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Two men, an ocean and a love affair.

A couple in a relationship can expect any number of barriers to come between them. The Atlantic Ocean, however, does not pop into mind as your typical problem. In the case of Isaac Spencer, a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Sebastian Gehrke, a soloist with Ballet Nurnberg in Germany, the reality of a long- (as in really long) distance relationship hit home much too quickly.

As students in the Juilliard Dance Division, their friendship evolved into a romance by the end of their junior year. "It was so nice to have somebody who was in the same place as me--a gay man in college at Juilliard," says Spencer, now 22. "We were going on these dates that we didn't realize were dates. People in school were asking, 'Why didn't you guys do this earlier?'" The bond became a 24/7 affair. "We both have the same ideals about art, beauty--little things like the shape of a tree, how the sky looks, the detail of a painting," says Gehrke.

The two danced together in the Juilliard Dance Ensemble, performing in Nacho Duato's Duende and Zvi Gotheiner's Easy for You to Say. (In Jiri Kylian's comic ballet Sechs Tanze, Spencer gleefully stabbed Gehrke in the back.) But their most treasured stage moments came from their collaborative choreography in the duet Ditto, a simply structured, unsentimental but moving take on a relationship, punctuated with lifts, pulls, and athletic adagio work. The work was as big a hit on tour in remote villages in Peru as it was at the Juilliard graduation performance in New York last May (when both men met one another's parents). "With Ditto, we could share our experience. You're onstage with this person you're so close to. There's nothing to worry about, because you know each other so well. It's very comforting," says Gehrke.

Scrambling to secure a job before graduation is one of the hurdles that dance majors face in a profession where the work is great--if you can get it. Gehrke, a 24-year-old native of Gelsenkirchen, Germany, signed a contract with Ballet Nurnberg over the 2003 Christmas break. Shortly thereafter, Spencer landed a position with Hubbard Street.

To delay the impending separation, the couple taught at Juilliard's summer dance program. "We were happy that we could be an example of a positive gay relationship, something that's not stereotypical but valid: two men creating art," says Spencer.

After the summer session, the reality' of their separation hit home. "I left the morning Isaac started work," says Gehrke. "I went to Germany and rearranged my life."

How big of a bummer is that? "It's been really hard," says Spencer. "I feel so privileged and blessed that I am in love with this person who I can connect with so fully. It's frustrating that we're in the same profession and could be in the same place, but we're not." Even phoning each other creates complications. The seven-hour time difference allows for only one daily conversation--brief window of opportunity at sunrise in Chicago coincides with Gehrke's lunch break.

"It's lonely not having someone to fall asleep with, and eating alone is tough," says Gehrke. "Plus, Isaac is very involved with my choreography; it's difficult just to talk about it over the phone. I realize now that as good as the work is, it doesn't outweigh the time without him."

In the meantime, they take turns crossing the Atlantic to see each other every six weeks. And every day they think about options that will allow them to dance and live together. Spencer is optimistic: "I have faith that it'll all work out soon."

Joseph Carman is the author of Round About the Ballet, published by Limelight Editions.
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Title Annotation:Romance in Dance
Author:Carman, Joseph
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Interview
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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