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Villella To Step Down from MCB

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... To speak up for institutions--in the abstract at least--someone has to think about succession when ADs do not, especially if they are associated with the founding of the company.

I appreciate the link to the Founderitis discussion, but even more your thought here. We have, all of us, seen wonderful parts of the dance repertory -- big chunks of our history -- lost to disregard or fumbling when it comes to issues of succession. The dance history part of my heart is sore just thinking about it.

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The problem is when art becomes a business and the artist becomes a founder. When Tina Brown became editor of the the New Yorker, George Trow left in protest - and later Brown asked another writer to do a piece in his style. I can imagine another director, who does all the right things, being asked to do present a ballet as Villella would: art without the artist's rough-edged temperament, without the danger of art.

Perhaps; but I'm a bit more sanguine about the "let the mad genius run wild" idea. More than a few "visionary" directors have run their companies into the ground, going through many EDs and other staffers (the searches for which cost the company money) becuase of their inability to play well with others, or to delegate responsibilities to those who have common sense (if they don't), because they have control issues. I'm all for risk-taking in the studio and on stage; I'm against institutional megolamania (and, yes, that can come from EDs and boards too). If nothing else, it wastes resources and energy that could be spent on art.

And that does NOT mean devolving to a "business model."

P.S. I really, truly am not speaking of Villella, of whom I know little.

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They were hysterical, crying and weeping, and then [MCB principal dancer] Jennifer [Kronenberg] spoke for the company and she said "we want to know why,' " Hand said. "Do you know what the board answered? Nothing

That's just pathetic. One wonders if they won't answer--which is bad enough, but typical of the board/artist dynamic--or can't, which is worse.

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The story of unhappiness, divisions and tensions have reached the mainstream media in Miami.

Thanks to dirac for posting Jordan Levin's article from The Miami Herald in the Tuesday Links and to Jayne for posting this as well.

For those who did not cllick the link in Links or in Jayne's post, here's the article again..

Hard feelings, questions emerge after Miami City Ballet's director's abrupt exit.

Miami City Ballet is being split by controversy over founder and artistic director Edward Villella’s earlier-than-expected retirement, announced last September in a way that shocked company members and the dance world.

Villella and the ballet’s executive board signed a confidential agreement that set the terms for his spring 2013 departure from the company he founded 26 years. But now, some board members, major donors and dancers are questioning the decision and contend he was forced out at the apex of his career.

They are asking whether having Villella, a former ballet star widely acknowledged as responsible for MCB’s success, retire abruptly could damage the reputation and quality of what has become one of the top ballet troupes in the United States and South Florida’s most famous cultural export.

What surprises me (should it?) is the willingness of so many people to speak to the press and to allow the press to use their names.

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I'm afraid that at this point, there are fewer and fewer good options -- the longer the controversy goes on, and the more people take sides in public, the harder it will be to craft any kind of path forward. The Miami Herald seems to be doing some very good journalism covering this story, but as with the recent flat-footed steps that the Susan G Komen Foundation made, it will take longer to repair the reputation of the organization than it took to damage it.

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I wonder if Villella at least will keep overseeing Balanchine's stagings for the company, or even staging some more, OR if he will be gone for good altogether...

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I wonder if Villella at least will keep overseeing Balanchine's stagings for the company, or even staging some more, OR if he will be gone for good altogether...

I think the bigger question that MCB needs to worry about: will the Balanchine Trust continue to let them perform all those Balanchine ballets? If the licenses were contingent on Villella staging them or if they expire in the next few years, they could be in trouble...I haven't seen that discussed in any of the news accounts. Do any of the locals know what the story is on this?

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Trying hard not to especulate, but if Villella's exit wasn't a soft event, California's predictions could be a real, devastating fact...

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I wonder if Villella at least will keep overseeing Balanchine's stagings for the company, or even staging some more, OR if he will be gone for good altogether...

I think the bigger question that MCB needs to worry about: will the Balanchine Trust continue to let them perform all those Balanchine ballets? If the licenses were contingent on Villella staging them or if they expire in the next few years, they could be in trouble...I haven't seen that discussed in any of the news accounts. Do any of the locals know what the story is on this?

Never thought about that. I wonder if the board realizes that Miami City Ballet has such a high profile and reputation because it is a Balanchine company. Often boards are just full of wealthy people who only got into the arts for some social cache late in life once they made it in life.

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I think the Balanchine Trust would require an approved stager, but would not stipulate that it must be Villella. I doubt the trust would jump into the controversy.

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I think the Balanchine Trust would require an approved stager, but would not stipulate that it must be Villella. I doubt the trust would jump into the controversy.

