Kristen

Interview with Edward Villella (by Marina Harss)

78 posts in this topic

It's funny the Cuban dancers defect to do contemporary work, but it's the classics that they end up shining in. Also they're good in Balanchine off the bat – which they do in Havana and if they distort it, they do so in a fresh and "don't be perfect, dear" way. Look at the clips for Tchai Pdd if still up. And sometimes as they adapt to the more refined English and Danish styles, they lose a bit of their original fire and idiomatic charm.

Regarding Villella's bitterness, he may be angry at the whole world, not just Florida. His cutting sarcasm reminds me of a certain kind of 1950s New York emigre character type. Perhaps he has reverted to an aunt or grandfather's way of seeing things, as we sometimes do as we get older.

But there's no reason for Miami Ballet, which has its own character and style steadily developed over twenty five years, to have to become a subsidiary of the Alonso Havana School – out of guilt feelings for the embargo? Instead why doesn't the Cuban Community back the two existing ballet schools, that of Magaly Suarez or of Pedro Pablo Peña's Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami so they can have longer seasons.

Share this post


Link to post

Regarding Villella's bitterness, he may be angry at the whole world, not just Florida. His cutting sarcasm reminds me of a certain kind of 1950s New York emigre character type. Perhaps he has reverted to an aunt or grandfather's way of seeing things, as we sometimes do as we get older.

The Italian manner of holding a grudge?

Share this post


Link to post

Regarding Villella's bitterness, he may be angry at the whole world, not just Florida. His cutting sarcasm reminds me of a certain kind of 1950s New York emigre character type. Perhaps he has reverted to an aunt or grandfather's way of seeing things, as we sometimes do as we get older.

The Italian manner of holding a grudge?

It's a old kind of withering sarcasm that pulls the rug out from under you and you can't respond to. Yes Italian but I also remember it from instructors in design school. But it's old fashioned - maybe it appears in Mad Men.

Share this post


Link to post

Bart and cubanmiamiboy you both bring up good points about the various factions that truly do have ebbs and flows within the ballet community. Perhaps we do bite ourselves in the back. It is spoken of amongst ourselves, not with intentionally disparaging intent, non the less, it is discussed. We have so much to learn from one another. I guess it kind of like the world. We are all people loving the art form of ballet. We can and must learn from one another. We must learn to share and teach one another with respect rather than a divide and conquer attitude.

This would be a very interesting additional topic, if the ballet artists would come out of the shadows and actually talk about it publically. While I am not of the Cuban school background, I do identify with what cubanmiamiboy is saying. Thank you cubanmiamiboy for being so honest. Let's hope the discussion might bring people who love ballet a little bit closer together.

Share this post


Link to post

Thanks, vrsfanatic for your post. I approach ballet from the audience/subscriber point of view and have my own ballet-going experience and preferences always on my back. I do indeed need to develop deeper understanding of, and empathy for, the various dancer communities out there.

Cristian, I am afraid I read your original post as somehow advocating or leading to a wholescale redefinition of MCB along the lines of the "Alonso project" (your phrase, not mine), with drastic rethinking, restaffing, and reinvention. I still read your original post that way. I rather like change in the arts, but have also seen cases where well-intentioned overhauls (especially of mission) lead to unanticipated consequences, acrimony, and failure. I don't think that I have anything further to add to that discussion.

Share this post


Link to post

I personally would like to see Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami do more shows and get more support. It would be great if they did the classics while MCB does Balanchine. Then, there would be two companies and enough variety to go around. I also think when MCB stages something like Don Quixote it should utilize some of the experienced ex-dancers in Miami to coach also, as Cristian suggests. Of course, there are probably issues of stepping on current teachers' toes and basically implying they can't teach or coach Don Quixote well so the company is going outside, etc. Plus, hiring outside people is often considered a luxury. I think Jayne's ideas are good ones (collaboration of some sort both in Cuba and here). However, I do not foresee MCB leaving its specialty in Balanchine. I think Lourdes Lopez has basically said things will be pretty much the same and MCB will remain a Balanchine company. I get the impression that MCB is generally thought of as NYCB South in a way. It is basically considered a Balanchine company, so it is probably going to stay close to how NYCB runs itself (heavily weighted toward Balanchine, Robbins, and new works). It is never going to be a company that does a lot of classical repertoire. I suspect it only does a classic here and there because the classics pull in a wider (not necessarily more) audience.

I do know that in anything in life, you can not wait around for the establishment to include you. The only way to get power is to simply take it. Ideally, Pedro Pablo Pena would find a great marketing person who would begin marketing its company aggressively and in a way that pulls in more people. MCB is the "big" ballet company in South Florida. That makes it the "establishment" and the "establishment" always continues along its course not really caring who is left behind. It is up to the people left behind to simply take charge and organize.

