CORELLA BALLET OPENING NIGHT NYC

Photos top to bottom: Angel and Carmen Corella in Solea, Herman Cornejo and Adiarys Almeida in Sunny Duet, and Corella Ballet cast in Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV. All photos by Rosalie O’Connor.

Last night Corella Ballet Castilla Y Leon made their U.S. debut. It was one of the best evenings I’ve had at the ballet since ABT ended their Met season last July. Angel Corella (beloved ABT principal and founder of this company) is known of course for his bravura dancing, his ability to form a character on the stage even in the few storyless ballets ABT does, his passion, his charisma, his sweetness, his charm, but mostly of course his virtuosity. And even though he himself only danced in two pieces last night (with only a small duet in the Wheeldon), the whole evening had that same overall brilliance. It’s like he managed to find a company of dancers exactly like himself. I don’t know how he did that because I thought there was only one of him, but even the corps members seemed to have all of those qualities.

The night began with Angel’s own String Sextet, his first piece of choreography, set to Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet “Souvenir of Florence.” It was very allegro, very fast-paced, with lots of brilliant partnering — a ballerina would spin at lightning speed into her partner, they’d go into assisted pirouettes or a supported arabesque penchee (with the ballerina’s legs always in a perfect split), another would jump into her partner’s arms and he’d catch her in a variety of positions. Kazuko Omori and Yevgen Uzlenkov completely blew me away, as did all of the couples but those two in particular. It’s like, where did he find these people and how did I not know they existed?! Omori is a brilliant allegro dancer but she also had the qualities of an adagio ballerina, with lots of expression in her upper body. Then, in the third movement, Joseph Gatti blew everyone away with his bravura, Angel-esque solo replete with jetes and fouettes and crazy high tornado jumps. The crowd went wild for him, as expected. Both the duets and solos and the ensemble parts were equally captivating. Toward the end everyone did a fish dive in unison and it’s so sweet. It was like all the best parts of classical ballet — or at least my favorites :)

Next was Walpurgisnacht, by Leonid Lavrovsky, which reminded me of the Corsaire pas de trois between Ali the slave, Conrad the pirate, and ballerina. Again the beautifully expressive, lightning-footed Omori and high jumping Gatti starred, and the stunning Kirill Radev danced the part that reminded me of Conrad. He had this series of scissor jumps but the splits were forward-facing, straddle position, rather than long-wise, like usual. And then he’d do these multiple pirouettes with these seemingly impossible held-out endings. The crowd was nearly screaming with applause, which doesn’t often happen in New York.

Then was Sunny Duet, from 1973, by Vladimir Vasiliov and Natalia Kasatkina, danced by our Herman Cornejo and Adiarys Almeida. Everyone applauded for Herman when he took the stage :) This ballet was sweetly romantic, like man in adoration of his woman, with Arabian / Bayaderesque styling. Herman really blew me away last night with his partnering. The pdd began with this extended overhead lift where he looked up at her for what seemed to be minutes, in the end making it into a single-handed lift. I’ve always thought he was a brilliant soloist but that he had some trouble in the partnering, but not last night! He was also very dramatic, and, at one point, where they go into their bravura solos, he played off of her, giving her this “oh yeah, well this is how I feel!” look before doing a bunch of crazy turns or jumps. The original, archived music, by Arno Babajanyan, was played on tape. There was a note in the program stating, “The company is committed to the revival of worthy pieces that have had an important influence on classical ballet. The piece will be performed as it was originally created by the legendary Russian choreographers Natalia Kasatkina and Vladimir Vasiliov. The artists will be performing to Arno Babajanian’s archival recording, as this specially commissioned score no longer exists.”

Next was Solea, choreographed by Flamenco dancer and choreographer Maria Pages, and performed by Angel and his sister Carmen. I was happy to see Carmen back onstage; I was sad when she left ABT. This was an absolutely beautiful combination of ballet and Flamenco, though I often see Paso Doble in what people call Flamenco, being a ballroom person — still not sure of the difference… For example, at one point, they would come at each other, she swirling her long skirt about, cape-like, he coming at her like a matador — that’s Paso — but instead of rushing toward each other, hips thrust forward, they’d do chaine spins — she on pointe, spinning right past each other, balletically. Then they’d approach each other again, she’d retreat quickly back with supercharged bourrees. I love it! I’ve always wanted to see a Paso Ballet, but most ballroom dancers don’t seem to know how to choreograph such a thing, even if they have extensive ballet background. Then, during the Flamenco taps (which you can hear in the recorded music), Angel would do his trademark lightning fast fouettes, or else entrechats, or just crazy fast footwork; and she’d do the same on pointe. Flamenco taps on pointe! And each of them had the perfect Flamenco styling. And there was a kind of back and forth “competition”, which I guess is called “Bulerias” in the world of Flamenco, which was kind of like a set of “variations” or solos in ballet, with him doing the trademark jetes around the perimeter of the stage and she responding with her own thing. And at the end, they came together and she stood behind him and he wrapped her arms around him. Sweet. Audience gave them a standing ovation.