True, but there is the fact that Villella is one of not that many Balanchine dancers still active and passionate about Balanchine's choreographies purity AND physically capable enough to be there in the studio to oversee things at all times. I is also a plus that he lives in Miami full time. It would not be the same to get thru the whole process of bringing a stager from out of the city every time a ballet needs to be re-staged. Even if the stager does come, he/she wouldn't be, as Vllella, here all the time watching every single performance from the beginning to the end of the season.

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One of the articles I read seemed to say Villella was looking to relocate in NYC (like looking for an apartment as the retirement hit the press). In past seasons when I attended Villella would do the talks before the shows at the Kravis, but he's no longer doing that. I wonder how much he is involved even this season. I hope he continues to work with the dancers. So far this season has been wonderful, so I suspect he has. It really seems a shame about this forced retirement, because MCB is just now becoming "international" with the triumphant Paris performances. I think MCB has an excellent reputation in the US, but I don't know if the rest of the world really knows much about MCB. It seemed like the rest of the world was about to know them well. But now I worry. There are top notch international companies that do the traditional story ballets well. MCB does more than just Balanchine but is considered a Balanchine company due to Villella's influence and all the repetoire. I wonder what will happen now. Audience members that sat near me so far this season are very worried too. Some questions we were asking each other were, "Will some dancers leave and go elsewhere without his presence?" "Will standards decline?" etc. I personally think the public is very worried. The board says that it is no one person's company, but 3 audience members next to me exclaimed it is Villella's name that has brought attention and prestige to the company. They were from New York.

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I have lived in Florida most of my life and know that Florida does not have a good reputation as far as the arts are concerned. We have tons of snowbirds who come down from the Northeast, but somehow not enough to support and donate to the arts, because the arts are always suffering here. Miami started to be a "hot" and "trendy" city in the 90s and continues to be a tourist destination but not so much for the arts. I know the opera company was getting better in the 90s but since the economic collapse things have taken a huge nosedive, in my personal opinion. But not with MCB. So it spoke volumes that I was sitting next to New Yorkers at MCB's performances who knew Villella as a dancer and were mainly interested in MCB b/c Villella started it. They say they love MCB, but they also think he is the only reason that MCB is even on their radar map. I don't think the board fully appreciates what Villella has done. The majority of opera lovers would not take a trip to Florida just to see Florida Grand Opera, but I think the majority of ballet lovers would consider a trip to Florida to see MCB. That says a lot about the quality and what Villella has achieved. Coming to ballet from opera I find it absolutely amazing that Florida has a top notch ballet company. That is like a miracle, b/c nothing else is top notch!

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Well, BB, there's also Michael Tilson's orchestra and his New Wolrd Center and also the Cleveland...! ;-)

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Cristian, yes, there are definitely good things happening in Miami. The Cleveland Orchestra, however, has its winter residence there and it really isn't a homegrown orchestra. The original orchestra that serviced most of South Florida went under years ago, and I think Miami enticed Cleveland to come perform shows b/c it has been hard to re-start an orchestra from scratch. Nobody wants to donate to a new, unknown venture. Many people got burned with the previous orchestra.

I do like the New World Orchestra. It is a unique thing, b/c it is a school that also performs professionally. It filled the void. I have been to several performances and always been impressed.

So, yes, there are good things. I really shouldn't knock everything, but I do know that arts organizations struggle in Florida both financially and artistically. Miami is probably our largest and most cosmopolitan city, yet the arts don't even flourish there the way they do in NY or Chicago or SF. Of course, Miami is smaller...

It is truly a MIRACLE that Miami has such a ballet company. This is my main point. I don't think the board of MCB understands this. So many things have to come together: someone with a vision and people who follow that vision. Just money and donations does not make a great company. I hope the board of MCB understands this. I hate to buy into the "star system" but famous names associated with a project or company help to sell. If Villella's name is gone they better find an equally important name to replace him. That is my personal opinion.

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I wonder if the Board gave any thought to the fact that Linda Villella is the Director of the MCB School. If Edward leaves town, does she go too?

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Good question, lovemydancers. All you have to do is read the Company roster to see how important the MCB School has become to the Company. In the past few years MCB has been relying more and more on the School to prepare its dancers (including the Delgados and the Estys) as well as to provide finishing for a group of highly talented dancers from Brazil (including Rebello, Cerdeiro, Arja).

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This goes back a bit, but here's an item from this excellent news item relevant to the continuation of the school:

“I’m not the retiring type, shall we say,” Mr. Villella said in an interview in New York, where he and his wife, Linda, who runs the company’s ballet school, were looking for a new place to live.

Of course she's going with him.

