By Katherine Moore.
On a wintery afternoon in late January, nervous young dancers gathered in the School of American Ballet to audition for The Carreño Dance Festival, a three-week summer intensive in Sarasota, FL, led by international ballet star Jose Manuel Carreño.
Assisting Carreño in the audition was Robert De Warren, co-founder of the Festival and renowned teacher, director, and choreographer. As Carreño led the eager students through barre and centre exercises, De Warren sat at a table, intensely evaluating this year’s potential crop of students for the Festival’s third annual season.
With “Learn from the Stars and Dance With the Stars” as the Festival’s slogan, the standards are high for acceptance into the program.
“We can already see who we want,” Carreño said, in an interview after the audition. Who they want are students with excellent technique, an advanced understanding of line and projection, and perhaps most importantly, potential. “These kids have the potential to be really good dancers,” Mr. De Warren said.
The Carreño Dance Festival, a project of the Sarasota International Dance Festival, offers advanced training in classical technique, partnering, repertoire, contemporary, flamenco, and character dance. The program’s distinctive feature is a special emphasis on professional enhancement and artistry, which is achieved through the teaching and the opportunity to perform with international ballet stars such as Loipa Araugo, Julie Kent, Magaly Suarez, George Cespedes, Rinat Imaev, Gennadi Saveliev, and Eduardo Veytia.
De Warren explained that the program curriculum is organized to mimic life in a professional dance company so that these pre-professional students understand the demands that professional dancers face every day. Another unique feature of the intensive is that daily class actually takes place on the stage of the opera house, furthering the development of advanced performance training.
“It’s one thing to rehearse in a studio. It’s another thing when you go on stage. We want to overcome those difficulties that even professional dancers may face,” said Carreño.
Savannah Samberg, a 17-year old who participated in the program last year, said that training daily on the stage was one of the most influential experiences of attending the Festival. “The fact that there are no mirrors has helped my performing so much,” she said.
Students and teachers come from all over the world to attend the Festival, which culminates in a “Festival of Stars” performance at the Sarasota Opera House and a junior recital for younger dancers, where students have the opportunity to perform and get noticed.
Carreño explained that one of the goals of their program is to avoid the gap between a dancer’s student and professional life, both in the range of a dancer’s performance skills and in the opportunities that may come to them. In order to be a successful dancer, “You don’t only need talent. You also need luck,” said Carreño.
At the core of their mission, both De Warren and Carreño want to help budding young talent succeed, and they do so in part by offering over $30,000 in scholarships to many of the 100 students who are accepted into the two-level program. “We have a passion for helping the younger generation,” De Warren said. “You can’t say ‘go away’ to a really talented dancer.”
Both men seek to challenge and encourage students to achieve the next level in their artistry. During the audition, De Warren said, “You can see the ones who work with teachers who don’t inspire them.”
Carreño believes that performing with the ballet stars he invites to the Festival plays an enormous role in motivating students to new levels of achievement, but he also recognizes the importance of inspired teaching. He has found that a dramatic use of language can be extremely influential in the classroom. During the audition, he directed students through their exercises, interjecting with “SQUEEZE!” or “LENGTHEN!”
“When I use the language, they relax. They enjoy it,” Carreño said. “It’s all about joy.”
For those dancers who are granted the opportunity this summer to “Learn from the Stars and Dance with the Stars,” joy will surely be abundant.
Top photo: Jose Manuel Carreño dancing with Sarah Lane during an end of program performance.