Dimensions Dance Theatre, the new troupe launched by former Miami City Ballet stars Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, made its debut Sunday with a joyous burst of energy, live music and good will. Running a dance company is a dauntingly difficult endeavor. But from the vibrant performances to the enthusiastic audience, Sunday’s show at Miami-Dade County Auditorium was an auspicious, even inspiring, start.
The crowd was so much larger than the 400 anticipated that the curtains partitioning the theater had to be raised. The couple’s long local history and popularity drew an audience filled with current and former MCB dancers, staff and supporters, as well as other dance and community figures. The excitement in the house was almost palpable.
It was matched — and propelled — by the energy on stage. The 15 dancers performed with an urgency that spoke to Kronenberg and Guerra’s leadership. They were a distinctively South Florida crew, half from Cuba, plus former members of MCB and others trained by area teachers. “This has become a family and a team we didn’t know we’d find after we left Miami City Ballet,” Kronenberg said in a pre-show speech. “All this is due to their passion and artistry. We hope you are all proud to have them here.”
The program, “From Havana to Heaven,” was made up of two group pieces and two pas de deux, each different and all but one completely new to Miami. Tara Lee’s “Under the Olive Tree” opened with a towering sculptural tableau of 11 dancers silhouetted against a pillar of light (the warm, richly textured lighting design throughout was by Sam Deshauteurs), meant to be gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. They broke apart into sequences that expressed those deities’ famously flawed personalities, propelled by Vivaldi’s intricate “The Four Seasons.” Who was meant to be who was unclear, but there was a stark, striking solo for Josue Justiz, and an antic Dionysian group segment. Justiz and Gabriel Mesa, a beautifully lush dancer, had a lovely, sensual pas de deux; Ignacio Galindez and Mayrel Martinez were tensely at odds. Thundering sounds (by composer Max Richter) sent them into a near chaotic rush, until they returned, as if hypnotized, to their tableau, reluctantly trapped by fate.
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Kronenberg and Guerra made their only appearance in “Ante el Escorial,” which Yanis Pikieris, one of MCB’s original stars, made for the short-lived Miami group Juegos del Arte and set to piano music by Ernesto Lecuona (played on stage by Marcel Guerra.) The directors’ intimate chemistry made this portrait of a yearning, emotionally fraught couple, full of sweeping lifts and dramatic separations and embraces, a potent one.
The best part of “El Talisman pas de deux,” from a now kitsch-looking 19th century “exotic” ballet, was seeing Katia Carranza, a former MCB principal dancer appearing as a guest from Mexico’s Ballet de Monterrey, greeted by enthusiastic cheers. Carranza, in a glittery midriff-baring costume, was as charming and authoritative as ever, simultaneously warm and crystal precise, with effortlessly sky-high arabesques and silkily fluid gestures. Partner Maikel Hernandez (a guest from Houston Bay Area Ballet) has a powerful athleticism that served him well in big turning jetes and jumps, but he looked strained and occasionally clunky.
The closer, Septime Webre’s “Juanita y Alicia,” inspired by stories Webre’s Cuban mother told about the family in Havana, could have been an exercise in Cuban nostalgia. Instead, it was an exuberant celebration of culture and spirit. The excellent seven-piece ensemble Alain Garcia and The Latin Power played classic Cuban son and boleros from upstage, firing up 10 dancers, in Liz Vandal’s loose, ’20s-style white skirts, shorts and shirts.
Happily, there’s very little cliche hip-shaking. Instead, surging, interwoven group dances capture a sense of playful community and energy. The men — Justiz, Stephan Fons, Eric Pikieris and Galindez — were particularly dynamic, and a more relaxed Hernandez, diving and flipping, looked terrific. Muscular Todd Fox is a kind of outsider figure (in odd, bright-colored knit pants), paired with a yearning and compelling Chloe Freytag to “Dos Gardenias.” The piece ended exuberantly with a breakneck rendition of “El Cuarto de Tula,” the dancers swirling rapidly, resolving into a slow, sepia-lit tableau, Freytag and Fox reaching for each other, their longing a stand-in for a deeper craving.
There were moments in “Olive Tree” and Webre’s piece where the dancers seemed rushed, or where the choreography was not cleanly or fully executed — not surprising for a disparate group learning a lot of new material in a short time. But the performance was always compelling and exciting. The audience cheered wildly at the end, and later many gathered at the stage door outside to cheer some more. Kronenberg and Guerra have tapped into something; the question now is where they can take it.