A lot can happen within 12 hours. A sunrise, a sunset or even a full-circle realization of something that has been right in front of you for over a decade.
This is the love story of Heather Ogden and Guillaume Côté.
Both principal dancers with the National Ballet of Canada, Ogden and Côté first met in their teens. They were later paired to perform lead roles in the company’s major ballets, including Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet (the couple’s personal favourite) and Sleeping Beauty. And not unlike a fairy-tale romance, they fell in love.
This is a story filled with passion. Like the time Ogden took the train to New York City to visit Côté for a mere 12 hours — a day that inspired Côté to write the song If This Is a Dream; a song that they would later dance to on their wedding day in 2010.
This is a story that needs to be told. So when I sit down to listen at a rehearsal studio in the Walter Carsen Centre after sunset, Ogden and Côté start from the beginning.
Julia Eskins: Do you remember the day you first met?
Guillaume Côté: We met at a summer school a very, very long time ago. We were both very young, about 16.
Heather Ogden: I already knew of Guillaume because I was coming from an outside school, but he went through the National Ballet School. I recognized him and thought he was pretty cute. Then, like two days later, he had a girlfriend, so that put things on hold. (laughs)
What were your first impressions of each other?
Côté: We became really great friends right from the start. I had a crush on Heather for a really long time before we got together. I worked on it a lot…
Did you know about this crush, Heather?
Ogden: Yes. He was very obvious.
Côté: I made it very clear.
Ogden: (laughs) We were both seeing other people throughout those six years. I always thought that if we started dating it would ruin our work relationship. It was never a dream of mine to date another dancer, but in the end, I fell in love with someone who was right here in front of me. You know, in hindsight, I think we got together at the right time. It was so perfect and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Fast forward to your proposal in Florence: what was the significance behind that location?
Côté: The first year we were together I was working a lot in Florence at the Maggio Musicale. I was away for three weeks and I remember going to that place — a little nook under the bridge — after rehearsal to watch the sunset. One day, I knew. I knew that I missed her so much and that one day I would ask her to marry me. I took her back there about three years later, at sunset, and proposed to her.
How romantic. What have you learned about each other following your marriage that you didn’t know before?
Ogden: Lots of things! We’ve learned that Guillaume’s the patient one and I’m the impatient one.
Côté: Really? (laughs) I feel like it’s great because we’re both very passionate people. Neither of us is a rock. Since we’ve been married, we’ve gotten so much better at reading the other person’s highs and lows and complementing each other.
Was there a particular moment that reaffirmed that for you?
Ogden: Guillaume really helped my family and me through a big loss. My brother passed away. He was totally there for me and supportive in just the right way. We were engaged and, at that point, I really took a minute to realize that I was with the right guy.
Côté: That made us stronger, for sure. I’ve also started as a choreographer more recently. And that means a lot of failure and a lot of trial-and-error. She’s always there for me; so supportive and wonderfully inspiring.
Guillaume, you choreographed Lost In Motion, with Heather as a dancer in that piece. What was it like shifting roles that way?
Côté: It was hard! We’re both on the same plane as principal dancers for the National Ballet of Canada, but as a choreographer I’m not as experienced. Working with Heather was intimidating, but she was great.
Ogden: I find he’s self-conscious when he’s working with me, which I don’t understand because I’m the one here to support him. The thing about working together in the studio is we’re a couple and sometimes we can be too honest with each other.
How would you describe each other’s personal style outside of the studio?
Côté: I would say Heather’s style is feminine and classy. She definitely enjoys fashion and shopping and knows how to mix comfort and style. I like her best in summer dresses.
Ogden: Guillaume’s look has changed a lot since I met him. When we were younger he was more into army shorts and runners and now he has nicer shoes than me! He dresses up quite often now, which I love.
What has been your favourite costume to wear onstage thus far?
Côté: My kimono in Nijinsky.
Ogden: I love my red dress from my role as Romola in Nijinsky.
What’s next for both of you, professionally?
Ogden: After the rehearsal period, the company goes on tour to Ottawa. We’re reviving Swan Lake, as well as Onegin, which is another beautiful romantic ballet. We’re doing a mixed program that has A Month in the Country and Aszure Barton’s Watch Her. We’re busy!
Will you be dancing together in those ballets?
Côté: We usually dance together in Swan Lake. Romeo and Juliet is really special because we did it together in London about a year ago. It was the first time in 25 years that the National Ballet of Canada performed in London. It meant the whole world to me that we got to represent the National Ballet on the international stage together.
How has your onstage chemistry changed since you’ve been in a relationship?
Ogden: We’ve always had good chemistry, but now it feels so natural to be together. There’s so much trust.
Côté: It’s so crazy. The wonderful thing is I learned how to partner with Heather because we grew up doing the big roles together. I learned my craft with her. It’s an unspoken conversation that comes from knowing each other inside and out. It’s not just something you can have with anyone. It takes years. We’ve been dancing together for 14 years.
Ballet is perceived to be such a romantic art form. How would you define romance?
Côté: It’s incredibly romantic to share the kind of high that you get from a performance with the person you love the most. But the best part is to be able to take care of her onstage. When we do Romeo and Juliet together, I love being her Romeo.
Ogden: It’s easy to be in the role — I don’t have to fake it. When you hear the audience’s applause, it’s such a nice moment as a performer that we get to share. After the show we’re both on an adrenaline high. What’s really romantic is that we get to go home together afterwards and just sit on the couch and be lazy. At the end the day, he’s the person who I want to be beside me all my life.
Côté: It’s crazy how much time we spend together, and also how much time we want to spend together.
Ogden: We’re always shocked that we don’t get sick of each other!
Côté: It’s really incredible.