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Legendary Dancer Continues To Pass On The Art Form In Miami

The Miami City Ballet has become one of America's leading dance companies in the last three decades. And Edward Villella was an essential part of that. The legendary dancer is one of the company's founders and a former star performer in the New York City Ballet. Villella based the style of the Miami company on dance he learned from New York City Ballet founder and choreographer George Balanchine.

Villella says he wanted to pass on the knowledge he learned from Balanchine to all future dancers. The Miami City Ballet was founded in 1985 and its first performance was in 1986 under Villella.  

In 2012, the Miami City Ballet board ousted Villella in the midst of a financial crisis, but he is back in Miami to coach dancers at Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami for a performance this weekend. He joined Sundial to discuss his return.

WLRN: Edward, this is the first time that you've been back in Miami since 2012 to teach dancers. How does it feel to be back here coaching?

Well it feels wonderful coaching these gorgeous young people and it is my great pleasure to pass on knowledge. A great genius named George Balanchine said you know ballet is ... a passing art form. You pass it body to body, but more importantly you pass it mind to mind.

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Credit Alejandra Martinez
Edward Villella coaches dancers from Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami on their plies.

You played an essential role in forming the Miami City Ballet 30 years ago. Take us back to that time. Was there an appetite in this area for that institution?

Well the appetite was rather slim but I understood that. I have been around this stuff many, many years and it's not easily achieved. It takes time and it takes a great deal of patience. 

George Balanchine ... was your mentor throughout your work in New York. Describe the influence that he had on the art form and how it continues to influence dancers today.

He basically changed the face of his art form but so did Stravinsky. What Stravinsky invented, what Balanchine invented, is absolutely historic and masterful. Those two guys provided us with 35 masterworks and what my intention is always to do is to show the insight of what this stuff is and how you can move it forward.

In 2011 the Miami City Ballet was invited to perform in Paris for a special series. Why was it so important for you to bring the ballet to an international stage?

Because that's who we are. We have an international art form. So essentially what I was attempting to do was to do a state company, and then a national company, and then an international company.

You were asked to leave the company the following year. What happened?

Well those are things I don't really talk about. I never have never really wished to. I spent 25 years there. I was grateful for that period of time and I made us internationally accepted. So whatever it is that I did when I was here I stand by.

Now you told me earlier on that ballet is about passing on and so here you are now and basically you know you're passing on this legacy especially Balanchine's work. What does that mean to you?

I respect those people so much ... they opened my world so I have devoted my time to see if I could make these statements - these neo-classical statements. It took me 25 years to do it. I'm thrilled that I did it. I'm thrilled that we had great success and whether I'm still there or not, you can't change what I did. So I'm very pleased. Having accomplished something, having contributed something and that's the most important thing we can do - is contribute to our communities.

  When Edward Villella, a well-known dancer and ballet coach, left South Florida, his departure made headlines. Now he’s back with a new troupe of dancers. Video: Alejandra Martinez. A post shared by WLRN Public Media (@wlrn) on Jul 19, 2018 at 12:09pm PDT