Jose Carreño makes an indelible impression on Sarasota’s arts scene

Great news for the uninitiated and for fans: the Carreño Dance Festival is back in town. The Festival of Stars event takes place this Friday, August 24 at 7 p.m. at the Sarasota Opera House, followed by a matinee on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The program features performances by some of the biggest names in ballet, including, of course, José Manuel Carreño, retired principal of American Ballet Theater for whom the festival is named. Also on the bill are Julie KentMelanie Hamrick and Misty Copeland, all principals of the American Ballet Theater.

When I last attended the Carreño Dance Festival at its premiere on December 24, 2010, I had a mere three days to go until the birth of my daughter Daphne. It was a triumphant evening of dance, one of the best performances I had seen in years. This is ballet at the highest level, and the number of soloists on one stage is a rarity even for New York audiences. Although the people in our row were worried, Daphne kindly waited to make her debut well after we left the theater. Sadly, I missed last year’s performance, because as a new mom, I dilly-dallied before getting tickets only to discover the show sold out more than a week before the performance! The fan that I am, I even (unsuccessfully) sent Festival CEO Robert de Warren many Facebook messages seeking last-minute tickets.

Although the highlight of the Carreño Dance Festival for Sarasota audiences is the spectacular performances by premiere dancers carefully assembled by Carreño, he stated that the magic for him is gathering the ballet stars of tomorrow here for a two-week intensive program of study culminating in performances. The younger dancers performed in Junior Stars of Tomorrow on Saturday, August 18, and the older dancers are part of the main production. Young aspirants from all over the world audition in the winter hoping to be selected for the Carreño Summer Intensive. Carreño stated that upon his retirement, he decided to develop a festival for Sarasota, which he remarked is a town that’s already known for great festivals—why not have one devoted to dance? 

Because Carreño performed with the ballet here as a guest soloist, he developed a close relationship with de Warren, former artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, and fostered with him the idea of a festival to train young dancers. The Carreño Dance Festival gives young dancers the chance to work with principal ballet dancers, including Carreño and Kent, as well as a world-class artistic director. I attended a rehearsal where de Warren told a skittish young dancer, “Let me see you make a picture.” When she appeared uncomfortable, he stated, “That’s okay, no one’s ever taught you about this before; you can do it.” I’m certain she will always remember those words as she performs in the future—as will I when I watch the dancers create a picture with their bodies on stage.

Carreño said that it is a wonderful opportunity for the young dancers to rehearse and perform on a major stage at the Sarasota Opera House for two full weeks; and that such a feat in New York would be “mission impossible.” Although he had some opportunities to perform in contests in his native Cuba as a young boy, he said he never had a chance like this to work with major performers on a professional stage. He proclaimed that he would have loved to experience something like this when he was discovering his passion for dance as a young boy.

Carreño is a perfect gentleman with the quiet reserved aura of a superstar. Like a stage mother in the making, I spoke with him with Daphne in my arms. Some day, I’ll tell her of how she got an early imprint for dance by meeting a major figure in the dance world at such a young age. For now, all she cared about was Daisy, his fiancee’s dog. When she made her interest known, he quickly summoned the dog; and in a jiffy, the young and seasoned dancers were all watching Daphne interact with Pomeranian poodle. Not what I was expecting, but Carreño informed me that even his 14-year-old daughter doesn’t dance. He said young people really have to feel the desire to dance and be certain they wish to pursue it. Only time will tell about Daphne. Clearly, however, Carreño has bestowed his passion and gift on a bevy of young dancers who came to bask in his glow and learn from a master.

For tickets, click here.

Check back next week for my review of the performance!

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