Ballet festival returns to Sarasota The Carreno Dance Festival brings the biggest ballet celebrities to town

The Carreno Dance Festival brings ballet celebrities to town

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 28, 2013 

He spent most of his life dancing and choreographing around the world, and about decade at the helm of the Sarasota Ballet.

It had been an exciting career, so maybe it's understandable that retirement didn't suit Robert de Warren.

"I was artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, and when I retired I thought, 'Well, this is rather boring,' " de Warren said.And besides, he said, he knew that even with seasonal visitors gone, there were still plenty of ballet fans in the Sarasota-Bradenton area who wanted to see quality ballet in the summer.

His solution to was to start a new dance program to foster some of the best young ballet dancers in the world, and in the process to bring more world-class dance to Sarasota.

The result is the Carreno Dance Festival. The third annual installment gets under way Monday and runs through Aug. 17.

The festival earned instant respect in the ballet world, thanks to the reputation of de Warren and the festival's artistic director and namesake, Jose Carreno. Carreno is an internationally known dancer who recently became artistic director of the Opera San Jose in California.

The student dancers -- there are about 300 of them this year, from 230 countries and most of the 50 states -- are some of the most promising in the world.

It's almost misleading to think of them as student dancers, De Warren said. Calling them "pre-professional" would be closer to the mark, since they're all headed for careers in the very near future.

Most of them could step into major ballet companies right now, de Warren said. But it's just a matter of refinement to turn them into stars, instead of just professionals.

"The talent of these young dancers is astounding," said de Warren, who still lives in Sarasota. "We want to give them the

training so they can immediately become soloists with some of the best companies in the world, not spend seven or years in the corps de ballet, because ballet is such a short career."

An intensive summer training program such as the Carreno Dance Festival, where dancers can study in small classes with celebrities of world ballet, can make the difference between a solid career and international stardom, de Warren said.

Besides Carreno and de Warren, the faculty for this year's festival includes Yuri Fateev of Russia's Mariinsky Ballet and Loipa Araujo, the co-director of the English National Ballet.

De Warren said he's seen a change in the quality of young dancers, even in the few years since his retirement. The overall quality of the world's pre-professional dancers is unprecedented, he said, especially the young men.

"They're real men," he said. "The degree of strength and athleticism is really remarkable."

Male dancers of his day, de Warren said, tended to be graceful but delicate. Dancers such as Nuryev and Baryshnikov showed young men that ballet dancers were athletes.

This year's student body ranges in age from about 12 to 19.

The focus of the festival is on the students, but it's also a great opportunity for local dance aficionados to experience the art form in a different way.

During the festival, the public can observe master classes and get a chance to watch some of the most important ballet dancers of today and yesterday train some of the dancers who have a chance to become the biggest celebrities in years to come.

The classes are conducted at the Sarasota Opera House at 61 Pineapple Ave., and the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School at 501 N. Beneva Road.

A single $25 ticket allows observers to watch classes for the entire run of the festival. (Not all classes are open to the public, but most are.)

But the highlight of the festival, at least from an audience point of view, comes in the Festival of Stars, slated for 5 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Sarasota Opera House.

All the student dancers will perform "Sleeping Beauty," which de Warren said is an essential part of any dancer's repertoire.

" 'Sleeping Beauty,' 'Swan Lake' and 'The Nutcracker,' those three Tchaikovsky ballets, are fundamental," he said. "Every dancer has to be able to dance those."

Also on the program for the Festival of Stars is a pas de deux from "The Merry Widow" performed by Carreno and Julie Kent of American Ballet Theatre, plus performances by Shelby Elsbree, a Sarasota native who now dances with the Boston Ballet; Jordan Elizabeth Long, a soloist with the Royal Swedish ballet, and Nathan Chaney of Ballet Zurich.

Tickets for the Festival of Stars are $20, $40, $55 and $70. You can get tickets or more information by calling 941-822-0198 or going to www. sarasotaopera.org/carrenofestival.aspx.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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