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Villella To Step Down from MCB


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#226 checkwriter

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 10:19 AM

So the board is being simultaneously critiqued for (a) not standing up to Mr. Villella and (b) standing up to Mr. Villella. It seems the confrontation was only a matter of time; perhaps it would have been better had it happened in the past - in fact, it probably would have been better had the board put its foot down earlier. Now that the board has done so, Mr. Villella is showing his true colors - it's not about the company, it's all about him.

And while Ms. Lopez has said she would like to "consider some sort of merger or partnership of Morphoses and Miami City Ballet," (from NY Times, April 4) there has been no announcement that there will be any combination of the companies. So I'm not sure to what extent, if any, Morphoses played a role in the decision to hire her, and don't see it as a burden until a decision is made to connect it somehow with MCB.

People seem to forget that Ms. Lopez has danced many, many Balanchine roles, coached by Balanchine, and while she has explored other dance styles (as has Mr. Villella, witness the Tharp commissions as a starter) she is likely to be a very adept steward of the Balanchine tradition. She was taught primarily at SAB, and spent her entire career with NYCB. After leaving, she worked as a teacher at New York's Ballet Academy East, teaching in the Balanchine tradition, and then served as executive director of the Balanchine Foundation. So it's not like the board hired someone who has nothing to do with Balanchine.

#227 Quiggin

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 10:38 AM

MIami Herald:

“There’s a basic lack of understanding of how fragile great art is,” says longtime board member Marvin Ross Friedman. “When it’s achieved it’s so magical. Here we have great art and we’re throwing it away."



I sensed the tours would be read a sign of over-reaching on the part of Villella when they were announced - yet they were brilliant success for MCB, Miami and Florida. Is a $1.5m or $2m dollar deficit for an international reputation so much to pay - especially in comparison to billions of bank money that regularly appear and disappear - and movies that lose tens of millions of dollars?

A comparison to Edward Villella's situation might be Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's firing as campus architect at Illinois Institute of Technology. Following something like Balanchine's path, Mies came to the United States in the late thirties to teach at IIT, where he constructed a brilliant series of buildings which became a source and style book of modernist architecture. In the late fifties he was "let go," because in part, like Villella, he had neglected his patrons and because his buildings were thought to be too expensive (they were not). Skidmore, Owings and Merrill - sometimes referred to as "the three blind Mies" - were hired to finish the campus and they did so with less distinguished buildings. They a looked a little like Mies' but cost twice as much and really didn't make anyone happy.

And there are many other sad examples we all know of founders who are tossed aside by money men, angel investors, etc - who often seem to have even have more delicate egos than artists' - for not fitting in with the program.

#228 Helene

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 11:26 AM

So the board is being simultaneously critiqued for (a) not standing up to Mr. Villella and (b) standing up to Mr. Villella. It seems the confrontation was only a matter of time; perhaps it would have been better had it happened in the past - in fact, it probably would have been better had the board put its foot down earlier.

I am criticizing the choice the powerful board members made in handling the situation, including putting the blame on him. If they have a beef with the way the rest of the board handled the budget and Villella in the past, they should be saying that, but then they couldn't have justified forcing him out.

Now that the board has done so, Mr. Villella is showing his true colors - it's not about the company, it's all about him.

Or, another way of looking at it, is that it's not about an institution, it's about the artistic vision and direction that made it a company that could attract the kind of money and prestigious board that tossed him.

And while Ms. Lopez has said she would like to "consider some sort of merger or partnership of Morphoses and Miami City Ballet," (from NY Times, April 4) there has been no announcement that there will be any combination of the companies. So I'm not sure to what extent, if any, Morphoses played a role in the decision to hire her, and don't see it as a burden until a decision is made to connect it somehow with MCB.

Assuming she discussed it with the board during the hiring process, did they lead her to believe that this was possible just to get her?

