Husband and wife dancers, Yassaui Megaliyev and Sophie Rance talk to balletposition.com about finding love in the ballet studio.
Ordinarily, Sophie Rance and Yassaui Megaliyev would never have met, let alone fallen in love and got married.
23-year-old Sophie comes from the leafy surroundings of Royal Tunbridge Wells in the English home counties.
Yassaui, Yas for short, is eight years her senior and grew up half a world away in Almaty, in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan.
Ballet brought them together.
Sophie started as a junior associate taking ballet class on Saturdays at the Royal Ballet. Aged 11 she entered Elmhurst School for Dance, graduating in 2011. She then joined the Estonian National Ballet.
Yas trained in Almaty acquiring all the bravura style of classical Russian training. He entered sixteen international competitions and has a slew of medals to show for it: five gold, five silver and one bronze. His most cherished is the gold he won at the Varna International Competition.
He joined the Ukrainian National Ballet and toured internationally.
Then he, too, joined the Estonian National Ballet.
So, was it love at first sight?
Sophie smiles. “Well, Yas spotted me first.”
It’s not surprising she caught his eye. Tall and long-limbed with mellow caramel eyes, there’s something of a skittish gazelle about Sophie; and that, together with a strong technique and a breath-taking ability to turn, makes for a very attractive combination.
But when did the course of true love ever run smooth?
“We had a language barrier at first,” says Sophie. “Yas didn’t speak much English, so the relationship started over Google-translate. We’d say something and had to go back, and then go back again.”
Weaker souls might have given up, but not Sophie and Yas.
“It was very romantic,“ says Sophie. Yas smiles.
Language was not the only barrier to their relationship. When they decided to get married in September 2013, bureaucracy got in the way.
Sophie tells the story: “We got married in Kazakhstan, but had a problem with my visa, so we didn’t have time to do all the legalities there. We just had the traditional wedding; and were eventually officially married in August 2014 in Croatia. We weren’t sure we’d get the paperwork together both coming from different countries and doing it in a third country, but we got there in the end.”
Croatia was where a couple of years earlier they had decided to move from Estonia, when both were offered jobs in the Croatian National Theatre Ballet in Split.
“The style in that company is predominantly Russian, because most dancers are from former Soviet countries and trained in the Vaganova school,” says Yas, whose English is now completely fluent.
And Sophie adds proudly: “Yas had an opportunity immediately because one person was injured, so he took the lead part in Zorba the Greek and quickly won over audiences there and everybody got to know him around the town.”
Both Sophie and Yas loved their time in Split. “They were interested in our backgrounds and what we could bring to the company”, says Sophie. “We had many opportunities and roles we wouldn’t necessarily have got to dance in other places.”
Then Sophie was offered a short contract in the Royal Swedish Ballet, but Yas couldn’t get a visa to audition. They decided she should take the job anyway, as pay was so much better than in Croatia.
Yas stayed in Split but accompanied Sophie to help her settle in Stockholm, three days after their Kazakh wedding.
Sophie: “We didn’t have an apartment in Sweden, so we were both walking around trying to find a place, and stayed in a hostel for a week in a room with no window.”
“And that”, laughs Yas, “that was our honeymoon!”
Though Sophie enjoyed her time in Sweden, being apart for so long was not an option, so she returned to Croatia.
From there both went on to a medium-sized American company. “When I was younger everybody always said, ‘oh, you’re too tall, you’re more athletic, you’ll never be able to dance in England;’ so inside my head I had this kind of American dream, and that’s what I geared up for,” says Sophie.
But the American experience wasn’t a happy one for either of them. For one thing, Sophie’s visa never materialised. No visa, no paid work. For another, both felt hemmed in.
“In America it’s more about your personality. How you look. How you smile,” says Yas. “In Europe it’s more about who you are as a dancer. If you are a good dancer, you have the chance to dance – it doesn’t matter if the director doesn’t like you.”
And Sophie adds: “We found it quite difficult to adapt. I felt that in class we weren’t able to be ourselves and work on areas we needed to work on.”
Now back in Britain, they’re looking to Europe for the next phase of their careers together. But living together, working together, being with each other 24-hours a day, does that pose problems?
“It works very well” says Sophie. “Yas is more experienced than I am, so he helps me in my career. Also, although sometimes we have moments when we’re both stressed with the work, it helps to be able to talk to somebody who understands, because it’s so different in the ballet world.”
Does Yas agree?
He does. “The most important thing is, you never argue with your wife, because at the end of the day she’s going to be always right.”
Both laugh. The love, trust and complicity between them are plain to see. As is their determination to make a go of their lives and careers together, regardless of any obstacles.
“We’ll get there in the end,” states Sophie. And you just know they will.
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