought the San Francisco Ballet principal to Mourad Lahlou's Michelin-starred restaurant, Mourad, last year. Although Lahlou wasn't working that night, the friend tagged both in an Instagram post. Lahlou wrote back that they should all grab a coffee together, but Froustey was in the middle of SFB's season and only had time after performances. So he came to watch her dance in Cathy Marston's Snowblind, and the two met at the stage door afterwards.

As the chef of two top restaurants in San Francisco—including his eponymous Mourad and the newly-launched Moroccan-Mexican Amara—he works long, late nights more often than not. But he'll always take off to watch her dance.

In August, he asked her to marry him.

"When we first started dating, we thought our worlds were so different, but we have the same pressure, the same joy, the same tiredness but feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day," says Froustey. "We don't work in finance, we don't save lives. Both of our jobs are about giving joy to people."

Lahlou, who's originally from Marrakech, Morocco, learned to cook when he grew homesick while studying economics at San Francisco State University, and started regularly calling his mother to get recipes. He never attended culinary school; his dishes are built around family traditions and fresh, organic food. That focus has rubbed off on Froustey, who now makes a point to focus her diet on organic, high-quality ingredients.

"Dancers are very careful about what they eat, and we sometimes get scared of certain elements, like, 'I don't eat meat, or else I will get fat,' " says Froustey. "Mourad's helped me make peace with elements I could be scared of. He cooks chicken with olive oil and vegetables—amazing, healthy food. It's not about quantity, it's about quality."

Still, Froustey's pre-performance meal plan remains the same: She eats about five hours before curtain, then keeps her sugar levels high with pieces of chocolate, granola bars or Gu, the energy gels that runners eat during marathons. She'll eat dinner with Lahlou after the show, unwinding and connecting with each other over a plate of good food.

Often, the couple is both so tired by the end of the night that instead of cooking, they'll snack on nuts, fruit and cheese. "He's been around food all day, and doesn't always want to cook," explains Froustey. "And it's intimidating for me to cook for him. He's really sweet so he doesn't say anything, but I can see he doesn't like my food." (When they do cook at home, she prefers playing the role of sous chef.)

But for their wedding in San Francisco this September, both are looking forward to a big party—and, we can only imagine, lots of good food.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021