Jose Manuel Carreño, a principal dancer with New York’s American Ballet Theatre, joined retired Sarasota Ballet Director Robert de Warren Tuesday afternoon at the Sarasota Opera House to announce the launch of his Carreño Dance Festival.
Dubbed an “off-season program,” the festival serves two functions: to present a two-day winter dance festival in the slow winter season and to offer intensive training for pre-professional dancers in the even slower summer season.
Much like violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman’s Perlman Music Program, The Carreño Dance Festival will provide young dancers (ages 15 to 21) with the opportunity to work with some the most prestigious names in the ballet and modern dance worlds, including the 42-year-old Carreño, who will serve as the festival’s artistic director.
“Jose is a very modest gentleman,” says de Warren, who will serve as president and CEO of the festival. “He’s a marvelous dancer, and he has a following in Sarasota.”
Carreño and de Warren have been friends for more than 15 years. During de Warren’s final and 13th year with Sarasota Ballet, Carreño performed three times as a guest artist.
The program will operate out of the Sarasota Opera House from Aug. 4 to Aug. 27 under the tutelage of Shir Lee Wu, a master teacher at the Columbus City Ballet School and Columbus Youth Ballet in Columbus, Ohio.
Auditions will be held next winter in New York, California, Indiana, Ohio and Florida. De Warren has budgeted for 40 students, all who will be housed at Opera House apartments during the monthlong summer residency.
The festival will kick off Dec. 21 to Dec. 22 at the Sarasota Opera House with performances by Carreño and ABT partner Julie Kent; New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz; Houston Ballet’s Joseph Walsh and Lauren Strongin-Ciobanu (a former principal with Sarasota Ballet); and contemporary dancers Drew Jacoby and Ruby Pronk.
The Observer sat down with Carreño following the announcement. Here’s what he had to say about the project:
Why did you choose Sarasota for this festival?
The opportunity to use the opera house stage was huge. That was the most important thing to me –– that the kids be able to rehearse on a stage. The stage is the reality of performing. It’s everything. It’s difficult for young dancers to adjust to performing on stage after spending so much time in the studio. Here they will be living it for a month. When Robert told me we had a stage, I was like, "That’s it!" Sarasota is our place. In New York it would be impossible to do something like this. Finding a stage in New York that we could use for a month would be like that Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" movie.
Why is rehearsing on a stage so important?
All the drama of dancing happens onstage. It’s a different world from the studio. You can rehearse all day in a studio and get onstage in full costume and makeup and you’re standing under the lights and it’s like … it’s scary.
How would you describe your relationship with Robert de Warren?
Robert and I met so many years ago in Milan when I was in my 20s. We’ve always shared the same vision. Even though there are many years between us, we have many goals in common. We get along really well.
Why include all genres of dance in the curriculum?
Not all our dancers will go on to have careers dancing classical ballets, so it’s nice to give them an assortment of styles so the kids can experience different things. It’s like serving different dishes at dinner. It’s how you develop taste.
When do you plan to retire from American Ballet Theatre?
What happens then?
I’ll be a freelance dancer. I’ll continue to teach and coach different places and of course concentrate on this festival.
Does that mean you’re house hunting in Sarasota?
(Laughs). I’m waiting to see how the festival goes. I don’t want to anticipate anything, but I have a very good feeling about it. Can I get back to you on that?