Miami City Ballet founder and artistic director Edward Villella stepped down unexpectedly on Tuesday, eight months earlier than planned — the latest move to shake the troupe in a year of power struggles, personality clashes and financial strain.
The news that Villella, 75, whose forced retirement was announced a year ago, would not head the troupe for one final season was emailed at mid-morning Tuesday, a time when he normally leads the dancers in their daily technique class.
“Over the weekend [Villella] and the MCB Board leadership decided it was in the best interest of the company to speed the transition,” the announcement from Villella and ballet officials said. It went on to say that incoming artistic director Lourdes Lopez, appointed last spring, would take over immediately rather than at the end of the 2012-13 season in April as originally announced.
Financial terms of Villella’s departure will remain private, said company spokesman Roberto Santiago.
“We offer Edward Villella our gratitude for his contributions to Miami City Ballet,” board president Jim Eroncig said in the announcement. “He has created a world-class ballet company. We are poised for an amazing future because of Edward’s years of commitment to excellence.”
Villella did not appear at a meeting to give the news to company dancers and staff Tuesday, but addressed them via email.
“I am both pleased and saddened to be writing you,” Villella’s email said. “Pleased, because we have achieved so much together and because I have faith in the future that all of you are helping to create. Sad, because it is hard to say goodbye. I have decided that with the leadership transition plan well underway, it is best for me to leave the company now.”
Villella had recently severed other major ties to Miami and the company. His wife, Linda Villella, the founder and director of the Miami City Ballet School, stepped down on Aug. 31. The couple, who have been looking for a home in New York City, are close to selling their Miami Beach house, according to several sources.
“I’ll be going back to New York, my home, and I will be continuing what I’ve been doing for the last 55 years which is to work in my art form,” Villella.told WLRN-Miami Herald News.
Ballet officials said discussions about a leadership transition sped up over Labor Day weekend.
The statements from the board leadership and from Villella — who also wrote to donors and ballet subscribers — struck a conciliatory tone. “Edward is responsible for bringing world-class dance to Miami,” said founding board member Toby Lerner Ansin in Tuesday’s announcement. A letter from Villella to the company’s donors opened with thanks for their “dedicated support and unwavering commitment… while we can stand on the accolades of the past, we are also ready to build a strong future.”
The harmonious words contrasted with the acrimony that surrounded the ballet in recent months, as some board members, donors, and supporters said that members of the ballet’s executive board forced Villella out, jeopardizing the ballet’s reputation and finances. This summer, the troupe faced debts of over $2 million, and the staff took salary cuts and unpaid furloughs. Executive Director Nicholas Goldsborough was fired abruptly in June, and Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., was brought in as a consultant.