One of the things that would help is if scheduling became more consistent. I was unable to come down and see the new Cuban defectors due to my schedule. If the show had been planned ahead of time with more notice I might have been able to attend, and that could be the case for others, but that is a minor issue possibly, because it needs to base its support inside Miami. I have no doubt that Pena works hard. My point, however, is that he can not wait for MCB to start collaborating and include his company, etc. He or some other take charge person in the Cuban community must find a way to market and sell the classics to the public. People will come once there is huge buzz around an effort. Of course, it is very hard to get something off the ground.

Cristian, I totally sympathize with you. However, I don't think MCB is ever going to be the company that you want it to be. I think the only answer is for Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami to somehow gain a bigger audience, and I don't know how they can do that. I think it often boils down to leadership. Like I said, I am sure Pena is a very hard worker and a good leader in some ways, but apparently he or his team of people are not making it happen. It needs someone who is dynamic and somehow finds a way to make it work in a big way. Surely, there are many wealthy Cubans and non-Cubans who should or could support his company if he somehow knew how to reach these people.

And once it becomes a "hit" I have no doubt you will find there is an audience out there who will come and see the shows.

Share this post


Link to post

Cristian, I am afraid I read your original post as somehow advocating or leading to a wholescale redefinition of MCB along the lines of the "Alonso project" (your phrase, not mine), with drastic rethinking, restaffing, and reinvention. I still read your original post that way. I rather like change in the arts, but have also seen cases where well-intentioned overhauls (especially of mission) lead to unanticipated consequences, acrimony, and failure. I don't think that I have anything further to add to that discussion.

Maybe not "redefined", per se, agree with that, but that it needs to re assess its surroundings and acknowledge specific real situations for better marketing purposes, it does needs to.

Share this post


Link to post

You suggestion to watch the clip should contain a warning. I finally watched it, listened to Edward complain about his leg cramps, thought about Gelsey's second book, and proceeded to roll around in pain trying to work off sudden onset leg and foot cramps. Ouch.

Share this post


Link to post

Maybe not "redefined", per se, agree with that, but that it needs to re assess its surroundings and acknowledge specific real situations for better marketing purposes, it does needs to.

No dissent from me about that. Provided that no one commits to a predetermined set of outcomes -- or, conversely, to "no change at all" -- before a fair reassessment is completed. It seems to me that Lopez already has this process underway. Input from all sides can only be helpful.

Share this post


Link to post

How is the discussion about Alonso/Cubans v. MCB any different from efforts to combine or keep separate and maintain different styles in ABT and NYCB? I am not familiar with the Florida companies.

Share this post


Link to post

How is the discussion about Alonso/Cubans v. MCB any different from efforts to combine or keep separate and maintain different styles in ABT and NYCB? I am not familiar with the Florida companies.

Cristian might be able to elaborate more, since he actually lives in Miami, but I went to high school in West Palm and spent my college days (when I visited parents down in South Florida) partying in Miami on weekends home visiting my parents (South Florida is a driving culture so driving down to Miami from West Palm to party was a normal thing to do back then especially when you have friends in Lauderdale and Miami you can crash with).

Anyway, I will say that back then there was still a deep divide between Cubans and the non-Latin population (for lack of a better way to describe it). Cubans brought so much to Miami (and Florida overall), and I am in the camp that thinks it has been a huge POSITIVE influence, but there were many back then and still some today who do not like the influence. One of the first things some people complain about is that signs are in Spanish in Miami. Well, any border area in the world probably has that. But to some it means the end of the world as we know it.

Once a Palm Beacher (one of the people who live on the island) was quoted in the local Palm Beach paper about some graffiti, and she said snobbily, "Probably someone from Miami!" She never said, "Cuban" but people who live in South Florida usually can figure out what she meant.

I say all that to give background to the issues that exist. There has been and probably still is snobbery about the Cubans.

So among people who are inclusive the trend is to include Cubans since they make up such a strong presence in South Florida. However, not everyone feels that way.

I think the ABT vs. NYCB has mainly a "taste" element, although I could be wrong. I think the MCB/Cuban ballet issue is hard to peel away from social issues that exist.

I am not saying anyone in MCB or anyone on this board is prejudiced. I am just saying it is an issue alive and kicking in South Florida with some sensitivity.

Villella created MCB as a Balanchine company. He flat out states in that interview that the Cubans have a different style, and he doesn't want that. I don't think that is necessarily anything other than what he says, but when you know the atmosphere of South Florida you sometimes wonder why not use what is all around you to better effect when you can? I mean, on the one hand, it does seem incredible that a ballet company in Miami with so many Cuban ballet dancers passing through as they defect does not use them.

