Angel Corella, Artistic Director, Pennsylvania Ballet
Where did you grow up and how did your background, and your family's background; affect your passion for dance?
AC: I grew up in Madrid, Spain. No one in my family danced. However, my mom really loves music, opera and ballet, so we were very exposed to the arts when I was a child. It was a typical thing for girls to go to ballet class in Spain and boys took karate. However, I knew Karate was not for me. I watched my sister taking ballet classes and started to mimic what I saw, so I started taking ballet classes.
How has that background affected your other life choices?
AC: My family is a big influence in how I am as a person. My parents always said you have to be a good person before anything else. Whatever you are in life is going to affect you in your personal life, and your personal life will affect what you are doing in life. If you are a good person and you are an artist this will show through your work. I always try to see the positive side of people and life and that has been my mojo for life.
What career would your family have preferred for you, if they had a say?
AC: My parents were always very supportive of what I wanted to do; they never forced me to do anything. At 15 years old, when I told them I wanted to focus on becoming a professional ballet dancer and didn’t want to go to University, they were very supportive and didn’t judge me. They saw the passion I had for dancing and the drive to become a dancer. Not only did they emotionally support me, but they paid for my ballet classes, which was very difficult as they were middle-low class.
Growing up, did you ever think, “One day I’ll direct a ballet company?”
AC: Growing up I had no idea what would happen with my life. I knew that I wanted to be a dancer and I would be a dancer, but never in a million years was I expecting my life to turn out as it has. Winning the gold medal in the competition in Paris that took me to American Ballet Theater was a Cinderella story. Then deciding to create my own ballet company and now coming to direct, Pennsylvania Ballet, a ballet company of this level is amazing. If I was told when I was 14 years old that I would be doing this, I would have said you are crazy. Another thing that life has taught me, you have to work for your goals and the things you love, but at the same time you have to have your eyes wide open to make sure you're on the right path.
What dancer or choreographer (living or dead) would you most want to work with?
AC: In regards to choreographers, I’ve worked with every choreographer alive and dead. The only ones that I haven’t worked with are current choreographers like Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett, and Justin Peck. There are many choreographers coming up now that I would love to have personally worked with, but they are now coming to Pennsylvania Ballet and I will get the chance to experience them through the Company. In regards to dancers I’m excited to work with anyone who is willing to follow the direction I’ve set for the future of Pennsylvania Ballet. They don’t have to be the greatest dancer in the world as long as they are in alignment with and are willing to follow the direction of the Company.
If a child told you they wanted to be a dancer, what would your advice be?
AC: Follow your dream. The most important thing is to do what you love. Know that ballet takes hard work. The more hours you put into ballet the better you will be. It is a very rewarding profession if you invest your time into it. The more you do, the more it will show. I used to take pas de deux, variations and all kinds of classes from 9am to 9pm that would keep my body in good condition. Ballet dancers are athletes so we have to train like athletes. For the parents, make sure that your child has the passion for ballet. If they are asking, I’m sure they have the passion for it.
What makes for a good artistic director in a ballet company?
AC: It takes passion, understanding of the different lives and careers of each of the dancers, being able to choose a good repertoire, keeping the energy of the dancers alive, and having a direction for the Company.
What qualities do you look for in a dancer?
AC: Of course there is the obvious to have a good physique, if it’s possible to have a pretty face, even though I know that is a little superficial. Having good technique including being able to turn, jump, and having flexibility and extensions. However, the most important quality I look for is passion. The worst thing you can have is a dancer with incredible technique, but no passion. That drives me crazy.
How will you be deciding on the repertoire for each season? Is there going to be a balance of maintaining the traditional ballets and also bringing in new works?
AC: When deciding on a repertoire I always have in mind how it will look with the Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. I also see what direction we can go based on the audience’s reaction to certain ballets from the previous season. I don’t create a season for me or for my own pleasure, although I receive a lot of pleasure from it. I am ultimately creating a season for the audience and the dancers to enjoy.
I feel it is important to be aware of how the audience is reacting to the ballets. This is why I sit in the audience for every performance, so I can hear the reaction and hear what the audience likes or doesn’t like.
I always want to keep the balance. Up until now Pennsylvania Ballet had a lot of Balanchine repertoire programs. I am hoping to balance it out a little bit with more Company premieres, full-lengths and triple bills as this was something that the audiences enjoyed a lot last season.