On Nov. 1 the company announced it had hired Nicholas T. Goldsborough, an experienced administrator and fund-raiser, as the new executive director. He will report directly to the board instead of to Mr. Villella as Ms. Gardiner did. ... The shift was an indication of the board leadership’s desire for, as Ms. Gardiner put it, “more of a business model rather than an artistic model.”

That's worrisome, too. Michael Kaiser is not everyone's guru, but "he's been there", and often points out that business methods fail to give the desired results in the arts.

As to staging the ballets, one of Villella's many virtues as an AD is his practice of bringing in "originators" of the roles or experienced dancers of them under Balanchine's eye to do that, who are credited in the program books, like Maria Calegari and Bart Cook, who staged two ballets on Program II just over, or Allegra Kent, Violette Verdy, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, and so on. (This work is then videotaped, he told us one evening in a pre-performance talk, and when they revive the ballet, they use that.) But owing to Peter Martins's having broken the chain, this supply of dancers will eventually run out.

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Given that the press so far (not just Miami Herald, but a local gossip column too) have been very pro-Villella, it's safe to assume that he or his supporters are fueling those fires. So the reports need to be taken with a grain of salt - as with all disputes, there are other sides to the story.

But commenting on some of the above posts:

- I don't see the Balanchine Trust issue to be an issue. Look at the many companies of arguably lesser rank currently performing Balanchine ballets. Typically, the Trust will assign a repetiteur to stage the ballet (and usually that's NOT Villella), and with the high quality of dancer at Miami, I imagine that no matter who is running the show, Balanchine is going to be one of the company's strengths for years to come. I'm not sure, by the way, that I would give Villella all the credit for bringing in those "originators" to stage the Balanchine works; it's just as likely that the Balanchine Trust is responsible for that. (There are a whole flock of former NYCB dancers who supplement their incomes nicely by staging Mr. B's ballets all over the world - you do have to give the Trust credit for that and for making genuine efforts to preserve and promote the dances it's responsible for curating).

- The well-received series of performances over the summer in Paris did not come without great expense. You don't simply pick up your company and take it on the road for a month in an expensive European capital for free. I've not seen any figures on whether the company made or lost money on those shows. So the unanswered question there is whether this has contributed to whatever financial difficulties the company may now be facing.

- To the point that much of the MCB audience consists of people from the northeast: how sustainable is that model? These snowbirds/retirees are an aging demographic, and for the company to focus its energies on courting an increasingly elderly group of supporters does not seem to be a strategy that will promote success in the long run. Meanwhile, there is a very large and growing group of full-time residents, many of whom are Hispanic, that the MCB has all but ignored. While the company was undeniably started and built on support from the north, for it to grow and thrive it may need to look to Florida and South America for its future. Presumably if Villella ever intended to do that, he would have started long ago.

- Assume that if Edward leaves the company, Linda will leave the school. I don't believe she teaches any classes, so it's safe to assume that a good administrator can be hired to replace her. Don't forget - she did not work for free. According to the 2009 MCB form 990 (publicly available for free at Guidestar.org) she was paid for her services (the 990 lists the amount, but I know some people are not comfortable with salaries being posted so I'll refrain from doing so).

- Let's also not forget that Villella is unusually well paid for someone in his position. According to the 2009 MCB form 990 the amount he was paid in 2009 represented about 2.7% of the MCB's total expenditures (again, I'm refraining from posting salaries). While that doesn't seem like a lot, compare for the same year Peter Boal at PNB (1.3% of PNB's expenditures, which were greater than Miami's) and Peter Martins at NYCB (1.07% of NYCB's expenditures, which were almost double PNB's and Miami's put together). Put another way, Villella's pay was about half of Martins's; while MCB's expenditures were about one-fifth of NYCB's. My point is that a new AD would probably cost the company less. Depending on what that person brings to the table in terms of idea, continuity, management skills, and fund raising ability, the net benefit could be quite positive.

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Just food for thought. The New Yorkers I have met and spoken to during MCB performances at the Kravis Center looked about my age or a little older (40ish....they may have been 50). I just turned 45 yesterday, by the way!

I think South Florida has always had snowbirds and always will. Even though the vast majority of snowbirds are older, some are not. I think younger people from the Northeast are moving to Florida too, because it is no longer considered an old people's place to move. At least Florida seems much different than it used to when I was a child (it used to seem 90% retirees, now it seems totally mixed in age). It remains populated mostly by people originally from the Northeast in all age groups. The Hispanic population has grown and added much to South Florida, but my parents' area is still predominantly populated by Northeastern people. So I can only speak for the Kravis performances. They are filled with mostly Northeastern people, I suspect.

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- I don't see the Balanchine Trust issue to be an issue. Look at the many companies of arguably lesser rank currently performing Balanchine ballets. Typically, the Trust will assign a repetiteur to stage the ballet (and usually that's NOT Villella), and with the high quality of dancer at Miami, I imagine that no matter who is running the show, Balanchine is going to be one of the company's strengths for years to come.

