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.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.