The New York Times had a discussion, “Ballet is dead”. NYU opened a “Center for Ballet and the Arts” with the goal of making dance more accessible and less of an elitist art form. Are you contributing to this concept, and are you on the quest to find new audiences for ballet?
AC: I don’t think ballet is dead. Any kind of art form without passion is dead. When you see a dancer opening themselves up to the audience with full passion and desire, it is overwhelming and moving.
Recently, I’ve heard that Ballet Masters and coaches are telling dancers to do it a little bit less and not give too much, which I don’tunderstand. Many focus on technique instead of artistry, which shouldn’t be the case. The focus needs to be on the artistry of ballet. I know that people might say what are you talking about, you are a very technical dancer, but I never focus on technique. I always focused on keeping my face alive and sharing my emotions, I relied on my technical background to do the rest.
We are living in an era where television, music and the movies are more outrageous, so you can’t just tone the arts down. The arts must keep up with all of entertainment. Ballet has an advantage as it has the element of human connection. That’s why dance is so different from other entertainment, there is a personal connection, but that connection has to exist otherwise ballet is dead.
What were some of your favorite/most important roles as a dancer and have you taught them to some of your company members?
AC: I don’t like to have favorites because I am closing myself off to many other possibilities. There are certain roles that I really enjoyed dancing, for example, Prodigal Son. Last season it was a great feeling to work with the dancers to get them to step-outside themselves and share the deep and raw kind of feeling that role demands.
I am looking forward to doing Don Quixote this season, but at the same time I’m looking forward to ballet’s I’ve danced like DGV: Danse á Grande Vitesse. To be able to pass along my knowledge and to help them with the extremely hard pas de deux in DGV is exciting. This season, I will also be spending a lot of time with our dancers working on For Four. It is a great feeling for me to be able to share my first-hand knowledge and experience with the dancers.
How are the audiences different in Spain than in America? Are they more or less reserved?
AC: The audiences are actually very similar. Here in American and in Philadelphia specifically, the only thing I noticed is that people think that going to the ballet is like going to the opera, in that you can’t interrupt with applause in the middle of a variation. For example, if a dancer does a great turn that you aren’t supposed to clap like you wouldn’t in the middle of an aria. In Spain and even at American Ballet Theater, the audience is okay with interrupting to show their admiration. Therefore, I think this is more in the arts in Philadelphia because there hasn’t been a big tradition of performing big full length ballets, so the audience isn’t used to clapping in the middle of a ballet.
What career would you have chosen if you could not have been a dancer?
AC: I probably would have done something in acting. I might also have been a contractor because I love building and doing house renovation.
Do you have one moment in your career that you remember most fondly?
AC: There are a lot of beautiful moments that I remember clearly throughout my career. I remember the first time I danced with American Ballet Theater, the day that I won the gold medal at the competition in Paris, the day I retired from American Ballet Theater. But there have also been performances with my former Company in Spain, dancing Soleá with my sister across the world, as well small performances that stay in my mind. For example, we danced in my mom’s town where all of my aunts and uncles came to see me.
I remember every single performance I’ve ever done.
How old were you when you started to dance? What do you think of the training now?
AC: I think I started dancing at the age of two, but I didn’t start studying ballet until I was seven or eight. I was a little late starting, but I was very flexible and was already turning. Different schools teach different styles of ballet. The different schools try to fight for what is right and wrong. It doesn’t matter what school you come from and the technique you learned, there are certain positions that are always right. If you have the clean basics, dancers can be ready for anything.
How has social media affected a dancer’s status and what is required of them?
AC: Social media can help or damage a dancer. If a dancer is overexposed, people could tire of what they are constantly seeing. You have to try to find a balance that doesn’t burn you out, but exposes your talent. I think social media is important. Your career is the same as anything else in life, the more you are out there and people get to see you the better off you are. Social media allows the dancers to share what they want about themselves. However, it is best to come to the theater to see and connect with the dancers on stage, thus getting to know the dancers on a more personal level.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
AC: Being surrounded by the people I love and who care about me - my family, including my two dogs and my friends is my perfect happiness. Everything else comes and goes, but family will always be there
What is your greatest indulgence?
AC: Chocolate, any kind of sweets and shopping are my indulgences.
What do you most value in your friends?
AC: Dance is inside of them. Everyone has a way of expressing and communicating with their bodies. Classical dance, ballet, is an organized way to express feelings between human beings. People shouldn’t be afraid that they don’t understand ballet. It isn’t meant to be understood, it is meant to be enjoyed.