Corella Ballet in Seattle: Sunshine on a Rainy Day

23 May

I need to move to New York.  Watching Corella Ballet made me come to a sad realization that I may never know the extent of what I can accomplish as a dance writer living in a city that is not New York (or London…but expatriation is a headache for another day, even if I’ve convinced myself that I have a European sense of humor…whatever that means).  If I aspire to be a classicist than I need a more continual source from which to spark discussion, and while I adore Pacific Northwest Ballet, the truth is there isn’t enough ballet in Seattle for me and six repertory programs a year has me emotionally starved.  For example, consider the fact that the number of full length, story ballets I’ve seen is still in the single digits…that means there are far too many I haven’t seen and it’s rather embarrassing that I have to remind myself (and you) that I’ve never seen the likes of Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and yes, even Swan Lake live.  DVDs are great tools and I’ve certainly watched my fair share but they’re never a replacement for live performance, and I find a live performance easier to sell to other people.  On the occasions that I’ve had a plus one complementary press ticket, my friends have found the live performance very enriching, and these are people who have not once been interested in borrowing from my…er, less than extensive library of DVDs.

I’m quite fond of Seattle and I have a far from romantic idea of New York because an astronomical cost of living in a concrete jungle doesn’t exactly sound like paradise to me, but it’s where the opportunities are…even if those opportunities are incredibly rare and fiercely competitive for sure.  Quite frankly, I am tired of sitting on the sidelines while incredible performances that are also chances for me to learn and find an even greater purpose for my writing, simply go on without me.  I’m no Alastair Macaulay, but maybe what I do is something great and worthwhile too, and the fact that I don’t stand a chance anywhere else is starting to drive me crazy.  I am one of the worst long-term planners in the world (hello, impulsive Aries) and thus have no idea how I’m going to get to New York, what I would do once I got there, or how I can make this work but I just know it’s the right decision, and that’s all I have to work with for the time being.  To be honest it’s frightening to think about as well because we want to believe that determination and desire is a recipe for success, when of all people, those who know a thing or two about ballet know that reality is more challenging than that.

At any rate, back to Corella Ballet…I had a fantastic time!  Unfortunately there wasn’t a live orchestra (though I don’t think the venue was able to house one), but it’s also nice for an audience to be able to sit closer to the stage and maybe have a more profound connection with the ballets that way—a lot changes when you see pointe work up close!  I attended the pre-performance lecture with Matthew Bledsoe, general manager of Corella Ballet (who oddly enough pronounced ‘Corella’ with an ‘l’ sound but later pronounced Victor ‘Ullate’ with a ‘y’) and he gave some delightful anecdotes about Ángel and the company’s history.  For instance, when he went to his first (and I think only) competition in Paris, they actually had a costume made by the same people who made costumes for bullfighters, and they use gold thread and other embellishments which are quite heavy (not that it seemed to hinder his jumping at all). Natalia Makarova was the president of the jury at the competition, and in addition to awarding him the grand prize, she also arranged for him to audition for Kevin McKenzie.  McKenzie gave him a first soloist contract, and Ángel was made principal at just nineteen, the youngest ever in addition to Paloma Herrera.

Fast forward through many dazzling performances in New York and guest appearances worldwide, and Ángel set up a foundation to create a classical company for Spain and establish a school with residence for students.  When it came time to audition dancers for the company, dancers were not asked for names or nationalities because Ángel was looking for ability, but in the end sixty percent were Spaniards.  Spanish pride is a big deal (and Bledsoe made a joke because he’s married to a Spaniard and I know it was funny but I can’t remember it), and the story goes that Spaniards don’t leave Spain to dance for other companies, they leave because they have no opportunities to do the classical repertory in their own country.  So it was a pretty big deal when Corella Ballet did La Bayadère, calling upon Natalia Makarova who was initially reluctant to let them stage her version because they had a time frame of about, oh three months, but she knew if anyone was capable of pulling it together it was Ángel.  I mentioned in my SeatteDances review the talent of the company (read here) and I really can’t express enough how impressed I was by each dancer.  Thirty-five doesn’t make for a particularly big company and puts some limitations on the repertory they can do, and normally a company of thirty-five is going to have clear disparity in ability, but there was very little (if any) of that apparent with Corella Ballet.

