Photo: The Straits Times

It was a proposal as romantic as you can expect in a ballet performance. Except it was real.

Last month, at a Singapore Dance Theatre (SDT) production of Ballet Under The Stars at Fort Canning Green, a man proposed to a female dancer on stage, in front of more than 1,100 audience members. It is the first proposal on the SDT stage.

Ballerina Li Jie, 26, had just danced the principal role in Paquita, a 20-minute-long series of pas de deux and solo variations.

During the curtain call, SDT’s artistic director Janek Schergen came on stage and said there was to be a “special announcement”.

That was when Chen Peng, 32, her boyfriend of five years and then a principal dancer with the company, came on stage in a tuxedo with a diamond ring in hand.

He got on one knee and said in Mandarin through a microphone: “Li Jie, we have been together for five years. I thank the heavens for letting us meet at the right place and time. I hope to shoulder the responsibilities of a husband. Will you marry me?”

Stunned, Li covered her mouth, tears streaming down her face. Several other dancers did the same in excitement. Li nodded.

In a recent interview, Chen says: “I was so nervous. My hand was trembling so much. I have always wanted to propose to her on stage. We are dancers, so the stage has a special significance for us. “

She adds: “When he knelt in front of me, my mind went blank. I was so filled with emotion and did not know what to do. All I thought about was, ‘What happened, what is happening?’ All I could do was nod.”

Photo: The Straits Times

The couple, both Chinese nationals, have been dating since 2011, three months after Li joined the company. Chen has been with the company since 2005.

He liked that she was spontaneous and forthright, while she was drawn to his easygoing, cheerful nature.

When the company dancers first went out for supper after performances, Chen sat beside her and talked to her constantly. The next day, he asked her .

In the course of work, they have danced together only twice – in The Nutcracker in 2013 and Ballet Under The Stars in 2014. But this has not affected their closeness.

Li says: “We actually don’t talk very much about ballet. We would rather talk about our friends, the latest movie or where we want to eat.”

Chen, who resigned from the company last month because of a weak knee, is now artistic director in a ballet school here – Young Dancers Academy in Ghim Moh. He has also set up another school in Shanghai and shuttles between the two cities.

Li is still based in Singapore. Asked if the distance will affect their relationship, she says: “I don’t think so. We have been together for five years and still talk to each other on FaceTime every day.”

They plan to register their marriage at the end of this year in China.

Schergen, 64, says it is common for relationships to form between dancers because of the time and proximity they spend with one another. He confirms that there are other couples in the company currently.

“Chen and Li’s relationship mirrors what characters go through in a ballet. It was an infatuation that grew into something beautiful. I wish them the best and am glad ballet made this all possible.”

This story was first featured on The Straits Times.