Karen and Tony Montanaro perform in a Portland Ballet production of “Coppélia” in 1988. Contributed / Photo by CC Church

Maine performers Karen and Tony Montanaro struck up an unexpected whirlwind romance and performance partnership when she was an up-and-coming ballerina, and he was a renowned mime artist. Despite their different performing backgrounds and 34-year age gap, the two fell in love and transformed each other’s lives.

Karen Montanaro will perform her one-woman show about her relationship her late husband in “Tony Montanaro – A Love Story,” at 7 p.m. Saturday at Meetinghouse Arts in Freeport.

“He was really a force of nature,” she said. “I feel like I was scaling a very high mountain trying to do justice to this person who meant so much to me.”

Karen and Tony Montanaro File photo / Portland Press Herald

The show will consist of a mix of dance, storytelling and video visuals of the pair performing.

They met in 1987 in rehearsals for a production of “The Nutcracker.” She was a 27-year-old professional ballet dancer, and he was a 61-year-old mime artist and teacher. “I was really inexperienced in the world of love,” Montanaro said. Her most significant relationship in her life up to that time was with dance, she said.

After a rehearsal one day, Tony asked her out and promptly proposed to her over a cup of hot chocolate. “I didn’t take him seriously, of course,” she said, but by 1989, they were married.


“We were real soulmates,” she said. “There was no way I could predict I would marry a short Italian mime who was 34 years older than me. I had a whole different idea of what my life would look like.”

The two shared long conversations about their shared search for truth and meaning in life, which she said was what really brought them together. Montanaro said, “performing was an important part of our life, but mainly we were looking for something else.”

“I loved his intensity and how intently he was searching for the same thing I was,” she said.

The couple in a scene from Coppélia in 1988. Contributed / Photo by CC Church

When she first saw him perform, she said, she went to support him despite hating mime. “I was really thrown for a loop,” she said. “It was a gentle, sweet, amazing kind of joy that I felt watching this person.”

Her husband had studied mime with Marcel Marceau and Marceau’s teacher, Etienne Decroux. In addition to his life as a performer and mime artist, he founded the Celebration Barn Theater in South Paris, Maine, where he taught for 17 years. There, he directed touring companies and helped young performers launch their careers.

Montanaro said that while he transformed her career as a ballet dancer and performer, he also saved her life. “The things he taught in class and the experiences we had really slowly and absolutely brought me out of a history of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts,” she said. “It was a new realm of experience and exploration.


“Nobody was really with Tony full time like I was,” she said. “It was a really intimate, transformative relationship.”

He died in December of 2002, at the age of 76.

“My hope and goal is that you didn’t need to know or study with Tony in order to fall in love with him,” Montanaro said.

Crafting and rehearsing this show, she said, has been a way of connecting with him and maintaining their relationship.

“Our relationship didn’t stop. It’s deep and growing, and sometimes I still hear Tony talking to me,” she said.

Meetinghouse Arts is “delighted to have someone of Karen’s caliber on our stage,” said Executive Director Suzanne Watson.

“She has a lot of background and decades of reputation in the theater world and among longtime Freeport area theater goers,” Watson said. “We’re expecting a full house and tickets are selling fast.”

For more information on the show, go to meetinghousearts.org.

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