The Cuban ballerina reconnects with her roots in a new and exciting challenge of her successful career.
By Ana B. Remos
After a long history of accomplishments and success in the field of dance, Lourdes López, former principal dancer of New York City Ballet, is seeing a new dream come true. López was, until recently, the director of the New York-based avant-garde dance troupe, Morphoses, which she co-founded with the British dancer and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Earlier this year, Lourdes López took on a new role as artistic director of Miami City Ballet.
Lourdes López, Aristic Director of Miami City Ballet. Photo © Daniel Azoulay.
Born in Havana in 1958, she came to Miami in the early 1960s with her parents, Félix and Marta López and her two sisters, Barbarita and Teresa, to join the nascent Cuban exile community. Lithe and flat-footed, the five-year-old had to wear orthopedic shoes for three years and was advised to take ballet lessons to strengthen her muscles. Her physician, at the time, Dr. Alberto Inclán, never suspected his recommendations would pave the way for the brilliant future that awaited his little patient, who was destined to become a leading figure in the world of dance.
Mature, slender, stylish, and charming, Lourdes was chosen from a pool of more than 35 candidates to be the new artistic director of Miami City Ballet, one of the best dance companies in the United States, a post she officially took on May 1, 2013.
"I belong to the next generation after Edward Villella (the former artistic director of Miami City Ballet), and I know very well his work and everything he has done for the company, making it one of the best in the country. To fill his shoes will be a wonderful challenge for me, and coming back to Miami, the city where I grew up, where I learned to dance and where I buried my parents gives me an indescribable feeling,” said López. "Since I moved to New York, I have come to Miami many times to visit my family, and I've always dreamed of returning to stay. Now, all my dreams have been realized at once,” she adds.
Lourdes López, Aristic Director of Miami City Ballet teaching her dancers. Photo © Daniel Azoulay.
Like most exiles, her parents had to start a new life from scratch. With great efforts, and despite their limited resources, they were able to send Lourdes to take the ballet lessons her pediatrician had recommended. Her passion for dancing became apparent, immediately.
In 1968, her father’s new job with an airline from Ecuador, allowed the family to fly stand-by to New York, where the little girl would enroll at the Joffrey School of Ballet. She was supposed to take only a few lessons at the Joffrey, but, thanks to her ability, Lourdes received a full scholarship for the entire summer season.
The following year, her parents sent their young star to study at the School of American Ballet (SAB) also in New York, the official school of the prestigious New York City Ballet. Aware of the child´s remarkable talent--and the needs of her exiled parents--the school decided to pay for her training in Miami. Thereafter, Lourdes began taking classes at Martha Mar’s ballet studio in Coral Gables.
Lourdes López coaching Miami City Ballet dancers in Apollo. Choreography by George Balanchine. © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: © Daniel Azoulay.
At the tender age of 14, and after graduating from high school, SAB asked her to move to New York to study ballet, professionally. It was an extremely difficult decision for her parents, a traditional Cuban family with a strong sense of unity. Lourdes says she will never forget her parent’s generosity and selflessness at that crucial moment in her life.
She traveled to the "Big Apple" with her sister, Teresita, who was 19 years old and a student at Miami Dade College. The older sister took a job at the Lincoln Theater box office and transferred her classes to New York University in order to be close to Lourdes. The sisters would meet, at the theater, every evening, and Lourdes would watch every show until her sister to got out of work. Without cell phones or Internet, as is the norm these days, their parents called every Sunday at 9 in the morning to check on their beloved girls.
Lourdes López in Firebird. Choreography by George Balanchine. © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo: © Steven Caras.
At age 16, the young dancer officially joined New York City Ballet and danced for the company under the direction of two of the greatest choreographers of all times: George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. In 1981, López became a soloist, and in 1984, she was promoted to principal dancer of the company. She made history with her renditions of the leading roles in The Nutcracker, Serenade, Apollo and Agon, among other ballets.
Still in great shape at 39, and with 24 years of experience and training, Lourdes decided it was time to retire. She was given the opportunity to present, produce and write a TV show devoted to the arts on New York’s WNBC. The station directors were captivated by Lourdes in 1996, during Casita Maria's annual gala, when the institution awarded her the Gold Medal for her volunteer work as an art teacher for underprivileged children.
Lourdes López and Nikolaj Hubbe in Brandenbrug. Choreography by Jerome Robbins. © The Jerome Robbins Rights Trust. Photo: © Paul Kolnik.
And so began her new career as a TV star. She recalls a deeply emotional experience when the station sent her to Cuba to cover the visit of Pope John Paul II and the cultural scene on the island. Upon her return, Lourdes and her close friend Ben Cubeñas Rodríguez, director of programs at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, created the Cuban Artists Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting emerging Cuban and Cuban American talents.
In addition to her excellent work as director of Morphoses, López has also worked at Ballet Academy East, at the George Balanchine Foundation and served on the dance faculty of Barnard College. In 2007, she received the award from the American Immigration Law Foundation as Cuban Americans were honored for their achievements and contributions to American society. Later in 2011, she was awarded the prestigious Jerome Robbins Prize for her years of dedication to the world of dance.
Having lost her first husband, 13 years ago, she married New Yorker George Skouras, whom she renamed Jorge. Skouras owns a "boutique" investment firm focused on strategic marketing and international venture capital investments, private capital and hedge funds. The couple has two daughters: Adriel (from Lourdes´s first marriage), a graduate from Yale University who currently works as assistant to Vogue director, Anne Wintour, and 12-year-old Calliste. ■
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