February 2013 Issue
Pas de Deux
Three Ohio ballet couples engage in the dance of life.
Long hours, grueling rehearals leading to the moment in time when the curtain goes up. Mixing love and work isn't easy. Meet three Ohio couples — also ballet dancers — who prove that happy endings are indeed possible.
Samuel Jones and Courtney Connor Jones
California native Courtney Connor, 24, was introduced to ballet at age 3.
“Our neighbor was crazy about ballet and told my parents I should take lessons because I have flexible feet,” she recalls. After her family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, Courtney continued her training, graduating from the North Carolina School of the Arts. She joined Cincinnati Ballet in 2006.
Now in his third season with Cincinnati Ballet, Sam, 22, is from South Bend, Indiana, and also began dancing as a kid. “My sister was taking ballet, so my mom signed me up for lessons, too,” explains Sam. Studying with Anna Reznik and Alexei Kremnev, he spent a year in the Joffrey Ballet’s trainee program in Chicago.
: When the couple met in Cincinnati, it was love at first sight for Sam. Courtney, however, took longer to come around. “Sam was so quiet. It took me a while to realize how intelligent and full of life he is,” she says. After more than a year of dating, they married last September.
: Dancing in the same company fostered their relationship and respect for each other’s talent. “I’m impressed by how strong a jumper Sam is and how hard he works,” says Courtney. Sam appreciates Courtney’s clean technique. “She is very attentive to detail and tries to do everything perfectly,” he says.
Courtney’s favorite role to date was the Chosen One in Adam Hougland’s “Rite of Spring” last season. “It was thrilling to go through the emotions of that music and die dramatically in the rain.”
Sam’s favorite role: Franz in the comic ballet “Coppélia.” “I always like playing a peasant instead of a prince,” he explains.
: At home in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, the couple like to spend time reading and hanging out with friends. Although they plan on dancing for many years, Courtney also wants to study nutrition and organic gardening. Sam hopes to be a restaurateur. “My dream,” he explains, “is [to have] a small place that serves nothing but hamburgers.”
And that restaurant just might be in Cincinnati, because the couple are huge fans of the city’s galleries and architecture.
“As each year passes,” says Courtney, “I realize how much Cincinnati has to offer.”
Jimmy Orrante and Sonia Welker Orrante
: Sonia, 40, grew up in Columbus. Seeing the “Nutcracker” sparked her connection with BalletMet, which began at age 5 when she joined the company’s academy. She joined the troupe in 1991. Favorite roles include dancing the part of Aurora in “The Sleeping Beauty” and Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.”
Jimmy, 39, a Los Angeles native, was involved in sports — particularly basketball and football — before entering the world of ballet in high school, when a teacher suggested he audition for a production. “The choreographer told me I had talent,” Jimmy recalls, “and I started concentrating on dance.” A student of both ballet and modern dance, he has performed with Dance Kaleidoscope in Los Angeles, the Memphis Ballet, Dance St. Louis, the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet and Northern Ballet in Leeds, United Kingdom.
: Jimmy discovered Columbus — and Sonia — in 1995. “I came just to study at BalletMet’s summer program and had no intention of staying,” he recalls. By the next summer, when Sonia was guest dancer in Zimbabwe, they were dating long distance. “Phone calls were too expensive,” says Sonia, “so we faxed each other constantly.” Married in 2001, the Orrantes have three children, Isaac, 9, Aiyana, 6, and Imara, 3.
: At BalletMet, Jimmy often dances lead roles and is known for his sensually evil “Dracula.” The couple’s children have yet to watch his powerful portrayal but, says Jimmy, “I bring my Dracula teeth home for them to see.”
With her role as a mom, Sonia stopped dancing and now teaches at BalletMet’s Academy. Although she and Jimmy seldom danced together, their favorite pairing was in “Carmina Burana” in 2006, when a photographer captured the couple’s electricity. “Just that morning,” says Sonia, “we’d found out I was pregnant with our second child.”
: At BalletMet, Jimmy focuses on choreography and creating original productions. At home in Clintonville, the Orrantes collaborate on parenting duties: Jimmy stays with the kids in the evening while Sonia gives lessons. They also love the fact that they can walk to shops, restaurants and the kids’ school.
“Columbus,” observes Sonia, “is great for raising our family.”
Michael Lang and Lisa Mayer Lang
: After begging her mother for ballet lessons, Lisa began studying at age 6 with Toledo ballet pioneer Marie Vogt. At 18, she left for New York City to pursue a dual career in ballet and musical theater that lasted 22 years. Lisa scored leading roles in “Giselle” and “Swan Lake,” and performed in “Cats,” “Carousel,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Wonderful Town,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Raised in Indianapolis, Michael was dancing, singing and doing impersonations by the time he was in first grade. Also adept at tumbling and modern dance, Michael has performed on cruise ships to Broadway stages.
: Lisa and Michael met in 1998, when she was the Enchantress and he was the Prince in the Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“I flew through the air and hurled fireballs at him,” says Lisa. “I guess magic happened because we started dating.” Now in their 40s, the couple wed in 2001 and have two daughters, Isabella, 9, and Kiera, 7.
: Because of a hip injury and the desire to spend more time with her children, Lisa retired from dancing in 2006, and the couple moved back to Toledo to be near her family. Today, Lisa is the Toledo Ballet’s school director and artistic director of its venerable “Nutcracker” production.
“I’m thrilled being back at the ballet where I grew up,” she says.
As artistic director of the spring productions, Michael stages original shows, such as “If These Walls Could Dance,” a production inspired by an iconic mural in Toledo’s Valentine Theatre.
: With common dance and theater backgrounds, the Langs understand and complement each other. “We have good balance,” says Michael. “I like to joke around, and Lisa is a “let’s get it done” type. After years of constant auditioning and big-city stress, the couple value their “normal” life in Sylvania.
“We really enjoy our family time here in Toledo, ” says Michael.
Get lost in the romance of dance by attending these mesmerizing performances:
: George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” tells the story of the redemptive grace of a father’s love and his power of forgiveness for a wayward son.
: Grammy-winning guitarist Peter Frampton and the troupe join forces to present “Frampton & Cincinnati Ballet Live,” three unforgettable world premieres guaranteed to have you rockin’ in your seat.
For more information, visit cballet.org
or call 513/621-5282.
Feb. 14–17: Star-crossed lovers share their passion in “Romeo & Juliet,” David Nixon’s full-length ballet that’s sure to stir your soul.
March 22–24: Celebrate new beginnings with “The Rite of Spring,” the masterpiece by Igor Stravinsky, which premiered a century ago in Paris.
For more information, visit visit balletmet.org
or call 614/229-4848.
April 19–20: First staged at the Paris Opera in 1841, “Giselle” is the ghostly tale of a girl determined to protect the love of her life from evil.
For more information, visit toledoballet.net
or call 419/242-2787.