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A Blast from the Past

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  I had lunch this week with a former Sarasota Ballet artistic director who, amidst great controversy, went on to create a new dance organization in town. No, I’m not talking about Robert DeWarren. This controversy goes much further back. My lunch companion at Epicure on Wednesday was Eddy Toussaint, who became Sarasota Ballet’s first […]

December 29, 2010


 
I had lunch this week with a former Sarasota Ballet artistic director who, amidst great controversy, went on to create a new dance organization in town. No, I’m not talking about Robert DeWarren. This controversy goes much further back.

My lunch companion at Epicure on Wednesday was Eddy Toussaint, who became Sarasota Ballet’s first artistic director after moving his Canadian company, Ballet Eddy Toussaint de Montreal, to Sarasota in 1990.

Toussaint’s exciting, classical-based contemporary choreography made him and his company the toast of the town for a while. But he and the ballet’s president and founder, Jean Weidner, battled continuously over budgetary and artistic issues. In 1993, Toussaint and the ballet parted ways. But he returned a year later with a new company, Ballet Eddy Toussaint USA, which lasted only a couple of seasons.

Toussaint has been choreographing for companies around the world since then. But he’s recently returned to Montreal to re-open Ballet Eddy Toussaint de Montreal. "So far, we’re only a small company, eight dancers," he says. "My primary focus now is education, making sure young people are exposed to ballet."

Earlier this year, Toussaint earned a special prize for choreography at the International Ballet and Contemporary Dance Competition in Romania. Two of his dancers also won prizes at the competition.


Toussaint says he and Weidner were guests at the same party in Sarasota on Christmas night. "We talked for a long time, and I’m sure some people were surprised to see that," he says. "But whatever problems we had, that was a long time ago. I don’t have any bad feelings."

Sarasota Ballet officials told me last summer they were going to invite Toussaint to be part of its 20th anniversary celebration in 2011. He says he’s received no such invitation, but would "of course be happy" to let the company perform one of his ballets during its gala.

As for the current controversy over DeWarren’s decision to create the Carreno Dance Festival in Sarasota, Toussaint, not surprisingly, says he thinks there is room for more than one dance program in town.

"I know Sarasota Ballet is concerned DeWarren will be competing for donors, and, yes, this is a relatively small community. But I really feel the more exposure we can give to ballet, the better it is for all of us," he says. "And I’m sure there are some people who aren’t supporting Sarasota Ballet yet, but who would be attracted to this program because of the name Jose Manuel Carreno. Who knows, they might eventually support Sarasota Ballet, too."

Toussaint was disappointed to hear DeWarren proclaim he will no longer attend Sarasota Ballet performances. "That’s not fair to the dancers he nurtured there," he says. "The artists should never be put in the middle of a situation like that."
 
BREAKING NEWS 
 
During my stroll downtown, I learned that a new bookstore, called Bookstore No. 1, will open soon at 1359 Main St., in the space formerly occupied by the Paradise Gallery. I hear the store will have space for author’s lectures and for reading clubs to meet. It won’t have a cafe. What a concept—a bookstore that just sells books.