Further ruffling donors feathers, Villella would complain bitterly that Miami didnt appreciate the companys artistic achievement.
They were constantly swinging between good years and budget shortfalls, juggling bills to make ends meet.
The tension peaked as the economy plunged in 2008 just as the company was invited to perform in New York for the first time. The acclaim the troupe earned there propelled it to new heights, garnering them the invitation to Paris and their television debut.
The financial strains were typical for ballet companies. But the spiraling costs were becoming too much for some board members.
These tours have been very prestigious, but they never seem to translate to something that produces revenue for the company at home, says Codina, who became president in 2009. Its been great for our brand and the stature of our company. But we always seem to end up in a financial mess.
At times, Villella, whose salary reached $365,000 last year, clashed with board members he thought were meddling. But their tolerance for his intensity was waning.
According to several sources, R. Kirk Landon, a longtime major donor, pressed Villella to retire and withheld a major cash infusion in 2011 unless Villella promised to leave. Landon would not comment for this story.
People began to move for a change at the top. In addition to Codina, daughter of politically influential Miami developer Armando Codina, new board president Jim Eroncig joined in the move to oust the director. Also in that camp were Landon and lawyer Alex Tachmes, whom Codina installed as vice president, according to board members and employees.
Some of Villellas strongest supporters began to believe he could no longer manage the chaotic finances. They included Toby Lerner Ansin, who launched the troupe with Villella and has been one of its biggest donors, and Robert Gottlieb, an influential New York publisher, editor and dance critic who for years had been a close confidant.
By the time Villella returned from his celebrated Paris visit, the core group had already decided he needed to go. Because they are executive board members, the by-laws required only three to agree.
Immediately, the fallout was severe. The dancers barged into a board meeting the day Villellas retirement was announced, demanding explanations. Some board members said they felt betrayed that such critical decisions were made behind closed doors and they never had a chance to weigh in.
Jim [Eroncig] holds everything close to his chest as does Ana [Codina], and they dont share any information, says board member Bob Avian. Basically its write the check and keep your mouth shut.
Says Arthur Levey, a board member who challenged Villellas ouster: Theyre so adamant about taking control. Why is it we dont know what really happened?
Codina says a confidentiality agreement signed by both sides means that the terms of Villella's retirement must be kept secret.
The executive group promised that money would flow once Villellas retirement was set.
But so far that has not happened.
Meanwhile, top board members are counting on a $5 million grant from the John F. and James L. Knight Foundation to get the company out of its hole money that could come as soon as September. The foundation gave the troupe a quarter-million last year to fund a search for a new artistic director and develop a five-year plan for the future.