Francesca Harper and Eric Cohen
FRANCESCA HARPER and Eric Cohen seemed an improbable match when they met in 2000 at a New Year’s Eve party in SoHo.
She was a dancer and choreographer, then performing with the Broadway production of “Fosse.” He was an associate in the corporate department of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, a New York law firm.
“Lawyers and artists speak two different languages, so to me it was hard to imagine how they would communicate,” said Tanya Selvaratnam, a writer, actor and film producer who has known Ms. Harper for a decade.
At the party, Mr. Cohen saw the statuesque Ms. Harper struggling to uncork a bottle of wine and offered to help. They talked for 45 minutes. “We connected on a deep level so quickly,” said Ms. Harper, recalling that they discussed politics and social issues. But when they finished talking, he walked away without asking for her number.
“Eric said to me, ‘I met this amazing woman, but she’s way out of my league,’ ” recalled Darren Aronofsky, a film director and producer who most recently directed “The Fountain.” Mr. Aronofsky, who had invited Mr. Cohen to the party and has known him since their school days in Brooklyn, knew of his friend’s latent artistic language. “Eric was not only one of the smartest students in elementary school, he could draw better than anyone,” he said.
Mr. Cohen was still too apprehensive to ask Ms. Harper for her phone number, so instead he asked for, and received, her e-mail address.
She remembers his messages as “soulful, smart and astute,” but remained ambivalent until “a chemical moment” during their first date in mid-January, she said, adding it was “something in his voice.”
On Valentine’s Day, he sent her two dozen roses, and they met that night at a restaurant after Ms. Harper performed in the Village. “I remember getting a little nervous because it was so demonstrative in terms of his feelings,” she said of the bouquet — and they had yet to even share a kiss.
“Magically, when we left the bar we just started kissing on the street,” she said. “We were on the corner, and I think it was snowing, and we had the flowers in our hands and people were applauding us. That was our first kiss.”
In March 2003, the couple moved into a Manhattan apartment. But by early 2005, tensions were building. For one, by the time she got home at night, still energized by a performance, he had already put in a long lawyerly day at his new independent practice. It made making time for meaningful conversations difficult.
Ms. Harper, also a singer and actor, was entrenched with her just-begun Francesca Harper Project, which creates her original works for stage. Love took a backseat to work.
Still, each time they received wedding invitations from friends Ms. Harper wondered about their wedding.
Mr. Cohen, now 38, said: “I was in my early 30s and had other relationships that didn’t work out. I had this sense of not knowing. I’m not a George Bush type, who just makes a decision. I see the nuances. I argue it with myself.”
Ms. Harper, also in her 30s, trusted her feelings and, she said, had had enough. “We were kind of at a point where I said, ‘If you aren’t ready, I think you should leave.’ ”
They broke up. After about six months, they considered reuniting, but she insisted they see a couples’ counselor. During three months of counseling she recognized her “workaholic tendencies” and began making more time for him. He learned to drop his defenses “and give into” the relationship, he said.
They moved back in together in early 2006 and by June, they were engaged.
Their wedding was on March 10 at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater building in Manhattan, where Ms. Harper’s mother, Denise Jefferson, is the director of the Ailey School. The ceremony included traditions of the bridegroom, who is Jewish (breaking a glass, representing, he said, “our wish that our lives together would be longer than it would take to fit the broken pieces of glass back together again”) and of the bride, who is African-American (jumping the broom, a symbol of new beginnings).
“I would have never, ever put them together,” said Ms. Selvaratnam, who was at the party when the two first met and was ordained by Rose Ministries to marry the couple.
“It’s about embracing our differences and imperfections,” Ms. Harper said later, “and seeing them as beautiful and accepted.”