TORONTO — Canadian ballet superstar Rex Harrington has announced he’s engaged to his same-sex partner of six years — a move he hopes will inspire those struggling to come out of the closet.
“I think I’ve lived my whole life sort of open and honest,” Harrington, artist-in-residence for the National Ballet of Canada, said Wednesday.
“And for people who are questioning who they are and seeing that it’s fine and we have a strong relationship, I think it sends a good message to those people who are having a hard time, maybe.”
Harrington and Robert Hope, a dental consultant from Winnipeg, have been dating for six years and got engaged last month in the south of France.
Hope, 43, used Scrabble tiles to propose to Harrington, 47, over a bottle of wine on a lawn in a villa.
“He poured the Scrabble tiles out on the table and said, ’Figure this out,”’ recalled Harrington, an Officer of the Order of Canada who has the nickname “Sexy Rexy.”
“I sort of knew there was ’marry’ in there but I . . . was trying to be funny. It was cute.”
The two plan to wed in summer 2011, possibly at a vineyard in Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake wine region. Harrington said it will likely be a smaller ceremony of about 100 people, with guests including Karen Kain, the ballet’s artistic director.
The charismatic dancer figures he’ll probably wear something “snazzy” during the ceremony — and may even do some moves in front of the altar.
“Oh yeah, there might be a little choreography comin’ down the aisle or something — Beyonce might be in there,” Harrington mused as he started singing the pop star’s hit, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”
Harrington and Hope first met through mutual friends in Toronto, where they now live together in their west-end house that was just rebuilt after a fire a year and a half ago.
Hope spotted the ballet master across the way and asked: “Who’s that handsome guy over there?” said Harrington, who is one of the most recognizable male dancers in Canada.
“They went, ’Oh, that’s Rex Harrington,’ like he should know. And he said, ’Well, is that a stripper? Sounds like a stripper name. I don’t know who he is.”’
After seeing Harrington at a second event, Hope started sending him a series of romantic packages at the ballet company that he joined in 1983 and became principal dancer at in 1988.
The first parcel contained a CD with the Linda Eder tune “Anything Can Happen.” The second gift was a men’s dress glove accompanied by a “Romeo and Juliet” quote explaining its significance.
The last package had Scrabble tiles that spelled out the word “curious,” and a card that said, “Curious? Yes or No?” and instructions to go to rexwantstomeetbob.com in case Harrington was curious — which he was not.
“I was retiring at the time and I’d just gotten out of a horrible relationship,” said Harrington, who retired from the stage in 2004 but returns this summer in the role of Prince Gremin in “Onegin.” The production runs June 19 to 25 in Toronto.
“I thought, ’I can’t be bothered and I don’t want to get involved.”’
Harrington came around after Hope sent him yet another charming note.
“We just hit it off instantly and we sort of knew that that was it,” said Harrington. “It’s a weird sort of love at first sight, in a sense.”