The ballets selected for their quadruple bill were very good, having two “big” ballets sandwiching two small-scale ones, well paced with two intermissions and building chronologically from the most classical to the most modern.  I loved Bruch Violin Concerto, which truly is like a bouquet of mountain wildflowers…simple, colorful, lush, and easily appreciated by all—even the clueless people who are the worst romantics ever know that pretty flowers are pleasing to the eye.  I must admit, however that I made an egregious error in my review (which I will only reveal here) in that I said there were “subtle neoclassical influences” and I don’t know what I was thinking because the neoclassical elements are not subtle at all.  Oops.  Anyway, my first experience with this ballet was watching it on tape (I believe from one of my first ballet class a few years ago), as a part of ABT’s Variety and Virtuosity.  I remember it being musical and beautiful, though part of me thinks it might not be the most powerful work, and because I am so starved for classical ballet, I was just voraciously soaking it in.  However, Variety and Virtuosity features only the third movement, so it was gratifying to finally see the work in its entirety.  Corella Ballet has posted a video with lot of nice excerpts, though I noticed the ballerina in pink did slightly different choreography, because the manége starting at 6:22 is missing the Italian pas de chat (or depending on where you are in the world, saut de chat, grand pas de chat russe, or Violette jump) that Momoko Hirata did so well, with razor precision and great amplitude.

Compare to the filmed performance by ABT, where you can see Ashley Tuttle include the Italian pas de chat at 2:30.  Understandably, they are a fiendish nightmare to do at that speed!

As for the two middle pieces, Christopher Wheeldon’s For 4 was pleasant, virtuosic, but not necessarily sensational. I relished the opportunity to see a ballet to music by Schubert, and Wheeldon has some nice choreography in it, shading each of the four dancers with emphasis on a different style of movement, but there were also many, many, turns a la seconde (seriously, a lot).  Anybody who has seen it with either Corella Ballet or Kings of the Dance know that this is no exaggeration!  The ballet is all about a clean, academic approach, and with the muted colors it kind of reminded me of hieroglyphics—very upright posture (for the most part) and a lot of squareness, which I guess you could say is something of a masculine aesthetic.  It’s important to note that not all art is going to reduce us to tears or induce some kind of an emotional episode, so having a merely amiable reaction isn’t a bad thing.  Of course, then you have Soleá, which I won’t rehash the finer details of, and will only say that Ángel has to be the fastest dancer alive, and just fearless.  Which is of course, why I think he excels at the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux and it hurt my feelings that they didn’t do it but Soleá had some similar bravura steps.  It was fun to see Ángel dance with his sister Carmen as well, who is taller than him (apparently he says she got the beauty genes) and despite being such seasoned performers, during curtain call they were just brother and sister, as Carmen messed up his hair in a way only a big sister can get away with.

Then there was Wheeldon’s DGV…oh, DGV.  I’m just going to say it—the music drove me nuts.  I understood its purpose, sounding mechanical like a train, but the reviewer Gram Milano, who in reviewing the Royal Ballet (who happened to be performing it at around the same time!) called the score “brain-deadening” and he was right. However, it is in line with the intent of the piece and despite liking For 4 better, I thought DGV was the stronger of the two Wheeldon ballets on the program.  Yes friends, it is possible to hold something in higher esteem than something else that you actually enjoy more.  It’s murky territory but when it comes to DGV, I understand its popularity even if I’m not dying to see it again (but you know I would).  What was kind of interesting about that night though was that every time I think I have the Seattle audience pegged, they surprise me. Based on the health of the modern dance community and audience reaction that I’ve seen with mixed bills at PNB, I would have bet money that DGV would be the most popular, but it was in fact Soleá that got the most applause and the standing ovation for DGV was a little forced, perhaps a gesture of appreciation for the evening as a whole rather than DGV.

