When principal dancers Gabor Kapin and Margaret Severin-Hansen began rehearsing for Wednesday’s opening of Carolina Ballet’s popular “Messiah,” they stepped back into lead roles they’ve danced with the company before – he as Jesus, she as Mary Magdalene. The dancers, who met at Carolina Ballet and were married in 2008, have danced with the company from its earliest years.
But getting to rehearsals wasn’t just a short drive across Raleigh this time. Instead, they had to fly from Antwerp, Belgium, where they are spending the 2013-14 season as leading dancers with the Royal Ballet of Flanders. The invitation to perform in Europe was a dream opportunity for them, but it meant some adjustments and sacrifices.
Artistic Director Robert Weiss was relying heavily on Kapin and Severin-Hansen for this Carolina Ballet season, especially after the recent retirements of several of the company’s principals. But when they told him about their offer, he readily agreed to help make it happen.
“I thought it was good for them to explore their artistic boundaries and get other experience, “ Weiss said. “Gabor and Peggy are at the height of their powers. They are in their early 30s, the time when it all usually comes together for ballet dancers.”
For Kapin and Serverin-Hansen, the excitement was soon tempered by the complicated logistics that the new opportunity would entail, as they explained in a Skype interview from Antwerp.
“Everything was so different, such as setting up a bank account and learning how to pay bills, so it took five times as long,” Severin-Hansen said. “Luckily, most everyone in Antwerp speaks English, so we didn’t have that barrier.”
Most difficult was finding living quarters.
“Apartments don’t rent for a year,” Severin-Hansen said. “It’s three, six or nine years. At first, we said we couldn’t do that, but then the company dancers told us you just sign for three years and break your contract when you leave, which is very easy here.”
The couple also had to buy furniture, find the best places to shop and learn the ropes at the new company.
“Everything about working with the Royal Ballet of Flanders is different,” Kapin said, “including the style of leadership and the way the company is run. We almost went back after the first two weeks, but we pulled through.”
Severin-Hansen is documenting their daily challenges with postings on her Twitter account (@psevhan), which has included many amusing photos.
“We don’t know how long this adventure is going to go on,” Kapin said, “but the U.S. is our home.” For now, the couple is commuting back and forth for assignments at both companies.
Both look forward to performing again in “Messiah,” which is staged with a live chorus, soloists and orchestra.
“I especially love the part where Jesus spirals up out of sight,” Kapin said.
Severin-Hansen likes two particular parts. “Dancing barefoot in the pas de deux with Jesus and playing the angel with the giant wings – they are so different from the usual pointe work,” she said.
Severin-Hansen will dance three of the five “Messiah” performances and Kapin will dance two.
“Alternate casts are always necessary for these lead roles,” Weiss said. “It’s the hardest ballet we do. There’s no down time, just nonstop dancing.”
Back for its eighth season, “Messiah” bears repeat viewings, according to Weiss.
“Not only are there different performers bringing their own personalities to the roles, but you are a different person, bringing a different set of experiences from the last time you’ve seen it.”