Angel Corella warns me at the beginning of our phone interview that he likes to talk, and that’s what he does almost nonstop for the next hour. But his enthusiasm is understandable. The American Ballet Theatre superstar is leading Corella Ballet Castilla y León on its first major U.S. tour, with a stop in Seattle this week (starting May 19) at Meany Hall.
Corella founded his company in 2007 as the first classical ballet company in Spain in 22 years. Nacho Duato, now departed for Russia, had converted the last ballet company (Compania Nacional de Danza) into a modern troupe, forcing Corella and other classically trained Spanish dancers to leave their native land to build ballet careers. “Spain has always created ballet dancers but they haven’t had Spanish companies to perform with,” explains Corella. “I want Spanish dancers to have a place to call home and allow Spaniards to see their friends and families dancing in their own country.”
Although Corella performs with the company, he makes it clear he’s doing so because he knows his name will draw audiences, not because he wants to create a showcase for himself. Currently, 70 percent of Corella Ballet’s dancers are Spanish, including Corella’s sister Carmen, with many of the others drawn from major international troupes. They include ABT principal Herman Cornejo, and former members of English National Ballet, National Ballet of Cuba, and Munich Ballet. Corella plans to open a school next year that will offer a curriculum reflecting the best of the different styles he’s been exposed to, from Russia’s classical Vaganova style to the rapid-fire Balanchine technique.
In just a few years, Corella Ballet has made a significant mark on the dance world, becoming known for the high-energy, eclectic style that characterizes Corella’s own dancing. “I’ve been lucky to dance with the Kirov, La Scala, New York City Ballet, and others and I can see that each has something wonderful to offer,” says Corella, “so I don’t want to have a particular type of dancer. It’s the diversity of bodies and minds that makes us so special.
"We’re creating art and communication with the audience, and every dancer has to see a role from their point of view. When you throw your energy out to the audience, when you break that wall with the audience, the magic starts to happen.”
In addition to choosing dancers with distinctive bodies and styles, Corella is building a wide-ranging repertoire from full-length classics like “Swan Lake” and “La Bayadere” to pieces from superstar choreographers like Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon. Two Wheeldon pieces will be on the Meany program: “For 4,” originally created for Corella and three other male dancers, and “DGV,” which is performed only by Corella Ballet and England’s Royal Ballet.
Corella hasn’t forgotten his Spanish roots, and the Meany program also features a flamenco-influenced pas de deux for Corella and his sister Carmen by the flamenco choreographer María Pagés, along with a Balanchine-inspired work by Clark Tippet originally created for ABT.
Not surprisingly, Corella is finding the transition to ballet director challenging, especially since Spain doesn’t provide the same level of support for the arts as many other European countries. But with his international reputation, the government is taking notice and Corella Ballet is the only arts organization that hasn’t suffered recent cuts from the federal government. He’s also attracted significant support, about 70 percent of Corella’s Ballet total budget, from the province where his company is located.
The next step is a permanent home. The troupe does a season in Madrid and another in Barcelona in addition to performing in 25 other cities throughout Spain but doesn’t yet have a theater of its own. Corella is in negotiations but can’t reveal details yet.
As for his personal performing career, Corella says he is not sure how much longer that will last. He had hoped to wait until retirement to start his company but things came together more quickly and success has been greater than he expected. “We’re always sold out and lines go for hours. The royal family is involved, the quality of the dancers and the repertoire is very high and there is always something new and exciting to do. We’re creating history and that’s a wonderful thing.”
If you go: Corella Ballet Castilla y León, May 19-21 at Meany Hall, University of Washington. Tickets cost $46 ($43 for subscribers, $20 for students) and are available at the UW Arts box office, 3901 University Way N.E., by phone (206-543-4880 or 800-859-5342), or online.