Jordan Levin

Miami City Ballet: filled with dancer couples on and off-stage

Miami City Ballet’s Carlos Guerra proposed to fellow dancer Jennifer Kronenberg on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. Photographed at the Miami City Ballet studios on Miami Beach on February 1, 2016.
Miami City Ballet’s Carlos Guerra proposed to fellow dancer Jennifer Kronenberg on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. Photographed at the Miami City Ballet studios on Miami Beach on February 1, 2016.

From the heartbreaking love stories of Swan Lake and Giselle, to the abstract but intimate couples in contemporary works, romance and ballet have always gone together.

At Miami City Ballet, romance extends off-stage into real life. Almost half the company, 22 of the troupe’s 51 dancers, are paired into couples.

Part of the reason is their intense schedule. Long days in their Miami Beach studios, and frequent weekends performing, make it difficult to meet — much less get to know — an outsider. For some, the arcane, intense nature of ballet means only another dancer can understand their dreams and struggles. The hours of dancing together can make it easy to slip from physical to emotional intimacy. And the Miami company is a close-knit and sociable group, which encourages not only friendships but deeper bonds.

MCB opens its third program of the season this Valentine’s Day weekend at the Adrienne Arsht Center with two company premieres: The Year of the Rabbit, the breakout ballet by New York City Ballet choreographer Justin Peck, who created the striking Heatscape for MCB last season; and Sunset, an emotional 1994 portrait of the experiences of men and women during wartime by modern choreographer Paul Taylor. Balanchine’s extravagant, sparkling Bourree Fantasque rounds out the evening.

In honor of ballet’s romantic spirit and this holiday celebrating love, we present four of the company’s couples detailing how they fell in love, what keeps them together and the role dance plays in their lives together.

Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, 39, and Carlos Miguel Guerra, 37. Principal dancers, married.

Guerra was drawn to Kronenberg as soon as he joined MCB in 2001. But she was older, aloof (and shy) and dating another dancer, while Guerra, who had recently left Cuba, didn’t speak English. They were quickly cast together, which was torture for him. “She never gave me a hint,” Guerra says. “I thought it’s going to be horrible if I say something and she says “who do you think you are?” and we have to keep dancing together.” Although Kronenberg felt a connection onstage, she figured Guerra, who liked to party with lots of girls, was not for her. “There was definitely chemistry,” she says. “But I was at a different stage in my life.”

Four years in, as they were rehearsing the lead roles in Giselle alone in the studio, Guerra told her he was in love with someone in the company, and as Kronenberg teasingly asked him who, finally confessed. “I opened my mouth it was a like a train running,” he says. “I said that person is you, I know I’ve been a playboy but I’ll become a different person, I want to marry you.”

Kronenberg was doubtful at first. “It was a leap of faith for me,” she says. “But the minute we started dating we felt like we’d known each other forever.” Guerra secretly sent flowers to her dressing room when they debuted Giselle, whispered to her on stage that she was beautiful, he wanted to kiss her, she smelled delicious. “I would get so angry,” says Kronenberg. “I’m focused on what I’m doing and he’s being Rico Suave behind me.”

He planned to propose in a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day 2006. Instead, Guerra’s aunt and Kronenberg’s grandmother engineered a family gathering. “I was like “is this a Cuban thing?” Kronenberg says.

“They kept saying “Let’s go Carlos, don’t you have something to say?” Guerra remembers. “Finally I said ‘Mi amor, I fell in love the first time I saw you.’ ” Louder, his family urged, and hurry up, we know this part. Guerra apologized to Kronenberg for a week.

They were married that May. In spring 2012, as they danced Giselle again, Kronenberg found herself pregnant with Eva, now 3. And though dancing and living together can be stressful, their chemistry is as strong as ever. “On stage there’s an intimacy we can’t get with anybody else,” Kronenberg says. “In rehearsals it’s not always easy, because we can be brutally honest and things can get heated. But at the same time he’s my favorite person in the world. There’s no one I’d rather be with 24 hours a day.”

Michael Sean Breeden, 28, and Neil Marshall, 32. Corps de ballet, engaged.

When Neil Marshall joined Miami City Ballet in summer 2007, he covered up his attraction to Michael Sean Breeden by teasing him.

“It was sort of a rom-com situation,” Breeden says. “Neil liked to make fun of me. I have very strong opinions in the arts, and he’d say the opposite to annoy me. I started out thinking he was obnoxious, and then I realized he liked me.”

Over the next six months, they became friends, then something more. The teasing has become mutual — Marshall still mocks Breeden’s seriousness, while he makes fun of Marshall’s easygoing attitude. “I freely admit that compared to Michael I’m lazy,” Marshall says.

In the eight years since they became a couple, they’ve spent only three weeks apart. They share an apartment half a dozen blocks from the ballet with three stray cats they rescued, and they walk to work. Marshall cooks, though Breeden sometimes does breakfast (“I’m very good at toast,” he says.) During the company’s summer breaks, they travel together.

