It’s opening night for the Miami City Ballet.
The company may not look so different to the audience, but there’s been a major changing of the guard this season. Former New York City Ballet dancer Lourdes Lopez stepped in as the company’s new artistic director after founding director Edward Villella’s sudden departure last month.
Lopez was already planning to take over the ballet school this fall. But, she got a call over Labor Day weekend asking if she could start her job as artistic director eight months early.
“On Sunday they called me and they said, ‘how soon can you be here?’” Lopez recounted. “So, I ran to home, I was in NYC at the time, and said well, I need at least 24 hours to pack something. And I arrived in Miami Monday night ready to walk in here Tuesday morning. Basically, I was helicoptered in.”
This is something of a homecoming for Lopez. She was born in Cuba and moved to Miami in 1959 when she was just a year old. When Lopez was five, her parents put her in dance class at the recommendation of a doctor to help remedy her skinny, weak legs and flat feet. She fell in love with the art.
But, Miami 40 years ago was no place for an aspiring ballet dancer.
“One of the really interesting things, or the enlightening things about coming back to Miami, the Miami I left in 1972 was very different than what is here,” said Lopez. “Which is one of the reasons I had to leave because I wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be a ballerina and I could not do that here. That is not the case now. Miami has really changed.”
At age 14, Lopez accepted an invitation to attend the School of American Ballet full-time in New York City. SAB is the school founded by the famous choreographer and ballet pioneer George Balanchine. He also started the New York City Ballet, one of the premier companies in the world and the same company Edward Villella performed with.
A year and a half after moving to New York to study, the Ballet hired Lopez. She went on to dance with NYCB for 24 years and eventually rose to the highest rank in the company. Here’s a YouTube video of Lopez performing on PBS’s Sesame Street during that time.
Lopez believes her training and experience will help her carry on Edward Villella’s legacy in South Florida.
“Edward’s legacy for Miami City Ballet is the same as mine, it has to do with George Balanchine,” Lopez said. “George Balanchine and Jerome Robins, those are the two geniuses of the 20th Century that shaped both Edward and my own career and dancing.”
But, Lopez still wants to make her mark on the company. She has plans to have the troupe tour through Latin and South America. Lopez also believes new choreography is critical to the company's success and the survival of the art form.
“I think new work is vital to any discipline,” Lopez explained. “New work created by young artists of today- finding those great people that will change the way an art form is headed.”