For most workers who are turning 40, retirement is still decades away.
But, for professional ballet dancers who must contend with brutal rehearsal and performance schedules, wear and tear on their joints and muscles, and injuries, retirement at 40 is an accomplishment.
Miami City Ballet (MCB) Principal Dancer Rainer Krenstetter is one of those rare performers to make it to that pivotal occasion.
“Turning 40 is a good moment to say goodbye, especially in a big company like Miami City Ballet,” Krenstetter reflected. “For me it was always important to leave on a good level. I was very lucky, I didn’t have any injuries or surgeries and my body held up very well.”
The Austrian-born dancer, who joined the company in 2014, had originally planned to retire a year ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic put his plans on hold, just as it did the entire performing arts industry. He shared his plans with Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez just weeks before the pandemic shuttered the company’s 2020 season.
Making the decision to move to Miami was not easy. His parents were both dancers with the Vienna State Opera Ballet and he had been schooled in European classical practice. Krenstetter had a secure position with the prestigious Staatsballett in Berlin, Germany for 12 years, but still yearned to learn the American style of dance and particularly the works of George Balanchine on which MCB had built its reputation.
“Americans dance with power and speed,” he explained. “Even though I don’t have this education, I was eager to learn to dance it that way, to be coached by [Lopez] and do it the real way.
Krenstetter added, “Europe is the real way, too, but the experience enriched my dancing in so many ways.”
His last performances with MCB will be in George Balanchine’s epic “Jewels,” a three-act plotless ballet with music by three different composers — Fauré, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky — and using different jewels — emeralds, rubies and diamonds — to illustrate three different approaches to classical dancing — French, American, and Russian. The ballet will be danced March 18-April 24 in Miami, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.
Unlike most retirees, Krenstetter has no plans to slow down. He’ll remain in South Florida with his husband on their horse ranch in Wellington, but will also continue jet-setting the world, performing occasionally and serving as the associate artistic director with the new Margot Fonteyn Academy in Arizona and guiding a dance academy in Japan.
Reflecting on his career as a dancer, Krenstetter considers himself lucky. Most dancers are forced to take on second and third jobs just to make a decent living. And, as a gay male, he has found acceptance in the ballet world long before marriage equality and other legal protections began to be adopted.
“It’s not just about talent,” he pointed out, offering this advice to aspiring dancers: “I was lucky at the right time with the right company and the right artistic director. It has to be a match. Keep your eyes open, travel, try to connect with people and find your right spot. Even smaller companies could be a very good match. In the end, it’s not always about being with the most prestigious-named company, but being somewhere where you are liked and can grow.”
Miami City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” March 18–20 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, April 1–3 at the Arsht Center in Miami and April 23–24 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets and more information at MiamiCityBallet.org/Jewels.