As Miami City Ballet celebrates its new season – and 30th anniversary – founder Toby Lerner Ansin keeps dancers on their toes
By Felicia Levine
Miami City Ballet founder Toby Lerner Ansin was thrilled to win the prestigious Dance/USA Champion Award earlier this year at Pérez Art Museum Miami. But she got an even bigger kick out of her daughter Stephanie’s introductory speech.
“It was really phenomenal,” says Lerner, 74, a cultural pioneer whose MCB launched 30 years ago. “Everyone was complimenting me on what a beautiful job she’d done.”
For Ansin, ballet and family are intertwined. Stephanie Ansin is following in her mother’s cultural footsteps as founder/artistic director of the Miami Theater Center, and Ansin’s granddaughter studies ballet at the Miami Conservatory – the same place Toby did.
“I’m very proud,” says Ansin, whose parents enrolled her in ballet at age 5 to help offset her pronated feet. She loved it, practicing six nights a week. Even when at 14 she realized she’d never go pro, Ansin continued classes into adulthood, until a back injury forced her to stop. That hasn’t stopped her from dancing around her kitchen.
“Ballet just gets in my soul and in my head,” she says.
Ansin parlayed her passion into creating the MCB in 1985 with former New York City Ballet star Edward Villella. The pair brainstormed across her dining table and before you could say “tutu” she’d found six friends to donate $1,000 each for a launch campaign, with Villella as artistic director.
Today the MCB is one of the country’s most notable ballet companies with more than 50 dancers and a budget of about $17 million. Under the artistic leadership of Lourdes Lopez since 2012, the troupe performs in South Florida and abroad. Its MCB School was founded in 1993 and is the focus of Vogue Teen’s reality web show, Strictly Ballet.
The company’s special anniversary season kicks off Oct. 23 featuring George Balanchine’s Swan Lake, Liam Scarlett’s Viscera and Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free. Also in honor of the anniversary – and Ansin’s upcoming 75th birthday – the Ansin Foundation will underwrite the acquisition of New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit, which will open Feb. 12, 2016.
Ansin asks that supporters help celebrate her birthday by donating $75 to fund toe shoes for students.
“Working in development you learn that if you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Ansin says. “Just make the checks out to the Miami City Ballet.”
The MCB anniversary season opens on Oct. 23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County’s Ziff Ballet Opera House, with additional performances on Oct. 23-24. The dance company also performs at Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ Au-Rene Theater in Fort Lauderdale, Kravis Center for the Performing Arts’ Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. Concert Hall in West Palm Beach. Information 877-929-7010 or visit miamicityballet.org.