But I do think, for example, Mariinsky dancers joining MCB would not have the same style as the other MCB dancers. So maybe Villella had his reasons. I have no idea. But I do know that the social context plays a role in some people's concerns.

Share this post


Link to post

How is the discussion about Alonso/Cubans v. MCB any different from efforts to combine or keep separate and maintain different styles in ABT and NYCB? I am not familiar with the Florida companies.

1- I think the MCB/Cuban ballet issue is hard to peel away from social issues that exist.

2- Villella created MCB as a Balanchine company. He flat out states in that interview that the Cubans have a different style, and he doesn't want that.

3-...it does seem incredible that a ballet company in Miami with so many Cuban ballet dancers passing through as they defect does not use them.

4- I do know that the social context plays a role in some people's concerns.

I took the liberty to highlight four points in Birdsall's quote that basically resume all that is floating in people's minds around here. Just look above.

Share this post


Link to post

How is one characterized as "biting the hand that feeds him" if he has already been fired and is not being fed by that hand?

Maybe he was not gracious or burned bridges or was rude to the inhabitants or judgmental about the inhabitants or the board, or even truthful (I do not know), but I have not heard that expression used in connection with someone who has terminated a relationship, or has been exiled, fired, or punished by the person who fed him.

Share this post


Link to post

I think that the board used him quite badly at the end, but I also thought some of his comments in this interview were less than politic. He spent a significant part of his professional life building the MCB, and says he still wants them to succeed. Expressing this kind of vitriol right now could easily bounce back on the company.

Share this post


Link to post

I don't know: I think the people who decided to withdraw their money and focus in support of Villela would have done so when he was pushed out, and his comments now, especially about the community, would make people more protective of the company and supportive of it and Lopez. If anything, his interview preached to the choir on the one hand and bounced back to him, not MCB, on the other.

Share this post


Link to post

I wonder how the dancers at MCB feel about the interview. It would be interesting to know.

I read articles back when Judy Drucker was ousted from the Concert Association down in Miami. Probably only due to her did big opera stars come to sing. I saw many, many more huge opera singers live in concert or recital due to her than I would have otherwise. As soon as she was ousted, there were no huge stars being brought to Miami. She brought all the biggest names to Miami. With that came a deficit also. So once the board felt it could operate without her, they got rid of her, but things went downhill fast then.

I remember Drucker being quoted that they took her baby from her. And I suspect that is how Villella felt. Both people built their organizations from scratch and watched them grow to be extremely important in the Miami landscape. Then, they were ousted. In both cases the board had its reasons, but it is only human to be very bitter. I suspect both Villella and Drucker lived and breathed what they were doing.

Share this post


Link to post

There are huge differences in the freelance music world and the ballet company world. Dance companies are like families, where the dancers live and have roots in the cities in which they perform, often from times in the professional divisions affiliated with their companies, whereas most opera companies, for example, outside the few rep and national companies still around, hire independent casts for each production, with maybe a handful of local character singers, and concert associations don't even have local orchestras as glue. Freelance soloists and chamber players, particularly the most well-known, are on the road most of the year and the vast majority wouldn't be tied to Miami unless they have a stable university affiliation, and even the ones who are based in cities like NY and London don't spend that much time at home. Most freelance musicians are older, too, and they have personal relationships and loyalties to the people who run them. If Speight Jenkins hadn't been in Seattle, we may never heard many of the great voices he brought and who remain loyal to him, when they could be making more money elsewhere and for companies that given them worldwide exposure through live streaming/on-demand performances over the Internet and DVDs.

There are maybe 25-30 ballet companies in NA that support close to a full year of employment and offer liveable salaries and benefits, and Miami City Ballet would be in the Top 10 of any list. Dancers are unlikely to leave en masse because Edward Villella is no longer running the company, just as only a few left when Christopher Stowell resigned from OBT before the audition/contract window, giving OBT dancers a good opportunity to do so. It's a different story only when a new director changes aesthetic and is given the authority to start with a clean slate of dancers, like Nacho Duato did in Spain (and didn't do in Russia). Miami City Ballet is also an institution, not a pick-up group or a dance company mission purpose is to perform the works of a single choreographer, and institutions have their own engines.

