Miami City Ballet is being split by controversy over founder and artistic director Edward Villella’s earlier-than-expected retirement, announced last September in a way that shocked company members and the dance world – says The Miami Herald. However, some board members, major donors and dancers are questioning the decision and contend he was forced out at the apex of his career.
He was forced to retire, and the real question is why. It’s enraging, and it’s wrong. He doesn’t want to retire, he’s at the top of his game.”
said Francinelee Hand, a Villella supporter and MCB board member since 1994.
The company is truly enjoying a golden moment with its sold-out, critically acclaimed season in Paris last summer, and the admired PBS broadcast at the end of last year.
Treasurer Ron Esserman, though, confided that some of his colleagues cared more about Villella’s tendency to alienate major donors than his artistic achievements,
Keeping donors happy is not [Villella’s] strong point. We’ve lost some big donors. Some of the big donors [on the board] want him to go. The donors want special attention and to have someone pat them on the back. Edward isn’t always capable of that.”
Although the company suffers from financial difficulties, like most ballet organizations, it has earned outsize acclaim despite a much smaller budget than that of the New York City Ballet or San Francisco Ballet. About half its income comes from ticket sales and other earned income, and the rest from donations.
The situation has upset one pair of major donors, Harry and Harriet Pownall, so much that they have withheld $125,000 of a $500,000 donation to sponsor Symphonic Dances, a new work by Alexei Ratmansky that will première on March 1.
We hope other donors will see what’s happening and see that it’s detrimental to the ballet for Eddie to leave. This is someone who’s built something incredible, and then you throw him under a bus?”
Now the couple says they would not have pledged that money if they had known Villella was leaving.
We felt betrayed. [Board members] said to me, ‘If Edward doesn’t leave we won’t get donations.’ And I said, ‘I can’t imagine that. If Eddie leaves you’re not going to get donations.’”
When Villella’s retirement was announced in September, company officials gave his age, 75, and the need to have a new leader in place to assure funders concerned about the company’s long-term viability.
Joan Acocella, dance critic for the New Yorker, said,
If what the board wants is new blood I don’t know what new blood they think they can get. [Villella has imbued MCB] with extraordinary verve and commitment and charm. … Nobody else equals that with the Balanchine repertory, and very few companies outside New York rival them in any way.”
The company dancers said,
The last thing I want is for Edward’s vision to be compromised and his family and baby to be broken up. It would break his and every one of the dancers’ hearts.”