Cuban star eyes Miami City Ballet directorship

Cuban star eyes Miami City Ballet directorship
José Manuel Carreño at the end of his final performance,

Swan Lake, for American Ballet Theatre on the Metropolitan
Opera House stage, June 30, 2011. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

Cuban ballet star José Manuel Carreño, who recently retired from the American Ballet Theatre, says he’s seeking Miami City Ballet’s artistic director position.

Those who know him best say he’s a natural fit for the job.

“José is completely international, and he can bring an enormous roster of talent to Miami,” says Robert de Warren, Sarasota Ballet’s former artistic director. “Everywhere he goes, around the world, people absolutely adore him. A star of his magnitude, and being so multicultural, he could bring in dancers, choreographers, and contributors from everywhere. They would be very silly if they don’t grab him.”

Since giving his farewell ABT performance in Swan Lake on June 30, Carreño says he’s busier than ever teaching, performing as a guest artist with many companies and planning his future, which includes tossing his name into the ring of candidates for Miami City Ballet’s directorship. He was a principal dancer at ABT for 16 years.

“I’ve been dancing for such a long time, organically, I feel like I want to do something else now,” Carreño said on a break during a guest appearance in Dallas over the weekend. “Teaching and coaching are part of it, and I may be involved with directing a company. It’s in my plans, it’s something I’d love to do. There’s a company right now looking for a director that I’m applying for which is Miami City Ballet.”

In September, Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet’s formidable artistic director, announced his retirement, which is expected in April 2013. Villella, 75, founded the company 25 years ago and made it into one of the country’s top ballet companies, earning international recognition along the way. Before bringing ballet to South Florida, Villella was a star with the New York City Ballet in the 1960s and 70s and a direct disciple of George Balanchine.

Soon after Villella’s announcement, several artistic directors who are close to Carreño called him, suggesting he apply for the position.

“I think he would be ideal,” says de Warren, who works with Carreño running the annual Carreño Dance Festival which started last year in Sarasota. “Miami is a city where the Cuban culture is so strong. Miami City Ballet is not a typically American company even though they do Balanchine. They have several Cuban dancers and others from many other countries.”

Carreño’s longtime coach and close friend, Loipa Araújo, says his wide-ranging experience as an artist, performing the classics and neo-classical works by modern choreographers, could lead the Miami company in a new, exciting direction. “He knows all of the classical repertoire and he’s worked with Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart and others. His knowledge is very important for the company,” she says. “He could bring all the things [Villella] hasn’t been able to. I’m sure he will be very respectful to the Balanchine heritage and, at the same time, bring new things to the company.”

The company’s formal application process for the position begins in January, Carreño says, and a replacement is expected to be named in the spring, according to previous news reports. Miami City Ballet officials declined to talk about the candidate search.

Inspiring others
Carreño, 43, embodies the strength and unaffected, regal elegance of Cuban dancers with his effortless approach onstage, natural charisma, and stunning partnering skills that have won him acclaim and adoration worldwide. During his tenure at ABT, his colleagues have shared, he’s helped raise the bar, inspiring even the most established dancers to elevate their own artistic level.

Araújo also points to Carreño’s character as another reason he’d do well in the job. “Jose is a very nice person,” she says. “He’s very honest which is one of the key things, having honesty in your work. It would be about the company, and not himself.” Araújo currently coaches at the Royal Ballet in London and has known Carreño since he was young, coaching him at the National Ballet School.

Born into a family of Cuban ballet stars, Carreño grew up inside the studios of the National Ballet of Cuba, literally at the feet of two uncles – one is Lázaro Carreño – who danced as principal stars there, and the iconic prima ballerina and impresario Alicia Alonso, who founded the company.

Carreño’s early training at the Provincial School of Ballet and the National Ballet School was followed by dancing with the National Ballet of Cuba. “I danced with Alicia and learned a lot,” he says. “I joined the company and was doing corps de ballet and principal roles at the same time, so I learned a lot before I left Cuba.” After winning gold medals at international competitions, he joined the English National Ballet in 1990 then became a principal dancer at the Royal Ballet in 1993. Two years later, he came to ABT in New York.

Making the leap
Carreño’s career ambition brings to mind another ABT superstar of Cuban descent who successfully made the transition to artistic director, Fernando Bujones. He directed the Orlando Ballet for five years, until 2005 when he died suddenly of cancer at age 50. Born in America to Cuban parents, Bujones made his farewell ABT appearance in June 1995, the same month Carreño arrived.

Regardless of what happens with the Miami job, Carreño says he plans to continue dancing for the next couple of years and hopes to try new things; contemporary dance, flamenco and Broadway are all on his list. In April, he’s going to Cuba to dance in Carmen with the flamenco company, Ballet Español de Cuba. He’s currently teaching at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the School of American Ballet and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

“So many people have asked me, ‘Why did you retire from ABT? You’re still in shape, you’re still dancing so well,” Carreño says. “It was the right time for me. I basically did everything there, so I thought it was time to move on.”

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