Just as Chautauqua has brought together different art forms this season for The Romeo & Juliet Project, one year ago, Chautauqua brought together North Carolina Dance Theatre dancers Anna Gerberich and Frederick (Pete) Leo Walker II.
Gerberich and Walker will dance the roles of Romeo and Juliet at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater as part of The Romeo & Juliet Project.
“I swear, I’m living my fairytale,” Gerberich said. “I truly believe he is my soulmate and the love of my life.”
The couple first met when Walker joined the main company of NCDT in 2010. Walker remembers seeing Gerberich the first time he walked into the dance studio. Although the two dancers spent almost two years simply as co-workers, Gerberich admitted that she would jump at the chance to partner with Walker.
Gerberich and Walker officially began dating last summer in Chautauqua. After an ice cream date at Boxcar Barney’s followed by their first kiss, Walker said he was sold on the fact that he had found “the one.” The spiritual freedom of the Institution played a vital part in their relationship, Walker said, allowing them both to fully be themselves.
“Being up here just solidified the fact that we want to be together,” Walker said.
The couple is a wonderful example of how opposites can attract. Walker considers himself an extrovert to his core, while Gerberich describes herself as an introvert. The couple’s personality differences have provided a healthy balance in their relationship.
“I can calm him down, and he can bring me out of my shell,” Gerberich said.
For The Romeo & Juliet Project, Gerberich and Walker will be dancing the three main pas de deux from Chautauqua Dance Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux’s Romeo and Juliet choreography, with music by Sergei Prokofiev. The couple did not have much trouble finding inspiration for their roles.
“I think we’re a real life Romeo and Juliet,” Walker said.
Romeo and Juliet share many secret moments in the beginning of their relationship, and Gerberich and Walker can relate. In the first pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet have a moment alone for the first time. They are flirting with each other and share their first intimate kiss.
“Even in rehearsals … I still think back to our first kiss, and I get butterflies,” Gerberich said.
In the second pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet share a bittersweet moment. While they are overwhelmingly happy to spend their first night together, they are also overcome with sadness. Mercutio and Tybalt have both been killed, and Romeo and Juliet realize they are never going to bring their families together.
“The only way for them to be together is either die or run away,” Gerberich said.
The third pas de deux is the tomb scene, which Gerberich called one of the most powerful scenes in the production, especially because of the collaboration between the art forms.
The audience can hear what the actors are saying, hear what the opera singers are vocalizing and see the physicality of the dancers’ movements, Bonnefoux said. He believes The Romeo & Juliet Project is fully reliant on trust between the art departments.
“I think it’s going to be one of the great moments of Chautauqua performing arts,” he said.
Bonnefoux also said the trust between the dancers is essential in a love story such as Romeo and Juliet.
“When you arrive onstage [with your significant other], there’s a trust that happens that you don’t have to invent,” Bonnefoux said. “It’s just there.”
Walker agreed he and Gerberich share a level of communication that adds something special to their performances.
“Dancing with someone that you love,” Walker said, “there’s just a different energy.”
Gerberich said dancing is always easier with Walker because the couple knows each other so well.
“When I’m with him, I don’t even think about dancing,” she said.
In the limited time that the couple is not onstage or in rehearsal, they are most likely kayaking on the lake or picking up chicken wings from Andriaccio’s.
As far as love advice for Chautauquans, Walker suggests simply walking along the lake. Dialogue picks up so easily in this environment free of pressure, he said.