Miami City Ballet’s new artistic director, Lourdes Lopez, has big, pointy-tipped shoes to fill.

The first public sign of an operational sea change at Miami City Ballet arrived last October, a week before the company’s first performance in its 2012-2013 season.

It happened at the monthly Second Saturday Art Walk in Miami’s Wynwood District, when what the Miami Herald described as a “phalanx of sultry dancers,” clad in a denim shorts, T-shirts and tank tops, performed as a flash mob to the sensual tango choreography of Paul Taylor’s “Piazzolla Caldera,” one of the three dances in Program I.

Like something right out of the successful “Step Up” movie franchise, the mob stunned onlookers, attracting them away from the artwork and complementary wine.

Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet’s artistic director for 27 years before his unceremonious ouster in 2012, accomplished many great things for the company, but impromptu street choreography like this was never in his wheelhouse. No, this was a shot from the bow courtesy of Lourdes Lopez, his 54-year-old replacement—a sign, perhaps, of a newer, hipper Miami City Ballet to come.

Lopez, a Miami native and Balanchine disciple who, like Villella, trained in New York, expected to inherit Miami City Ballet in May of this year, when Villella had planned to retire. The unexpected announcement, last September, that Villella would not oversee the 2012-2013 season as planned led Lopez to be summoned eight months ahead of schedule. Like a new president inheriting policies that were not hers, Lopez has been diligently ushering her dancers through Villella’s final season, which continues Feb. 22-24 at the Kravis Center with Program III.

But, already, it’s clear that the times they are a changin’.

The saying goes that you can never go home again. But here you are. So what is it like working in Miami again?

I’m really happy. I had missed the sun quite a bit when I moved away from Miami when I was 14 and went to New York. In the first year, I remember thinking that it was a very dark city, and one of the great things about coming back is that you just step outside your apartment and the sun is shining down on you.

You were eventually selected as artistic director over a five-month period, from some 35 candidates for the position. What was that waiting process like?

It wasn’t too bad. In many respects, my career had been in New York, and if this didn’t work out, I still had Morphoses [the ballet company she co-founded in 2007], I still had my family, I’d be home. So I wasn’t waiting on pins and needles. I would just keep on doing what I was doing. But I have to admit, I never thought I would be approached to submit my name. That’s one thing that never occurred to me. Somehow my mind never went there.

It’s noteworthy that you are a female artistic director of a ballet company, because there are so few women in these positions. Why do you think that is?

I am not so sure why women are not at administrative levels at organizations. It might be that when a boy comes into a ballet dance school, he’s automatically, by virtue of his sex, given a scholarship. And so there’s an empowerment that takes place, where the females are put into a room with 75 other dancers, and we have to really shine and stand out. I’m thinking that might have an impact. We’re always striving, and the boys are automatically given this.

It might have to do with fundraising. I don’t know if it’s easier for most of the community to look at a male heading into an organization and feel they’re the perfect person to fundraise around. I don’t know. For me, I’m also a Latina. I take tremendous pride in that I’m one of the few. It’s a coat I’m very happy and honored to wear. It’s not about your gender; it’s about your vision...

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