Sharing the triumphs and difficulties of dancing is key to their relationship.

“Things that matter to us seem so trivial to others,” says Marshall. “There are certain elements of your life that you couldn’t share with someone who didn’t know what you were doing.”

“It’s more than a career; it’s a passion,” says Breeden. “If you bomb a rehearsal, an outsider might say “what’s the big deal?” But to us it feels very personal. You need someone to assuage your fears that your career isn’t going into the toilet for one bad rehearsal.”

After the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last summer, they became engaged. They plan to marry in New York City the day after MCB closes its April debut at Lincoln Center, so they can celebrate with their Miami and New York dancer friends. It will also be a closing cast party; even their wedding will be a celebration of dancing.  

Renan Cerdeiro, 23, and Jovani Furlan, 22. Principal and soloist, living together.

When Jovani Furlan began apprenticing at Miami City Ballet in early 2011, he naturally joined Renan Cerdeiro and the cohort of other talented teenage Brazilians in the troupe, living in the same building, joined by language and culture. They dated briefly, then drifted apart — but couldn’t stay that way.

“He was always joking and laughing — there was something special in him that was attractive to me,” says Cerdeiro, who began as a scholarship student at MCB when he was 15 and quickly moved up in the company. “The way he cared about his friends, and how much he got involved — I could tell he had a good heart.”

Furlan says that heart always belonged to Cerdeiro. “Deep down I don’t think we went that far from each other,” he says. “He was always in my mind. I kept my distance, but then I realized I couldn’t because I liked him so much. It just felt like it was meant to be.”

Three years ago they began dating seriously, moving in together a year and a half later.

“It’s a long time,” says Furlan. “It doesn’t seem like it,” adds Cerdeiro.

They are among MCB’s most talented and prominent dancers. They help each other rather than competing, although Furlan says he has more to learn from Cerdeiro, a principal who joined MCB three years earlier. “I watched him dance since I got here, and I find him really inspiring,” he says. “I still try to take a lot from him when we do the same roles.”

Their appreciation for each other’s dancing blends with their physical appeal for each other. “It’s inevitable,” says Cerdeiro. “If you see a beautiful dancer on stage it’s already attractive, so when you know the person it happens even more.”

They also live together a few blocks away and share chores and talking through the pressures of the day. They may be in terrific shape, but they love food and trying new restaurants. They also enjoy binging on ballet videos — or shows like Friends, New Girl and Orange is the New Black.

Some days they’re together all the time (they even share the same dressing room before performances). But others, rehearsing different roles, they spend apart. Either way, they’re happy to come home to each other.

“You would think it would be hard to deal with,” says Cerdeiro. “And it really isn’t. Even when there are stressful things, we know what it feels like.”

“Because of how our relationship works,” says Furlan. “I don’t feel like there are downsides.” 

Ella Titus, 19 and Alex Manning, 21. Corps de ballet, dating.

Ella Titus and Alex Manning are essentially high school sweethearts — except their school was ballet. They met in 2013 at a summer intensive at the San Francisco Ballet School. Manning watched her in the hallways, while Titus searched his name out on the class schedule so she could watch him dance. “He was cute,” she says. “She knew I was staring at her,” Manning adds. They planned to re-unite when they started apprenticeships at Miami City Ballet later that year.

“We already knew we’d be a couple when we got to Miami,” Titus says. They were still growing up: She was 16, going to Miami Beach Senior High School part time; he had just graduated. They lived in nearby dorms for out-of-town MCB students and apprentices, hanging out in the courtyard or going out for burgers, because boys and girls weren’t allowed to be in their rooms together. He joined the company in 2014; she followed a year later, after graduating high school.

“Neither of us knew how to be adults, but we had to wake up and do it,” says Manning. “We got through it together.”

When Titus worried that she wouldn’t make it into MCB, Manning encouraged her. “I wanted to stay here with him,” she says.

They’ve already discovered that nondancers don’t get it. “Normal kids don’t understand why you get paid to dance,” Titus says. “They don’t understand how hard it is.”

“They think you should go to college, not put all your eggs in one basket, not give up going to parties,” says Manning.

They keep separate apartments, though they spend most evenings together. Manning usually cooks dinner while Titus knits (she makes and sells legwarmers) and cleans up. Since they can’t afford to go out, they make up for it by gorging at home: Last week they devoured a whole pork shoulder. “She just ate half a tub of ice cream,” Manning says.

As newcomers in the corps, they haven’t really danced together yet. But they hope to. “I’ve heard a couple stories of proposals after dancing Romeo and Juliet,” says Manning. “But you’ve gotta be an amazing power couple to do that together.”

If You Go

What: Miami City Ballet in Program III

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 12-13, 2 p.m. Feb. 14

Where: Ziff Ballet Opera House, Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami

Info: $20 to $99, or 305-929-7010

Program repeats Feb. 20 to 21 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and Feb. 26 to 28 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach