Ballet Vero Beach is continuing its collaborative spirit with the introduction of a new partnership with the Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, founded in 2016 by Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, a former principal couple with Miami City Ballet. The company’s dancers are the lead instructors and choreographers during this summer’s eighth annual Riverside Dance Festival, presented by Ballet Vero Beach and Riverside Theatre.
The intensive two-week dance program began this week and concludes with performances on the Riverside Theatre Stark Stage by the professional dancers at 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and 3, as well as a student showcase performance at 2 p.m. Aug. 3, following the RT Star Back to School Bash.
Ballet Vero Beach has long collaborated to share its professional dancers with the American Midwest Ballet, but that company’s rapid growth has equated to a continuing increase in expenses, such as salaries, workers’ comp and health insurance.
“We love our Midwestern partners,” says Adam Schnell, BVB artistic director/CEO. However, geographically, he says, he began to appreciate the potential benefit of a relationship with the considerably closer Miami company.
“So I’d been watching them develop and thought about how much I pay for flights from the Midwest for dancers, when there’s a small company that could use our support about three hours driving south,” says Schnell, noting that airfare for this past December’s “Nutcracker on the Indian River” alone was $15,000. “Think about what we could do with that?”
He explains that Kronenberg and Guerra, a married couple, have recruited a troupe of exceptional dancers, including some ex-Cuban nationals. In December 2018 the fledgling company, now a resident company at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, even received an inaugural Knight New Work Miami grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
“They have a very diverse group of dancers; very talented dancers,” says Schnell. He notes that they have already performed at New York City’s Joyce Theatre and have twice been invited to perform at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts; a visit there will follow their Vero debut. “They’re really making a name for themselves as a hot young contemporary company in Miami.”
In the meantime, Schnell has had what he calls “difficult but productive conversations” with Erika Overturff, American Midwest Ballet’s founding artistic director.
“When we first started partnering with them, they had 12 dancers. They now have 28. That’s a big difference in terms of responsibility for salaries. It’s gotten big and it’s gotten expensive. Even when I choreographed ‘Nutcracker,’ it was intended to be 22 professional dancers,” says Schnell.
Likewise, Overturff is now faced with the realization that BVB is not currently in a position to add many projects, especially larger ones, must also look at her best options.
“So we’re both taking this year as a sort of a step back, in order to hopefully step forward together,” says Schnell. “The wonderful thing about all of this is that both American Midwest Ballet and Ballet Vero Beach have grown to the point where we have to have these conversations. So it’s a good problem to have, and we’re just taking some time to figure it out.”
Schnell says he and the board are looking into such long-range planning questions as: “Do we stay just with the Midwest company? Do we do a partnership with both? Do we have our own dancers living and working here full time?”
“I didn’t expect to be having this conversation until at least year 10; we’re entering year seven. Everything is accelerating, which is a good and a bad thing,” says Schnell. “The board and I really want to take the most cautious and responsible steps forward as possible. That’s why we’re even here today. We didn’t try to raise $300,000 that first year to put on our ‘Nutcracker’; it wouldn’t have worked. So we want to continue that slow, responsible growth.”
This season, Schnell says they hope to utilize Dimensions’ dancers for smaller projects, such as a performance at Windsor, or possibly as the dance company for the Atlantic Classical Orchestra and Vero Beach Museum of Art’s Chamber Music Series concert in April.
Fortunately, he says, Vero audiences will still be able to see some of their favorite Midwest dancers, while at the same time, getting to know new ones from Miami. For example, December’s “Nutcracker on the Indian River” performances will be a blended group of professional dancers from Miami and Omaha, along with local student dancers.
“I don’t want them to lose their favorite dancers, because you get attached to these people; I get attached to them. I love them all,” says Schnell. “Everyone is in a very good space; everyone understands the situation, even our new collaborators from Miami.”
Schnell says that after seeing some of the Dimensions performances, he knew the company would be a good fit, and they began having conversations about a possible partnership.
He notes that Ballet Vero Beach as an organization exists as its own separate entity, and that whether the collaborative is with American Midwest Ballet or Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami, the pieces, choreographers and artistic staff belong to Ballet Vero Beach.
“We’re meeting at the dancers,” Schnell explains. “But with the new possibility of someone being driving distance away, there may be more of an opportunity to share a production that includes sets and costumes. It doesn’t make sense to do it with a company out of Nebraska, because you have to ship the sets and the costumes across the country, and it’s prohibitively expensive.”
Another possible long-range option might be combining forces with Dimensions and meeting in the middle for some performances in the arts-centric Palm Beach County.
“We’re taking it slow and engaging the same way that Ballet Vero Beach has done with the Midwestern troupe first; just intersecting with the dancers and sort of seeing what develops,” says Schnell. “So it’s an interesting time. It’s a lot of possibilities and I’m excited to see what develops.”
Meanwhile, the Miami troupe is busy running the summer program, choosing the type of classes based on the strengths of their instructors and the students. The experience promises to be as fulfilling for the professional dancers as the students, as it gives them both the opportunity to produce original choreography, some of which audiences will see in the August performances.
The Riverside Dance Festival was initially set up and continues to be the ideal way to introduce Vero audiences to small dance companies from across the country, while also providing dance students with a chance to experience an intensive yet affordable two-week summer dance program.
“People talk about the summer slide for academics. If you can’t dance, think about how much you’ll lose,” says Schnell, adding that it’s always a great way for students pursuing a career in dance to make some professional contacts as well.
The Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami performances, 8 p.m. Aug. 2 and 3, will include such dances as Imagined Notions by Yanis Pikeris, and Light Rain, by Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino. The student showcase (free) is at 2 p.m. Aug. 3; all are on the Stark Stage at Riverside Theatre.
Evening performance tickets range from $10 to $75 and can be purchased at balletverobeach.org, riversidetheatre.com, or by calling the Riverside Theatre Box Office at 772-231-6990.