Sarasota honors a life of creative collaboration.
Along with Groundhog Day and President’s Day, February now has a new holiday — at least in this area. Sarasota’s city and county commissioners have designated Feb. 18 Robert de Warren Day. The proclamation becomes official this year at a banquet in honor of the celebrated dancer, director, ballet master and choreographer. On Robert de Warren Day, of course.
So, what does it take to get your own day? According to the proclamation, it’s in recognition of his “commitment to the artistic appreciation of dance in the Sarasota cultural community.”
Vice-Mayor Suzanne Atwell put it more informally.
“Like every little girl, I dreamed of being be a ballerina when I grew up,” she said. “I gave that up — I was too tall. But whenever Robert came in my office, he made me want to get up and dance again. His passion for dance is infectious.”
De Warren now shares that passion as the director of the Sarasota International Dance Festival, following a 13-year stint as Sarasota Ballet’s director. Collaboration is a constant thread throughout his work. In his 20 years in Sarasota, he’s worked with former AC/DC front man Brian Johnson, Dolly Jacobs and Pedro Reis of Circus Sarasota, expatriate Cuban ballet dancer José Manuel Carreño and a host of other talents to create innovative dance pieces.
“A choreographer has two great joys,” he says. “The first is touching the hearts of audiences. The second is working with talents from the realms of dance, art, music and movement who have the power to do that. I live for such creative collaborations.”
That’s true in Sarasota — and in de Warren’s European years as well. His career at the Royal Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet and La Scala led to many powerful partnerships. But none had more impact than his work with Rudolf Nureyev. What began as a dance collaboration became a friendship of 25 years. It sadly ended with Nureyev’s death in 1993. The dancer’s impact didn’t.
This week’s award ceremony marks the culmination of “Nureyev: Personal Memories of a Genius,” a three-part course de Warren has been teaching as part of the Lifelong Learning Academy’s lecture series at the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee — yet another fruitful collaboration. The series draws on the memories of de Warren and his wife, Jacqueline. The key insight?
“Nureyev was a paradox,” says de Warren. “He was amazingly generous with his time and talent and a merciless perfectionist with absolutely zero patience for second-rate work. He was hardest of all on himself and drove himself constantly. Even as his life was ending, he pushed himself to keep creating.”
De Warren adds that Vivi Flindt, a former star with the Royal Danish Ballet, will share her own memories at the ceremony.
If it seems like he’s changing the subject, he might be. De Warren wants to make it clear that this is not all about him.
“I’m touched beyond belief to have a day in my honor,” he says. “But to me, it is equally a celebration of collaboration. February 18 could just as easily be Rudolph Nureyev Day, or Jose Manuel Carreño Day, or a day honoring so many other talents I’ve worked with. Creatively, one never does anything alone. If you work with the best people, you can change the world. And they certainly change you.”