MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Lourdes Lopez had heard the rumors about Miami City Ballet, that it was a failing institution in a city she remembered as a cultural wasteland she needed to leave 40 years ago to pursue a career in dance.
She didn't recognize the Miami that welcomed her in September when she took over as artistic director. The dancers were part of a vibrant arts scene, and the financial struggles that threatened the company's survival were resolved.
"I think there's support, interest and desire here," Lopez said Thursday.
The plans she laid out for the company's 2013-14 season, its school and a partnership with Morphoses, the New York dance company she co-founded in 2007, build on that support while challenging the dancers and their audience to stretch their conceptions of ballet.
Lopez, 54, was chosen last spring to succeed the ballet's founding artistic director, Edward Villella, who was resigning amid stagnant revenues and management shake-ups. She planned to take over at this season's end in May. Villella's abrupt departure as the dancers began preparing for the season's October opening forced her to lead the company through his final program.
Both Lopez and Villella had long careers at the New York City Ballet, performing under the direction of ballet icon George Balanchine. Lopez, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami, moved to New York at age 14 to study dance and joined Balanchine's ballet company two years later.
While preserving the Balanchine legacy at Miami City Ballet, Lopez also wants to introduce new choreographers and dances, particularly those that appeal to Miami's multicultural audiences.
One such choreographer is Spain's Nacho Duato, whose "Jardi Tancat" will be performed in January. The piece features Catalan folk songs, praying for rain at a harvest, that will sound familiar to Miami's Latin American community, Lopez said.
The season that begins in the fall and ends in April 2014 also includes "Episodes," an innovative Balanchine piece that is new to the company, and an encore of Alexei Ratmansky's "Symphonic Dances," which the company commissioned and is performing this season.
Lopez also included Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story Suite," a ballet based on his Broadway musical. "It's a no-brainer for this community. It's what this community is about," she said. "Not that there's turmoil — it's the ability of both the Hispanics and the American community to come together."