Kristen

Interview with Edward Villella (by Marina Harss)

78 posts in this topic

Odd, having been in and out of the Miami/South Florida area continuously for the past 30 years, Miami has changed culturally incredibly and Mr. Villella along with other non-native and native Miamians have been an important part of the cultural changes. They have built the buildings. The have invested much more than money.The transition continues. While I enjoyed reading the interview, it is a bit discouraging to be a thriving artist in the South Florida area and see that Mr. Villella seems to harbor an arrogance that anything outside of NYC is the boonies and culturally vacant. There is very good art being made in South Florida. Very good dance indeed as is evident in the large numbers of dancers who have joined dance companies throughout the world. Even when I was a student many moons ago, it was known there was good teaching going on in South Florida. While the culture of South Florida may not be the same as NYC, for that matter Paris, St. Petersburg, Moscow etc., there is culture in South Florida. As much as I enjoyed seeing Mr. Villella perform and having his presence in our community, it is evident that his arrogance was a detriment to fundraising and the further growth of MCB in South Florida. I thank him for all that he accomplished for us, but the alienation of a community is not the way to win friends and influence or the continued growth of ballet here in South Florida. May he find joy in his new life in NYC.

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Buddy, it's good to hear from you. We do agree on Villella's artistic contributions, and I'm glad that Helene persuaded you to read the interview.

vrsfanatic, thanks for your balanced post. Those of us who live down hear know how rich the arts experience can be -- across the whole gamut: classical music, opera, ballet, theater, visual arts. Not to mention fine arts education, of which your own Harid Conservatory and MCB's school are probably the most significant in terms of national ballet prestige and influence. Villella was always part of this fine arts tradition, and could sometimes be dismissive -- even when addressing his audiences -- about artistic endeavors that were merely "entertaining." He always attracted a core of financial supporters who were generous and supportive of what he wanted to do, though one could argue that he had difficulty adjusting to a newer kind of philanthropy, some of which had a different artistic vision and sense of proper business practice.

cubanmiamiboy has often posted here about the amazing offerings (musical especially) available to Miami audiences and serious music students. The Knight Foundation, which includes Miami as one of the communities it favors,s has been a hugh part of this. A similar, though more limited, story holds true for Palm Beach County, where I live. The audience and donor base here tends to be North East in origin and committed to the kind of culture they (we) grew up with. It helps, of course that some of these Palm Beach people are super rich. But there are super rich people all over, nowadays, and relatively few of them support ballet and the other higher arts.

(On the negative side, the Palm Beach community allowed Ballet Florida to slide into bankruptcy.)

As for ballet, the story has been more mixed. The financial ups and downs of MCB are a part of this mixed bag. It might have been undiplomatic of Villella to make some of the statements he made about Miami, but there is more than a little truth in what he says. For me, one of the most striking examples of this is that the audience for MCB in Miami (a big city) is actually numerically smaller than in West Palm Beach (a small city by any standards). By this I am referring to subscribers and other ticket buyers. Also, considering the size of the Cuban American community in Miami (and the wealth of many Cuban American business families) , I'm always astonished by the hard financial time that valuable companies like Cuban Classical Ballet have had.

About the Villella videos -- I agree that they are remarkable. There are two qualities which give an idea of just how sensational his performance in "Rubies" was, and why it thrilled people to much. First, the way he runs on stage, like a street kid bursting with energy and love of movement for its own sake. Second, the way he links everything together, so the big jumps and fancy foot-work flow directly -- inevitably, one might say -- into what comes next. There are more recent dancers who do the steps better, and who are more elegant especially in upper body, but there are not so many who can maintain the seamless flow of energy throughout, as Villella could in his prime. .(Even when he had to collapse in pain as soon as he was off-stage, as one of the videos so powerfully illustrates.)

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I believe the vast majority of people who settle in Florida are mainly there for the sun and beach and outdoor activities, not to go inside and watch ballet or opera. I am saying this as someone who likes to go inside and watch ballet and opera and who has lived in Florida most of my life. So I am not knocking Florida and certainly not knocking the arts, which I love, but I am explaining what I think the problem is. The arts in Florida have to compete with the enormous draw of sun and surf. How can anything win over Mother Nature???? And even a ballet lover can't help but love it. My parents live blocks from the beach in Jupiter, and it is hard not to love it. I even do yoga on the beach when I visit them. Of course, at night people should be willing to go to the ballet! But maybe they are tired from all the sun. LOL Anyway, it is a different culture completely, as people have said above, and it is actually sort of normal. Yes, there should be room for both arts and fun in the sun, but the emphasis has always been on fun in Florida, I believe (with both pros and cons to that issue). The South Florida culture is a sporting (fishing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling, diving, and drinking) culture.

