Cupcakes & Conversation with Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg, Principal, Miami City Ballet
Jennifer is married to fellow Miami City Ballet principal, Cuban Carlos Miguel Guerra. Jennifer joined MCB in 1994 as an apprentice and has been a principal since 2001, the year that Carlos joined the company. Jennifer writes on her blog and has recently published a book passing on the benefit of her experience as a professional dancer, called So you want to be a ballet dancer?, which I will be reviewing very soon.
What motivates you at 8am on a Tuesday morning ?
Well, I’m really not a morning person, so I find it very difficult to drag myself out of bed on Tuesday mornings! I have to admit though, at the risk of sounding like a complete bunhead, that I’m almost ALWAYS motivated when it comes to ballet. I have to be in bed close to my death to miss a day …really! I’m not sure why that is, I’ve just always been that way. I also find that on the rare days that I don’t feel like it, if I push myself to go, and work extra hard, I end up feeling great (and proud that I ploughed through).
Why ballet ?
That’s almost like asking myself why vanilla and not chocolate? It’s just my favorite; always has been, always will be. I have always felt a strong connection to ballet, even as a child, and I have always found it to be the most beautiful, feminine, challenging, and disciplined of dance styles. I enjoy being exposed to other styles, just like I enjoy tasting different flavors of ice cream, but at the end of the day, I always know which one I’ll go back to and choose over the rest!
What are you looking forward to dancing this year ?
We are scheduled to premiere two new works this season that I am really looking forward to; one will be by Alexei Ratmansky, and the other by a young “up and coming” British choreographer named Liam Scarlett. I am also looking forward to dancing Giselle again in the spring. It is truly one of my favorite ballets and I find that I experience and discover something new each time that I approach it. Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun is also on the rep for this season – I am anxious to perform that ballet again as well!
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?
I am very fortunate – I almost always get to dance with my preferred partner … my husband Carlos! If I had to choose a partner, he’d win hands down every time! We just danced John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet together and it was an utterly unforgettable experience! Pretty much, I am happy, and feel most comfortable, dancing anything with him.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if I could choose to dance with anyone (not necessarily a male partner), then I’d like to dance opposite Julie Kent. In Concerto Barrocco or Apollo, perhaps? She’s so fluid and musical, and she always has such a great sense of calm about her. I have always admired her and sharing the stage with her would be a dream!
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I have always wanted to dance in Paris, France, and MCB is going there this July!!! I can’t wait! We have also danced twice at the NY City Center, which was a long-time dream of mine … now I’d like to dance at the Metropolitan Opera House! (Maybe one day???) Overall though, I would love to keep dancing in different countries and cities around Europe, and I’d also love to dance in Japan.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I don’t really do that much to them. I sew the ribbons and elastics on first, then I cut off the satin tip and darn around the edges. I then step firmly on each box to “flatten” it, and work the shank back and forth a bit. My shoes already come 3/4rd and without nails, so I don’t have much work to do. I then pour a tube of Super Glue into each tip and let them dry overnight.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
On a typical rehearsal day, I wake up at 8am and jump straight into the shower. I drink my coffee as I continue to get ready, and I’ll usually eat a quick bowl of cereal and have a little bit of juice before I run out the door. If I’m running late, then I’ll take a slice of toast with peanut butter, a yogurt and some fruit to eat in the car on the way. Company class starts at 10am. Carlos and I like to get there a little bit before to warm up and stretch, but as I said before, I’m not a morning person, so it doesn’t always work out that way! Class is an hour and a half, followed by six hours of rehearsal. From 2:30 – 3:30pm, we pause to have lunch, and I usually sneak in a little physical therapy or massage. More often than not, I am dancing the whole day. If I find myself with an hour off, sometimes I am asked to run a rehearsal here and there. If not, then I really try to get in some valuable therapy time! By 7pm, we’re on our way back home and ready for dinner and a hot shower or bath. If I’m not too exhausted I’ll join Carlos in our pool for a swim. I always spend a little time on the computer, or watching TV to unwind before bed, and I try to be asleep by midnight (though I’ve been aiming to make that earlier!)
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?
I always have breakfast in the morning, even if it is a small one. I’ll then snack continuously throughout the day on yogurt, nuts, fruit, and an occasional protein or granola bar. Lunch is usually either a Lean Cuisine entree or a small sandwich or salad with a cup of soup. I don’t like to eat anything excessively heavy if I have to dance right after lunch. If that is the case, I’ll stick to something liquid such as a protein shake and some fruit. Dinner is my preferred meal of the day, and I always have a good one! Meat, fish, tofu or chicken with lots of veggies or salad, and a side of brown rice, whole grain pasta, or my new discovery – quinoa. I also never skip dessert – a small cup of low-fat ice-cream or frozen yogurt is usually my favorite.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?
George Balanchine, Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, Margot Fonteyn, Nelson Mandela, and Alexandra Danilova. Strange group? It would make for some very interesting conversation I think!
What would surprise people about you ?
I think people would be surprised to know that when I’m not dancing, I’m a terrible klutz! I trip, fall down, hit my head, you name it…all of the time! I think people also might be surprised to know that I still get nervous (though in a good way) before each performance, and that after fifteen years of dancing, I am still full of annoying little insecurities.
