Backstage ballet romances join creative couples

| Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, 9:46 p.m.

Romance commands the stage in ballet repertoire, where it is presented with the tribulations and even tragedies that propel drama.

Backstage is no stranger to romance, either.

Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula started dating three years after joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2006.

“We'd always been close and good friends,” Coppula recalls. “I was preparing for Christmas, and we both enjoy decorating the tree. She came over — she lived up the street from me — and helped decorate it. It grew naturally from there. We also happened to be doing the Nephew and Marie (in ‘The Nutcracker') for the first year.”

The Nephew and Marie fall in love during “The Nutcracker,” but Trapp hadn't been expecting the relationship because she'd sworn off dating dancers years earlier after some difficult experiences.

“I'm a lot more mature than back then, when I was young and naive,” she says. “But, really, it is him. He's not a person we call a ‘bun-head,' whose whole life is ballet.”

And while she says sharing interests beside ballet is very important, “It's not very often that you get to do what you love, and not very often to do it with someone you love.”

Trapp and Coppula are but one of many dancing couples in Pittsburgh's dance scene.

“I think it certainly is pretty common in this company,” says the ballet's artistic director Terrence Orr. “I don't know if it's common everywhere, but it seems to be a trait here, from being romantically involved to having children and a house.”

Orr is married to Marianna Tcherkasky, the company's ballet mistress. The ballet master, Steve Annegarn, is married to recently retired principal dancer Erin Halloran.

“I fell in love with Terry dancing with him at American Ballet Theatre in New York City,” Tcherkasky says. “I always think of ‘Billy the Kid.' Terry was a wonderful Billy. One of my first roles was playing his mother and also (later in the ballet) his sweetheart. I come back to him in a dream scene as his lover, and we have a pas de deux. The music is very romantic and wonderful to dance to.”

Dance is such an intimate profession and requires great commitment, sacrifices and dedication, she says, that it is valuable to be with someone who understands that, as well.

“I love the rehearsal process, discovering new things and working on new roles with my partner,” Tcherkasky says. “I think you have to fall in love a little bit with all your partners.”

Modern dance knows its share of romance, too. Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope are co-directors of Attack Theatre, which they formed years after they became a couple while members of Dance Alloy in 1992. They became engaged in 1996 and married the next year.

At first, they kept their love secret.

“We hid our relationship from visiting choreographers and our artistic director because we didn't want to cloud people's judgment, artistically and casting-wise,” he says.

Thus, they were not happy when a review observed that their offstage relationship informed their onstage relationships.

“We thought performers can overcome that type of stereotype. I don't think it's necessarily true,” he says. “But, I'm also a realistic person and think a certain amount of risk-taking and shortcuts can be more easily taken by people in a relationship.”

She hadn't expected to marry a dancer. Percussionists were more her type in high school and at the Juilliard School in New York City.

“But I do think, because of the unique nature of the performing-arts lifestyle,” says de la Reza, “it doesn't surprise me that I found a life partnership with someone who shared a craving for adventure and artistic challenge.”

The intimate nature of ballet work can reinforce offstage feelings, says Christopher Budzynski, who's married to Alexandra Kochis. They're both principal dancers with the ballet and often play opposite each other in the leading roles of “The Nutcracker.”

“It definitely is a special relationship off the stage and a special relationship on the stage in ways, too,” he says. “You can, in a way, relive a lot of emotions on stage, especially through a story and seeing inside the person how they react joyfully or in a different way or in a loving way ­— sometimes, even-sillier reactions. Seeing those things is a fun part of getting to know someone even better, seeing the vulnerability and the love and the excitement.”

Budzynski and Kochis met at Boston Ballet and married before coming to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. They began going out during “Nutcracker” season.

“We had been working together for the whole season, so we knew each other but hadn't really hung out or anything,” she recalls. “Then, from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's, we were living in theater. I think I was at the call board after a matinee and said I really feel like spaghetti and meatballs. Chris said, ‘I do, too. I'm going. Want to come along?' ”

They dated for two years before moving in together, then bought a house three years later.

Budzynski arranged for both families to be together at his folks' place in Erwina in Bucks County for Christmas Day during a break in “Nutcracker” performances seven years after they started going out. He used an evening off, when Kochis was performing, to sneak out and buy the wedding ring.

The ring remained a secret even after he gave her his coat to keep warm a few days later, forgetting the ring was in a pocket, along with other things. Luckily, she didn't detect it when she put her hands in the pockets.

“I was completely shocked (when he proposed). It was very sweet and great to share this special moment with our families right then,” she says, before adding, ”I think my father's exact words were, ‘Finally.' ”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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