Over the summer, Pennsylvania Ballet concluded its hallmark 50th anniversary season at the Vail International Dance Festival garnering rave receptions from critics and audiences. It was a victory lap for artistic director Roy Kaiser, who had announced late in the season that he would be stepping down after 18 years. In July, PAB's Board of Trustees named former American Ballet Theater principal dancer Angel Corella as the new artistic director.
Corella retired from ABT in 2012, at age 36, at top performance level after dancing all of the classical roles there and as guest at Kirov Ballet, National Ballet of Chile, Tokyo Ballet, just to name a few. On dance stages around the world, Corella is renowned for his luminous technical artistry and stage presence. He defined the image of danseur noble for his generation.
As much as Corella achieved as a dancer, he accomplished even more as director of Barcelona Ballet (originally Corella Ballet) which he founded in Spain, his home country, in 2008. Barcelona performed a staggering range of classical and contemporary repertoire, but Corella dissolved it last year because of funding cuts by the Spanish government and what he viewed as misappropriation of funds earmarked for the arts.
Corella said, despite problems at Barcelona Ballet, he genuinely enjoyed being an artistic director.
"Artistically I knew the company was amazing and, as a director I'm really investing everything in the dancers." Corella said in an interview at PAB studios in September.
"When I dissolved Barcelona Ballet, all of the dancers went to other major companies. We did so much repertory in Spain. I would have loved to have done more, and now with Pennsylvania Ballet, I'll have the opportunity," he said.
Corella immediately focusing on establishing a relaxed, creatively productive atmosphere with a hands-on approach, moving to a smaller office directly across from the main rehearsal rooms and even partnering in the studio with the dancers.
Because previous staff members were suddenly let go from the company after many years, Corella acknowledged that it is unfortunate some longtime members of PAB's artistic staff who had worked alongside of Roy Kaiser for many years had to be let go, but added that "it is fair… that I should have my own team, "Corella said.
In his first weeks in charge, he chose is new artistic team among current and former company dancers. The new ballet masters are Principal dancers Julie Diana, (who just retired in May) and Zachary Hench; Principal dancer Francis Veyette is now director of Pennsylvania Ballet II, the apprentice company and former principal Arantxa Ochoa will continue as director of the PAB School. Ballet Orchestra conductor Beatrice Jona Affron will continue as musical director and Matthew Neenan is still resident choreographer.
By all accounts the quick transition of the new artistic staff at PAB Ballet has been very smooth.
"I wanted to experience a new beginning with them at the same time and see the new energy," he said, not pausing in his enthusiasm that "Every single dancer here is really strong, technically and artistically. He eventually sees a whole company of principals "That's what I had in Spain. I want to give them the security that when they go onstage they don't have to worry about anything other than just perform and have fun with it. When a dancer is thinking about technique you see it in their face. I told them, I'd rather see you falling on your ass," he jokes.
Corella's first artistic statement to the public with be his program Press Play: The directorial debut of Angel Corella, the only program that has been changed from the 51st season line-up. A bill representative of Corella's approach. I wanted to show the audience in what direction we're moving to. With the exception of one, these are not new ballets, but they say a lot about the choreography we will do and the new "look" the company is going to get."
He called "Allegro Brillante" one of "Balanchine's masterpieces of technique." choreographer sharp and whimsical Jeu de Cartes, the Company Premieres of "Liturgy" by Christopher Wheeldon for two dancers. Corella calls Wheeldon a "master of pas de deux." But it was Robbins "Other Dancers" is for him "Very special to me, not only because it's Robbins and music by Chopin, but because I won Prix Benois award dancing it." The Robbins Foundation is very selective about allowing companies to perform the ballet, and Corella was able to convince them very quickly that Pennsylvania Ballet was up to its artistic requirements.
Principal dancers Lauren Fadeley and Ian Hussey are performing "Other Dances" and they appeared in front of the company's ardent fans who regularly attend the Conversations with Pennsylvania Ballet, a seasonal monthly series at the City Institute Library on Rittenhouse Square in Center City. And an audience member broke the ice asking directly "well, how are things?"
Fadeley expressed what the consensus among the dancers getting ready for Pennsylvania Ballet's new season and promising new era. "Inevitably things had to change," said Fadeley. "At first, you're hesitant, as a dancer you wonder how it's going to be different. But, I think here we've embraced it with arms wide open, waiting to see what happens. It's been incredible. The energy in the studio is so positive. We're being pushed in ways we haven't been. All the dancers are giving their all and it's been a great environment."
Corella's long range goals for the company include more international touring especially in Europe. "It's a company that does Balanchine better than most. In Europe they are craving to see more Balanchine."
In addition to carrying on PAB's commitment to classical repertoire, he plans to do ballets by a range of hot -list contemporary choreographers including Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon, Crystal Pite, Wayne McGregor, Ohad Naharin, just to name a few. "With contemporary dance, you still have to have something interesting to say, but you don't have to know about dance to appreciate it," said Corella.
Pennsylvania Ballet's Press Play - Oct. 16-26 at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets, Philadelphia. www.paballet.org
Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Angel Corella (courtesy of PAB)
​Lauren Fadeley Veyette & Ian Hussey rehearsing Jerome Robbins' "Other Dances"
Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev
Pennsylvania Ballet dancers get ready to Press Play
Photo © & courtesy of Alexander Iziliaev