“Change is inevitable. We all love to dance too much, love this place too much and love Edward too much to let it all dwindle away.”
Skyler Lubin, 20, who came to study at MCB at 16 in part because of Villella, says she was devastated by his departure. “He was like a light for me in dance,” she says. “But Lourdes is amazing. She’s given me encouragement and made me feel safe. So I’m excited.”
Principal dancer Reyneris Reyes says he still feels sad and confused by the changes. “I hope it was for the best for the company and for the community,” he says. “But I feel good with Lourdes. She’s really confident and secure. For an artistic director, this is a major thing, to be confident of where you want to go.”
Lopez, who was at NYCB when its legendary founder Balanchine died in 1983, says she has tried to be sensitive to the dancers’ concerns.
“Dancers just want to dance and be nurtured and encouraged,” she says. “I said to them that the greatest gift I can give you is for you to be able to just walk into this building knowing all you have to worry about is dancing — not budgets, not drama, but your jump and your role that night.”
When she teaches company class, a crucial foundation for the dancers’ technique and style, she has zeroed in on precision and details — shaping the upper body or cleaning up specific steps, for example — where Villella tended to focus on broader qualities like energy, rhythm and musicality.
“I see it as an opportunity to fix things so they don’t have to worry about it onstage,” she says.
The dancers have noticed the difference.
“She’s clearly paying attention to people’s strengths and weaknesses,” says principal dancer Tricia Albertson. Corps dancer Neil Marshall says Lopez has challenged the troupe: “I think she’s ambitious for the company and the dancers.”
As she coaches Delgado and young Brazilian dancer Renan Cerdeiro in Apollo, Lopez makes some technical corrections, but mostly talks about the ballet’s back story about a young god discovering his inspiration and power. “He’s searching — he’s still looking for his father,” she tells Cerdeiro.
“Renan is just prodigious,” she says later. “He absorbs things and takes them further.”
She speaks in a mix of Spanish and English as she rehearses Venezuelan Mary Carmen Catoya and Cuban Carlos Guerra in the same ballet. As she adjusts Catoya in a precarious arch atop Guerra’s shoulders, the shy dancer, who has struggled since a serious foot injury two years ago, breaks into a radiant smile.
This season’s programming, which includes Balanchine’s Apollo and Duo Concertant, the Symphonic Dances Russian choreographer Alexei Ratmansky created for MCB last spring and a new work from young British choreographer Liam Scarlett, were set when Lopez arrived. But next year she plans a new work on each of the troupe’s four programs.
On her wish list are Polyphonia by Christopher Wheeldon, the choreographer with whom she launched Morphoses; a work by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato that she describes as “lush, mellow, romantic,” and West Side Story Suite, drawn from Jerome Robbins’ choreography for the famous Broadway musical and film, which would require some dancers to sing. She’d like to do Don Quixote, which MCB has danced before, but using the costumes and sets Santo Loquasto created for American Ballet Theater and pairing guest stars with MCB’s principals, partnerships she believes would enrich the Miami dancers.