To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, the Kimmel Center went behind-the-scenes with Pennsylvania Ballet Artistic Director Angel Corella to discuss his favorite career moments, his Spanish heritage, and his vision for the future of the Ballet!
At what age did you realize dance/ballet was what you wanted to do in life? Was it a slow progression or can you recall a particular “aha-moment” with dance?
My mom always said I danced like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while I had a pacifier in my mouth. Since I started dancing at an early age, there wasn’t a turning point where I decided I wanted to be a dancer; I’ve always loved dance and used it as a way to express myself.
You have danced around the world for presidents, the Queen, and other heads of state. What is your single, favorite moment as a dancer and why?
My first performance as a dancer with American Ballet Theater (ABT) and my last performance with my Company in Spain are my favorite moments. The time in between was filled with amazing moments as well, but looking back they almost blur together like a movie. Whereas the first time I danced at ABT and my last performance are what I remember most vividly. I danced with ABT for the first time when I was 19 years old; I remember the curtain going up and seeing 3,000 people in the audience and being in awe of how many people were in the theater. It felt as though I was floating through that performance, feeling the energy in the theater for the first time combined with the adrenaline of performing made for a very special moment.
My last performance was a year and a half ago in Spain that I dedicated to my family, especially my mom. She’s always been supportive and passionate about my dream of dance, so to be able to perform for the last time in front of her was very special.
You are the founder of the first ballet company in your homeland in Spain. In Spain, you are considered a national hero. There’s even a wax statue of you in the museum in Madrid. You are also the first Spaniard to become a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater. In light of it being Hispanic Heritage Month, describe how it feels to hold these distinctions?
I am very proud to be Hispanic and I am very proud to be a dancer, but I am saddened that only a handful of Latin countries really support dance and the arts. I’m a well-known dancer in Spain, but I never actually had a career there because they are one of many Latin countries that are unable to support the arts. This was extremely evident to me when I tried to create a ballet company in Spain. We had some of the best dancers and amazing performances but with no support from the Government or funding it was impossible for the Company to continue.
As Artistic Director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, what is your vision for the company and where do you see it in the next ten years?
Pennsylvania Ballet is already one of the most talented companies in America and in the world. I want to continue expanding our reach through our repertoire, working with amazing choreographers, and having the best dancers. I would like to do more shows not just at the Academy of Music, but also on tour so people around the world can get to know Pennsylvania Ballet. In addition, I would like the company to be involved in more festivals, with other arts organizations in the city beyond dance, and to create an integrated arts community. We want everyone to feel proud and want to be a part of the arts in Philadelphia.
Earlier this year, you infused a hefty dose of Spanish influence into the Pennsylvania Ballet’s Don Quixote. You even went shopping in Barcelona for costumes and props to make the production appear more authentic. Will audiences experience any Spanish influences in PA Ballet performances this season?
No, we were testing the water last season to see how the audience would react to Don Quixote, and the audience’s reaction was incredible. We will be going in a similar direction of full-length ballets that portray the same energy, but they won’t have a Spanish influence. We saw that the audience liked the energy of Don Quixote, which is why we selected Le Corsaire for this season; it’s a similar structure. There are a lot of beautiful ballets that have a Hispanic theme, but I think it’s good to experience different heritages. Diversity in programming is good for everyone. You’ll see our repertoire is as diverse as our dancers.
Early on you faced a lot of obstacles in dance. Being a male dancer in Spain you were bullied and teased, and at a very young age you had to leave your homeland and travel overseas to pursue your dreams, which certainly had its own sets of challenges. What advice would you give to a young dancer – particularly someone of Hispanic or Latino descent – who may also face obstacles pursuing their passion?
I was bullied as a child, but I didn’t let it affect my love of dance. Part of this bullying stemmed from my peers feeling that a male ballet dancer jumps around in a tutu, when the truth is male dancers have to be extremely strong so they can effortlessly dance while often holding a female in the air. It can be tough at times, but if you really have a passion for what you are doing, don’t let anyone stop you from doing it.