Before the announcement of their retirement as principal dancers with Miami City Ballet last spring, Carlos Guerra explained the artistic side of his relationship with his wife, Jennifer Kronenberg: “We share a complementary, balanced dynamic as a couple. I always get nervous a week before the ballet opens, but at that point she’s generally calm and reassuring. Then, on opening night, I become the calm one while she gets nervous. That's when I get to be the reassuring one.”
So at least one of the two should be a wreck with not only a new ballet but also their own dance company set to debut an entirely new program, Between Havana and Heaven, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium this Sunday. However, Guerra, dressed in a black practice outfit, and Kronenberg, in harlequin-patch practice pants and gold pointe shoes, are relaxed and focused while Atlanta Ballet’s Tara Lee leads the rehearsal for the couple's new company, Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami.
When they retired from Miami City Ballet, offers to dance in other cities inundated Guerra and Kronenberg, yet both were reluctant to leave the South Florida home they had known for decades.
“We knew that whatever we chose to do next needed to be significant, relevant, and have an impact on the arts expansion that is happening in South Florida. Creating a company seemed like the best avenue to follow in trying to achieve that." Kronenberg says.
“We named the company Dimensions because we intend to be a multidimensional ballet company,” she continues. “South Florida is so rich and diverse in culture, and we want to reflect that in our programming.”
That mission prompted them to ask dancer and choreographer Lee to contribute a piece for their inaugural program.
"Under the Olive Tree," choreography by Tara Lee.
Joseph Guay, courtesy of New Orleans Ballet Theatre
At rehearsal, Lee presses her hand against her hip and rotates her body like a hinge, instructing the dancers: “First, go low; then pop high. Keep it very flat; then chug back. From there, thread your head and, with your hand, push your hip around.”
Six dancers from the company take their marks on the gray marley of the bright, open studio on the second floor of Miami Youth Ballet Dance in South Miami. Violins rock out the summer tempest of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and the dancers’ arms and legs spring open, knees lifted in a kick; then each drops with a pivot. The troupe snaps out the sequence as if tweaking a routine honed for weeks. But in fact, Lee says, “This is the first day I’ve had them.”
A member of Atlanta Ballet since 1999, Lee has choreographed works for several companies, including the New Orleans Ballet Theater. There, she first worked with Guerra and Kronenberg. “It was so beautiful to work with Jen,” Lee says. “She’s an artist who could meet me with ideas of her own. I could feed off her instead of just dictating the choreography, as sometimes happens with less experienced dancers. To work with someone who ‘adds to the soup’ was wonderful!”
As they clear the floor at the end of rehearsal, Guerra, who has been mirroring the dancers’ movements, explains the collaboration. “Jennifer and I worked with Lee over the summer, and when we saw this piece danced by the company in New Orleans, I said to her: ‘I want this for my dancers.’”
Lee’s "Under the Olive Tree" is a choreography structured on an abstract theme based on the romances and jealousies of the Greek gods. The score collages composers and works ranging from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Max Richter’s Fragment.
Guerra further explains that many of the company’s dancers come straight from the National Ballet of Cuba and exhibit the precise classical training for which the Cuban school is famous. “We had worked with these dancers in a previous performance. When we pulled the trigger on the project of forming a company, we already had our world-class dancers.”
Kronenberg adds, “We had planted a little seed for safe keeping in the backs of our minds, and little by little, as we started sharing our ideas with people and finding support, this new company began manifesting into a reality more quickly than we ever expected possible.”
The response of the dance community, locally and nationally, has been enthusiastic. “'How can we help you?’ has been the most constant response we received to our idea,” Kronenberg says. “For instance, we only said we were thinking of forming a company, and former Washington Ballet artistic director and choreographer Septime Webre immediately offered us a ballet for the program.”
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Webre’s ballet, Juanita y Alicia, is based on traditional Cuban folk boleros and pays homage to the essence of Cuban culture using the vocabulary of classical ballet.
“We’ve booked a live ensemble to accompany the dancers,” Guerra says, “one of my boyhood connections from Cuba, Alain Garcia, and his Latin Power Band. The music is going to be amazing!”
Between Havana and Heaven
Performed by Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami. 5 p.m. Sunday, November 20, at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami. Tickets cost $32. Visit dimensionsdancemia.com.