Learn more about the love stories fueling the passion behind the scenes of Eternal Desire

A Q&A with Grand Rapids Ballet’s Marketing Coordinator, Julie Lesniak


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Company Dancer James Cunningham and his wife Chisako Oga; photo by Jessi Petty

In the spirit of Eternal Desire, our Valentine’s Day weekend program, we thought it would be meaningful to share the love stories of some of your favorite Company dancers. Today, we’ll start with James Cunningham, who joined us in 2019. His wife, Chisako Oga, is a second soloist with Boston Ballet.

Q: Jimmy, thanks for sitting down with me today and sharing your story. Let’s start with the easy question: How did you and Chisako meet?

A: My pleasure. Chisako and I met dancing at Cincinnati Ballet. We were paired together to dance, but it took almost an entire year for me to work up the nerve to ask her out. Finally, one day in the spring, I spontaneously asked her over to my apartment for dinner, she said yes, and the rest is, well, history.

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Photo by Peter Mueller

Q: How do your personalities balance each other?

A: We are almost total opposites, so I would say we are living proof that opposites attract. Although we challenge each other sometimes, it only helps us to grow and become more connected and build trust in the end. One of the major differences is I am introverted and she is very extroverted. I find it is easier to learn about yourself and grow when you and your partner have a healthy balance. When there is respect for these differences, it is nice to have the other person there to help you with your challenges because they understand you but they also have another helpful point of view.

Q: What does love look like to you in one word or sentence?

A: Great question. For me it’s “Forgiveness.”

Q: You’ve dated and married a dancer. What’s the best part of that relationship and what’s the most challenging?

A: The best part is easy: We understand each other’s unique passion for the art form. We are both extremely dedicated and empathize with the ups and downs of our careers.  In some ways, only a dancer knows a dancer’s struggle.  The not so best part is finding balance in your life. It’s hard to not bring work home making it easy to lose balance in your relationship and life. Also, we live in different states for the time being and this long distance poses obvious challenges. A dancer’s career is relatively short, so for us the best part and the worst part work together in a way to help us understand each other even better.

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Photo by Peter Mueller

Q: An ideal Saturday with Chisako?

A: Sleeping in with lots of morning snuggles followed by brunch at a fun restaurant and, of course, lots of conversation over great coffee.  Then maybe a seasonal activity, preferably outdoors. If we decide to stay in, we love to cook, so we usually treat ourselves to a nice meal we prepare together starting with a cheeseboard and finishing with some sort of chocolate dessert. Then probably Netflix and chill…as long as I don’t let her browse the endless options for too long!

See James and the rest of your favorite Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Eternal Desire, February 14-16 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre. Tickets are on sale now on Ticketmaster, our website, at our box office at 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, or by calling 616.454.4771 x10 today. 

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