Daniel Rajna and Tracy Li

STEPPING back onto the stage is turning out to be a bittersweet proposition, according to Daniel Rajna. Getting superfit again is great, but the nerves might just be the end of him.

Dance partner Tracy Li jokes that she fantasises about saying she is too sick to get out of bed to rehearse, but then she gets up anyway.

Being nervous and stressing about their guest appearance in Cape Town City Ballet’s forthcoming production of Carmen has its uses: “It makes you focus,” says Li.

She describes the two as self-competitive and very trusting of each other, while he points out that he is an adrenalin junkie and she probably is, too.

The award-winning pair danced together for many years as one of Cape Town City Ballet’s principle couples before retiring on a high note after a performance of Camille in 2007. While he started studying (Rajna is a qualified civil technologist), she started teaching dance, coaching Cape Town City Ballet dancers and the occasional class at the UCT School of Dance.

Li stepped back onto the professional stage in 2013, again in Camille, and persuaded Rajna to dance with her last year in Ballet Beautiful.

Discussing whether to come back for a bigger performance was a chat of more than a year.

Rajna says the choice of production is what ultimately pushed them both to say “yes”.

“Had they asked us to do Don Q we would have said ‘no’, because that would have been a suicidal thing to do. This is only half suicidal,” he says, only for Li to burst out laughing.

“Let’s just say, it’s not a white tights and tutu ballet,” she explains. “It (Carmen) does require technique, it doesn’t require that absolutely ridiculous precision that you can only have when you’re in constant high training.”

“This ballet requires a lot of dramatic and movement quality, two things you can do when you are older. What you’re not going to have, in anyone’s case, you’re not going to be as supple, jump as high, but I accept that. Although, having said that, I’m trying to do better, but that’s only normal,” he said.

The bottom line is that while both retired from the stage, they kept on dancing. She’s been teaching, while he still manages at least one ballet class a week, and of course, most importantly stretching in his own time.

“One time he was practising this complicated turn, six months ago. We were just doing classes, and he wasn’t on top of it and kept on practising. I said to him: ‘Why are you practising that turn, you don’t have to be so strict, you’re not going to do it again?’ And he said: ‘That’s more of a reason to persevere and make it better,’” said Li.

“That doesn’t make sense,” he says to her.

“It does, you’ve got that mind to persevere and do better, whether or not you are on show,” she replies. “That’s very rare. I can’t do that myself. I need someone to tell me: ‘You have got to do it’, but he doesn’t need that. That’s why I knew it would work.”

Also, it helps that they have danced the roles of Carmen and Don Jose before.

• Carmen runs at Artscape from March 25 to 31. Rajna and Li dance on the 28th and 31st.