Shortly after José Manuel Carreño was named the new artistic director at Ballet San Jose last month, he made a call to Robert de Warren, the co-founder of the Carreño Dance Festival, which opens its third summer intensive at the Sarasota Opera House on Monday.
The focus of their conversation was obvious: What would the appointment — Carreño's first as a director since retiring from American Ballet Theatre in 2011 — mean for the partners' ongoing plans for the summer dance workshop they founded here in 2011?
"That was the first thing we discussed," admitted Carreño by phone from California, calling during an abbreviated break from a hectic lineup of new duties he began three weeks ago. "I said, 'Do we stay in the same place or move it to San Jose?'"
De Warren, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, said he was willing to make the move if it was necessary to allow the festival — which consists largely of a summer intensive for aspiring professionals taught by Carreño, de Warren and an international faculty — to continue.
It didn't take long for the pair to conclude that a change right now would be neither required nor beneficial.
A key factor was the program's arrangement with the Opera House, which not only provides a stage and rehearsal spaces for the entirety of the three-week workshop, but also offers the apartment accommodations it uses during the opera season for visiting artists to workshop attendees.
"I would have gone to San Jose with him, but the circumstances are not the same there," said de Warren. "The fact is, we have a great relationship with the Opera House and this is the ideal situation for the festival.
"And his board didn't have any problem with it as long as it wasn't in conflict with their own summer school. Fortunately, it's a good time of year for everyone."
Carreño's three-year contract with BSJ is a year-round, full-time position. However, the company's season runs from September to May and its summer school is in July, so there is a brief window of opportunity for him to spend in Sarasota, though it does fall in the period when his administrative and planning demands are at a peak. Still, at least for the foreseeable future he believes his new title "won't change anything," Carreño said.
"From the beginning, one of the reasons we chose to do this when we did was because we didn't want to compete with anybody else in the U.S.," he said. "We decided to do it in August because most summer programs are not then. So it works perfect."
In fact, de Warren said Carreño will be teaching even more this year than during the past two intensives, both because a lot of parents of workshop attendees requested it and because "if you have that celebrity name, even if they have two left feet — which none of our students do — they all want to dance with him."
Therein may lie the challenge in the coming years. Carreño's name is a huge drawing card for the program and his involvement and hands-on participation helps create that demand. Balancing his festival involvement with the requirements of his new position will be the challenge.
For example, for the past two years, the Cuban-born dancer has conducted the festival's audition classes, which take place throughout the year and across the country. Will he be able to continue to do so?
"We'll tailor it to what he can do, but I'm sure we'll manage," said de Warren, who also teaches master classes throughout the year to festival students selected for a new mentorship program. "I'm not concerned. One way or another, we'll continue doing this. What we're doing is a permanent fixture in town."
As for Carreño, he is already realizing that being a director may be even more challenging than scheduling multiple appearances as an internationally acclaimed guest artist.
He related how during a recent visit to see ABT perform in Los Angeles, he met with his former boss, Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, who told him: "Oh, José, when you were dancing, you thought you were busy. But no, you were just tired. Now you are really going to be busy."
Carreño said it has been a whirlwind since his hiring, but that he continues to receive "tremendous support" from his wide circle of dance acquaintances. (Asked if he was calling in favors in planning for his first season, he laughed heartily, paused for a long minute and then said, "I wish I could tell you but I can't.")
"This is an exciting time for me," he added. "It's a whole new world. It is like starting in Sarasota, but five times more. But this is just the beginning."
He said he will shortly announce his plans for BSJ's season, which will include work "from Balanchine to contemporary" and "a lot of choreographers who will be coming here to work with the company." His vision is for a company that is "more international, more open, and you'll see that happen very soon." He does not intend to dance himself, except perhaps in a select few character roles.
Carreño replaces another ABT alum, Wes Chapman, who stepped in as artistic director for two seasons after the BSJ board of trustees dismissed founding director Dennis Nahat, whose own choreography was a mainstay of the 27-year-old company's repertoire.
After his appearance as a guest artist with the company in a production of "Don Quixote" earlier this year, Carreño's name surfaced for the director's position. He signed a three-year contract in June.
This year's Carreño Dance Festival workshop begins Monday with a star-studded faculty that includes Loipa Araujo and Magaley Suarez (both originally from Cuba), Yuri Fateev of the Mariinsky Ballet, Rinat Imaev (ballet master at ABT), contemporary choreographer Carlos dos Santos, de Warren and, for the intensive's final week, ABT ballerina Julie Kent.
Nearly $50,000 in full and partial scholarships helped draw the 65 advanced level dancers attending this year (down from 96 last year, an intentional reduction, says de Warren). The goal of the intensive is to provide dancers with an experience similar to that of a professional company on tour rehearsing for a performance.
The workshop culminates Aug. 17 with a show at the Opera House in which the students will perform alongside Carreño, Kent and guest artists Shelby Elsbree of Boston Ballet, Jordan Elizabeth Long of the Swedish Royal Ballet and Nathan Chaney of the Zurich Ballet.
CARREÑO DANCE FESTIVAL, July 29-Aug. 17 at the Sarasota Opera House and the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School. Performance at 5 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave. Tickets at 328-1300 or www.sarasotaopera.org/carrenofestival.aspx. Workshop observation passes and tickets for "Au Revoir" dinner after the performance are available by emailing email@example.com.