By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
The Miami City Ballet's 2013-14 season-opening program, 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 Broward Center on Friday through Sunday and at the Kravis Center from November 15 to 17. The live music by Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Ligeti alone would be worth the price of a ticket.
Balanchine once told Lourdes Lopez — formerly his student and now the new artistic director Miami City Ballet — that keeping the theater full is like "we're selling ice in winter," she remembers. "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?' "
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Lopez was born in Havana, raised in Miami, and formed artistically in Balanchine's School of American Ballet in New York. At 16, she joined New York City Ballet, working with Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She become a principal dancer in the 1980s — her nickname in the standing-room line was "The Cuban Bombshell." She then worked as a cultural reporter, a dance professor, and executive director of the George Balanchine Foundation.
At 55, looking at least a decade younger, Lopez exudes quiet authority. "The school had no syllabus when I got here," says Lopez. "It has one now."
Lopez does not pretend to be a choreographer, but she is a teacher, and she certainly has great taste and good sense as to what will work and work well in Miami: more Balanchine, including The Nutcracker, of course. Don Quixote, by Petipa and Gorsky, perhaps freshly coached, is in store. There will be a lot of new ballet this season as well, beginning with Wheeldon's extraordinary Polyphonia but also company firsts by bona fide hip and important living choreographers including Nacho Duato, Justin Peck, and Alexei Ratmansky. For good measure, there's Jerome Robbins' exuberant West Side Story Suite.
"Our dancers are ready for anything," Lopez says.
Everything classical, that is. The new ballets are experimental, but they are made for ballet dancers' bodies, and they are not modern dance. "I have nothing against Merce Cunningham," laughs Lopez. "But my whole thing is the pointe shoe."
"The school had no syllabus when I got here," says Lopez. "It has one now."