17 years after meeting at airport, dancers look back at life and career in Moncton

Yuriko Diyanova and Sergiy Diyanov were strangers when they boarded the same plane bound for Moncton in 2003.

Yuriko, from Japan and Sergiy, from Ukraine, didn't share a language, but they did shared a love of dance. That love brought them from their respective parts of the world to New Brunswick.

Both were chosen to dance for the Atlantic Ballet. Still in its infancy then, Atlantic Ballet was the only professional ballet company in the region. It still is.

Little did Yuriko and Sergiy know that over the next 17 years, they would marry, have one child and another on the way, and play important roles in the company.

They also didn't know their dance careers would come to an end in Moncton.

'Lots of green and less people'

Sergiy came to Moncton by way of Córdoba, Argentina, where an economic crisis tanked the value of the currency.

"I was looking for other opportunities," he said. He noticed a creative director in Canada was hiring dancers, but Sergiy was too late applying.

Pierre Fournier/CBC

But the next year, he tried again and was accepted.

"I was always kind of thinking about ending up in Canada."

After landing in New Brunswick, his first impression of Moncton was a city of "lots of green and less people." 

"I came from a concrete city, about two million people," said Sergiy, who had also danced in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

His English at the time was what he called "basic." A volunteer offered language lessons, but Sergiy said he preferred to relax during his time off. 

In the early days, most of the dancers and the creative director spoke Russian, which lessened the incentive to learn English.

"I was kind of lazy and I didn't feel much need because we all spoke Russian here.".

'I didn't know anybody'

Yuriko grew up in Osaka, a city of more than two million people. 

She applied to join the Atlantic Ballet because, "it's so difficult to be a dancer in Japan, so I was looking for a job."

She'd never heard of Moncton when she accepted the position, but nevertheless left her career as a soloist and dance teacher in Japan.

"I couldn't speak English, I didn't know anybody."

Yuriko said members of a Moncton family took her under their wing and helped her learn to do basic things, such as  open a bank account. And while Sergiy skipped the language lessons, Yuriko was consistent with her attendance.

Submitted/Atlantic Ballet of Canada

After about three years of dancing together, Yuriko and Sergiy started dating. They married in 2009, and have an eight-year-old son Kirill. He's a dancer in training, under the watchful eye of his mother.

Yuriko finished her final season in May, dancing the principal role of Christine in the Phantom of the Opera with her husband playing the Phantom. She's now teaching full time and is expecting a baby in April. But despite her busy schedule, she said, she misses dancing.

Igor Dobrovolskiy, artistic director and co-founder of the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada, met the couple when they came off the plane all those years ago.

As a former dancer himself, Dobrovolskiy can sympathize with Yuriko's decision to retire.

"All the time I see her, she's coming to the studio and … sometimes she stopping and watching and this, like, broke my heart because I know what she feels."

But he added another perspective. 

Pierre Fournier/CBC

"Dancers are lucky, because what we call regular people, normal people, they retire at, like, 50 or 60. Dancers retire at 35, 40, so it's like another different life in front of you."

Sergiy will end his dance career in May, just before his 40th birthday. Dobrovolskiy said he was lucky to work with them both.

"When you lose a dancer, you kind of lose part of yourself because (they are the ones) who realize your idea."

Sergiy said he wants to end on a high note, with his body intact.

"There is a point of no return in everything," he said. "I don't want to get to the point that they give up too much, and then I spend the rest of my life regretting it."

Once he's done dancing in the spring, Sergiy isn't committing to any one thing, except taking some time off to be with his son, his wife and their new baby. 

After that, "we are open for absolutely anything of what may come, here, anywhere."

Not what he dreamed about

Looking back over a 17-year career Sergiy said his time in Moncton has been good, even if it wasn't what he grew up dreaming about.

"When you're at school, you dream of, like, going to space and all those things here. Then you kind of land a little bit more firm for the ground.

"It was a good, good career."

The Grant Thornton Velvet Gala celebrating the two dancers is a fundraiser supporting arts programming for children, on Dec. 10.