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It might have been undiplomatic of Villella to make some of the statements he made about Miami, but there is more than a little truth in what he says.

It is undiplomatic to suggest that you’ve spent the last 25 years slaving away largely unappreciated in a cultural wasteland. I take your point, but Villella’s remarks weren’t nuanced, to put it mildly. I tend to agree with Kristen in the original post (and vrsfanatic's diplomatic comments – no, Miami isn’t one of the world’s great cities like New York, it’s possible to appreciate both, invidious cultural comparisons are a bit beside the point. Villella was able to find support enough to found a very good company there and secure many years of gainful employment for himself and the missus. No one questions Villella’s skills, hard work, and dedication, nor his accomplishment in building an organization that looks solid enough to survive the departure of its founder, but it doesn't seem to me he had such a horrible deal in Florida.

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MCB might do well to replace NYCB at Saratoga each summer. It would be a good fit and their financials are less costly than NYCB.

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Thanks to all for a lively discussion on this topic. I admit I initially erred by posting a knee jerk reaction to EV’s Miami bashing. When you spend every year for 5 decades plus hearing how much better it is “up north” or “back home”, eventually you end up as a reactionary lunatic. This is a ballet forum, not a “take it and stick it, New Joisey and New Yawk forum! That said, I so appreciate that Villella created Miami City Ballet and we now, for the first time, have what I call a “first rate, second tier ballet company” in Florida. Need I mention that the Delgado sisters of MCB were named in the NY Times article on Sunday as being among the 11 finest American ballerinas.

Although EV doesn’t like the Giselle’s etc. he disses in the interview, I have attended MCB’s Don Q and Giselle and they were not “world class”, but very respectable and enjoyable, not to mention well attended (I see MCB at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Matinees are PACKED because hey, old people don’t want to drive at night. I still have excellent night vision but go to matinees, because a relaxed dinner out afterward is almost as important as ballet!).

In fact, I have introduced some of my non ballet watching friends to ballet by gifting them with tickets to see MCB’s Don Q. Lucky for them, Jeanette Delgado danced that day. They were dazzled. EV’s all Balanchine, all the time, has worn on me over the years – HUH? are there actually people who WANT to see Bugaku – if there are, they weren’t in the audience with me. I’ll be the first to say Balanchine was a genius – this is not to say he didn’t do ballets that made me say “I paid for this ???” – and believe me Villella staged a bucketload of those in 25 years.

Okay, stop me from criticizing – Viva Villella for creating a great ballet company – and yes, leaving with a bitter taste in your mouth is not how anyone wants to go out the door, but it happens.

P.S.

CubanMiamiBoy – Thanks for pointing out that there IS an ice skating rink in Miami!

Jayne - Yes, they could replace NYCB in Saratoga - great idea - MCB wowed them Paris for 3 weeks

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It is a strange feeling after reading the interview. As an outsider, 12 years resident of Miami, I can't help not to disagree to what Villella says. I definitely felt the same the only time I went back to Havana after I left, and I certainly feel it every time I come back from ballet trips to NYC. Thing is...as a part of a community that has indeed benefited from the efforts of different organizations-(MCB included along with Michael Tilson and his orchestra, the residency of the Cleveland, the Art Basel, etc...)- to change this view, and after mostly repeating yourself that the situation is indeed changing, you feel, after the reading, that you've been lying to yourself and tho the whole world when indeed the real situation is otherwise. Discouraging is what comes to my mind.

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I do think Villella's comments are probably a kick to certain board members. I could be wrong. I doubt if he meant to alienate the audience he helped to build up, but he wanted to make certain board members feel very small like they are country hillbillies and know nothing. Afterall, they made him feel small.....basically got rid of him and told him he was not as important as he thought and took his "baby" away from him.

That is my take on all this. I suspect he made those comments expecting and wanting the comments to reach very particular ears and didn't think (or maybe even care) about how it sounds to people he didn't mean to insult (like most MCB audience members). Whenever someone makes a comment like that there is usually a very specific reason and specific target. That is my gut reaction.

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I do think Villella's comments are probably a kick to certain board members. I could be wrong. I doubt if he meant to alienate the audience he helped to build up, but he wanted to make certain board members feel very small like they are country hillbillies and know nothing. Afterall, they made him feel small.....basically got rid of him and told him he was not as important as he thought and took his "baby" away from him.

That is my take on all this. I suspect he made those comments expecting and wanting the comments to reach very particular ears and didn't think (or maybe even care) about how it sounds to people he didn't mean to insult (like most MCB audience members).

