MIAMI — A Cuban-born dancer will be the new artistic director of the Miami City Ballet, the dance company said Tuesday.
Lourdes Lopez will succeed Edward Villella, the founding artistic director who has led the troupe to international acclaim, when he steps down at the end of the 2012-2013 season.
Lopez, 53, is currently the director of the New York dance company Morphoses, which she co-founded with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. She spent 24 years dancing at the New York City Ballet, performing under the direction of renowned choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
The company's executive board unanimously ratified an 11-member search committee's 9-2 choice Tuesday of Lopez over Miami City Ballet principal dancer Jennifer Kronenberg.
Lopez's experience will help her carry on Villella's work with the Miami City Ballet, board president Jim Eroncig said.
Villella, who was a star at the New York City Ballet under Balanchine, and one of the company's dancers were the two search committee members to vote for Kronenberg, who was performing Tuesday night with the troupe in "Coppelia" in Naples.
Villella declined comment.
Lopez said Villella has welcomed her to Miami City Ballet, and she hoped to expand on his accomplishments with the company by commissioning more new works from rising choreographers and by exploring tours in Europe and Latin America.
Villella's dancers, "they're stage animals. They eat up the stage," Lopez said by phone from New York City. "That's what Mr. B (Balanchine) wanted, and that's what always struck me when I watched Miami City Ballet. And that's a direct result of Edward."
Born in Havana and raised in Miami, Lopez started taking ballet lessons at age 5. She moved to New York at age 14 to devote herself to dance full-time at the New York City Ballet's dance school.
Lopez joined the corps de ballet at the New York City Ballet at age 16 and became a principal dancer there in 1984. After retiring from the ballet in 1996, Lopez led the George Balanchine Foundation and co-founded the Cuban Artists Fund, which supports Cuban and Cuban-American artists.
Villella founded the Miami Beach-based dance company in 1986. Since then, Miami City Ballet has grown to a 45-member company that earned standing ovations during a tour in Paris in July. A rare New York run in 2009 with performances of works by Balanchine and Twyla Tharp also garnered critical acclaim.
When his retirement was announced in September, Villella, 75, said the reception in Paris was one of the top two moments of his life as an artist. The other was hearing a Moscow audience demand an encore after his performance there during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The company's next season begins in October and includes works by Balanchine along with new works by Alexei Ratmansky and the Royal Ballet of London's Liam Scarlett.
Lopez will start May 1, 2013, a day after Villella's last day as artistic director. She said she planned to spend this summer in Miami learning how the Miami City Ballet's school operates before spending time with Villella and the dancers as they prepare for the new season.
"What I would love for Miami City Ballet to have is what every great ballet company should have: content, happy dancers, happy because they're being taken care of as individuals and challenged and nurtured as artists," Lopez said.