Every good ballet needs a little drama. It’s what keeps an audience’s attention.
In that regard, The Carreño Dance Festival has already succeeded.
The festival, which kicks off its inaugural Sarasota engagement later this month — the two-day “Holiday Spectacular” headlined by American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) José Manuel Carreño and Julie Kent — has generated positive and negative buzz for months.
Founded by Carreño and longtime friend Robert de Warren, former artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, the festival has divided dance fans into two camps: those who see the venture as another vehicle for dance, at the heart of which is a ballet school with an off-season summer residency program, and those who feel the festival is competition for the 20-year-old Sarasota Ballet.
Says de Warren: “I feel that my conscience and José’s conscience are clear. The area can sustain more dance.”
Regardless of which camp patrons align themselves, one thing’s for sure: “Holiday Spectacular,” scheduled for Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, features an A-list cast of dancers any gala would be happy to attract.
Carreño and Kent made national headlines last month when they performed in Carreño’s native Cuba for a Cuban-American cultural exchange with New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz, both of whom are also on this month’s Sarasota bill.
“Galas are pretty much a part of what we do,” says Kent, who joined ABT in 1990 and has danced with Carreño for 15 years. “I don’t think it’s often that they happen in locations like Sarasota. You usually find them in more major metropolitan areas. But, there are certain communities that are devoted to dance and want to develop and encourage audiences, and the best way to do that is to bring in dancers of exceptional caliber.”
Topping that list are of course Carreño and Kent, who will perform the pas de deux of the Sugar Plum Fairy from “The Nutcracker” and the bedchamber duet from “Romeo and Juliet.”
The dances already feel bittersweet to Kent, who admits she was crushed when Carreño announced this fall he would be retiring from ABT in August.
“I’m always better when I’m dancing with José,” Kent says. “He’s one of the finest partners I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. I feel like I’ve danced everything with him.”
Following in the footsteps of the veteran dance duo is real-life ballet couple Peck and de Luz — New York City Ballet’s hottest up-and-coming partners.
The couple will perform a Tchaikovsky pas de deux by George Balanchine, followed by De Luz in a solo piece by choreographer David Fernandez.
Provocative contemporary dance duo Jacoby & Pronk (ie: Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk, formerly of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company) will perform works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon, of Netherlands Dance Theatre.
The sexy Jacoby & Pronk set is an unusual addition to the show’s mostly classical repertoire and is bound to set tongues wagging midway through the show.
But perhaps one of the most talked-about performances of the evening is that of dancer Lauren Strongin-Ciobanu, who left Sarasota Ballet in 2009 after 7 years with the company to join the Houston Ballet.
Strongin-Ciobanu and partner, Joseph Walsh, will dance the Danish classic “Flower Festival in Genzano” and Stanton Welch’s “Madam Butterfly.”
“José and I both felt it was appropriate to invite Lauren,” de Warren says. “She has a really big fan base here. It will remind Sarasota of a dancer they really loved and will serve as a recognition of her talent.”
In 2006, under de Warren’s tutelage, Strongin-Ciobanu and Carreño danced together in a scene from “Giselle.” The performance was one of three Carreño guest appearances that year and according to Strongin-Ciobanu, the role is still her most memorable one to date.
“Working with José over the years was such an exciting experience,” Strongin-Ciobanu says. “I feel he really made a positive impact on my career. He helped shape me as a dancer. To be a part of something he’s doing again is really wonderful.”
Strongin-Ciobanu, a corps de ballet dancer with Houston, recently made her premiere as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
She and Walsh will return to Texas Dec. 23 to finish their rigorous “Nutcracker” schedule. Unlike Sarasota Ballet’s one-day “Nutcracker” program, Houston performs the show 34 times over the course of one month.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of ‘Nutcracker,’” Strongin-Ciobanu says. “But it’s great to be performing so much, and I’m definitely excited to come back to Sarasota. It does feel like a homecoming in a lot of ways. Hopefully it won’t be the last time I come back.”
IF YOU GO
The Carreño Dance Festival presents “Holiday Spectacular” at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, at the Sarasota Opera House, featuring Julie Kent and José Manuel Carreño, Tiler Peck and Joaquin de Luz, Jacoby & Pronk and Lauren Strongin-Ciobanu and Joseph Walsh.
A pre-performance cocktail and buffet is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21, in Felding Hall. Tickets $45. “Souper et Champagne” meet-the-artists reception is at 9 p.m., in the Opera Club. Tickets $125.
Dancers are invited to participate in an open master class directed by Carreño at 11 a.m. Dec 22, on stage at the Opera House. Observers invited.
For ticket information, call 328-1300 or visit www.carrenodancefestival.com.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]