And this is why I should never gamble (said the man who wants to move to New York…).

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12 Responses to “Corella Ballet in Seattle: Sunshine on a Rainy Day”

  1. Catchip May 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Wow, big decision! Very exciting… (Although you should know it’s pretty rainy here too at the moment..) Bravo for picking yourself up and believing you can do better, much more than most of us manage on the average day under the duvet. And know that you only have to ask Twitter for whatever help/advice you need 🙂

    Once again you’ve managed to introduce me to a brand new ballet (Bruch violin concerto), complete with videos and technical insights I would have missed. My favourite kind of post!

    Wishing you luck on your quest for fame and fortune (or at least a few more comp tickets)…

    • youdancefunny May 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed Bruch! I’m actually wondering when the last time ABT did it was, because there don’t seem to be any remotely recent reviews (just once on tour about ten years ago). It’s in the same vein as ‘Theme and Variations’ which ABT does all the time and I think ABT could benefit from retiring that war horse for a while and do Bruch instead, if anything to enhance their identity.

      I will for sure be asking for advice about NYC once I figure…something (well, anything) out!

  2. Jeff May 24, 2011 at 10:40 am #

    Great post and review! And I know what you mean about New York… I was just recently looking at various ballet company websites, and when I especially got to NYCB, I was like wow, so much ballet. every day. for several months. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but it makes San Francisco (and most everywhere else) look so leisurely. 🙂

    • youdancefunny May 24, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

      San Fran’s schedule is bizarre! Nutcracker through May? The Brits who have Royal Ballet for the majority of the year were bewildered!

  3. classicalballetteacher May 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    So neat to hear your review of the nearly identical performance that I immensely enjoyed here in New Orleans! We had very similar reactions to it all, except that I enjoyed the DGV music (I really have a wider palette of appreciation that a lot of folks, though) and my husband got it for me as a gift that night.

    And wouldn’t you know, through some obscure connections and cosmic luck, I got to meet Angel!! Not that I could think of a single thing to say as I was so struck with awe!

    I do want to ask, however, would you be interested in collaborating on a push for funding for the related documentary on the creation of the company? The project is out of funding for the finalization stage. They could do with some promotion, just getting the word out I think, which you and I are in a position to do. Send me a private message on my site maybe and we can talk by email??

    • youdancefunny May 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      It’s interesting that the company is touring so much in its early stages…they’ve also gone to New York and Los Angeles so it’s an interesting strategy right now to get people talking.

      I’m so jealous that you met Angel! I think I saw Dayron Vera and his significant other (not sure who she was) walking around while I was waiting for a bus…that’s about it.

      And yes, I’d love to help with promoting their documentary in any way I can! I’ll send you a message!

  4. Deb May 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    I need to move to New York! What a dance scene. At least I get there up every few months.

    • youdancefunny May 26, 2011 at 10:49 am #

      Well you do what you can! Thanks for commenting!

  5. Sandie May 26, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    New York is a great city!!

    • youdancefunny May 26, 2011 at 10:50 am #

      I’m being told this more and more! It’s definitely one of those things I must experience to believe!

  6. Hilary May 31, 2011 at 3:52 am #

    And there’s always DC, too! Then you can be close to NYC without having to commit to the concrete jungle…though I suppose DC is just a smaller, concrete forest perhaps? 🙂 PS Seeing RDB’s Napoli next Friday, so excited!

    • youdancefunny June 7, 2011 at 10:08 am #

      I always say DC gets the best variety! Have a great time at Napoli! You’ll love the Danish…though I don’t know if there are any enchanted forests in it (I don’t think there are!).

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