We're hoping in Seattle that the things Seattle Opera has done as an institution -- it has a reputation of treating the artists very, very well, making it a pleasure for them to sing in generally coherent productions, with a spectacular scenic shop -- will remain intact under Aidan Lang, and, of course, there are the contracts in place for at least the next couple of years to ensure some continuity. A concert association, though, generally has far less institutional infrastructure to perpetuate itself and separate itself from the founder. It's no wonder that the Concert Association disintegrated without Drucker, but that's not a likely scenario for MCB.

Share this post


Link to post

Villella certainly had issues with a place and a group of people-(the board)-in a time lapse of 25 years, but even if he's not here anymore, Miami was DEFINITELY the hand that fed him for quite a time .No reason for such vitriol...at least no so public.

Share this post


Link to post

I didn't mean to say that MCB was going to disintegrate without Villella. On the contrary, I think it is doing okay so far, although it is still fresh that Villella has left.

My comments were mainly simply to wonder what his dancers think of his frank comments....if anything had a sting to it for them or if they totally understand why he said what he said. I was just wondering out loud, but I don't really think it is my business in the end. It would just be curious if the dancers feel differently than we do about his comments.

The other comments about Drucker were just to mention the parallel and how both are probably very bitter. I did not mean to say that these are exactly the same situations and one folded so MCB will fold. I just meant I read that Drucker felt they took her baby away from her, and I don't blame her, but if she was always operating at a loss, maybe you can't blame the board either. And I was drawing a parallel to how she and Villella must feel sort of the same. Their "babies" were taken from them in their eyes. Regardless of whether they helped create a situation (I have no idea) that caused their "babies" to be taken away. I should have been more clear but I meant that the "feelings" both people probably felt and still feel are very, very similar and very human. And no matter how people think they are indispensable, none of us are. Even the person who builds something from scratch. I know about a case (totally unrelated to the ballet world) where a supervisor literally dropped dead in a meeting, and the replacement was chosen that same day. It made our heads turn. But it shows how we are all totally replaceable except to loved ones (hopefully)!

Anyway, all of my comments were to explain that it is only human for Villella to be bitter. So regardless of whether he "should" make these types of comments we all might be inclined to make comments like that if we were walking in his shoes.

But I don't expect MCB to fold the way the Concert Association did. I would be very surprised. To me it looks fairly solid.

In contrast, the Concert Association lived and breathed due to "stars" (importing and showcasing them) and Judy Drucker knew that. The board did not apparently and just thought she was spending unwisely probably. They thought the local opera company provided the opera so they said in an article that they would stop getting expensive star singers for concerts. Big mistake, in my opinion. Judy Drucker is like the type of impresario (or should I say impresaria?) that no longer exists, in my opinion. One who thinks big and has a true love of what she did and who she brought to Miami and Lauderdale. Anyone who presents an open-air Pavarotti concert on South Beach thinks big!!!! And that was before South Beach was chic!!!!!

Share this post


Link to post

Anyone who presents an open-air Pavarotti concert on South Beach thinks big!!!! And that was before South Beach was chic!!!!!

Well, now we are chic and have the "Jersey Shore" filmed here...

Share this post


Link to post

I think the reason MCB won't disintegrate and why it could be even more frustrating to him is structural: a ballet company that's on the solid side of the dividing line is much more likely to outlive its successor, whereas a concert series that gets its talent based on personal relationships is likely to flounder. I think it's human to feel vindicated when the people that wrench an organization from your hands make the fundamental mistake of failing to recognize what made it successful and fail. (The other option for the Concert Association board members, if they felt that Drucker was running up unsustainable deficits, was to shut it down altogether. It's not as if every head of every major arts organization couldn't argue that the art is worth the deficit.) For Drucker, the top-name artists booked their calendars elsewhere: they didn't lose anything.

For Villella, it's a lot more complicated, because he and his wife brought up many of his dancers through the school, at least in their professional training years, and he brought up many through the ranks, and there are the personal relationships built with staff, people backstage, the orchestras, etc. It's not as if MCB went away, every member of the company and staff would land on his or her feet quickly and have equal rank, prominence, and salary someplace else, whereas Murray Perahia or Yo Yo Ma sets his own rep and can play the same concert in another city. I think there are more elements of bittersweet to Villella's situation that Drucker's because of the nature of the organizations.

Share this post


Link to post

Anyone who presents an open-air Pavarotti concert on South Beach thinks big!!!! And that was before South Beach was chic!!!!!

Well, now we are chic and have the "Jersey Shore" filmed here...

I shudder to think of it. Really we all need to hold the line on the tidal wave of craptastic television. I cancelled my cable 6 months ago and Xfinity can't seem to get over it. They call me weekly (against my specific instructions) trying to get me to sign up for bundled deals. I keep saying to them "I use my DVD player to watch movies and cultural arts, I don't need cable anymore". After all, I would be paying good money to watch.....Snooki?