People seem to forget that Ms. Lopez has danced many, many Balanchine roles, coached by Balanchine, and while she has explored other dance styles (as has Mr. Villella, witness the Tharp commissions as a starter) she is likely to be a very adept steward of the Balanchine tradition. She was taught primarily at SAB, and spent her entire career with NYCB. After leaving, she worked as a teacher at New York's Ballet Academy East, teaching in the Balanchine tradition, and then served as executive director of the Balanchine Foundation. So it's not like the board hired someone who has nothing to do with Balanchine.

I would never claim that she has nothing to do with Balanchine. She came from a later period, one that was quite different from the company when Villella was a member, and her time was past the two most fertile American periods of Balanchine's neo-classical creativity, while Villella was in the middle of both. Regardless of the relative merit of each as a dancer, Villella was up close and personal in a way that Lopez, never central to NYCB, was not.

It's not a matter of whether Lopez will pull a Nacho Duato, but whether Villella was more suited to make MCB unique, rather than a generic Balanchine-centric company. Obviously, the members of the board who could get rid of Villella either think the answer is "no" and that Lopez can give them the same or better, or they don't much care or don't want to pay for it.

Keep in mind that the 'depiction' is just that - one journalist's (and I use the term loosely) creation of a story using a mix of quotes from attributed and unattributed sources. If you'll read Ms. Levin's other work, you'll see a distinct bias in favor of Mr. Villella, and a consistent use of sources that come straight from Mr. Villella's side of the story. There is always much more going on behind the scenes that wanna-be muckraking journalists either are not privy to, or choose to ignore to the extent it does not fit with their preconceived notion of how the story should go.

Levin may be biased in favor of Villella, but I have read Ms. Levin's other work, which includes her fair and gracious long profile of Lopez.

#229 vipa

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 02:58 PM

I don't know if this will add any insight for anyone, but there is what I think is a lovely interview with Lopez on dance pulp about being a Balanchine dancer. I think having worked with Balanchine as corps, soloist and principal might give her some interesting insights. Also being there for the early Martin's years probably taught her a few things about transitions.

http://dancepulp.com.../lourdes-lopez/

#230 Helene

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 03:16 PM

I think that Lopez' experience will help her as an administrator of an institution. How much it will help her with artistic vision is another story.

#231 dirac

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 04:02 PM

So the board is being simultaneously critiqued for (a) not standing up to Mr. Villella and (b) standing up to Mr. Villella. It seems the confrontation was only a matter of time; perhaps it would have been better had it happened in the past - in fact, it probably would have been better had the board put its foot down earlier. Now that the board has done so, Mr. Villella is showing his true colors - it's not about the company, it's all about him.


It's hard to know what happened from news stories alone, but however hamfistedly the board behaved, if Villella wasn't seriously interested in focusing on a succession plan and paying more attention to the bottom line in these hard economic times, then they were truly between a rock and a hard place. (It does sound as if they should have acted earlier, before things arrived at this pass.) Villella is well into his seventies and if he's done very well by the company, the company has also done well by him (and his family).

The institution is more important to them than Villella, and it's not surprising that he, like many entrepreneurs -- not just artists -- is not interested in helping the institution to perpetuate itself without him.


It's not surprising and it's very human. It's also not particularly admirable. These are still his dancers after all, he might think about their jobs. In any case if the company fails to survive, it'll be a reflection on him as well as the board.

#232 Helene

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 04:18 PM

It's not surprising and it's very human. It's also not particularly admirable. These are still his dancers after all, he might think about their jobs. In any case if the company fails to survive, it'll be a reflection on him as well as the board.

I don't think it's admirable or not admirable. I don't think he has an obligation to do anything but run the company for the next year honestly until Lopez can take over, since the Board has made it clear what they think of the way he runs it.

I think if the company fails to survive, unless Villella actively sabotages it, it will be a reflection on the Board. (It sounds like he wants to detach more than anything.) The Board thinks they can raise the funds to run the Company and create a more realistic budget to put it on more solid financial footing, and they've placed their bets where they see fit. If that bet fails to pay off -- ex: if Villella's supporters take their money and run and there's not enough to replace it, the company gets ho-hum reviews under Lopez, the Knight Foundation stops funding them, they have to downsize their personnel and/or rep and they public doesn't accept it, key dancers flock away -- I think the board will be the ones who will blamed, not Villella.

