Some people mistakenly view ballet as elitist or mundane, when the art form is actually a soul-stirring experience. Lourdes Lopez is breaking through these audience barriers one ballet at a time. Since taking over as Miami City Ballet’s (MCB) artistic director in September 2012, Lopez has dedicated her time to connecting more with the community. “We are not [these] unknown, monotone, dancers on a hilltop,” says Lopez, whose third season with MCB is highlighted by the company’s 30th anniversary (2015-2016). “We are here because of the community. The art form belongs to everyone. It’s like a movie: You go and sit down, and ballet is there to reveal something to you. What will the experience be? It could be happy or somber, melancholy or hopeful. You have to be able to feel something to want to come back.”
Originally from Cuba and raised in Miami, Lopez left for New York City at the age of 11 after winning a full scholarship to The School of American Ballet. She joined the corps de ballet of New York City Ballet at 16, became a soloist in 1981 and a principal dancer in 1984. She is the last generation to have worked under the direction of choreographer George Balanchine. Upon retiring at 39 in 1997, she accepted a TV position as a cultural arts reporter despite a resume filled with only dancing experience. “Ballerinas have the tools—determination, focus, will, tenacity, discipline—to succeed at whatever they choose to succeed in. Dancers should never be scared of embarking on a different career. I was brought up to say yes to everything. An opportunity comes to you, and you go for it. You’ll figure it out along the way.”
For MCB’s 30th anniversary program, Lopez’s vision is set on the past, present and future, merging ballets that the company was once known for with pieces that are a nod to the future. For instance, Program I highlights acts two and four from Swan Lake, one of the most famous of all ballets, with the contemporary ballet Viscera, created on MCB by choreographer Liam Scarlett. This merging of eras is highlighted throughout the season. “Every season is a journey and a relationship between the dancers and the audience, which is strengthened throughout the year. If you only attend one program then you won’t understand a program’s impact, or how a dancer can grow or change during a season.” The 2015-2016 season concludes with the reimagining of the classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream by teaming up with visual artist Michele Oka Doner for original costumes and sets, and playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney for dramatic direction. “We are taking a masterpiece and, with permission from the Balanchine Trust, we’ve set it in a very different time and space. We’re recreating it but the text of this ballet remains impactful.”
With Lopez’s progressive leadership, MCB is poised to continue its cultural takeover. On the heels of last year’s Canada tour, which earned standing ovations, the company will tour in Chicago, New York City and Minneapolis this season. “Ballet companies absorb the DNA of their community. Miami is on the cusp of a cultural renaissance. There’s a vibe, an energy and a creative spirit that is bubbling and getting global attention. Our dancers represent that.”
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