When Romeo and Juliet first set eyes on each other, cupid's arrow was sure and fast. Roused by passion's flame, they vowed eternal love, despite long-standing hatred between their families. Fate delivered a harsh blow, however, permitting the young lovers the survival of their relationship only in death. A bittersweet ending for them, but a much happier one for principal dancers Anastasia Babayeva and Denis Gronostaiskiy who play the star-crossed lovers in Richmond Ballet's upcoming production of "Romeo and Juliet." Last month in a ceremony with about 80 friends, the Russian-born dancers wed. An endearing love is about all the newlyweds hold in common with their "Romeo and Juliet" roles. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, theirs was not love at first sight. Both attended school at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, with Gronostaiskiy studying two years behind Babayeva. Though he noticed her, he had no idea about their eventual union. "I saw her many times," he explains. "She was really beautiful. Still is. I never thought about some kind of relationship between us." Cupid may have been milling around Denis, but neglected Babayeva, whose gaze never lifted in Denis' direction. "I don't remember him in school," she admits. "I didn't pay attention to younger guys." When both landed jobs at Richmond Ballet Babayeva four years ago, Gronostaiskiy three years ago they established a good working relationship based on learning and refining steps for their parts in classical and contemporary ballets. "We had a good partnership," Babayeva says. Adds Gronostaiskiy, "We danced well together." Cupid hovered quietly nearby, watching the couple, without even the slightest tension on the strings of his bow. Eventually, as they danced in one piece after another, their working relationship developed into a friendship. As he noticed the cues of increasing compatibility, Cupid drew his arrow, waiting for the appropriate moment to strike. That occurred last summer when both worked together in Philadelphia on "Don Quixote." "He became a really close friend," Babayeva says. "He helped me to go through a lot of stuff as a friend." Adds Gronostaiskiy, "When Russians come to the United States and work in the same company, they take care of each other." "Our relationship started changing," Babayeva continues. "I felt something big was coming." Although neither explicitly discussed their relationship, both knew their feelings had evolved. "Then he said, 'I love you. I want to be with you,' and I wasn't surprised," Babayeva says. "I didn't have to think about it long. I had the same feeling." A diamond ring followed soon after. Unlike the feuding Montagues and Capulets, their families approved and delighted in the news of the upcoming marriage. "My mom was here last October and she met Denis and said she was really happy," Babeyeva says. In January, the couple wed at a local club house, with a Justice of the Peace presiding. When their dance schedule slows, they hope to honeymoon either at a nearby beach or in Russia where they also intend to hold a church ceremony. Unlike the productions of "Romeo and Juliet" where the principal dancers assume roles, we'll know the affection between these lovers is real. "It's easier to work together," Babayeva says. "All the scenes with kisses. The romance is much, much easier. I don't have to be shy in showing emotion. I don't have to pretend." And in the final, lamentable scene of "Romeo and Juliet," when the two stab themselves, viewers can also breathe a sigh of relief knowing the couple will not only continue to live, but love as well. In this ballet of immortal love, art parallels life, but with a joyfully significant difference. "It's great to have your friend who is also your wife," Gronostaiskiy says. "A person you can trust and always be close
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