Last was Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse a Grand Vitesse, which was I think the most intense, spellbinding Wheeldon ballet I’ve ever seen. It was premiered in 2006 by the Royal Ballet and was nominated for an Olivier Award. Set to music by Michael Nyman, which was commissioned by the French railway company TGV in 1993 to commemorate their opening of a new high-speed train line, there were several large pieces of twisted metal in the background — between which the dancers would weave in and out from time to time. The music had a very “locomotive” rhythm to it and the whole thing — both music and movement — had a kind of eerie feel to it. Movement was trademark Wheeldon — very modern, lots of angularity, sharp jagged lines, unique partnering. Women were often carried overhead and upside down with their legs in a split or sideways with their knees bent outward and toes together, creating an intentionally awkward shape. At times the music would stop completely while the dancing continued — creating some of the most intense moments. This is the first time the piece has been performed outside of the Royal, the program notes say, and, with its intensity, it was a perfect choice for this company.

So, the evening was a celebration of classical ballet, fusing classical ballet with traditional Spanish dance, and contemporary ballet, which seems to be what this company is about. Excellently done!

There’s one other piece on the program, Epimetheus, which will show Saturday afternoon. It’s by a young choreographer / dancer with the company, Russell Ducker. Will report back as soon as I’ve seen it!

6 Comments

  1. That first picture is amazing. You can see the perfect tension in his body. Powerful.

  2. BernardProfitendieu

    Surprised you liked String Sextet so much since it was so Balanchinesque (and I mean that as a high compliment!!). Great choreographic debut for Angel, hope just the first of many to come.

    Interestingly, Sunny Duet was dropped Friday night in favor of Black Swan pdd with Herman and Adiarys making even this extracted chestnut thrilling (which is sometimes hard to do without the buildup of the story's context)

    The Wheeldon piece seemed like he was trying to do a rousing Tharp-like end to the evening, but it struck me as forgettable choreography. It was the Corella choreography that kept coming back to me as I thought about the evening.

  3. I too saw this ballet, and was not actually in love with String Sextet– the choreography was all right, it was a good beginning for Angel but the corps were not together at all! And I'd have to disagree with the previous poster, I did not find it particularly Balanchine-esque at all. I don't think Balanchine would have had quite so many different things going on on the stage at the same time– I hated having to choose who to watch! Solea and DGV were stunning though.

  4. Okay, my spell checker gave Corrella Ballet two “r's” and you gave it one… and you are correct in so doing. You are also correct in your assessment that it was a wonderful performance. Below is a retort to the harsh criticism voiced by Alastair Maculay in his NY Times Weekend Arts section article. I hope you will agree with I had to say about it on my facebook page (never mind the spelling mistake). e-mail me at rfw1704@gmail.com if you like.

    Corrella Ballet: “OLE”

    Fortunately, when I saw Corrella Ballet Castilla Y Leon last night (Saturday, March 20, 2010) at City Center, I had not yet read the highly critical review by Alastair Maculay in the prior day’s New York Times (Weekend Arts, Section C). Mr. Maculay watched the performance on Wednesday, March 17, 2010– and perhaps was in an ill mood what with all the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. When I caught the show on Saturday, March 20, 2010, Sunny Duet was not performed. Instead, Adiarys Almeida and Herman Cornejo performed the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake instead. The rest of the progam, I believe, was the same for both days.

    In the opening paragraphs of his New York Times critque, Mr. Maculay correctly observes that the audience greeted each of the several performances with thunderous applause and enthusiasm– and that the dancers exhibited “virtuoso” forte.

    Having paid the audience their due, however, Mr. Maculay assumes the mantle of “Keeper of the Ballet Gate” and announces that “the first four items of the program made him miserable” and evinced a display of technical bravuro that while, undeniably praiseworthy, lacked, nonetheless, any true connection to the spirt, heart and soul of ballet. In reading this lament, I immediately paraphrased Mr. Alastair’s comment (in my own mind) with the current mantra: “Is ballet art or sport.”

    Mr. Maculay spends three short paragraphs, at the beginning of his critique, noting the well received high points of the program, but then spends the last nine paragraphs decrying what he finds “tiresomely decadent about ballet.” In sum, he proclaims (in my paraphrase) that skillful balletic displays are not the main thing to be achieved, but rather, go in tandem with the music, poise and zest, that artfully combined, create the mesmerizing whole of true art– and it was these other ingredients he found woefully lacking.

    I have no quarrel with Mr. Maculay’s premise. Indeed, I do not presume to voice any expertise or authority in this matter, whatsoever. I am simply a person who, for years, has enjoyed going to dance performances and whose admiration and appreciation for the hard work and the artful performance, I have witnessed so many times, on the part of the dancers, has endeared their art more deeply and I feel a greater appreciation of this than ever before. So, I am no expert nor esteemed critic– but I know what I like when I see it.

    Mr. Maculay relates that: “Wednesday’s performances suggested that ballet was little but endlessly ingratiating acrobatics and endlessly acrobatic ingratiation. The music was taped; in several instances the dancing looked taped too.”

