Entertainment » Theatre

Pennsylvania Ballet's Angel Corella Reconfigures 'Le Corsaire'

by Lewis Whittington
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Mar 7, 2017

Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Angel Corella rides his motorbike to his company studios off of Broad St. in Philadelphia on a blustery March day as whips off his helmet, his wave of thick black hair dancing wild in the wind. He is all smiles even though there are countless details for him to attend to as presents his lavish production of the company's first staging of "Le Corsaire" ("The Pirate").

Since he was named director in 2014-15, Corella he has programmed seasons or repertory favorites and newly commissioned work. Corella has also initiated sweeping changes behind the scenes both artistically and commercially, to rebrand the 54-year old ballet company. It has tumultuous time for the company, with many longtime members of the company leaving because their contracts were not renewed, or deciding to leave for on their own. Corella has brought in many new dancers to fill out the roster. He says that it has been tough for the organization, but audiences are "responding positively" to energy and artistry they are seeing onstage.

On this day, Corella is completely focused on "Corsaire" and talked about the production while in the studio rehearsing key scenes with Principal Dancers Lillian DiPiazza, Arian Molina Soca, Sterling Baca, Jermel Johnson, Mayara Pineiro and Corps member Etienne Diaz running through their most technically demanding scenes.

Based on a lusty poem by Lord Byron, it is a story of love among pirates, rogues and skullduggery in a tale of adventure, romance and swashbuckling adventure. Adolphe Adams' score has some of the most recognizable ballet music, but also is a mashup of other composers as well. Corella worked with Pennsylvania Ballet conductor Beatrice Jona Affron on adjustments, both choreographically and musically "to tell the story in a clearer way."

He is attending to every detail of "Corsaire" -- from the score to the costumes to streamlining the story and has adapted the ballet while maintaining its 1899 Imperial Ballet classicism by choreographer Marius Petipa that requires sustained technical artistry for both male and female dancers.

Corella also tries to make it more dynamic to contemporary audiences by moving some key scenes around from the original "where everything was happening in the first act, so I have spread out those iconic dance scenes and moments over the three acts," he explained. "Those moments of elaborate pantomime, for instance, I have taken out and made more 2017." He made similar adjustments last spring with his version of "Don Quixote" which was also a new ballet for the company and proved a huge hit.

But the ability to rotate several principals, soloists and corps members in the lead and feature character roles as a way to display the energy, technical and artistic strengths of the whole company. Corella himself had the chance to do just with "Le Corsaire" that at American Ballet Theatre when he was 21 that was for him a career defining experience and launched his illustrious international career.

"I actually played three roles," Corella recalled while the dancers were taking five running through some of the most rigorous scenes. "The first night I danced the mean pirate, the second night Ali, the slave, and the third, Medora's love Conrad. The night I did Ali, it was like a rock concert. The audience went crazy and it took me by surprise."

Ali is one of the most demanding solos in all of classical ballet, demanding fluid technical artistry and expression. Corella remembers dancing the role as being "...a blast. It's one of those roles where you can't think, you just have to go with full energy. Like a lion released from a cage. That's what I've tried to tell the dancers for our production. You just have to go with the duality of letting go but controlling all that power and force. You are just in space jumping and turning, a feeling of euphoria. Partly because the music is so powerful, it lifts you up... channels the way a dancer can express themselves."

All of the lead roles have built in chances for dancers to show both their technical and artistic mettle. Citing the company's roster of male dancers like Baca, Soca, Johnson and longtime PB dancers Ian Hussey and James Ihde and many new dancers among the corps de ballet, Corella said it "reminds me of when we did 'Corsaire' at American Ballet Theatre because we had all of these amazing male dancers and I feel we have a very similar situation at Pennsylvania Ballet."

And with "Corsaire," Corella says, it is also a dazzling ballet for ballerinas "For the women it's also a really demanding ballet, especially for the lead part of Medora, requiring incredible pointe work and technique." He adds in lengthy scenes. A lot of different steps. A lot of footwork, pirouettes and jumps on pointe from 5th position." Along with DiPiazza, Pineiro, Amy Aldridge, Yuka Iseda and Oksana Maslova will be switching in the lead role.

Corella is rotating five casts to dance the lead roles and in addition to the full corps de ballet, is casting all of the dancers from the apprentice company PBII, students from the company's school and "extras" in the crowd scenes. In fact at one performance will include Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. Corella and Kenney were both giving speeches at the Chamber of Commerce and the mayor told him he would be seeing "Corsaire" one night as a crowd extra performance, and the mayor, Corella said, jumped at the opportunity.

Pennsylvania Ballet's production of "Le Corsaire" runs March 9-19 at the Academy of Music, Broad & Locust St. Philadelphia, for information visit www.paballet.org or www.kimmelcenter.org

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.


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