Stopped by the Sarasota Opera House yesterday afternoon to catch the opening orientation session of the Carreno Dance Festival's three-week summer intensive. This is the third year of the pre-professional program, founded by Jose Carreno, recently named artistic director of Ballet San Jose, and Robert de Warren, former director of the Sarasota Ballet.
There are 65 students in this year's program, down from close to 100 last year. That was by design according to de Warren, who said the lower level of students was cut in order to put the focus and attention on those who are closer to their goal of becoming professionals.
A casually-dressed De Warren welcomed the students gathered in the Opera House seats, about half of whom have attended the workshop in previous years. He detailed some of the highlights of the coming three weeks, and assured the students that, while there would be plenty of hard work involved, there would also be time for a few "beach days."
He also discussed the final performance, on Aug. 17, in which the students will perform excerpts from "Sleeping Beauty" alongside guest artists like Sarasota native Shelby Elsbree, now with Boston Ballet; Jordan Elizabeth Long, of the Swedish Ballet and Nathan Chaney, of the Zurich Ballet. (Carreno and his long-time partner at American Ballet Theatre, Julie Kent, will also perform -- the duet from "The Merry Widow.")
Then he talked about this that and the other -- a dinner at "Der Dutchman," the new mentoring program underwritten by Suzanne and Leonard Kesten (the students broke into a round of "Happy Birthday" to celebrate Len Kesten's 80th birthday), the wardrobe for 'Sleeping Beauty' (borrowed from the Mariinsky).
Finally, looking around uncomfortably, he said: "So, Mr. Carreno. Where are you?"
It turned out Carreno, his girlfriend and their dog had just landed in Sarasota from New York. The Cuban-born dancer walked in shortly thereafter, in Sarasota style -- a polo shirt, shorts and shoes with no socks.
Carreno greeted the dancers with the usual charismatic smile and few words.
"I'm glad I'm here, I'm glad you're here and I hope you guys are ready to have fun," he said. "Do we start rehearsing now?"
There's no question that despite having "retired" from ABT two years ago, Carreno is still the star of this production. Orientation ended abruptly as students, parents and festival staff swarmed around him to get their five seconds of face time.
Passes are available for class observation over the next three weeks and can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets for the final performance at the Opera House are at 328-1300 or sarasotaopera.org/carrenofestival.aspx.
Let the dancing begin!