When Lourdes Lopez got the call April 3, she experienced a moment of sheer exhilaration.
“I’m soon to be 54 and I seldom get giddy anymore, but…” says the former New York City Ballet dancer of the moment she learned she would become the next artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, succeeding Edward Villella, who founded the company in 1986. “It’s still a bit surreal at this point. These are huge shoes to fill.”
But Lopez says she’s looking forward to the challenge ahead—to and returning to Miami, where she was raised after leaving her native Cuba as an infant. Until she officially takes over in May of 2013, she will make frequent trips from her current home in New York City to familiarize herself with the operations of the company and its allied school, teach classes and formulate programming for her first season at the helm. And what might those programs look like?
“I’m 100 percent committed to the [George] Balanchine and [Jerome] Robbins repertory they have now and that we’ll maintain,” says Lopez, who worked with Balanchine for nine of her 23 years at NYCB, a generation after Villella’s career with the company. “I’d love to see a little more contemporary work. What that will be, I don’t know, but new work is vital for the art form and for the dancers. It’s like artistic nourishment to have a live choreographer in the studio.”
Lopez founded Morphoses, a contemporary troupe of independent dancers, with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon in 2007 and has run the company solo since Wheeldon’s departure in 2010. She says she will not shutter that company, though it will take a hiatus from its usual annual project in 2013. Eventually, she hopes to form “some kind of strategic artistic partnership” between the two organizations.
“We don’t know what it will be—perhaps a choreographic arm of Miami City Ballet or an educational or experimental one—but both boards have agreed to it,” she says. “It’s important to me because the mission of Morphoses is really new work, which is vital. And also, why close down a company when it still has something to offer?” For the coming year, however, she will focus her complete attention on “making this transition as seamless as possible, because transitions are always difficult.”
While she embraces her ethnic heritage, Lopez says the Latino community will not be her sole marketing target at MCB. “The time has come when every art form, every artist has to reach out to the community they’re in, in the manner in which they want to be reached,” she said. “I want the Hispanic community, the Latino community, the Cuban community … all of it. I want people in the theater.”
She is fully aware that her selection over MCB dancer Jennifer Kronnenberg, Villella’s choice as a successor, was not unanimously heralded by those who felt the founder’s resignation was forced by the board. (Lopez was selected on a 9-2 vote over Kronnenberg, who had Villella’s backing.) “It’s interesting, because I was thinking that Jennifer would have faced the same problem,” says Lopez, who since retiring from the stage in 1993 has served as a cultural reporter, a ballet academy administrator and as executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation. “For the dancers, it’s always a fear of the unknown. But I bring with me 38 years of experience, and once they realize I’ve had the same fears, passions, insecurities and goals, I think the concerns will subside.”
“I am not that different from Edward,” she says. “We come from the same seed— Mr. B.—and one thing I learned from him was you leave your ego at the door. You’re there to be of service to the art form.”
Carrie Seidman is an arts writer and dance critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.