That could be, but how many uncultured (that should be "unhighcultured") people read dance blogs? Harss is great, but she's not exactly a household name.

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While Mr. Villella may have been aiming his commentary toward certain Board members, through out the years his unkind statements about other thriving arts organizations in the South Florida area helped to lead to his lack of shall I say "emotional" support from the arts community. While I attended the performances in order to support dance and see other good dance in South Florida, his curtain discussions and interviews were at times impolite towards the other struggling arts organizations in the area. By struggling, I mean audience seeking not necessarily donor seeking. Many of us were/are subscribers and donors.

As for the South Florida lifestyle and the Northerners living and visiting our area, the outdoor life is amazing here, without a doubt. That activity base dwindles after 6:00PM. Residents and tourists do look for wonderful things to do at night. Particularly in Miami, there is a very large segment of the population that attends the theatre on a very large scale. What has changed is that there are more events to attend than ever before. The financial base to what it is. The buildings are here, with opulence and glory. Thirty years ago those buildings were not even here. Ballet, opera and the symphony were thriving with the help and dedication of Judy Drucker and her Concert Association of South Florida at the Jackie Gleason Theatre and at Miami Dade Auditorium. Many of the donors are still active while many have passed away and the families have not taken up the same interest. There is however audience interest in the arts.

As a side note, our most attend performances are matinees. Difficult to get a ticket. This is the same for most of the theatrical arts organizations in Boca Raton. While we are not in Miami, for Boca Raton it is huge to be sold out consistently for matinees, even in August!

That said, the article was enlightening and interesting. As I said earlier, I wish him well and I thank him for all that he did achieve while he was in the South Florida area.

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Just to clarify about my previous comments about nature being a draw and a competing force. When you are on a boat fishing all day or if you are snorkeling or at the beach all day, most people opt to have a casual dinner at night at a restaurant. I think there are some people who can stay at a beach for hours and then still go to the ballet at night, but I know I am the type of person that if I am going to a performance at night I prefer to have a calmer day during the day and just make it a day to run errands. The heat is just too tiring. If I stayed at the beach all day later that night I would be exhausted at the theatre and fight dozing off.

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it does sound like more matinees would help the bottom line of MCB, though. It goes against conventional wisdom to book a series of matinees on weekdays but given the number of retirees in the Florida region, it could make good fiscal sense.

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That could be, but how many uncultured (that should be "unhighcultured") people read dance blogs? Harss is great, but she's not exactly a household name.

That may be so, but I imagine that those comments have already been copied and circulated broadly in the Florida arts community.

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it does sound like more matinees would help the bottom line of MCB, though. It goes against conventional wisdom to book a series of matinees on weekdays but given the number of retirees in the Florida region, it could make good fiscal sense.

The National Ballet of Canada has done Thursday matinees for years, along with its Saturday and Sunday matinees, and the Thursday performances are among the most-booked of the runs. The house is full of seniors.

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The mid-week matinee seems to be a very regional item -- they're very well attended in some communities, and have dropped almost completely out of programming in others. This extends to film as well as live performances.

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One advantage that matinees have is that you don't have to drive to the theater when it is dark. This plays a major role when the "high culture" audience (to use kfw's term) is elderly.

Any addition of matinees (or shifts to them) has to be handled carefully, with a lot of publicity and marketing support. I may be misremembering, but it seems to me that Miami did add a Friday matinee to their West Palm weekend several years ago, but it was not a success and thus was not repeated.

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Villella had a particular way to treat the bulk of the ballet environment here in Miami. He never seemed to care about involving his company in the Ballet Festival..."Why is that MCB does not participate in the Ballet Festival..?" is a common question that everybody wonders. He never gave pre performance lectures in Miami..they were just reserved for Broward and WPB...he has continuously ignored the great potential coaching and teaching of wonderful golden age ballerinas that are struggling around this city without a decent place to pass their knowledge. If someone had had the vision to link the great force behind the Cuban ballet community-(which includes rich donors, a distinctive audience, a continue influx of defecting dancers and a wonderful array of aging CBN ex members that could had been precious if placed within the wings of MCB)-Miami could be one hell of ballet community. As per now, both ends are as separated as they can be. I know many people is against the idea of MCB becoming a satellite of Alonso's network, but if done with good vision and intelligence, that should not be a problem at all. The idea should be to attract defecting dancers to stay in Miami, and instead they keep coming to just jump somewhere else...somewhere where they feel more "at home". Stories I know many, but because of the board's policies, I can't really mention them here, but believe me...the situation is really bad in that aspect. Donors are more or less in the same boat.

