Former Miami City Ballet stars Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra have spent their lives in ballet studios, where teachers, directors and choreographers have always told them what to do. On this recent October afternoon, they are still in a studio, rehearsing with a phalanx of dancers at the Miami Youth Ballet in South Miami-Dade.
This time, however, they are the ones in charge. Instead of learning steps from Erin Mahoney Du, who is teaching the Cuban-themed ballet “Juanita y Alicia” to a dozen dancers, Kronenberg is sitting at the front of the studio, frowning with concentration as she takes notes. In the corner, Guerra alternates filming rehearsal and stretching in a deep lunge.
The couple, popular leading dancers at Miami City Ballet for 15 years, retired from the company last spring. Now they hope to turn their experience and reputation, their connections in Miami and the dance world and their appeal as a culturally mixed, loving married couple whose relationship lit up their performances in “Giselle” and “Romeo and Juliet” to make their new group, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, a success. The troupe makes a highly anticipated debut on Sunday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.
“It’s a whole different world,” says Guerra, laughing with his wife in an empty studio.
“Someone asked me the other day how I know how to do this,” says Kronenberg. “I’m learning as I’m doing. But it eases my fears to know that if we have questions or doubts, we have a plethora of people to go and ask.”
Indeed, a host of supporters, including many friends or former colleagues from MCB, have stepped up to help or encourage the new troupe. Miami Youth Ballet directors Yanis Pikieris and Marielena Mencia, a star couple from MCB’s earliest years, lent their studio for weeks of free rehearsal. Pedro Pablo Peña, head of the International Ballet Festival of Miami, hosted other rehearsals and a fundraising reception at his Hispanic Cultural Arts Center. Roberto Santiago, a former MCB publicist, helped get attention on multiple news and TV outlets. George Mattox, who has presented dance and opera in Miami since the 1980s, gave the couple a date he had reserved at the Auditorium and helped them apply for funding through his Hispanic American Lyric Theater, as they wait for their nonprofit paperwork to come through.
“When they told me what they want to do, I said any way we can support and help you, we’d be delighted,” says Pikieris, who is also lending a pas de deux he choreographed, “Ante El Escorial,” for Sunday’s show. “It’s great they decided to stay here in Miami. ... They have such a following, they’re such a beautiful couple, and they’re really smart and passionate about this. They really want to do it.”
MCB founding artistic director Edward Villella, who left the company in 2012 after a bitter clash with board members and donors, wanted Kronenberg to succeed him; the board chose current artistic director Lourdes Lopez. People close to the pair say there was tension between them and Lopez, although the couple have never said anything publicly and the troupe gave them a warm send-off, with several post-performance tributes last spring.
They have reached the age — she is 40, he is 37 — when classical dancers usually move on from full-time performing to teaching, coaching and other work. They were still at MCB, weighing starting a company vs. offers to teach, coach and perform, when a presenter on the Gulf Coast asked if they could put together a show there and Mattox offered them the date at Miami-Dade Auditorium. They asked advice from Septime Webre, who recently left his position as artistic director of the Washington Ballet, and he told them to jump.
“He said you need to do it right now,” says Kronenberg. “Because people know who you are right now, you’ll have the time, and if you’re sure you’re leaving, you don’t have any excuses.”
After years of dancing together and raising their daughter, Eva, who just turned 4, Kronenberg and Guerra are particularly intimate, nuzzling easily, finishing each other’s sentences. Now they’re closer than ever, spending days rehearsing, evenings with Eva and late nights on company business. Kronenberg keeps track of choreography and running rehearsals, as well as emails and administrative work; Guerra films rehearsals and turns his Cuban charm on social and funding contacts.
“Sometimes we have our own thoughts and we think we talked about it,” says Guerra. “We say ‘I told you this.’ ‘No you didn’t — that was in your mind.’ ”
The new troupe has a distinctively Miami and Cuban-flavored character thanks to the Cuban-born Guerra, who trained and danced on the island before joining MCB in 2001. Half the 15 dancers started with the National Ballet of Cuba, filling rehearsal with the sound of Spanish. Others, like the dynamic Sophie Miklosovic, 16 — who trained with revered Cuban teacher Magaly Suarez in Pompano Beach — and Pikieris’ son Eric Pikieris, are part of a new generation of South Florida talent.
“We really wanted to use local dancers,” Kronenberg says. “And they’re all so good!”
Chloe Freytag, an MCB dancer from 2010 to 2014, was delighted to be asked to join the new project.
“Jennifer and Carlos were always role models for me,” Freytag says. “I couldn’t pick anyone I’d rather work for. They both have very different dynamics, but they’re both brilliant and very knowledgeable. Everybody is excited about this.”
The company’s character is apparent in Sunday’s program, titled “Between Havana and Heaven.” “Juanita y Alicia” is by Cuban-American Webre, set to classic Cuban boleros (which will be played by an onstage band whose leader, Aline Garcia, grew up in Cuba with Guerra), and based on Webre’s mother’s stories of growing up in Havana, with a healthy dose of Cuban salsa and rumba moves. Kronenberg and Guerra performed in the other group work, “Under the Olive Tree,” a Greek mythology-themed piece by Atlanta Ballet dancer and choreographer Tara Lee, at the New Orleans Dance Theater — headed by another former MCB dance couple, Marjorie Hardwick and Gregory Schramel. The program is rounded out by Pikieris’ “Escorial” (set to music by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona) and the “Talisman Pas de Deux,” from a 19th century ballet by Marius Petipa, seldom done in the United States.
Even with all the good will, Kronenberg and Guerra have a difficult road ahead. Running and funding a dance company is enormously challenging. Other MCB spinoffs, including Pikieris and David Palmer’s Maximum Dance, and former MCB resident choreographer Jimmy Gamonet de los Heroes’ Ballet Gamonet (as well as a troupe formed by merging the two) started with similar enthusiasm only to falter later.
“Putting one show together is one thing, but maintaining a permanent company is another,” Pikieris warned them. “The first thing I told them was you have to really mean it. If you’re not really passionate, you’re going to give up at some point.”
For now, Kronenberg and Guerra plan to mix freelance teaching and performing with occasional performances by DDT. They’ve been further encouraged by their mentor Villella, who, despite the sour ending to his time in Miami, was enthusiastic about their idea.
“We talked to him as soon as we started and he said, ‘Guys, I think this is great,’ ” says Guerra.
“I thought he would say don’t do it, Miami’s not ready,” adds Kronenberg. “But he said if anybody can do this, it’s you two.”