Old wounds could be slashed open again at the Miami City Ballet if a local judge rules that company founder and benefactor Toby Ansin can publish an autobiography that possibly portrays former longtime artistic director Edward Villella in a negative light.
In essence, a complaint for declaratory relief filed by Ansin earlier this year is asking a Miami-Dade County circuit court for permission to badmouth Villella.
And, citing a separation agreement signed when he left in 2012 that prevents ballet officials and Villella from saying bad things about each other, the retired star choreographer is fighting to keep the negative stuff out of the public realm.
“I can’t talk about this,” Ansin said in a brief phone chat Wednesday morning.
The 81-year-old Villella, who moved to New York City, didn’t respond to several requests for comment.
John Seligman, his attorney, described Ansin’s complaint as “an attempt to drum up interest in a memoir that I’m not sure anyone has any interest in reading.”
“The ballet has lived up to its end of the bargain and Mr. Villella has lived up to its end of the bargain,” Seligman said. “The only one who hasn’t is this lady. She should leave Mr. Villella alone. He is proud of his accomplishments.”
It’s Ansin’s second attempt at getting a legal opinion on the matter to ward off a defamation lawsuit. She sued in federal court last year and U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga dismissed the case.
This time, Ansin filed in Miami-Dade County, where for decades she has been one of the highest-profile patrons of the arts.
“Ms. Ansin just wants to publish her memoirs about her entire life,” said Raoul Cantero, her attorney, “including stories about her long association with the Miami City Ballet. I don’t know what Mr. Villella is worried about. He hasn’t seen the book.
“Ms. Ansin just wants to tell her story and clarify what her responsibilities would be when she does.”
In her complaint, Ansin points out she didn’t sign Villella’s 2012 separation agreement. She was, however, on the board of trustees when it was signed.
Ansin and Villella are both credited with founding the ballet company in a Lincoln Road storefront in the mid-1980s in Miami Beach. Ansin, who is divorced from WSVN-Channel 7 owner Ed Ansin, brought money and moneyed friends.
Villella, who was then an international star as a dancer, brought an instant legitimacy to a new institution in a city more interested in beach volleyball than dancing.
With Ansin and Villella, Miami City Ballet grew over the years as a premier troupe.
In time, its fame spilled out way beyond Florida with tours in dance capitals like New York and Paris.
Villella, however, was also in charge in 2012 when the ballet fell prey to a $1.5 million deficit that threatened to bankrupt the company, and he was likely pushed out by the board.
To this day, Ansin’s precise role in his ouster was never made clear to the general public.