Last week, Miami City Ballet announced its new artistic director: Lourdes Lopez, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and current director of the New York-based dance company Morphoses, who will take the post on May 1, 2013. Following a five-month search, an 11-member committee chose Lopez from among 35 candidates considered to replace outgoing artistic director Edward Villella, who co-founded Miami City Ballet in 1985 and who will stay on through the company’s 2012-2013 season. Following MCB’s successful first Paris tour last summer, Villella, 75, was pushed out unexpectedly by the company’s board of directors in November.
The founding director and some members of his company were not happy about the move. And in the end, the replacement decision was not unanimous — Lopez was awarded the position after a vote of 9-2 in her favor. The other finalist, Jennifer Kronenberg, 35, a principal dancer with MCB, received the votes of Villella and one of the two MCB dancer representatives on the committee, as the dancers were split between the candidates. Possibly tipping the scales: The writer and former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb — a longtime MCB advisor and friend to Villella, and a former NYCB board member — recommended Lopez in January.
Cuban-born and Miami-raised Lopez, 53, moved to New York at age 10. Like Villella, Lopez attended George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet before joining his company. (The two dancers, a generation apart, overlapped only briefly at NYCB.) Working closely with Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, as did Villella, Lopez brings a solid knowledge of the mainstays of MCB’s repertory, which is rich in the work of both those choreographers.
“I’m committed to the Balanchine and the Robbins,” Lopez says, honoring her own tradition as well as MCB’s. She also takes cues from the choreographers’ commitment to innovation — a vision she shares as an artistic leader. “What made those guys geniuses is that they looked beyond what they were taught,” Lopez says. “The future was very important to them.”
Morphoses, which Lopez co-founded with the sought-after choreographer Christopher Wheeldon in 2007, but which Wheeldon left in 2010, aims to revitalize ballet by fostering interdisciplinary artistic collaboration. Lopez has gained other experience relevant to her new position as an arts correspondent for WNBC-TV in New York, as an arts educator, and as executive director of The George Balanchine Foundation.
Some artistic partnership between MCB and Morphoses has been discussed and remains to be defined by the boards of both companies. Commissioning new work for the MCB dancers is high on Lopez’s agenda, although you won’t see any ballets by her onstage — “Not a pore in my body wants to choreograph,” she states. Lopez hopes to involve talent from Miami’s visual arts scene and choreographers whose angle appeals to young professionals. “You have to bring in artists who create with a voice that relates to the audience that you want to bring in,” Lopez says, noting that all ballet companies as well as symphonies have in mind building the next generation of supporters.
Lopez looks to technology to bring what dancers do to places people are already gathered. Live streaming rehearsal footage to a park, a bar, or a pool patio, for instance, could introduce ballet, which has historically and problematically been seen as an elitist art form, to many potential new audience members. “I want to reach out to the community. I want everybody to come to Miami City Ballet. I’m not just targeting and it’s not about identifying. It’s about being inclusive of everybody,” she says, acknowledging that several people have asked her how she intends to reach out to Miami’s Cuban population.
Regarding the internal problems surrounding Villella’s departure, Lopez says, “Every transition has its challenges; every transition is scary.” Looking to tradition here proves helpful in making progress. “Mr. B. [Balanchine] really taught us to leave our ego at the door,” she says. “What you do is really for the art form.” For now and moving forward, Lopez says, her focus will be on the Miami City Ballet dancers and “getting that company even better than it already is.”
This article first appeared in the Miami New Times.