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Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez

In the dance world, all eyes will be on the Miami City Ballet.

This is the debut season from artistic director Lourdes Lopez, who set tongues wagging last year when she was asked by MCB’s board to take over eight months earlier than previously scheduled, replacing company co-founder Edward Villella who was at the helm for 27 years. Lopez gamely finished out the season planned by Villella and triumphed with the wary dancers.

“Now I have to actually do it,” Lopez says, laughing. “The season has to be a journey. If you see all four programs…you’re going to walk away feeling differently, thinking differently.”

The ambitious season she has laid out -- which led to one of her self-described “gulp moments” -- includes four new works including the company premiere of Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story.” For the February-March performances, the dancers will be called on to dance, act and … gulp ... sing.

“I don’t think people appreciate how much of a big deal it is that the Jerome Robbins Foundation is allowing us to do this,” explains Lopez. “We started by letting them know in no uncertain terms that we had the dancers and the characters to play those parts. So we had to cast it and send them a tape. We had to get them into a room without conductor to see who could sing. Then we sent them home for two or three weeks for practice. Then we bring them back, film them and send the tape to the Robbins Foundations. And only after they saw that did they say yes.”

And as part of its Open Barre series, the MCB will bring Broadway goddess Chita Rivera for a “West Side Story Suite” presentation at the intimate 200-seat theater at the company’s studios in South Beach in November.

“She’s such an iconic woman in dance; a real genius of dance, I think,” sums up Lopez. “I want Open Barre to be a sneak preview or behind-the-scenes. I want it to be up-close and personal, but also educational. If you come to Open Barre you meet the artist and understand the process so that when you then see the performance you can make some connection to the work onstage.”

The season will also include Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato’s contemporary folk piece “Jardi Tancat” in January, and George Balanchine’s “Episodes” in February (including the original Paul Taylor solo that hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since the New York City Ballet edited it out in 1986).

More Balanchine will be seen with family-friendly performances of “The Nutcracker” and “Don Quixote” that will include pre-show activities for young ballet fans.

It is a challenging spate of ballets for a new artistic director put in place “…literally overnight.” But Lopez explains that the dancers and the supporters made the transition as smooth as could be expected.

“You would have to be an idiot to not expect….” Her voice trails off and she switches her approach:

“I am a very sane and very down-to-earth type of gal. I knew what was going on in their heads. I’m the new kid on the block. It took tremendous courage from them and from everyone else, the staff and the community. Their interest was to keep Miami City Ballet alive and keep it going forward.

“The ego is removed. It is not about me. It is not about Edward. It’s about the art form.”


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