Back to MCB, there are other companies (San Jose Ballet comes to mind) that had unfortunate separations, but hopefully they all continue on and thrive and the bitterness subsides with time.

Share this post


Link to post

I shudder to think of it. Really we all need to hold the line on the tidal wave of craptastic television. I cancelled my cable 6 months ago and Xfinity can't seem to get over it. They call me weekly (against my specific instructions) trying to get me to sign up for bundled deals. I keep saying to them "I use my DVD player to watch movies and cultural arts, I don't need cable anymore". After all, I would be paying good money to watch.....Snooki?

Back to MCB, there are other companies (San Jose Ballet comes to mind) that had unfortunate separations, but hopefully they all continue on and thrive and the bitterness subsides with time.

Re: cancelling Xfinity - Good for you, Jayne. Put your phone on the Federal Do Not Call list and let Xfinity know: no more telemarketing.

Fortunately, MCB seems to be in much better shape organizationally and spiritually than SJB has been, and there's no John Fry to make a mess of things (yet).

Share this post


Link to post

I think the reason MCB won't disintegrate and why it could be even more frustrating to him is structural: a ballet company that's on the solid side of the dividing line is much more likely to outlive its successor, whereas a concert series that gets its talent based on personal relationships is likely to flounder. I think it's human to feel vindicated when the people that wrench an organization from your hands make the fundamental mistake of failing to recognize what made it successful and fail. (The other option for the Concert Association board members, if they felt that Drucker was running up unsustainable deficits, was to shut it down altogether. It's not as if every head of every major arts organization couldn't argue that the art is worth the deficit.) For Drucker, the top-name artists booked their calendars elsewhere: they didn't lose anything.

For Villella, it's a lot more complicated, because he and his wife brought up many of his dancers through the school, at least in their professional training years, and he brought up many through the ranks, and there are the personal relationships built with staff, people backstage, the orchestras, etc. It's not as if MCB went away, every member of the company and staff would land on his or her feet quickly and have equal rank, prominence, and salary someplace else, whereas Murray Perahia or Yo Yo Ma sets his own rep and can play the same concert in another city. I think there are more elements of bittersweet to Villella's situation that Drucker's because of the nature of the organizations.

I think you are right about this. I do think that Villella will bounce back on his feet elsewhere though. Judy Drucker has tried to bounce back working for Florida Grand Opera for one season to present concerts, and actually tried to resurrect the Concert Association after it folded, but that did not seem to work out. I suspect donors lost faith. Even with her contacts I am not sure she could move elsewhere and start over because, for example, if she moved to NY, she would have so much competition.

So there are definite differences in both their situations. I am sure Villella has much more personal feelings toward the dancers and staff he worked with and watched grow up......so he might have more pain. I have no idea.

Drucker, however, has been cut off at the feet and really can't move and start over the way Villella can though. So that might be just as painful. It is impossible to know who feels more pain.

But I can imagine founding something, building it, and watching it grow and then told to leave is a shock and very painful no matter what other circumstances exist. That book *How to Win Friends and Influence People* (I might have the title wrong it has been so long since I read it) said that we do everything that we do in life to gain a feeling of importance or to get sex. And often the two things are intertwined. Make someone feel unimportant and that person never forgets it. For example, notice how many people will not correct anyone's grammatical errors EXCEPT their name. I think the book said that our names are the most beautiful sound in the world to us because when we hear it, it means at that moment someone wants us, is calling us, etc.

I am pretty sure that no matter what reasons the board puts in writing about why he was let go, Villella feels like the bottom line was: "You are unimportant to us! Get out and goodbye!" even if they swear on their mother's grave this is not what they meant.

Share this post


Link to post

Anyone who presents an open-air Pavarotti concert on South Beach thinks big!!!! And that was before South Beach was chic!!!!!

Well, now we are chic and have the "Jersey Shore" filmed here...

Anyone who presents an open-air Pavarotti concert on South Beach thinks big!!!! And that was before South Beach was chic!!!!!

Well, now we are chic and have the "Jersey Shore" filmed here...

I did not know that! OMG! That is funny! I have never watched that show, but I know who those people are (Perez Hilton is my only link to popular culture so I skim his site everyday so I can actually hold conversations with people I meet). I would not know who Jersey Shore or Beyonce or Justin Bieber is without his site.

Maybe MCB will eventually stage a Jersey Shore style Giselle. The ballerina could have a Snooki hairdo! LOL

I laugh, but if we were talking about the opera world it probably has already happened. Some opera company somewhere has staged a La Boheme with everyone dressed like Jersey Shore!

Share this post


Link to post