Miami City Ballet Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez Prepares for Her
By Roberto Santiago
“Now that Miami City Ballet has chosen its new artistic director [Lourdes Lopez], it seems hard to imagine someone with a better résumé for the job.’’
- The New York Times, April 3, 2012
It is the morning of Monday, July 29, 2013, and the lobby of Miami City Ballet studios in South Beach is alive with the kind of electric energy only a roomful of dancers can generate.
Miami City Ballet principal dancer Jeanette Delgado, whom The New York Times hails as “one of the world’s most marvelous ballerinas,” is greeting co-workers and fellow dancers she has not seen in months, her radiant smile and bubbly warmth making everyone feel special.
Dozens of little girls arrive ready to begin Miami City Ballet School’s two-week summer intensive program, the very school that Jeanette and her sister, Patricia - also a principal dancer with the company - studied at almost 20 years ago.
The new school director, Darleen Callaghan, who was recently the subject of a large and impressive profile in The Miami Herald, also stands in the lobby, greeting children and parents.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Miami City Ballet’s new Artistic Director Lourdes Lopez is running out of another meeting and getting ready to tend to a long list of responsibilities. She is a marvel in time management.
Lopez, 54, spends little time in her spacious third floor office. She can usually be found in the first floor studios, teaching a class or working directly with the dancers on the many ballets the company is presenting this season, which include four company premieres. If not downstairs, Lopez is likely at an off-site meeting, dealing directly with potential donors or hammering out specifics for other Miami City Ballet ventures. Days, afternoons and evenings - seven days a week - there are also the endless e-mails, phone calls, media interviews and family matters (Lopez is the mother of two daughters, a 24-year-old and a 12-year-old) that must also be tended to.
The 2012-2013 season was all about Lopez getting Miami City Ballet and Miami City Ballet School in shape after its long-time Founding Artistic Director, Edward Villella, left the company in September 2012. This left Lopez with the task of completing Villella’s final season, nine months before she was to replace him as artistic director.
Lopez, who was supposed to start in May 2013, had to drop everything and relocate to South Florida from New York City to run the company and the school. She had to deal with low employee morale and work on gaining the confidence of the dancers to ensure that the 2012-2013 season would be successful.
The show did go on.
Under Lopez and new Executive Director Daniel Hagerty, Miami City Ballet is financially stronger. Administrative staff salaries that were cut last year were restored and new hires are taking place. Employee morale is at an all-time high. And all of the dancers renewed their contracts to work with Lopez.
“Lourdes is the reason why I decided to stay and continue my dance career,” said Corps de Ballet dancer Suzanne Limbrunner, who last August 2012 was ready to switch careers and become a Montessori teacher. "With the new directorship came new strength and inspiration - and made me want to continue dancing."
When Lopez was named Miami City Ballet’s new artistic director, major media outlets across the nation hailed her appointment. The Miami Herald editorial board praised the decision and The New York Times wrote, “It seems hard to imagine someone with a better résumé for the job.’’
Lopez’s resume and life story are impressive: She and her family left Havana in 1959 when she was a little over a year old and settled in Miami. As poor and struggling immigrants, Lopez remembers the family visiting the Freedom Tower to get medicine and be vaccinated. Lopez faced health challenges as well. As a 5-year-old, her legs were weak. Fortunately, the family doctor made a destiny-changing suggestion – to have Lopez take ballet lessons to strengthen her legs. She not only developed stronger legs, but developed an even stronger talent as a performance artist.
At the age of 11, Lopez earned a full scholarship from the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet. The scholarship allowed her to study at the school in New York during the summer months, as well as paying for her dance study in Miami throughout the year. At age 14, Lopez moved to New York and began her full-time studies at the School of American Ballet. And at age 16, Lopez was hired by George Balanchine to join New York City Ballet as a corps de ballet dancer. She worked directly with Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. Lopez was promoted to soloist in 1981 and principal dancer in 1984.
After retiring from the stage, Lopez became a cultural arts reporter for WNBC-4 News in New York City, was a full-time faculty member at New York’s Ballet Academy East and later became the executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation. In 2007, she co-founded Morphoses, a dance company with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, which she plans to re-incorporate from New York City to South Florida, making it a programmatic arm of Miami City Ballet. Her appointment as Miami City Ballet’s new artistic director was announced in April 2012 and became a reality in September 2012.
Several weeks later, Lopez was honored at a cocktail event at the very place where she and her family visited to get food: The Freedom Tower. Lopez was stunned. It was the first time she had set foot there since she was a child.
“I have returned to a city that I barely recognize," Lopez told the hushed audience at the Freedom Tower that evening. "Miami has transformed itself; there is a cultural renaissance that is palpable. Art and artists are changing and what I am seeing is that Miami has found a way of brokering a relationship between people and art in ways that reflect our changing society."
The 2013-2014 season is all about Lopez’s debut season, about making a great company and a great school even greater and especially about making Miami City Ballet, which The New York Times
hails as “one of America’s most beloved dance companies,” into one of the top entertainment choices for South Florida ticket-buying audiences.
Miami City Ballet dancer Jennifer Kronenberg in Don Quixote.
Photo © Joe Gato
The season is made up of four programs (each featuring one to three ballets) and George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker during the Holidays. The names of the four programs reflect the spirit of what audiences will experience: Program I: First Ventures; Program II: See the Music; Program III: Triple Threat; and Program IV: Don Quixote.
Performances start October 18 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and continue on the weekend of October 25 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. The schedule also includes performances at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach and the Artis-Naples in Naples. The season concludes in Miami on April 13, 2014.
Lopez intends to make Miami City Ballet a natural part of the South Florida cultural experience for its residents, reminding even the most skeptical that an evening at the ballet always makes for a fun night out.
Already she has lined up the iconic Tony-Award winning star, Chita Rivera, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center honoree, to perform with Miami City Ballet dancers on November 1 and 2 at Miami City Ballet’s in-house 200-seat theater for the first of its Open Barre performances.
And on November 22, Miami City Ballet will present a free ballet program for children and families called Ballet for Young People at Bailey Concert Hall at the Broward College campus in Davie.
Her debut season features works that have special meaning to her: ballets by her mentor, George Balanchine; contemporary works by Christopher Wheeldon (Polyphonia) and Nacho Duato (Jardi Tancat); and what will likely prove to be one of the most challenging works Miami City Ballet has ever staged: West Side Story Suite, choreographed by one of her other mentors, Jerome Robbins.
Miami City Ballet dancers in West Side Story Suite.
Choreography by Jerome Robbins, © The Jerome Robbins Rights Trust.
Photo © Gio Alma
In West Side Story Suite
, Miami City Ballet dancers have to dance act and sing – becoming a triple threat, as it is known in show business. Opening night for West Side Story Suite is, appropriately enough, on Valentine’s Day 2014 (February 14) at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which will also host a black tie gala.
Over the next few seasons, expect Lopez to have Miami City Ballet performing in South America. And expect Lopez and Miami City Ballet to make grassroots inroads into Broward and Palm Beach counties, making guest appearances at schools and establishing collaborations with performing arts institutions.
“[South Florida] is on the brink of a huge cultural explosion,” Lopez told The Miami Herald
in October 2012. “I want Miami City Ballet to ride that momentum, and to initiate it if possible.”
Roberto Santiago is the Community Engagement and Communications Officer at Florida Atlantic University in Broward County. He is the author of Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings – An Anthology (One World/Ballantine Books, 1995) and a writer for MSN.com’s LatinZine.