Lopez with Miami City Ballet dancers (FROM LEFT) Michael Breeden, Ezra Hurwitz, and Neil Marshall

Come July, New York-based Lourdes Lopez will be spending a lot more time in her hometown of Miami, which she says is on the verge of something big.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am when I drive by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and look at it, and I look at the museums that have been built, and I think, My God, it’s like a renaissance for Miami. That’s what it feels like to me,” Lopez says. “There’s this city that’s just about to boom.”

Lopez, who turns 54 in August, plans to be an important part of that boomtown. Next May, she’ll formally take over the artistic direction of the Miami City Ballet from Edward Villella, who cofounded the Miami Beach-based company in 1985. “I want to see Miami City Ballet start to function at the level of its artists,” she says. “The Miami City Ballet dancers are phenomenal, but the organization is kind of limping behind it.” Lopez is familiar, however, with improving one’s footing.

Born in Havana in 1958, the daughter of an army officer who opposed Fidel Castro, she left Cuba for Miami with her family in August 1959. At age five, standing on weakly muscled legs, a doctor fitted her with orthopedic ankle boots and told her parents to find her a good physical activity other than gym class. That turned out to be dance lessons, and when the boots came off three years later, Lopez knew she wanted to be a dancer. She moved to New York at 14, and just after turning 16 she was a full member of the New York City Ballet. She spent 24 years there, starring as a soloist and principal dancer, and often working with world-famous ballet choreographers George Balanchine (“Mr. B”) and Jerome Robbins.

The Lopez-era Miami City Ballet will be doing more performances in its hometown and also will tour through South America, with the possibility of live-streaming performances to Miami audiences. Repertoire will gradually become edgier; MCB’s core works are the Balanchine and Robbins ballets, but there are pieces by boundary-stretching choreographers such as Nacho Duato and William Forsythe that could be added, she says. “What I don’t want is Miami City Ballet to become a museum,” explains Lopez, who additionally is working to bring her contemporary dance pickup company, Morphoses, aboard, possibly to serve as a choreographic arm of MCB. “For me, dance is a live performing art. It has to relate to the society at large. That can’t happen with the same repertory year after year after year.”

Lopez and her family—she’s married to investment banker George Skouras and has two daughters—will be moving from New York to Miami permanently in June 2013. That will complete her homecoming to a city that, according to her, is “just around the corner from having it all,” where she first fell in love with the art of dance. “I’m going to keep the artists in mind; I’m going to keep the audiences in mind,” Lopez says. “I’m going to make sure that the artists are happy, that they’re taken care of, that they’re growing as artists. Because that’s really all a dancer wants.”

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