Not necessarily: there have been prominent examples of Artistic Directors who change the direction of companies despite the popularity and/or quality of what they're getting rid of. The Pacific Northwest Ballet board was looking for continuity; not every board or artistic administration is interested in the same thing. Nacho Duato was able to dump the entire classical repertory and the ballet dancers from what was the Spanish national ballet and replaced it with his own contemporary dance. The was a big change of direction in Houston post Ben Stevenson. I'm not sure why there is the work "ballet" in the name "Ballet BC" post-Alleyne. There was a major artistic shift in Oregon Ballet Theatre after James Canfield, and several shifts at San Francisco Ballet.

I'm not sure, by the way, that I would give Villella all the credit for bringing in those "originators" to stage the Balanchine works; it's just as likely that the Balanchine Trust is responsible for that.

Perhaps, but some of those originators are not the standard stagers of the ballets. For example input from Violette Verdy and Suzanne Farrell for "Emeralds" and "Diamonds" is quite special.

- The well-received series of performances over the summer in Paris did not come without great expense. You don't simply pick up your company and take it on the road for a month in an expensive European capital for free. I've not seen any figures on whether the company made or lost money on those shows. So the unanswered question there is whether this has contributed to whatever financial difficulties the company may now be facing.

Presumably, this was a board-approved trip and a board-approved expense.

According to the 2009 MCB form 990 (publicly available for free at Guidestar.org) she was paid for her services (the 990 lists the amount, but I know some people are not comfortable with salaries being posted so I'll refrain from doing so).

Whose comfort are you protecting? Ballet Alert! policy is that public information is valid for posting here, and while some members might feel uncomfortable, there is no reason not to post the info. If it's the person being paid, it seems odd that he or she would be uncomfortable with public information being posted; someone who is had the choice of not taking a job in which his or her salary is on the public record.

That doesn't mean that any member is required to post it, but a clarification of policy.

- Let's also not forget that Villella is unusually well paid for someone in his position. My point is that a new AD would probably cost the company less. Depending on what that person brings to the table in terms of idea, continuity, management skills, and fund raising ability, the net benefit could be quite positive.

Someone with the longevity and accomplishments of Villella likely would make more than a new person brought in, although that's not always the case. Getting the younger person cheaper is a standard business strategy. Sometimes it works, and sometimes when you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

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I'm not sure, by the way, that I would give Villella all the credit for bringing in those "originators" to stage the Balanchine works; it's just as likely that the Balanchine Trust is responsible for that.

Perhaps, but some of those originators are not the standard stagers of the ballets. For example input from Violette Verdy and Suzanne Farrell for "Emeralds" and "Diamonds" is quite special.

Its been my understanding from things posted on here (i think!), that Villella has been very clear on wanting to bring in those originators of the roles. That this was something that he saw as his part of his mission to do the ballets to the best of the company's abilities. Maybe someone remembers better? I do not think the Balanchine trust is responsible.

.

- Let's also not forget that Villella is unusually well paid for someone in his position. My point is that a new AD would probably cost the company less. Depending on what that person brings to the table in terms of idea, continuity, management skills, and fund raising ability, the net benefit could be quite positive.

Someone with the longevity and accomplishments of Villella likely would make more than a new person brought in, although that's not always the case. Getting the younger person cheaper is a standard business strategy. Sometimes it works, and sometimes when you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

tiphat.gif to the peanuts comment!

[edit: the rest of this is directed at checkwriter's comments, not Helene's!]

Quite frankly I don't think it was "proved" that he was particularly well paid. The percentage of the total expendatures of the company is not really the pertinent factor I dont think. As you pointed out, he makes half of what Peter Martins does. And I think it would be impolitic to ask whether one thinks Martins is working twice as hard or doing twice as good a job, or is twice as valuable to the company. Perhaps the company has considerably lower expenses because they don't commission a lot of schlock every year that one sees for maybe one subsequent season and then, no more innocent.gif .

Ok, that is neither here nor there, but as a top AD of one of the most well regarded companies in the US, I don't think you made the case that he was "unusually" well paid. And really if they want to maintain their status as a top ranked company, they are going to have to get someone else with some prestige (like PNB did), and it is unlikely that person will come cheap either.

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If Villella's name brings in donations and interest in the company (I don't know if it does but I suspect it does) his salary might seem reasonable, if, for instance, a "nobody" in the dance world who simply has a business degree takes his place and makes much less but also causes donors to walk away......these are just things I hope the board has considered....

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The PNB book by Manes posits that Martins's compensation may include royalties from his choreography, not just his salary.

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