One of the first things Ángel Corella did after arriving in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s new building, on North Broad Street in Philadelphia, was move his office down a long hallway to be closer to the rehearsal studios.
“I’m not planning on spending much time in here,” said Corella in his sparse office. “Most of the time, I’m in the studio.”
The new artistic director is getting the company in shape for the Oct. 16 opening of its new season. Corella, who danced for years in New York City for the American Ballet Theater while also running his own ballet company in Barcelona, has only been working with the Pennsylvania Ballet company dancers for a couple weeks.
“I was completely shocked when I saw the dancers – in a good way,” said Corella. “Strong technically, strong artistically. They can do anything.”
Corella grew up in Madrid, where as a kid he started taking karate lessons. “One of my colleagues in class got a nosebleed from being kicked,” he said. “He was bleeding and started to cry. I was 7, and I didn’t go back.”
After the less violent ballet moves in his older sister’s dance class caught his attention, he never looked back – studying under the celebrated dancer and choreographer Victor Ullate, then arriving in New York at 19 to dance with the American Ballet Theater, where he was principal dancer for 16 years.
The arrival of Corella, 38, in Philadelphia is a transitional moment for the Pennsylvania Ballet. This year the company lost its executive director, its artistic director, both its ballet master and mistress, and the director of its school. The sweeping changes came after art consultant Michael Kaiser conducted a study of the organization.
“I think the dancers were like cats, with their backs like this … to see what kind of energy they were going to get from the director,” said Corella, hunching his back and extending his fingers like a cornered cat. “My vision is to have such positive atmosphere and encourage them to be the best, so when they go onstage they don’t have to worry about anything.”
Corella recently dissolved his company, the Barcelona Ballet, which fell victim to Spain’s recession. Lacking a mature economic ecosystem of private and corporate funding, arts organizations in Spain rely heavily on government funding, almost to exclusivity. In the last few years, the Spanish government drastically cut arts funding while at the same time raising taxes on ticket purchases.
“They promised they would support it, but then they did not,” said Corella. “They don’t want the arts in Spain.”
It’s one of the reasons he wanted to move to Philadelphia.
“The size of the city, and how involved it is in the arts. It’s a city that invests a lot in the arts,” said Corella. “The size of the company is the right amount of dancers. I want to expand it a little more to do bigger pieces. It’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Corella will split his time between Philadelphia and other commitments he has in Europe until the end of the year, when he says he will be with the company 100 percent of the time.
“From January on, the dancers are going to be tired of seeing me every day,” said Corella. “I love to be involved in what’s going on. We went through all the costumes – I want to see what we have, which costumes have to be replaced or fixed. I want to know everything that is going on.”