#233 SandyMcKean

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 06:06 PM

If....the company gets ho-hum reviews under Lopez, the Knight Foundation stops funding them, they have to downsize their personnel and/or rep and they public doesn't accept it, key dancers flock away -- I think the board will be the ones who will blamed, not Villella


Amen.
.

#234 dirac

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Posted 15 July 2012 - 09:13 PM


It's not surprising and it's very human. It's also not particularly admirable. These are still his dancers after all, he might think about their jobs. In any case if the company fails to survive, it'll be a reflection on him as well as the board.

I don't think it's admirable or not admirable. I don't think he has an obligation to do anything but run the company for the next year honestly until Lopez can take over, since the Board has made it clear what they think of the way he runs it.

I think if the company fails to survive, unless Villella actively sabotages it, it will be a reflection on the Board. (It sounds like he wants to detach more than anything.) The Board thinks they can raise the funds to run the Company and create a more realistic budget to put it on more solid financial footing, and they've placed their bets where they see fit. If that bet fails to pay off -- ex: if Villella's supporters take their money and run and there's not enough to replace it, the company gets ho-hum reviews under Lopez, the Knight Foundation stops funding them, they have to downsize their personnel and/or rep and they public doesn't accept it, key dancers flock away -- I think the board will be the ones who will blamed, not Villella.


Based on what I've read, nobody looks good. I think it most unlikely that Villella can avoid a share of the responsibility for the debacle.

#235 bart

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 08:38 AM

Based on what I've read, nobody looks good. I think it most unlikely that Villella can avoid a share of the responsibility for the debacle.

dirac, I agree with your summation.

As this insightful but depressing thread shows, there are powerful arguments to be made on each side. Villella emerges (for me) as someone both sinned against and sinning. Without a doubt, MCB is Villella's creation, reflecting his passion for the Balanchine idea of what ballet can be, a long-term vision of what he wanted the company to be, and amazing dedication to the daily business of teaching, coaching, rehearsing, and staging. We all owe him a tremendous debt.
U
I tend to see Villella, looking back over the past few months, as classic tragic hero -- complex, a brilliant risk-taker, a victim who is complicit in his own downfall.. In tragedy, enemies plot. Friends warn but are ignored. Secondary players keep their heads down. The audience is either oblivious or enjoying the spectacle. So, when the dagger comes, who is to "blame"? Board members, certainly, as Helene and others have expressed so well. But Villella himself bears quite a lot of responsibility for his own tragedy, and especially for protracting it for so long.

Villella has been charged (correctly in my opinion) with lax financial management and inconsistencies in dealing with personnel. He handled some Board members well and others .... not so well. He possibly misjudged the kind of ballet that "Miami" really wants, or can afford, though in the process he introduced them to something astonishing and marvelous.. Most seriously, he does not appear to have thought much about -- or been emotionally prepared for -- a succession crisis, even after his most influential supporters (Ansin, the Eidsons, Robert Gottlieb) were doubtless encouraging him to do so. After the original shock of being told to go, he appears to have engaged in a campaign to overturn the decision. He has, most seriously for the future of the country, not been able to (or chosen not to) encourage others to let these conflicts go. If Villella "deserves better," so does Lourdes Lopez. So do the dancers other company workers, the audience, and the donors who are not actual participants in the Board's shameful and self-defeating in-fighting.

Based on the Miami Herald article, it seems inevitable that the $5 million Knight Foundation grant which "top board members are counting on" is unlikely to materialize. None, indeed, was ever promised. The Knight Foundation seems to prefer targeted matching grants (as in their 3-year commitment to the orchestra). There's a real question whether any serious donors will make an "investment" in MCB until the Board gets its act together.

