DANCE OF LOVE: the stars of Aus­tralian bal­let are part­ners on stage and in life

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

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.

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