You won’t find Miami City Ballet’s dancers, scattered for vacation, at the troupe’s Miami Beach studios during the summer. But there was plenty of movement there on a recent summer day as the Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive program kicked off.
The big main studio was filled with lean, leggy teenage boys as vital and nervous as young racehorses, reaching into the air in imitation of their teacher, former MCB dancer Arnold Quintane. Down the hall, girls in their mid-teens giggled at voluble French instructor Olivier Pardina. “ Alors, si vous plait — this is the most beautiful city, the most beautiful organization, the most beautiful studio!” he says. “What more do you need? Let me see a little joy!” Upstairs, veteran teacher Carter Alexander strode about a roomful of older girls hovering on the verge of a ballet career and lifted a pale blond sylph’s leg still farther up toward her ear, carefully sculpting her foot and her movement in the air.
The focus on the changes at Miami City Ballet has been on new artistic director Lourdes Lopez, and what she and the dancers are doing on stage. But Lopez is making other changes at the company’s school that, while not as obvious or immediately visible, will ultimately have a major effect on the troupe and its future.
A new director, Darleen Callaghan, former head of the dance school at the North Carolina Dance Theater, came on in March. She has been joined by Pardina, a former understudy of Rudolf Nureyev brought in to beef up the men’s division and run a new student dance company. They are tasked with expanding and intensifying the training at the school, in part to prepare potential dancers for the different repertory that Lopez is planning.
“It’s always been my focus to create very diverse dancers,” says Callaghan, who was raised in Chicago but whose two decades in North Carolina have left her with a faint Southern lilt. “That’s exactly what Lourdes was looking for.”
Founded by Linda Villella, the wife of founding artistic director Edward Villella, in 1993, the Miami City Ballet School grew from a few classes for the couple’s daughter Crista and her friends into an internationally known program that has become an important source of dancers for the company. By 2010, almost half the troupe’s members had come through its school. They currently include some of its most prominent dancers: Miami sisters Jeanette and Patricia Delgado (whom the New York Times recently cited as among the best ballerinas in the United States); Brazilians Renan Cerdeiro, Kleber Rebello, Nathalia Arja, and Andrei Chagas; soloist Sara Esty and her sister Leigh-Ann; and rising talents Chloe Freytag and Skyler Lubin.
Teachers worked closely with Edward Villella to inculcate the musical sensitivity and sense of movement quality and style he sought, particularly in the uniquely intricate Balanchine repertoire that was the company’s backbone. The focus was on individual talent, personality and zest for dancing. “The most important thing is how a person moves, how a person can physicalize music,” Villella said in a 2010 interview. “I can teach technique. I can’t teach talent.”
Lopez says she aims to broaden the school’s range, emulating New York City Ballet’s famed School of American Ballet. She studied there in the ’70s before joining NYCB, where the teachers came from Russia, England, and Denmark — centers for major schools of classical dance — as well as from Balanchine’s company. “The school trained you to dance absolutely everything,” she says. “So I want to put in place teachers who will create a fully rounded dancer.”