Going Platinum: As Miami City Ballet Turns 20, Allegra Kent Interviews Edward Villella about the Company's Anniversary Season, and Being True to the Choreographers' Visions

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Long ago, at the School of American Ballet in 1951, I remember Mr. Oboukhoff stopping our class and asking a young boy with dark eyes to jump. The kid did so with a wild spring upward, lingering aloft; he created an unforgettable image. That was my first glimpse of Eddie Villella at work. In 1957, he became a new member of New York City Ballet. His splendid talent had already inspired Jerome Robbins to make Afternoon of a Faun and now it was Balanchine's turn. A sky-guy had arrived.

In 1963 Balanchine paired us in a newly created work, Bugaku. At first Eddie and I thought it was going to be a Japanese divertimento, but no, it had a sensual side and was gorgeously costumed. Eddie was masterful at the partnering, always spontaneous--every performance possessed the nervous energy of a first-time experience. In a solo section, he flew up in a series of slanting sauts de basque that looked born of samurai power.

Luckily, I also danced with him in Faun--no leaps whatsoever--Scotch Symphony, Brahms-Schoenberg 3rd movement, Apollo, Nutcracker, and many other works. It was always thrilling to dance and interact with him.

Now the Miami City Ballet reflects Eddie's spirit of generosity, tireless energy, and passion for dance. Last fall I interviewed him about its 20th anniversary and his vision of the future.--A.K.

Allegra Kent: So, what is it like to form a ballet company from scratch?

Edward Villella: It's tremendously stimulating and exciting but also a huge struggle. And Florida two decades ago seemed like a very odd place to try to make a company from the ground up. But a group of people came to me after I had lectured somewhere and they wanted to create one. So I said, "OK, I'll write out a very detailed plan."

How many pages--150?

No, much shorter. It was an eleven and a half year plan, beginning with a year and a half to organize and raise monies, executive committees, visibilities, all those things. I really liked the people involved, starting with Toby Ansin, the prime mover. Then I found out there were a thousand people a day moving to South Florida. I thought, "Wow, there may be a silent audience there."

We like them silent.

Looking at the map, there's Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and, on the West Coast, Naples.

A string of pearls.

By having so many bases of support, we would get to dance a lot more. I have three to five casts of everything, which means that even people in the corps get to do solo roles.

That's wonderful, because the corps usually feels trapped.

I didn't want a bunch of disgruntled dancers with studio fever who never get the opportunity to perform.

What qualities do you look for in a dancer?

I look for compatible, willing human beings who are dedicated and can visualize music with their bodies. You can teach technique but you can't teach talent.

Going back to 1985, you had nothing tangible--no studio, dancers, or staff.

We searched for a facility and found a place on Lincoln Road, which was affordable. It was also a mall so I left the windows clear--anybody walking past could watch us at work.

It's so important to have daylight! Remember the State Theater--the rehearsal room?

That was my selfishness, because I said, "I'm not going to live subterranean." The fifth floor of the New York State Theater is like being underground. I wanted to be touched by the wind, the trees, and the wonderful summer rainstorms. It puts you in a good mood.

What was your program on opening night?

We opened with Balanchine's Allegro Brillante and Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux. This was to show the audience that we were going to be a ballet company with an edgy kind of classicism. Also, Dick Tanner from New York City Ballet created a work with a Spanish flavor. And the newly hired choreographer, Jimmy Gamonet, made a tango piece. …