When Angel Corella took over as artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet in 2014, the company underwent a sea change. And while some in the ballet world were shocked by Corella's vision to reinvigorate and redirect the company, longtime fans of his career shouldn't have expected anything less.
He was one of American Ballet Theatre's youngest principal dancers—receiving the promotion at age 20, after only one year with the company—and still reigns as one of the most dynamic in its history. Reviews from his extensive classical repertoire lead with descriptors like "charismatic" and "explosive" and all of their synonyms. Whether he was firing off pirouettes that concluded with balanced finesse or flying at warp speed around the stage in a manège of coupés jetés, his presence emanated beyond the balconies.
Throughout his 17-year ABT career, his high-voltage energy seemed to be fueled by the purest of passions. He brought magnanimous style and joy to every role: While his career may be remembered best for classical leads like Basilio and Romeo, his impeccable technique and effusive personality also inspired the creation of new works from choreographers such as John Neumeier and Stanton Welch.
Along the way, he became an ambassador for the art form, bringing his fun to "Sesame Street," lending his style to ad campaigns for companies like Rolex, and looking elegant in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair.
In 2008, he began Barcelona Ballet (originally Corella Ballet) while still performing with ABT, bringing classical ballet back to his native Spain. And while today it is more commonplace for principal dancers to juggle side projects, at that time, it was a prescient show of Corella's ambition to give back to a country where he had reached the kind of star status of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev.
Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet
In the last five years, he has brought his bottomless energy to Philadelphia, reigniting the company's repertoire. While Balanchine will always have a place in any given season, Corella has taken pains to modernize the company's programs, adding works by Trisha Brown, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and Andrea Miller, and investing in reworked full-lengths.
He is excited when he finds younger, emerging choreographers to follow, like Alba Carbonell Castillo (winner of a gold medal for choreography at the Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition), and is committed to giving his dancers the experience to develop alongside those newer voices.
"Dancers can sometimes be afraid of being judged and feel they have to pretend and not show the audience who they really are," he says. "But I want dancers to understand that their rawness and realness is what people connect with." Such advice is second nature to a force like Corella.
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