Who inspired you to dance ?
My late grandmother Carla and my first ballet teacher Teresa Aubel both inspired me tremendously and kept me motivated and believing in myself throughout all of my childhood and teenage years. On the days when I doubted that I’d make it to a career as professional ballerina, they truly believed that I could, and they helped me to believe in myself and in my dreams, and inspired me to work as hard as I could to make those dreams come true.
What is your best piece of advice ?
Never give up, always believe in yourself, and always try to remember what you love most about dancing. Set goals for yourself and work as hard as you can to achieve them. Keep your chin up in the face of adversity, and learn how to accept criticism. Never be satisfied with mediocrity – always strive to be better and learn more. At the end of the day, you must dance and work for yourself, and for your own integrity. Try to focus on, and be proud of yourself. Don’t worry so much about everyone else.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
I usually like to be alone for a while in my dressing room, and if not take a little nap, then just lay down and visualize what I am going to dance that night. If it is a role that I’m very nervous about, then I’ll try to listen to some music, or read a book or magazine to take my mind off of being anxious. I always do my hair and makeup before I warm up. I’ll usually do some yoga exercises and light stretching before doing a full barre. I like to get my costume and shoes on a little bit ahead of time to feel out the stage and try out any last minute steps or go over any choreography.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Emotionally, Giselle and Juliet were the most exhausting and took the most preparation and research. I rehearsed quite a bit on my own, all alone, to become completely comfortable and confident with the characters. Technically, Theme and Variations, and Ballet Imperial have been two of the most challenging, and Ballo della Regina (though I only danced one show) and Kitri in Don Quixote were two roles that really surprised me. Both were extremely difficult for me technically and stamina wise, and somehow I thought that I’d never be able to dance them…at least not well. When given the chance, I was determined to dance them better than anyone expected I could, and I surprised myself. It took a lot of hard work and frustration, but I was really proud of myself in the end.
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?
Probably something simple and elegant that accentuates my legs, while helping to elongate my torso just a bit. I love form fitting, light weight costumes, that have flowing skirts (not too long), and I’d definitely make it out of a non-slip fabric.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
I think the ideal partner is someone who is polite, gracious, generous, and cares most about what the ballerina looks like as opposed to what HE looks like. He should be pleasant and make eye contact…and smelling good is also a BIG plus! Lucky for me, Carlos has all of these attributes and more. Now that we’re married, sometimes we overstep professional boundaries, and we have to keep reminding each other (only in rehearsal) to still be polite and gracious with one another – but on stage, there is nothing better than dancing with the person that you love and trust most in the world.
What is your favourite quote ?
About life: (Words of wisdom, and things I try not to forget)
Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. ~Mark Twain
A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous. ~Coco Chanel
About career: (I can identify so much with both of these in ballet)
I don’t think your insecurity ever disappears. Sometimes, I think the more successful you become, the less secure you feel. This is kind of frightening, really. ~Audrey Hepburn
I am proud to have been in a business that gives pleasure, creates beauty, and awakens our conscience, arouses compassion, and perhaps most importantly, gives millions a respite from our so violent world. ~Audrey Hepburn
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
Ha! No!!! But I sure wish that I did! I do love pique turns and coupe jetés, but I wouldn’t say that they just come naturally!
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
“Patience is a virtue“. Carlos hates when I say it. I need to try to stop.
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
There have been so many amazing and unforgettable moments, but probably the most wonderful, and the most recent was dancing the Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet on opening night for MCB’s 25th Anniversary gala and the company premiere of the ballet. When the first phrase of the music starts, and Juliet peeks out from behind the curtain, Romeo is just standing there still – mesmerized by her. When I looked down at Carlos at that moment, it was like time stood still. It was an indescribably special feeling and I had a million butterflies in my tummy. In that moment we were really living the characters of Romeo and Juliet and that is truly an unforgettable thing.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
Not really, other than crossing my eyes and wiggling my ears! Does that count as a skill? I AM a very skilled bargain hunter and shopper, though I’m not sure that those qualify either. Carlos thinks that I am a great cook, but it’s really not something that I love to do. Writing WAS my secret skill, until recently… It’s no secret anymore! I do love writing funny little poems for invitations and games, and I am very good at coming up with cute little rhymes. I guess that’s a secret skill. Maybe one day I’ll write a ballet themed book of rhymes for children ;o) !
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I’d like to still be dancing for MCB and teaching when I can. We also really want to start a family, so I hope that around this time next year I’ll have some exciting news on that front! I definitely want to continue dancing after having a baby, at least for now. So, in a little over a year from now, I hope I’ll be getting back into shape and getting ready to take on dancing from an entirely new perspective.
If you could dance in front of anyone, who would it be and what makes them special to you?
I think if I could dance in front of anyone, I’d like the chance to dance in front of all of my grandparents again. They have all passed away and were all so wonderfully proud and supportive. Though they got to see me for the first few years that I was in the company, I’d love for them to see me now – how much I’ve grown, how much I’ve learned and progressed. I really missed them all during “R&J”, though, somehow I do believe that they saw it, and were there with me through every step.