Sarasota’s Growing Dance Scene

March 30, 2011

I stepped into a warm, welcoming dance community in sunny Sarasota, Florida, this week. The new Carreño Dance Festival, which has an ambitious summer intensive coming up, hosted my visit. Robert de Warren, founder and president of the festival (and former director of La Scala Ballet, National Ballet of Iran, and Sarasota Ballet) invited me down to address a luncheon for their patrons. I also got to see a rehearsal of Sarasota Ballet, which has changed a lot in the last three years.


It was really fun to give a talk to 225 people who love dance. On each of the 20+ tables stood a Dance Magazine or Pointe cover encased in Lucite. To me, these centerpieces were more beautiful than any floral arrangement could have been. This was the idea and handiwork of Donna Maytham, who has helped organize the festival.


Another great thing was that the gathering included not only ballet patrons but also modern dancers and other key people from the Sarasota arts community. The Ringling International Arts Festival, which partners with the Baryshnikov Arts Center to produce edgy dance, wa s represented by Dwight Currie. And two young choreographers were there: Leymis Wilmott of Fuzión Dance and Leah Verier-Dunn of Moving Ethos—both grads of New World School of the Arts in Miami.


Triggered by Jennifer Homans’ claim in her book Apollo’s Angels that ballet is dead, my talk was about how very much alive ballet is. And part of that new life is the cross-influences between ballet and modern dance. (Maybe I’ll write up the talk for a future post.) I was happy to see some examples of that right in Sarasota. Leymis will be making a piece for the trainees of Sarasota Ballet. And Liz Bergmann, who just retired as head of dance at Harvard and settled in Sarasota, has been invited by de Warren to teach Graham technique at the festival’s intensive.


Here’s a report of my talk in the local paper, although I promise I did not bring up the Black Swan brouhaha until the very end.


The festival, whose artistic director is Jose Manuel Carreño, has two components: performances and workshops in December, and a summer intensive this coming August. In the first gala last December, the glorious Carreño, of course, was one of the star attractions. Others were Tiler Peck and Joaquin De Luz, Drew Jacoby, Lauren Strongin, and others. (Here’s a trailer about last year’s festival.) On Tuesday, people were still abuzz about how exciting it was.


I noticed that the teacher I met in Cuba, Loipa Araúja, one of Alicia Alonso’s “four jewels,” is on the faculty of the festival’s summer intensive. She teaches professionals at the Royal, the Bolshoi, and the Royal Danish, and this may be the first time Americans get to study with her. (See our March “ Teacher’s Wisdom” on her.) Other teaching luminaries include Ricardo Bustamante and Katrina Killian from SAB.


The day before the luncheon, I caught Sarasota Ballet’s rehearsal for Balanchine’s Who Cares? It had been set by Sandra Jennings and was receiving finishing touches by ballet mistress Margaret Barbieri. All the dancers were smashing in it, and the smashingest was Octavio Martin from Cuba. He’s dynamic, debonair and dashing. Imagine a cross between Jose Manuel Carreño and Robert Fairchild. As one of his three partners, Victoria Hulland shone with sweetness and elegance. I’ve been humming the Gershwin tunes ever since. Sarasota Ballet’s Balanchine evening, one of eight programs during this season, opens tonight. (Click here for more info.)


While this is the first year of the Carreño Dance Festival, it’s the 20th for Sarasota Ballet. The two organizations offer different approaches to bringing ballet to the public. It made me sad to learn of the tensions between the two, but there’s plenty of room for both. I think eventually harmony will prevail in this art-loving city.


Donna Maytham, Robert de Warren, and WP


Photo by Cliff Roles, courtesy Carreño Dance Festival