In retrospect, I think that the Board (whoever and whatever that now means) made a serious misjudgment in the way they handled Villella's (how shall I put this diplomatically?) "transition into retirement." They chose the worst possible moment. The City Center season, the Dance in America appearance, the big new Romeo and Juliet, new ballets by Alexei Ratmansky and Lliam Scarlett, and a pretty wonderful season on the whole. If they were genuinely surprised at the size of the deficit for this they were, to put it baldly, not doing their oversight job. I don't ordinarily advocate for the harsher practices of big corporations, but it has always seemed sensible to me -- when you are firing a CEO -- to get him or her out of the way quickly. Let the new administration or a transition team get a quick start. This did not happepn at MCB. Villella was given an undefined year to continue working intimately with, and be responsible for, a company which (HIS company, as he sees it) had been stolen from him. No wonder there's been a disaster.

Levin's article paints a picture of a man, "gaunt and haggard," who "now shuffles slowly." I have seen this Edward Villella, and it was heart-breaking. (It was a private moment at the stage door at the Kravis Center, West Palm, during the run of Coppelia.) But I also saw him a month earlier during MCB's Giselles at the Kravis, working the auditorium like a man much younger than he is, smiling and giving photo ops to fans, chatting with Palm Beach donors, and apparently signalling to the world: "They haven't gotten they beset of me yet." I understand the personal motivations and the desire to put a good face on things. But why did he run his own candidate (a favored dancer) against Lopez at the time of the Board's vote on his successor? It didn't work -- nor should it have.

We all want to know what happend. But, more crucially, now's the time for reconciliation of all parties and a renewed commitment to the future. No one is better placed to get this going than Edward Villella himself. So far, he hasn't tried this option.

Right now I'm looking at a listing of the amazing season that Mr. Villella planned for 2012-13. As things stand now, and barring some change in arrangements, he will have the daunting task of making this work in a company that is demoralized, fearful of the unknown, and almost broke. This factionalized Board -- some of whom seem to be dangerously narrowly focused, according to public statements -- will have to find a way to pay for it.. Here is that program. I hope it gives you an idea of what we risk loosing, or eviscerating, if those who ought to know better decide to keep this "debacle" going.)

Program I. Les Patineurs (Ashton); Piazzola Caldera (Taylor); Apollo (Balanchine).

Program II. Divertimento No. 15 (Balanchine); Duo Concertant (Balanchine); Don Quixote Pas de Dekux (after Petipa); world premiere of Liam Scarlett's new ballet.

Program III. La Valse (Balanchine); Steadfast Tin Soldier (Balanchine); Tschikovsky Pas de Deux (Balanchine); Symphonic Dances (Ratmansky).

Program IV. Dances at a Gathering (Robbins); Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (Balanchine).

#236 Helene

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:03 AM

In retrospect, I think that the Board (whoever and whatever that now means) made a serious misjudgment in the way they handled Villella's (how shall I put this diplomatically?) "transition into retirement." They chose the worst possible moment. The City Center season, the Dance in America appearance, the big new Romeo and Juliet, new ballets by Alexei Ratmansky and Lliam Scarlett, and a pretty wonderful season on the whole. If they were genuinely surprised at the size of the deficit for this they were, to put it baldly, not doing their oversight job.

Barring a very public mad scene or deliberate attempts to undermine, as opposed to withholding, all of this is why I think the Board will be the one to end up with the mud on its face. Perhaps that's one of the reasons the Villella supporters are so willing to speak on the record, exposing how they were out-maneuvered and a weak opposition; at least they won't be tarred by the decision.

Going into the past season, the Board had all of the ammunition they needed, as you describe:

Villella also has been charged (correctly in my opinion) with lax financial management and serious inconsistencies in dealing with personnel. He handled some Board members well and others .... not so well. He possibly misjudged the kind of ballet that "Miami" really wants, though in the process he introduced them to something astonishing and marvelous.. Most seriously, he does not appear to have thought much about -- or been emotionally prepared for -- a succession crisis, even after his most influential supporters (Ansin, the Eidsons, Robert Gottlieb) were doubtless encouraging him to do so.

Nothing like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

I don't ordinarily favor the harsher practices of big corporate policy, but it has always seemed sensible to me -- when you are firing a CEO -- to get him or her out of the way quickly. Let the new administration move in quickly. Villella was given an undefined year to continue working intimately with the company which had been snatched away for him. No wonder there's been a disaster.

