For Petra Conti and Eris Nezha, it was love at first sight – with Boston, that is.The couple, who got married last year, moved here in November, leaving the ballet company of Milan’s famous Teatro alla Scala to join Boston Ballet as principal dancers.
“We saw that the city is beautiful, the company is great and the people here are so nice,” Conti, 25, tells me, her voice filled with energy and passion despite being in the midst of a grueling Nutcracker season. “So we said ‘Why not try?’ We really love it here. When you fall in love for the first time, it’s like this.”
Nezha, 31, who is originally from Albania, echoes his wife’s sentiment. “It was just a hope for us and when we saw that the director [of Boston Ballet] was also interested, we thought, ‘OK, we have to come here to do it.'”
Both had been employed as primi ballerini at La Scala prior to making the move. Nezha admits that they surprised everyone when they decided to leave their well-established careers in Italy to start fresh in Boston, yet they just couldn’t resist the opportunity for a new professional challenge and life in a new city.
And they certainly had their work cut out for them, arriving as the Boston Ballet had already begun preparing for the annual Nutcracker production. The two were excited to jump into the work, though, and when we speak just before Christmas, they are in a stretch of almost daily performances. They dance the parts of the Snow Queen and King as well as two other roles each.
“You start with the best,” Conti says of beginning their Boston Ballet careers with “The Nutcracker,” one of the city’s greatest holiday traditions. “The thing is that we have so many performances. We are not used to doing so much on stage, but it’s a very good experience and challenging for us.”
In addition to their rigorous performance schedule, Conti and Nezha emphasize that they are growing as dancers and learning a lot thanks to the great sense of respect and support that exists within the Boston Ballet community. For them, this has been one of the greatest differences from dancing in Europe, where, they say, competition rules, as dancers constantly fight for the spotlight.
“It’s so strange for us,” Conti says. “They [the other dancers] work so hard, but they’re always so kind with everyone — so positive, so smiley.”
The two also comment that, dancing in Italy, they felt intense pressure to perform perfectly. “We were always in an exam, you know?” Nezha says. He explains that instead, at Boston Ballet, the teachers are keen to help dancers improve and don’t view performance mistakes as problems.
When Nezha and Conti aren’t honing their craft, these days the two are soaking up all that Boston has to offer, and learning, quite happily, that the city differs from Milan despite its reputation for being somewhat European. The two even remark that they “love” the weather here, showing just how enchanted they are with the city even though it’s the middle of winter.
“I already forgot about everything I had in Italy,” Conti says passionately. “Of course we’re missing family and friends, but that’s it.”
The pair explains that for them, Milan was all about work, especially since they didn’t live in the city. Here, though, they live in the South End, so they often pass the time just walking around and discovering new places.
“Everything is so new for us,” Conti says. “We are always just thinking, ‘Wow.'”
“I think we are thinking to stay here for a long time,” Nezha adds, with sincerity in his voice.
“Yes,” Conti reiterates, “we hope to stay here like, forever.”