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Villella was quite clear in his interview that he thinks Cuban dancers are based in the Russian school and needed to be "de-Russified" before they could dance his rep the way he wanted it danced. He would never bring in the dancers and coaches from the local Cuban communtiy because they would teach the style they knew, not the style he wanted.

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Cristian, I'm at a loss to respond to your post. There is so much in what you say that I have, literally, never heard before.

Villella had a particular way to treat the bulk of the ballet environment here in Miami. He never seemed to care about involving his company in the Ballet Festival..."Why is that MCB does not participate in the Ballet Festival..?" is a common question that everybody wonders
Interesting point. One might add: why did so few in the Miami community support this venture, either? My experience with a couple of programs presented at the Kravis suggested that something was sabotaging the many good intensions. Whether it was the management or other forces, I don't know. All I know is that the program had a good audience its first year and almost no one in the house the second year. Is MCB's non-involvement reponsible for this, or something that the audience saw, and did not enjoy, going on on the stage?
He never gave pre performance lectures in Miami..they were just reserved for Broward and WPB...
I did not know this. He certainly was not doing his job in that matter. Paranthetically, my impression was that Villella never liked doing those talks. On occasion, he actually seemed to be sleep walking through something he cared litle about. Philip Neal and the conductor Gary Sheldon did a much better job the last two seasons. I hope that Lourdes Lopez will take this job on during the new season. In all 4 of the venues where MCB dances.
he has continuously ignored the great potential coaching and teaching of wonderful golden age ballerinas that are struggling around this city without a decent place to pass their knowledge.
Villella had a school and a company style. I agree that it might have been a good idea to bring in Cuban-trained artists to help the dancers (especially the principals and soloists) with Don Q.(definitely) and Giselle (possibly). Their other full-lengths -- Jewels, Coppellia and Nutcracker -- are Balanchine and got help from Balanchine repiteteurs. (MCB brings in repiteteurs who have been certified by the organization representing the choreographer.)
If someone had had the vision to link the great force behind the Cuban ballet community-(which includes rich donors, a distinctive audience, a continue influx of defecting dancers and a wonderful array of aging CBN ex members that could had been precious if placed within the wings of MCB)-Miami could be one hell of ballet community. As per now, both ends are as separated as they can be. I know many people is against the idea of MCB becoming a satellite of Alonso's network, but if done with good vision and intelligence, that should not be a problem at all.
I understand that there are people who feel this way, but aren't you talking about the complete overhaul of Miami City Ballet? In effect, the creation of an entirely different company? Personally, I'd love to see a closer connection between Cuban ballet and Miami ballet. -- exchange of dancers, teachers, students; occasional exchange of, or collaboration in, productions; etc.. But I would be appalled to think that this would lead to creating "a satellite of Alonso's network." Many of us value highly what we have and what you seem to be asking us to give up.

There have been reports that Lopez is thinking of and even working on contacts with Havana. There would be much value in a two-way connection between these two great organizations and traditions. MCB has a tradition of its own, with Balanchine at the heart.. That tradition is as cherished in the ballet world -- including its large local audience, most of the donors I am aware of, and the national and international press -- as that of Havana. MCB also has its own school, its own company, its own artistic staff. Somehow the idea that Miami City Ballet ought to serve as an employment agency to provide dancers and teachers from a very different tradition a chance to practice their own tradition in Miami, no matter how worthy these artists are, is mind-boggling.

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Helene and bart...good ballet is good ballet. MCB needs good dancers and good teachers. Miami is, was, has been plagued with all of it for many years, and it should not matter that they were trained in Havana. MCB is Miami's company, and still, how much advantage has is taken of the human potential THAT IS HERE right now so far...? Near to zero. How many Cuban dancers have passed by this city after defecting from Havana...? Too many to count. How many are currently employed by MCB...? Only Reyes-(Guerra does not come from Alonso's company). How many professors...? NONE. The fact that the repertoire and style of MCB is based on Balanchine has nothing to do with the fact of the company's powers purposely ignoring for years such potential. As I said...stories beginning with "Villella didn't want to..", "Villella doesn't like...", "Villella didn't accept..." and the like I've heard for years from countless insiders. It is truly shameful. I hope Lopez shows more wisdom about all of it...

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These are all perfectly valid perspectives on MCB. I've been re-reading "I was a Dancer" by Jacques d'Amboise this week, and he had a multitude of Russian teachers in his youth, and at SAB: Misha Arshansky, Anatole Oboukhoff, Pierre Vladimiroff, Yurek Lazowski, Alexandra Danilova, Felia Doubrovska, among others. Andrei Kramarevsky teaches now, and until she passed away Olga Kostritsky taught. Most of the NYCB dancers from the 1950's and 1960's studied first with Russians before they came to SAB.

