There isn’t much adorning the walls of the tiny office occupied by Lourdes Lopez, the new artistic director of Miami City Ballet: printouts of two photos of her with her husband and two daughters, still in New York, and a handful of picture postcards of artistic mentor George Balanchine.
The big corner office that belonged to founding artistic director Edward Villella sits empty, cleared of the awards, framed photos (several of him with U.S. presidents) and other trappings of his 26-year tenure.
“It’s not like I spend a lot of time here,” Lopez says with a shrug. The only photo of her as a dancer, propped on a stack of books, shows her at age 11, in leotard and tights, outside a Coral Gables ballet studio a few years before she left her childhood home in Miami for New York.
Forty-three years later, Lopez is back, summoned sooner than planned after Villella’s sudden departure over Labor Day weekend, and she has not had a moment to stop. The troupe, which opens its season Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, was in the middle of rehearsals when she arrived.
“It was sink or swim,” she says. “But starting like this removed me worrying if I was doing a good job or not. There was no time for it. I think it’s much better for me. Sometimes if you think too much, you’re not doing what comes naturally.”
Some aspects of the job, such as coaching the company’s Balanchine ballets — many of which she danced during her 24 years with New York City Ballet — come naturally to Lopez. But the former executive director of Morphoses, a small contemporary troupe in New York, has never had to juggle the myriad demands of heading a major classical company. They range from planning new ballets years in advance to fine-tuning steps at daily rehearsals, from stroking potential donors to listening to 11-year-olds in the company’s school who are upset that they’re not being allowed to use pointe shoes yet.
“I promised them I’d take another look,” Lopez sighs as she rushes from a photo shoot to change for rehearsal. She has been staying with friends and family as she looks for an apartment, and the night before, stomach pains (stress-related, she thinks) landed her in the emergency room.
Despite the yearlong turmoil surrounding Villella’s departure, the dancers seem mostly at ease, immersed in their routine. Two of the ballets they’ll perform Friday, Balanchine’s masterpiece Apollo and Paul Taylor’s taut, sexy tango work Piazzolla Caldera, are relatively familiar. It’s been 12 years since they’ve done the third, renowned British choreographer Frederick Ashton’s technically difficult but lyrical and light-hearted Les Patineurs (The Skating Party).
In morning class, they cut loose with head-kicking leaps, whirling turns and triumphant poses. While they mourn Villella’s departure, they seem reassured by Lopez’s leadership.
“There’s so many layers of emotion,” says principal dancer Patricia Delgado, who graduated from MCB’s school into the company in 1999. “I have my career because of Edward. I never thought I’d dance for anyone else. But Lourdes has been very sensitive and professional about keeping us moving forward.