In between appearing on “Dancing With The Stars” last week and posing for photos at the Sarasota Opera House, José Manuel Carreño, artistic director of The Carreño Dance Festival and longtime American Ballet Theatre principal, managed to find time to sit down Saturday morning to answer a few questions about next year’s festival, his coming retirement and what he’d be doing if he weren’t dancing.
What kind of feedback did you get following The Carreño Dance Festival’s inaugural winter gala?
“Everybody had a great time. I’ve been in the business a long time and I have to say it’s always nice to get together with your colleagues. We see each other in New York, but it’s not the same as when we travel the world to perform together in a show.”
You’re retiring this summer from American Ballet Theatre. Was it bittersweet for you to dance with (fellow ABT principal) Julie Kent at the winter gala?
"Julie and I have been dancing together for 16 years. The first year I danced with ABT, I danced with Julie Kent. So yeah, I’m definitely going to miss her. It’s kind of like we grew up together. We matured together. We share a lot of seasons, a lot of years. We’re always playing the ‘remember when?’ game."
When is your last show with ABT?
“June 30. It’s ‘Swan Lake.’”
There’s a lot of buzz about that ballet now because of “Black Swan.”
“Yes, there is. It’s so popular now. I was just in L.A. dancing a part from ‘Swan Lake’ for ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ (Laughing) I’ve always called that ballet ‘The Black and The Swan,’ because I’m so black and my partners are always so white.”
Have you lined up any dancers for next year’s program?
“Modern dancer Drew Jacoby will be back. She’ll be coaching and teaching as well. Her partner (Rubinald Pronk) will be here as well. I mainly want people who can be committed for a week so they can coach and perform. That’s my goal anyway.”
You’ve been spending a lot of time in Sarasota lately. Would you ever move here permanently? After all, you are retiring.
“Not right now. I’m retiring from ABT, but I plan to keep dancing as a freelancer for the next two or three years before I definitely quit. If I’m going to be coaching or dancing, I think I have to have my base in New York.”
Any advice for young dancers?
“I always say ballet dancing is a kind of slave career. It takes away a lot from your family and friends. To succeed at it you have to really love it. I have a 13-year-old daughter who has legs like this (holds up a wooden stir stick), but she doesn’t want to dance and I would never push her.”
If you hadn’t pursued a career as a ballet dancer, what do you think you’d be doing now?
“In Cuba I used to play a lot of sports, a lot of baseball. Sometimes when I think about how well athletes are rewarded in this country, I think, why didn’t I keep playing baseball?"
I think you did pretty well for yourself.
“Definitely. This is what I decided to do. It’s what I love to do and I don’t regret it at all. Dancing is my life. I always say in life you have to combine your talent with your luck. I’ve been blessed with a little bit of both.”