From the book page 83, 3rd paragraph:

In the spring of 2003, I visited Cuba for the first time. Touring Alicia Alonso's ballet academy, I felt at home. Instantly, I recognized the atmorphere, the smells, the wooden floor so familiar to the salles de ballet of Europe, russia and the old SAB. The sweat-stained barre, polished from the touch of a century of dancers' grips, was lined with ghosts.

It would be wonderful if MCB ran an adults-only summer intensive for defecting Cubans, to teach them the Balanchine style. It would only enhance their opportunities when auditioning at any US based company. It would be equally wonderful if MCB could work with the State Department to establish a cultural exchange to allow its teachers to go to Cuba and teach classes / stage Balanchine ballets, and for Cuban teachers to teach class at MCBS.

As for importing the Alicia Alonso ballets to Miami - keep in mind that the dancers are generally defecting to get away from the 19th century relics, and try new things. They are not saying they are ardently anti-Castro, just that they are ardently pro-new-material, and pro-getting-paid-decently. For that final item, I'm not convinced MCB pays dancers well, and everything is relative - the salaries may be 10 times higher than Cuban dancer salaries - but so are the rents, utilities, etc.

Maybe the answer is for MCB to partner with the Cuban Classical Ballet Company in Miami to offer those intensive sessions, and to allow them to take class at MCB. Surely having an extra 10-15 dancers in the studio would not be the end of the world - and over time Lourdes Lopez would get an idea of their capacity to dance in the works that she brings to the rep (remember that she is going to have Morphoses based in Miami).

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Cristian, if your goal is that somehow MCB can be remade into a subsidiary of "Alonso's network," as it seems you suggest in your earlier post, I don't think you will find many takers among current fans of the company.

The greatest of the Cuban dancers -- eg. Acosta, Carreno among the men -- brought much to the companies they entered. But they also were refined as artists by their experience and contact with new visions of what ballet can be. Europe and North America see only the best of the Alonso system during BNdeC's tours of a very limited range of ballet repertoire. Similarly, the dancers we see are the very best produced in Havana. The dancers who join western companies are not only the best of the best, but actually grow in artistry as a result of their experiences with new work, new audiences, and fellow dancers from different backgrounds.

Whatever happens in the future, the relationship between the MCB of Lourdes Lopez (herself born in Cuba) and the "Alonso network" in Havana and emigre ballet community in Miami will have to be (as I said above) a "two-way" street.

Until everyone involved accepts that idea, I don't see much happening to change the situation that you have posted about.

Edited to add: I was cross-posting with Jayne, who makes a good, practicable suggestion that MCB might actually invite Cuban students to study here (analagous to the School's current arrangements with high-school age students from Brazilian schools). I also agree with her statement that:

As for importing the Alicia Alonso ballets to Miami - keep in mind that the dancers are generally defecting to get away from the 19th century relics, and try new things.

.

This relates to my second paragraph above.

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As I said...stories beginning with "Villella didn't want to..", "Villella doesn't like...", "Villella didn't accept..." and the like I've heard for years from countless insiders. It is truly shameful. I hope Lopez shows more wisdom about all of it...

It is also possible to counterpoint with "Ms Alonso didn't want to....Mrs Alonso doesn't like.....Mrs Alonso didn't accept...."

Hopefully the future is more collaborative than the past.

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Cristian, if your goal is that somehow MCB can be remade into a subsidiary of "Alonso's network," as it seems you suggest in your earlier post, I don't think you will find many takers among current fans of the company.

But that's exactly what I'm saying does not has to happen. In fact, I don't believe at all that approaching in a larger scale the experience, coaching potential and dancers coming from "there" should be threatening at all to the well established dance style of MCB...(or perhaps it would...?...Or perhaps he thought it would...? humm...)

As I said...stories beginning with "Villella didn't want to..", "Villella doesn't like...", "Villella didn't accept..." and the like I've heard for years from countless insiders. It is truly shameful. I hope Lopez shows more wisdom about all of it...

It is also possible to counterpoint with "Ms Alonso didn't want to....Mrs Alonso doesn't like.....Mrs Alonso didn't accept...."

.

Thing is...is the words and actions of Villella via the interview what is being analyzed here....

About Alonso much more has been written and criticized also at lenght...AND it should be noted that the results of the "Mrs Alonso didn't this or that" mantra could be very beneficial to MCB. As per right now it is not happening.

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