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Sharing Their Own Special Space

M.A.C. LYNCH

November 08, 2009

Susannah Israel wanted to marry Frank Marchese after their first date in 1992.

"I knew I wanted to marry him immediately. I don't think he even knew my last name. I just thought: I'm going to marry him," Susannah says.

"Subsequently, it took us six years of dating to ... get married."

And on the day they were wed 11 years ago, Susannah woke to a burst water main, pouring rain and blocked roads all preventing her from going to her parents' hotel room in Hartford to shower. Then, on her way to the ceremony and already late, Susannah had to return home for something she had forgotten. Frank, meanwhile, was waiting at his studio at 56 Arbor St. in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood. It's where they had met and were planning to exchange vows.

In 1990, Susannah was a ballerina with the former Hartford Ballet, and Frank was a photographer with his own commercial advertising business when they met at the studio during a shoot with the ballet.

"I started dancing professionally when I was 16," said Susannah, who grew up in Long Island with a mother who is a ballet teacher and grandmother who was a modern dancer.

Frank, a Middletown native, was dating one of the other dancers, and "I was in a long-term relationship," Susannah says. But both of their romances ended at the same time, about two years after they had first met.

"Why don't you call Frank?" one of her friends suggested.

"A light went on in my head. I'm in Hartford; I'm single; I'm young; I want to date," said Susannah, who was 25.

Her friend arranged for them to go to Frank's house for dinner.

"He was funny and cute and older and normal. I called him up a week later and made an excuse that another photographer had taken pictures of me, and I wanted a second opinion."

"Sure, come on over," said Frank, who was 41. "We hit it off. We started seeing each other more."

"We kept it secret for a while because he knew everybody in the company," Susannah says. "We would go out with other people socially and see each other alone afterward."

After two years of dating, a new director at the Hartford Ballet let everyone go, forcing Susannah to seek a new job.

"I had too much going on in my career. I was very set on him, but not set on marriage yet." Susannah went on a national tour with "The Phantom of the Opera" for the next two years: "We made this agreement that I would take the job as long as we'd see each other once a month."

"It was rough when I was on the road," Susannah says. "I left the tour in 1996, and we agreed that I wasn't done with my career. I got an apartment in New York City and worked at the 'Phantom' on Broadway and the Radio City Christmas show" and summer stock shows.

"New York made it a lot easier," says Frank, who was shooting portraits in New York in addition to his other work.

"What is that?" Susannah said when Frank hugged her during a visit in November 1997.

"She felt the box in my pocket," Frank says. That day they went for a walk in Strawberry Fields in Central Park, and he gave her the engagement ring.

They married on the anniversary of their first date, Oct. 10, 1998, in the shooting area of Frank's studio, with dinner downstairs in the gallery of Real Art Ways. That morning, the streets in Hartford were filled with runners during the Hartford Marathon, but police let Susannah through when she told them she was on her way to her wedding. She forgot the garter her sister had given her and had the limo driver take her back to get it, making her a half-hour late.

The hectic pace didn't relent for a honeymoon.

"We got married on a Saturday, and Thursday I was in New York rehearsing for Radio City," Susannah said.

"I retired in 2000. It was absolutely the right time. I was 35. I wanted to be in the same city with my husband," Susannah says. She became a Pilates instructor, massage therapist and personal trainer and opened her own studio, PHIT Pilates in Frank's former space.

Frank moved to an adjacent studio. They have adopted two daughters from China, Ava and Nola, and "when the kids were small, I used to bring them to the studio," Frank says.

"This building is part of our romance," Susannah says. "I'm literally in the room [where] we took our vows. It has such a good karma. Our first daughter's picture came to us in a Fed Ex at this studio."

"This building ... has a history for us," Frank says. "Now it's easier to see each other. ... She knows me; whether that's good or bad, she knows me. There's a comfort zone."

"There's a real comfort factor," Susannah says after celebrating their 11th anniversary. "He's my go-to person. I trust him with anything. ... We've made a real commitment to each other, to our kids, to this building and to Hartford. I think that's true of any couple that lasts we have a common goal."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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