Lourdes López on Miami City Ballet's New Season: "Our Dancers Are Ready For Anything"
It took some coaxing, but Lourdes López has finally moved into Edward Villella's impressive old corner office at the Miami City Ballet studios in South Beach.
Images courtesy Miami City Ballet / © Steven Caras MCB dancers in Serenade
"It's nice, isn't it," says the company's new artistic director with a shy smile, "and I can grow my gardenias out in the terrace."
She's going to make her garden grow in more ways than that. The 2013-2014 MCB season opening program, called First Ventures, is a sign of things to come: a company premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's breakthrough Polyphonia -- as fresh a vision of classical ballet as we are likely to see for a while -- bookended by two George Balanchine masterpieces. Serenade was the first ballet the Russian immigrant created in the United States, while the graceful and fiendishly complex Ballo della Regina displays the Balanchine style in full flower.
The program runs at the Arsht Center Fri. through Sun., the Broward Center Oct. 25 to 27, and the Kravis Center Nov. 15 to 17. The live music by Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Ligeti alone would be worth the price of a ticket.
On opening night, that ticket includes a pre-performance red carpet party complete with DJ and drinks. This is not just for donors and the usual gala suspects, but for everyone holding a ticket to the ballet.
"It's all about inclusion," says López. Balanchine once told her that keeping the theater full is like "we're selling ice in winter -- that's how hard we have to try. We have to be inviting, we have to think outside the box. And we have to try because once we get people in the theater, the art is so powerful, so transformational, that they'll ask themselves where has this been my whole life."
The woman in charge knows what she's doing. Lourdes López was born in Havana, raised in Miami, and formed artistically in Balanchine's School of American ballet in New York. She joined New York City Ballet at 16, working with both Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She become a principal dancer in the 1980s -- her nickname in the standing room line was "The Cuban Bombshell." But no one was ready for what came next. After retiring from NYCB, López first became a cultural reporter for NBC, and she was on the dance faculty at Barnard College. Then in 2002 she was tapped to become executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation. This was a key arts job in this country, following the death of Balanchine, given that ballet, this most fragile of all the arts, needs careful attention to survive.
López also found time to cofound the dance company Morphoses with Christopher Wheeldon, and she cofounded the non-profit Cuban Artist Fund, which supports Cuban and Cuban-American artists. To say she is a good fit for Miami City Ballet is an understatement.
At 55, looking at least a decade younger, López exudes quiet authority as she discusses her plans. Miami City Ballet has boasted from the get-go a unique and thrilling Balanchine style, and that remains its main strength. Still, dance companies are like people: they get better or they get worse, but they never, ever stay the same. MCB may well get better.
Photo © Gio Alma MCB dancers in Polyphonia
"The school had no syllabus when I got here," says López. "It has one now." She is both discreet and fair about her predecessor, who "trained dancers beautifully in the Balanchine repertory, the height and the preparation -- now everyone down there at the school will get this training from levels 1 through 6."