Better than Baryshnikov? You be the judge

Corella Ballet's appearance at Meany Hall, which concludes tonight (May 21), is technically powerful and beautifully designed, and features a male dancer who spins faster than Mikhail himself.

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Natalia Tapia and Angel Corella perform 'DGV,' the Corella Ballet's program closer.

Corella Ballet's appearance at Meany Hall, which concludes tonight (May 21), is technically powerful and beautifully designed, and features a male dancer who spins faster than Mikhail himself.

In her recently published history of ballet, Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans argues that ballet is effectively dead, that today’s choreographers and dancers can’t match the brilliance of their predecessors. She does single out Angel Corella among a few others for their “larger vision and more sophisticated technique,” but accuses them of wasting their talents on mediocre new pieces or old workhorses.

Apparently, Homans hasn’t seen Corella Ballet. As the ballet company demonstrated over and over again in a triumphant performance Thursday night (May 19), this is a company of technically powerful, intensely committed dancers led by Corella, whose artistic taste in the dancers he hires and the choreographers he chooses is impeccable.

Corella has selected four very different contemporary ballets for this beautifully designed program, which showcases both the diverse talents of his dancers and some of the best dancemakers working today. Although it’s almost impossible to single out one piece over all the others given the consistently high quality of both the dancing and the choreography, the highlight of the evening was clearly the flamenco-inspired duet “Soléa,” which Corella performed with his sister Carmen. From the moment he began to move, it was clear why Corella is considered one of the greatest ballet stars on the world stage today.

Corella has all the charisma you’d expect from a dancer of his stature, but his persona never overpowers the movement. Even when he spins faster than I have ever seen a male dancer turn (including Baryshnikov, whom I saw frequently in his heyday), it is the movement and not the personality that takes center stage. The precision of Corella’s landings, the energy of his jumps, and the elegance of his line provide a rare combination of pyrotechnics and grace.

But this is not a ballet just for him. Carmen Corella is a wonderful dancer in her own right, and Mariá Pagés has given her intricate flamenco-like steps that she is able to pull off effortlessly while remaining on pointe. More than bravado, however, “Soléa” explores the tender interplay between a man and a woman, and the two Corellas bring a total emotional connection to the movement and to each other.

Opening the performance, which repeats tonight (May 21) with a slightly different cast, was Clark Tippet’s lyrical “Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1.” Created for American Ballet Theatre, a company known for its eclectic style and the varied backgrounds of its members, it is a ballet perfectly suited to the different styles of Corella Ballet’s dancers. Structured almost as a series of scenes plucked from various neoclassical ballets, the work features several spellbinding pas de deux, along with stirring ensemble sections that the Corella Ballet corps performed in exceptional unison. Natalia Tapia’s dramatic flair, Fernando Bufalá’s extraordinary elevation, and Momoko Hirata’s firecracker assurance were particular standouts on Thursday night.

The other two featured works are by Christopher Wheeldon, and both demonstrate once again why Wheeldon is justifiably considered among the most inventive choreogaphers alive today. Wheeldon created “For 4” for Corella and three other internationally known male dancers, and it is, more than anything, a tribute to the technical range of the male dancer. Whether slowly extending a leg or flying through the air at breakneck speed, the four men — Dayron Vera, Fernando Bufalá, Aaron Robison and Yevgen Uzlenkov — embody both the artistic and athletic sides of dance and the ability of each dancer to bring his own special quality to a role.

The program closer, “DGV:Danse à Grande Vitesse,” is a fitting conclusion to a dazzling evening. Created for England’s Royal Ballet and performed only by that troupe and Corella Ballet, “DGV” uses the minimalist score Michael Nyman wrote for the opening of the high-speed train route between Paris and Lille. With Nyman’s propulsive music as a foundation, Wheeldon creates a series of pas de deux, blended with ensemble dancing, that is as sharp and piercing as a train racing between two urban centers. Although a bit overlong, “DGV” pushes the dancers into overpitched, sculptural shapes that showcase the elongated line of the Corella Ballet dancers. Natalia Tapia made an especially strong impression once again with her total commitment to the music and the mood.

With all of its accomplishments, the most remarkable thing about Corella Ballet is how quickly this troupe has cohered into a unified company of the first rank. That Angel Corella has been able to manage this while maintaining a performing career that continues to dazzle audiences around the world is nothing short of amazing. If we needed any proof that ballet is as alive and relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago, Corella Ballet provides it.

Note: Besides repeating his performance in “Soléa” tonight, Angel Corella is also scheduled to appear in “DGV.”

If you go: Corella Ballet Castilla y León, tonight (May 21) at Meany Hall, University of Washington. Tickets cost $46, ($43 subscribers, $44 UW faculty/staff/alumni, $20 students) at the UW Arts box office, 3901 University Way N.E., by phone (206-543-4880 or 800-859-5342), or online.


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