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Miami City Ballet names Lourdes Lopez to replace Edward Villella as artistic director

April 4, 2012

 By Jordan Levin     jlevin@MiamiHerald.com   Tuesday, 04.03.12

Lourdes Lopez

Miami City Ballet named a new leader on Tuesday: Lourdes Lopez, a Cuban-born, Miami-raised former principal dancer at New York City Ballet who is currently director of the Morphoses Dance Company in New York, will succeed founding artistic director Edward Villella.The decision caps months of controversy over Villella’s departure, which was announced unexpectedly last fall and which a number of people inside and close to the ballet said was engineered by powerful board members and donors. Villella, who has led MCB to national and international acclaim, will continue to lead the company through its 27th season, and retire in April 2013. Lopez, 53, will take over his role on May 1.

Lopez said Tuesday that she was grateful to have been chosen to succeed a man she characterized as a “charismatic and incredibly effective artistic director who has built one of the top 10 dance companies in the United States.”

“This is truly a joy and a privilege and a tremendous, tremendous honor,” Lopez said from the Manhattan offices of Morphoses, a contemporary ballet troupe she currently heads. “It’s daunting to think of following him. … But what I’m looking forward to is to build on what he put in place.

“Transitions are always very difficult, change is always very difficult. But change can also be an exciting time… where you take what is put in place — the history, the foundation — and evolve it, expand it, continue it forward.”

Lopez was chosen over Jennifer Kronenberg, a popular principal dancer at MCB who was Villella’s preference to succeed him. An 11-member search committee voted nine to two on Tuesday for Lopez. After what spokesman Roberto Santiago characterized as an “intense discussion,” their decision was ratified by the ballet’s executive board of governors.

Lourdes Lopez performing Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 at New York City Ballet. Steven Caras

Reached during rehearsal in Naples, where the company was preparing for a performance Tuesday evening, Villella said he preferred not to comment.

“Jennifer was my choice, that’s all I can say,” he said. “I’d rather let it go.”

Nick Goldsborough, the troupe’s executive director, said both women were compelling candidates, but that the committee ultimately opted for Lopez’s broader experience and maturity. Kronenberg, who is 35 and joined MCB at 17, was a trusted member of the close-knit troupe with an instinctive understanding of the repertoire and style shaped by Villella.

Lopez danced with New York City Ballet for 23 years, nine of them under George Balanchine, the choreographer who was also Villella’s mentor and artistic inspiration during his time as a star dancer there in the ‘60s and ‘70s. After retiring from NYCB in 1997, Lopez worked as a cultural correspondent for WNBC-TV in New York, as executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation, and most recently as director of Morphoses, which she launched in 2007 with celebrated choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who left last year amid funding troubles and other issues.

Lopez, who lives with her husband George Skouras, an investment banker, and their 10-year-old daughter, has Cuban and Miami roots. Her parents came to Miami from Cuba in 1959. She began her ballet studies at a Coral Gables studio and has returned regularly to visit family members here.

Lourdes Lopez performing Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 at New York City Ballet. Steven Caras

“We felt very strongly that she was the most experienced and qualified candidate,” said Ana-Maria Codina Barlick, chairwoman of the board of governors and a member of the search committee. “As a dancer who danced under Mr. Balanchine for a number of years, she’s ideally suited to continue the legacy Edward has built.”

Lopez said she planned to maintain the Balanchine repertoire that has been MCB’s mainstay, but also wanted to add more new works and touring to places like Latin America and Asia. In the past year the company premiered two ballets by acclaimed outside choreographers, and had a successful debut season in Paris last summer. “I want Miami City Ballet to have it all,” she said. “I also feel very strongly about contemporary work. To have a live choreographer in the studio is like going to dancer heaven. It’s vital for dancers. And it excites audiences.”

Toby Lerner Ansin, the longtime donor and board member who was Villella’s partner in launching MCB, but who has reportedly been at odds with him in recent years, said the troupe needed to move past the controversy over Villella’s departure.

“It’s time to pull together and move forward,” Ansin said. “Change isn’t easy, but it’s been done and now we have the excitement of seeing what will happen.”

Goldsborough said he hopes the company can now move past what he admitted had been a difficult time, especially for Villella.

“There’s been a lot of issues between him and the board,” he said. “Edward didn’t want to leave and we understand that. He is a great man and he’s been celebrated around the world and this has been a very tough time for him.”

He said he hoped to quiet some of that turmoil. “Next year he will be artistic director and we need to honor that,” Goldsborough said. “I have pledged to him that I will make sure he will leave this company with a real sense of dignity, because he deserves to.”


© 2012 Miami Herald Media Company. All Rights Reserved. http://www.miamiherald.com

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