When êngel Corella dances, there's no telling what he'll do. One minute he's on the floor and the next he's swirling through the air at angles most humans can barely comprehend, let alone contort their bodies into. Yet through this unpredictability, there's one thing audiences can be sure of: he will always impress.
So it is with baited breath that New York fans anticipate the next chapter in his already monumental career: the arrival of Corella Ballet Castilla Y Le‹n to New York City Center for a week of performances in March. Barely two years old, this company is leaping to the U.S. after establishing itself in April 2008 as Spain's only classical ballet company, marking Corella's first foray into the world of being an Artistic Director.
"I never expected for my career and my life to take this road," Corella says. "But the energy of my dancers allows me to do the job with a big smile on my face." This signature enthusiasm remains despite the adversity he's faced: primarily the dismissive nature Spain has had to classical dance since the superstar's youth: which initially kept him from thinking it would be a possibility to start a company in his home country. After garnering acclaim at American Ballet Theatre, where he's been a Principal Dancer since the age of 19, he had taken to traveling the globe as a guest artist with some of the world's most renowned companies. But throughout his travels, returning to dance in Spain was more or less off the map.
He remained persistent: dedicated to creating a landscape where Spanish classical ballet dancers didn't have to venture away from the country in order to enjoy a successful career.
"We wanted to see what kind of interest the country had in classical ballet," he says. So in 2007 he gathered a small group of performers, including his sister Carmen: whose interest in dance was the impetus for his own immersion in the art: and initiated a string of mini-tours around Spain.
"[Spain had] years of access only to modern dance," he says. "I wasn't a hundred percent sure what the response would be. But after gala performances with the small group, the [reaction] was unanimous: sold-out shows with standing ovations every night, which gave us a perfect start."
During that period, he began the formal process of auditioning dancers, who flocked from countries as distant as Italy, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, and Russia for a chance to display their talents to one of ballet's biggest names. In addition, he utilized his relationship with fellow ABT Principals Herman Cornejo, Gillian Murphy, and Paloma Herrera, and brought them on board as guest artists.
A location for the company's facilities was determined when The Royal Family of Spain donated a palace, La Granja, situated on the outskirts of Madrid in an area largely known for its mountains, rivers, and abundance of open space. Once funding was in place for the company, 80% of which was provided by the government, it was time for Corella to begin programming full evenings of work for the 60 dancers he hired.
The company's diverse repertoire has come to include ballets ranging from Balanchine and Robbins staples to works by contemporary heavyweights like Stanton Welch and Christopher Wheeldon. Within an evening, the members dance in tutus for one act and then switch to tennis shoes for works like Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room before the curtain rises again.
This stylistic tasting menu stems from the reality that Corella has danced, or is still performing, work by every choreographer represented. His body is a virtual library of dance history and techniques. And the knowledge continues to grow; at 34, he possesses all the curiosity and energy of a teenager, with the wisdom of a man in his prime.
It is this combination that results in dancers calling him "approachable, positive, and encouraging," words not often associated with the heads of companies. Then again, most company members don't dance on stage with their directors.
"When I am [coaching] a dancer, he or she has the control and it's up to them how far and how much they want to go for it," he says. "I am only there to help them and guide them as much as I can with the knowledge that I've gathered through all these years."
Many New Yorkers have been along for the ride and have watched his knowledge build as he has matured as a person and performer. Even with the pressure of his choreographic debut: one of many highlights during the City Center season: he says he couldn't be more excited to share this new chapter of his life with the fans who have been gasping at his bravura performances since the beginning.
"New York has always been my second home," Corella notes. "And after being with ABT for 14 years, [bringing my company for a season] is like bringing my newborn child for my parents to see." "We hope it will be special," he adds. It seems safe to say that with Corella involved, it certainly will be.
Visit City Center for tickets.