(AP) The artistic director who founded the Miami City Ballet and built it into an internationally recognized company is leaving sooner than expected.
Edward Villella said last year he would retire after the 2012-2013 season ends in April. But ballet officials announced Tuesday that Villella has decided to leave now.
The former New York City Ballet star founded the Miami Beach-based dance company in 1986.
Officials say Villella "had given the matter a great deal of thought" and decided with the company's executive board to speed up the transition to new leadership.
The Cuban-born dancer Lourdes Lopez was set to succeed Villella as artistic director. Ballet officials say Lopez now takes over immediately.
Lopez is currently the director of the New York dance company Morphoses.