When they allowed an angry, hurt former leader to continue to lead, albeit with his wings clipped, it's not like they didn't know their man, having complained that he was willful and recalcitrant in his refusal to think about succession -- even Balanchine did that, but, perhaps, Villella learned something from the infighting that went on at NYCB around that topic -- or to budget along their more conservative lines. They knew the ego, they knew the temperament, and they knew who was loyal to Villella, on the Board, in the administration, and in the Company. If they were surprised by any of this, then add that to the list of blunders. If it was a correct trade-off based on the risks of severing quickly and having transitional management while the search for a successor was on, then the Company is likely in worse shape than we think.

#237 dirac

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:32 AM

Perhaps that's one of the reasons the Villella supporters are so willing to speak on the record, exposing how they were out-maneuvered and a weak opposition; at least they won't be tarred by the decision.


There could be any number of reasons (and not necessarily wholesome ones) why people want to get their story out in conflicts of this kind, on the record or otherwise.

If they were genuinely surprised at the size of the deficit for this they were, to put it baldly, not doing their oversight job. I don't ordinarily advocate for the harsher practices of big corporations, but it has always seemed sensible to me -- when you are firing a CEO -- to get him or her out of the way quickly.


Yes on both counts. But it gets dicey if the leader still has a power base and wants to fight. The situation becomes less corporate and more Penn State.

#238 Birdsall

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 02:24 PM

Maybe they had to keep him until the end of the 2012-2013 season due to his current contract.

The previous articles did hint at some board members having ruffled feathers or hurt feelings. I think often these things are very personal and both sides have his/her own story.

Often egos play a huge role. If someone feels snubbed and is made to feel little, there will be revenge, if that person has an upper hand.

But we can't pretend to know what happened here. It could be something so simple as someone turning his back on someone as she is trying to speak to him. Something that small and petty can create a feeling in a person for revenge. When made to feel small, people go to great lengths to get back at the person who made him/her feel small.

So this could have all been caused by some petty slight. We will maybe never know!

Let's just hope that they don't cancel this coming season!!!!

#239 California

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 02:57 PM

Maybe they had to keep him until the end of the 2012-2013 season due to his current contract.


This still seems unusual. In other high-profile ousters (e.g., the President of Texas A&M who was forced out today), they keep the salary through their contract period but are immediately out of office. He could have demanded this, of course, when they gave him an ultimatum, but the board didn't have to agree, unless there were board members (or donors) who wanted him to stay this extra year.

#240 SandyMcKean

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 05:06 PM

I think it most unlikely that Villella can avoid a share of the responsibility for the debacle.

I believe there is some misunderstanding going on here......a misunderstanding based on confusion as to what time frame is being assumed.

When Helene said (a comment I fully agreed with):

If....the company gets ho-hum reviews under Lopez, the Knight Foundation stops funding them, they have to downsize their personnel and/or rep and they public doesn't accept it, key dancers flock away -- I think the board will be the ones who will blamed, not Villella

Note the vital word IF that starts that sentence. Also note that the events Helene describes have not yet happened, and indeed would take years to fully occur, IF they do happen.

So there are two time frames being discussed: one, the present; and two, years down the road. Most comments (Dirac's and bart's for example) seem to addressing the present. In that case, I agree with their analysis (and I suspect so would Helene). Both Villella and the Board will suffer blame for what Dirac described as a "debacle". But in the longer time frame (which I believe Helene was referring to above), and IF the events occur that Helene projects might happen (e.g., bad reviews, greatly reduced funding, dancers flocking away), then many years from now, as folks look back on all this, I align myself with Helene's prediction that Villella will be judged less harshly than the Board. Especially when you consider that several years from now IF the events occur that Helene outlined, the Board will still be in Miami, and will have to deal with the company and the events; whereas Villella will be long gone living up in NYC somewhere.

Meanwhile, and certainly in the present moment, there is plently of blame to go around (......altho, if I had to guess, I suspect Villella's rigidity has to have played a huge role in all this.........as bart comments "Friends warn but are ignored").


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