The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 23, 2022 1:00 am

Dancers' wait pays off

COVID rules stall couple's move from Japan to city

BLAKE SEBRING | For The Journal Gazette

Since their October arrival in Fort Wayne from Japan, Izumi Masaki and Keisuke Nishikawa have anxiously waited to finally show their dancing to an audience.

They got the chance last month when they danced together as part of the Fort Wayne Ballet's highlighted performances during its annual “Nutcracker” shows.

But patience is something Masaki and Nishikawa have learned in the last two years.

Their story is all about waiting – everything from finding the right partner, to finding a professional ballet company willing to hire two dancers instead of just one, to being able to be together after being separated for more than a year.

Masaki, 29, and Nishikawa, 25, came separately to work in America because there weren't as many professional or financial opportunities for dancers in Japan. They first met about four years ago in Miami, which had many dancers from Asian countries.

“We danced together a few times,” Nishikawa recalled.

But it wasn't until a year after meeting that they became a couple, partly because of living in the same apartment complex. They became friends over time and eventually developed a mutual attraction.

And then fate, or rather the COVID pandemic, changed everything.

A few months after becoming a couple, the pandemic shut down their ballet company in Miami, which meant they had to return home. They had already auditioned in 2019 to come to Fort Wayne and had received an invitation, but their immigration paperwork needed to be refiled from Japan.

Nishikawa returned to his family in Osaka, and Masaki to her family near Tokyo, more than 300 miles apart.

Both taught in their home dance schools, keeping in touch by text and emails. They knew they'd eventually be able to come to Fort Wayne but had no idea when, partly because the U.S. border was closed.

“It was a lot of waiting and gathering information,” Fort Wayne Ballet Chief Operating Officer Christina Brinker said. “They had applied in May, which was the earliest they could apply, and we couldn't even call (the government) to check on it until they'd had the application for three months.”

Because of the uncertain timing, the dancers saw each other three times over the next 18 months. They had no idea when they'd be together again.

“It was very hard on us,” Masaki said.

Two days before the ballet could call to check on their immigration status, the government sent notification that the applications had been approved. Brinker and immigration attorney Laura Pontius quickly sent emails to Japan.

“Yay!!” Masaki replied. “Finally, dreams come true.”

It took several more months to set up travel plans, meet with the U.S. Consulate officials and organize other details. When Nishikawa finally arrived in Tokyo to meet up with Masaki and begin their travel to Fort Wayne, Masaki cried. She held his hand throughout their flights to Dallas and Fort Wayne.

They are working on their English-speaking skills by watching movies, news and other TV shows (“Squid Game” on Netflix is a favorite). Nishikawa also loves playing video games, while Masaki likes to read and cook. They never talk about dancing or their performances at home.

Their personal connection translates onto the dance floor, as the chemistry enhances their performances.

“Izumi is incredibly talented and it's a lot of fun to watch them together,” said Chief Financial Officer Clarissa Reis. “There's chemistry there, and it feels differently than when it's two dancers who might be partners in real life, especially when you are creating art. There are some times that transcend into a different experience that happens in any art form.”

And after many months being apart, the couple seem to be finding their comfort with each other.

“A lot of the things we do in dance require trust from your partner like when she is up in the air.” Artistic and Creative Director Karen Gibbons-Brown said. “The preparation to get into those jumps is sometimes scary if you don't know the person or trust them, so I think it adds to the trust. They are comfortable.”

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