Performing Arts

On the Rise: Brazilian teen leads Miami City Ballet

By the age of 10, Renan Cerdeiro knew what he wanted.

“It was always my dream to be in a big and famous ballet company and dance nice parts,” he says. He also knew he could not fulfill that dream at home in Rio de Janeiro.

“We don’t have many ballet companies in Brazil. So I always told my parents I would go away and live in another country to dance. They would laugh at me.”

Eight years later, Cerdeiro might be the one laughing, if he weren’t so busy living his dream. At only 18, he is a soloist at Miami City Ballet, promoted from apprentice just last month, dancing solo roles in two of the three ballets on the program Friday through Sunday. In March, he plays the ardent male lead in the company’s premiere of Romeo and Juliet.

Cerdeiro has rocketed up the ranks since he started three years ago as one of a group of talented Brazilian students at MCB’s school. While his compatriots have also moved quickly into the company, Cerdeiro has shot even farther ahead, propelled by a rare combination of physique, talent, intelligence and charisma.

“He’s an absolute treasure for us,” says MCB director Edward Villella. Good male dancers are hard to come by, especially tall, good-looking, versatile ones, and Cerdeiro has danced leads in Jerome Robbins’ nuanced Dances at a Gathering, George Balanchine’s crackling neo-classical Four Temperaments and several of Twyla Tharp’s casually virtuoso pieces, including Nine Sinatra Songs which he will dance this weekend.

“He has a wonderful facility. He has dancer smarts and instincts,” Villella says. “He learns quickly; he’s very handsome.”

How unusual is it to find that combination at in someone so young?

“Outstanding,” says Villella, a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes. “When we see talent that gets us excited, we don’t wait.”

On a recent weekday, Cerdeiro’s smarts — along with the rest of him — were getting a workout. Upstairs in one of MCB’s sunny Miami Beach studios, he was learning one of the lead roles in Balanchine’s monumental Symphony in Three Movements. The part requires him to bound like a joyful deer, then whip through a kind of modernist jitterbug to the jagged Stravinsky music.

“So, is this easy?” principal dancer Katia Carranza asks impishly, and Cerdeiro shakes his head, blinking and pointing to his temple, as if to signal “I’m thinking.”

Rehearsing with him are Carranza, Renato Penteado, Patricia and Jeanette Delgado, all seasoned principal dancers, instructing Cerdeiro with a flurry of demonstrations and a chattering mix of Spanish and English (which he has also learned since arriving here). But they treat him with affectionate respect.

“You did four!” Patricia Delgado shrieks laughingly, as Cerdeiro spins grimacing out of a torrent of turns, “You can’t possibly do five!”

“He’s great,” says Penteado, 30, a fellow Brazilian who has been something of a mentor. “He’s smart, quick. He absorbs very fast. He’s not only a dancer; he’s an artist. He was born to do this.”

Cerdeiro’s intensity and seriousness make others tend to forget how young he is. Jeanette Delgado remembers how he encouraged her through a bout of nerves during last fall’s PBS shoot for a Dance in America segment.

“He was so focused and mature, and he had this calm,” Delgado says. “Though he’s so young he has this sense of charisma.”

Charisma is required for leading male dancers, as is authority. Cerdeiro is still making the transition from grateful, aspiring student, careful to praise the older dancers he admires.

“When I first started getting nice parts in big ballets, I didn’t want them to think I was getting their parts,” he says. As he carefully parades Tricia Albertson through a romantic pas de deux from Scotch Symphony, a lyrical Balanchine piece the company performs this weekend, ballet mistress Roma Sosenko pushes him to assert himself.

“You should be leading her,” Sosenko urges. But he slips effortlessly into Scotch’s elegant style, and Sosenko mostly leaves him alone. “Are you OK on your turns?” she asks, moving on quickly as he nods in assent.

Like Villella and others at the company, Sosenko has remarked on Cerdeiro’s uncanny resemblance to Fernando Bujones, the Cuban-American ballet superstar of the 1970s and ’80s. Not only is there a close physical similarity — the same wide-shouldered but whippet-thin build; gold-brown coloring; lean, triangular face (and prominent ears) — but Bujones also vaulted to principal dancer at American Ballet Theater early, at 19.

“Fernando went up like this, too. You can’t stop them,” Sosenko says. “When we got Renan and saw what he could do, we just kept him going and going.”

Thanks to videos, Bujones was one of Cerdeiro’s idols growing up in Brazil, not only for his virtuosity but also for the possibilities the Latin American dancer presented. “He inspired me,” Cerdeiro says. “I saw that even if you’re not American, you can still get into a big company here.”

Like many male dancers (including Villella), Cerdeiro started dancing at 5 because his parents took him along to his older sister’s ballet classes. He studied at the Alice Arja School of Ballet, run by a former ballerina who has developed a close relationship with MCB and its school. Cerdeiro was among the first small group of Arja students who started at the school in January 2008.

“That skinny little boy,” chuckles Carter Alexander, the MCB school’s principal. Others from that talented group are also now in MCB, including Kleber Rebello, Nathalia Arja, Alexandre Ferreira and Andrei Chagas. When he arrived, Cerdeiro, far from his big family and friendly Rio neighborhood, was overwhelmed by his new surroundings. But he was also exhilarated by the challenge. In his first class at MCB, the strict Russian teacher yelled at him.

“It was OK,” he says. “She wanted my best. When I got here I knew it was the right place for me.”

By his second year, he was apprenticing with the company and catching Villella’s eye. “He just had such a natural feel for it,” Alexander says. “Everything started to connect. he used to get so frustrated when he didn’t get something right away. He wants to be good. He wants to be better than good.”

Cerdeiro’s biggest challenge and opportunity will come with Romeo and Juliet, the John Cranko version of the beloved romantic classic that MCB performs for the first time on March 25. “It’s so beautiful — and it’s hard,” he says, not only for the many lifts and demanding partnering but also for the emotional intensity. “That part should be something real,” he says. “Like you’re living that role.”

Late in the afternoon, he and Carranza go over the key pas de deux — the balcony scene, the bedroom scene — with Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, MCB’s popular, married leading couple. They haven’t rehearsed their parts since they learned the ballet last August, and Cerdeiro and Carranza struggle with the soaring lifts and detailed, intimate partnering. Cerdeiro laughs; then, as they do it again and again, he turns serious. He clasps Carranza’s hands tightly, folds around her. Suddenly, you see how much he is in love.