DANCE OF LOVE: the stars of Australian ballet are partners on stage and in life
Chengwu Guo lifts Ako Kondo high above his head, holding her effortlessly aloft. “Does my tutu cover your face?” Ako asks her partner in ballet and life, as the camera clicks away. “Well, you could move your arm,” Chengwu (known as Chen) jests, “but I’m used to sacri cing myself for you.”
“Got it,” the photographer announces, and Ako, 27, lands with the dainty ease of a cat. Chen, who is 29, kisses his wife gently. It’s plain to see why this couple is an Australian Ballet sensation (the newlyweds have dazzled together in Don Quixote, Cinderella and Swan Lake) and it’s plain to see they’re hopelessly in love.
It was sweet serendipity, and a lot of hard work, that brought the pair together. Both had travelled from their home countries on scholarships to study at the Australian Ballet School. Chen hails from a remote rural village, Iujiang, in China. After starting out as a gymnast at three and switching to dance at seven, he landed a ercely contested place at the Beijing Dance Academy, of Mao’s Last Dancer fame. At 16, he came second in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition and was offered a choice of ve international scholarships. He chose Australia. Ako’s journey also began at three, when she joined a local ballet school in Nagoya City in Japan. She won a coveted scholarship at the Youth American Grand Prix, which sent her on to the Australia Ballet School.
The couple rst met in 2008, when Ako was still at school and Chen was a newly minted member of the Australian Ballet Company. But it wasn’t until 2010 that Chen convinced Ako to join him for a bowl of ramen and an anime movie, and the two became inseparable. In 2013, they danced Don Quixote for the rst time.
“Most ballet stories are love stories, which helps,” Ako says. “It is very natural for me to act as though I’m in love with Chen on stage because I am in love with him ... We are so comfortable and trusting of each other and I think that shows in our performances. I know he will never drop me, so I push myself harder with that reassurance.”
“Oh no, I would never drop her,” Chen adds sweetly. “I am 100 per cent focused on her always.”
After a few years of blissful co-habitation (with their beloved dogs, Thai poodles Ted and Choc) Chen woke up one cold and rainy Melbourne morning and suggested the couple take a walk with the dogs around Albert Park.
“I thought it was really weird,” Ako laughs, “because I’m usually the one who has to convince Chen to do such things. And this day was horrible, with really awful weather, so I said, ‘let’s stay inside in the warm,’ but he kept insisting.”
Finally Chen coaxed Ako to the park. “I placed the ring in Choc’s jacket, then told him to run to mummy,” he says gleefully. Just as he arrived at Ako’s feet, the ring box toppled out.
Their wedding in January began with a big family reception in Chen’s home town in China. “I have literally hundreds of relatives,” Chen says.
“Seemed more like thousands on the day,” Ako adds with a giggle.
The ceremony took place in Ako’s home in Japan for largely sartorial reasons. “I wanted to wear a hakama [male version of the traditional kimono],” Chen says. “I wanted to feel like a samurai. It’s an incredibly powerful feeling, dressing that way.” Ako, too, wanted a traditional wedding, and her elaborate kimono was a highlight of her day.
While Ako and Chen look forward to adding to their family with human children one day, it will be a matter of nding time in their rigorous schedules. They currently perform 200 shows a year, and practise for hours every day. There is a tour of China and a season of Cinderella at the Sydney Opera House ahead for the busy duo. Oh, and one last shot for The Weekly’s photographer. This time, Chen sweeps his wife up in his arms and their eyes lock with such intensity we expect to hear spark crackle. But as the photographer adjusts his lens, Guo crosses his eyes playfully and Ako giggles. “Very romantic,” she says, still poised in his arms.
The couple who laugh together will likely last together in their most important dance, life.
Ako Kondo and Chengwu Guo with co-members of the Australian Ballet (from left) Alice Topp, Robyn Begg and Benedicte Bemet at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne.