Erina Takahashi & James Streeter: The Found Season

Erin is the lead principal and her first soloist husband, James, opened up about to the Times’ Hannah Evans about parenthood and the pain and perfection of their lives as dancers with English National Ballet

James

I first met Erina in a studio just after I had joined the company [in 2004]. In those days, there was a real hierarchy in ballet companies and you wouldn’t normally just go over and talk to a principal dancer, but we were both part of a group that would socialise after work, so became good friends. I remember thinking there was something in her eyes that made me want to discover more about her.

Our first dates were to the Comedy Store in the West End, and we’re both big foodies so our way of escaping work would be to find amazing restaurants together. We didn’t really think about keeping our relationship a secret because you can’t in a company like this. Every day we’re emotionally and physically attached, so we’re receptive to everything.

The one thing I had to learn with Erina was to pick her to pieces. I remember sitting on the side during a Romeo & Juliet show, and when she came off I told her how wonderful she was. “That’s not true, I did this, this and this wrong. How can you turn round and tell me I was amazing when I wasn’t?” she said. As much as we need praise, as dancers we will do whatever we can to be better and so she’s taught me always to search for things to improve. Now I’m far more picky with her than any other dancer I’ve worked with.

I proposed to Erina on a holiday to Japan and we got married in 2011. We found out that she was pregnant with our son, Archie [now two], while she was performing in Le Corsaire at the Paris Opera, which was a huge deal. After Act I, I went backstage to her dressing room and she was curled up in a ball on the chaise longue feeling so ill. She still did the most incredible show, but afterwards she said she thought we should get a test. The funny thing was that it was all in French, so it took us ages to work out if it was positive or not. We now say that Archie danced on the stage at the Paris Opera that night.

Erina stopped performing at three months, but danced up until she gave birth and was back in the studio about six weeks after. Lots of people take a year off, but when you’re doing what we do, it’s difficult. As dancers, we need this. Erina has an unbelievable work ethic, which shows in the endless love she has for Archie. We’re very lucky to have a childminder, babysitter and grandma and grandad nearby, and we couldn’t do it without them.

During show weeks, when you have up to two performances a day and rehearsals before and after, you eat, sleep and dance. We’re treated like athletes and we work like racehorses. It’s not like we play our game, then take three days off.

For the girls, it’s much harder on their feet because they have to be on pointe. I tried it once and it was excruciating. Imagine your full weight going through one toe and how strong it has to be, and that’s even before you think about technique. We don’t suffer for art, we live for art. As a dancer, you never wake up not in pain, and if you did, you would question why that was. We’re pushing ourselves to the limits.

What do I think about Prince George’s ballet lessons? It’s great. Any child should be given the opportunity to do whatever they want. If Archie wants to be a dancer, a musician or a train driver, we’ll champion that.

There is no feeling in the world like being on stage. You feel as though you’re in an untouchable bubble, a world where you can be someone completely different. Erina and I have performed at Buckingham Palace, danced at Glastonbury and we’ve travelled the globe together with the company, and now Archie comes with us too. The only thing that can better a life-changing experience is to share it with the ones you love, and we have the opportunity to do that.

Erina

My mum says I was dancing from the age of three and that whenever music was on, I was moving, even if it was in the supermarket. I came to the UK from Japan to study at the English National Ballet School when I was 15. It was terrifying not being able to speak English and not knowing anyone, but ballet is an international language and so somehow you understand.

I had already been promoted to principal dancer at English National Ballet when James joined the corps de ballet. At the time, the hierarchy between dancers was quite strong, but I remember when I was in the ranks I found the older dancers rather scary and so I wanted to talk to everyone. James and I had a close friendship group and our relationship developed naturally. I remember always feeling so comfortable talking to him, he made me laugh and it was so easy.

I still get a little bit nervous sometimes, but then I remember that I love what I’m doing. I love dancing with James. Somehow when I’m with him I don’t need to think. It’s hard to pick a favourite performance, but dancing at Glastonbury [in 2014] was the most memorable, not just being on stage, but because we were doing it together. I remember looking forward and seeing all those tiny dots of people’s faces and thinking, wow. Then, when the show had finished, we didn’t hear any noise from the crowd. You could have heard a pin drop.

Being a professional ballet dancer is mentally and physically demanding, so you have to make sure you look after yourself. We have a physio, a medical director, sports scientists and nutritionists, so we’re very lucky. You’re trained [to be on pointe] from when you’re little, but when you come back from a break it can be painful, so during the last week of a holiday I’ll wear my pointe shoes around the house. It sounds ridiculous, but even a few hours can help my feet get used to them.

I’d imagined getting back into shape after Archie was born would be like coming back after a big injury, but it was much harder. You don’t feel any muscles in your core and your strength doesn’t return straight away either. It was almost as though I had to relearn my body.”’

Since having Archie, our time priorities have changed. When I’m at work I put in 100% and make sure I fit in every training session and class, then as soon as we’re home we put it aside and focus on family. We love unwinding as a three, and now Archie eats the same as us, dinnertime is special. When it’s just the two of us, I only talk to him in Japanese, and when I have more time I’d love to cook food from home so that he can experience the flavours.

Archie loves watching rehearsals from the wings and last year he came to see Nutcracker. Now he won’t stop marching around like the soldiers, which has made me realise that everyone, even tiny kids, can enjoy ballet.

STRANGE HABITS

James on Erina Her folding skills are incredible. When you pull open a drawer to get out a T-shirt, it’s unbelievable

Erina on James He gets stressed about the little things