    This unkind blow is undeserved. This is a new ballet company. I can only assume that its founder, Angello Corrella, a marvelous talent who deserves much credit for creating a ballet company in his homeland, would have loved to have a full orchestra in accompaniment– but did not do so due to lack of funding. For my “two cents”, the lack of a live orchestra was noticeable, of course, but not disheartening. I would rather Mr. Maculay campaign to raise funds to provide new endeavors such as Corella Ballet Castilla Y Leon with funding to obtain the services of an orchestra at all its performances– than castigate the program for its lack thereof.

    What really got to me, however, was not the unkind blows, replete throughout the critique and truly unnecessary, but the total lack of comprehension on Mr. Maculay’s part that he did, in fact, see something rare and unique (exciting too) in the SOLEA, choreographed by Maria Pages, with new musical piece designed especially therefore, and with the brother/sister duo performance of Carmen Corrella and Angel Corrella being a perfect complement in all respects. The love (of art) that went into this piece was apparent from the get go and sealed with a kiss on the cheek by brother to sister at the end.

    For several years now, if not longer, there has been a steady infusion of ballet into other dance forms, including, for example, the Tango. This may be a product of ballet dancers migrating to other dance forums but also it probably reflects a broader embrace of ballet itself, an increase in popularity and appreciation.

    Flamenco also absorbs this trend, keeping its roots with the soulful wailing of Fado (in effect if not in origin) and the stacatto rhythmic stamping of feet, clapping of hands and clicking of fingers (or castanets) and the swaying wavy poses of the dancers– their stance and gesture being part of the overall effect. Now, infusing this with ballet is a good thing– and the performance proved this very point.

    Mr. Maculay unleashes wanton vitriol and venom in his critique of SOLEA, noting that the brother/sister duo couldn’t “stop their balleticisms from seeming anit-musical.” Going further, Mr. Maculay proclaims that “When Ms. Corella tried using her pointes percussively, she appeared frivolous” and that, in essence, her brother was boring– “meeting flamenco with conventional ballet display” – and supposedly missing something integral to true art.

    I guess we did not see the same performance or, more likely, this particular “Ballet Gatekeeper” needs a long vacation to rethink his outlook. Carmen Corrella was excellent, superb, wonderful, dynamic. She seemed tall, sleek, lithesome in her full length moderately bottom puffy skirt. In contrast with the body shape of so many flamenco dancers of the past, she was not stocky nor short, nor a bit hefty. She was sublime, captivating, beautiful in all her aspects, her hips, her arms, breasts, face all drawing one’s focus with equal allure, and her dance was in sync with the flamenco style and theme. I must confess to falling in love. SO DID THE AUDIENCE.

    In conclusion, it is the Ballet Gatekeeper’s musings that are disheartening here. The Corrella Ballet Castilla Y Leon is worthy of defense. I only wish I were more able to proclaim it. In referring to the performance of First Soloist Kazuko Omori in WALPURGISNACHT, Mr. Alastair states: “Ms. Omori wore her smile as if she had put it on the same time as her eyelashes.” I find this sort of commentary repulsive, wantonly demeaning and mean spirited. Ms. Omori is a fine dancer and not deserving of such dispatch. She is, perhaps, not yet at the level of a prima ballerina at ABT– but this is no cause to besmirch her in this puerile manner. I take umbrage.

    Sincerely, I hope anyone who has seen this program and reads Mr. Maculay’s unfair critique will “come to the rescue” and aright the imbalance and needless taunting and disdain he exhibits in his self-proclaimed role as Keeper of the Ballet Gate. No true art form is moribound, as if cast in iron and concrete, frozen in time, denied opportunity for eclectic experiment and growth. If ballet is headed in the direction of celebrating and absorbing more athleticism than before (not a term I would use anyway)– and Mr. Maculay is not thrilled with that– well, this is no license for him to disparage dancers who are aspiring to perform at their highest level and whose souls yearn to achieve true art.

    Respectfully submitted,
    John Keenan Sunday, March 21, 2010

  5. A New York Post Review did not praise the Ballet Corella program but did not condemn it neither and contained no insults to the dancers… the latter was what I objectged to in the Maculay article in Weekend Arts Section of New York Times. I do not think a true critic would be so venal.

  6. SwanLakeSambaGirl

    Thanks for the comments you guys! After the reviews, I'm glad other people liked the company as well!

    John, thank you so much for your thoughts on Macaulay's review. Argh, don't even get me started on him! I totally agree with you about his tone and I completely agree that there is a way to be critical without being mean. I think he is very sarcastic, with many of his reviews, and I realize that may be a British thing, but I don't think it is appropriate in high arts criticism. Sarcasm may arguably be appropriate in popular culture reviews — reviews of the dance shows on TV or of movies and such — because I feel if you are primarily trying to be commercial and produce shows of pure entertainment value, you kind of expose yourself to being lambasted. But I feel that kind of nastiness is just not appropriate when you're critiquing an artist, someone who's put a great deal of himself / herself into the choreography or the dance role and has worked very very hard to produce art. I feel it should be treated more seriously and those kind of efforts shouldn't be made fun of. I don't have time now, but I plan to write a longer post in the future about criticism. Thank you so much for your very well thought-out essay!

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