Robert Gottlieb on How Miami City Ballet Has Grown, on Its 30th Anniversary

It’s exactly 30 years since Edward Villella, America’s greatest male classical dancer, founded Miami City Ballet. At the start it was a small, modestly funded company in a city hardly known for its appreciation of ballet. Today it’s one of America’s leading companies: together with San Francisco, Pacific Northwest and Boston—Houston, some would say—it ranks in artistic success and national recognition right behind The Big Two: New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.  In other words, it’s a miracle. And meanwhile the city itself has been changing—growing more sophisticated culturally, and ready to appreciate what Miami City Ballet offers it: Florida’s most acclaimed performing arts organization. Which means more support both on the donor level and at the box office. Not only are ticket sales rising but, against the national trend, subscription sales are sharply up: clearly, Miami is liking what it’s seeing.

Villella knew just what he was doing. He based his company on Balanchine, for whom he had danced his entire career—not only on the Balanchine repertory but on the Balanchine approach to dancing: fast, clear, energized. Then, slowly, as an audience began to develop, he expanded the repertory until the company was large enough and polished enough to embrace the classics: first Giselle, then Coppélia, Don Quixote, Balanchine’s Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. (He had already mounted Balanchine’s three-act Jewels, the first company ever to do so after City Ballet.) He imported works by Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon, but also works by Britain’s two greatest choreographers, Frederick Ashton and Antony Tudor.  And the company, first under Villella, now under his successor, Lourdes Lopez, has been commissioning important works: Tharp, Alexei Ratmansky, Justin Peck, Liam Scarlett. With more than 50 dancers, there’s almost no ballet it can’t aspire to.