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Corella Ballet Brings Unique Flair to Seattle

Written by Steve Ha

As the hindmost dance ensemble to perform as a part of the UW World Series, Corella Ballet Castilla y León, under the artistic direction of American Ballet Theater superstar Ángel Corella, put on display a scintillating program of classical and contemporary ballet for their opening night at Meany Hall.  Bearing the weight of responsibility as Spain’s sole classical ballet company, the Corella Ballet is still in its developing stages having only been established in 2008, with thirty-five dancers currently on tour—though the talent of each company member is beyond the expectations of similarly sized companies.  From the principals to corps de ballet, each dancer displayed a refined classical technique and marvelous performance qualities that bode well for the future of classical ballet in Spain.

Opening the mixed repertory program was the most classically oriented work of the quadruple bill, Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto, a ballet originally made for American Ballet Theater that features four principal couples in rich wildflower hues.  The piece began with contrasting solos by Natalia Tapia, whose vivacious dynamism lived up to the mood set by her red tutu, and Kazuko Omori whose soft arm movements aptly expressed the soothing nature of her aqua costume.  When the corps entered, dressed in earth tones and spring green, crossing the stage in soaring overhead lifts, the effect was stunningly radiant and perfectly timed to the sumptuous orchestral melodies.  Woven throughout the choreography were several moments of raw, but artistic athleticism, in particular soloists Fernando Bufalá whose airy leaps were accentuated by his long lines, and Yevgen Uzlenkov who met the challenge of a fiery series of consecutive pirouettes with a deceiving ease.   Stealing the limelight was Momoko Hirata, the darling of the cast dressed in pink, playful and impeccable, delighting the audience with a manège of fleet footed turns and catlike jumps.  The overall aesthetic of Bruch is bright, fresh, and driven by the wind, a perfect blend of familiar ballet imagery but with subtle neoclassical influences.

After the first intermission came For 4, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, one of the most in-demand artists of the current generation.  An all male quartet to music by Franz Schubert, the piece was comprised of dancers Dayron Vera, Fernando Bufalá, Aaron Robison, and Yevgen Uzlenkov in the first cast, each role tempered differently to emphasize a different quality of balletic movement, though the dancers were intertwined in and out of unison phrases, rippling canons, and mirrored symmetries.  Though For 4 is academic at times, Wheeldon has a gift for showing a great sense of clarity in his work, making distinctions between movements that are held, swung, or fluid in nature, in addition to specifications that distinguish each role.  Where one dancer showed an almost rigid style, another unleashed a sense of freedom, in off-kilter movements and by releasing his head and neck in liberated fashion.  One of the prominent highlights of the piece was the panther-like Dayron Vera, dressed befittingly in indigo, carefully placing his feet and oozing through his shoulders and arms while showing a statuesque carriage and a heightened musical sensitivity.
Though Corella Ballet is not intended to be a vehicle for its namesake director, Ángel does perform with the company in a few roles, most notably Soleá, which is in fact exclusively performed by Ángel and his sister Carmen.  A fusion of ballet and flamenco created on the sibling pair by María Pagés, Soleá begins as a simple and yet precocious representation of the relationship between brother and sister, as they alternate resting their heads on the other’s shoulder.  The piece slowly, but deliberately builds in intensity, and saw its apogee when Carmen blazed across the floor on pointe, and Ángel launched into a vortex of turns and bravura steps at lightning speed.  While dancers are most often encouraged to jump as high as possible to give the illusion of suspension midair, making the same step move faster requires a different technique, an extra strength, and dexterity to move it forward through space, something Ángel excels at beyond the limits of comprehension.  Soleá takes full advantage of his mastery of momentum, as if to challenge him to a race to the end.  Neither Carmen nor Ángel disappointed, receiving a well-deserved standing ovation for a superb display of technical fireworks.
The final ballet was another by Wheeldon, perhaps finding a stronger choreographic voice in the sleek and silvery DGV, short for Danse à Grande Vitesse.  Set to Michael Nyman’s MGV: Musique à Grande Vitesse, a work commissioned by the French railway company that built the high-speed train connecting Paris to Lille, DGV finds it strength in varied mechanical rhythms and highly sculpted dance.  Though the score provides no melodic structure, bodylines are crisp and angular, crossing in complex shapes but retaining a clockwork sense of organization.  The constant barrage of fleeting tableaus is perhaps the most miraculous aspect of the piece, creating infinite visual possibilities and ephemeral moments of beauty.  With a backdrop of warped metallic sheets, the effect manages to produce an effect that is both organic and industrial feeling.  As one pas de deux is danced in complete silence the sense of time within the piece is correspondingly warped, though the end of the work is somewhat abrupt while the movement of a handful of dancers on stage linger ever so slightly, leaving the audience with a sense of inconclusiveness and perhaps a little confusion.  However, the visual drama of DGV is undeniable, a hallmark of current trends in contemporary ballet.
With a full spectrum of ballet styles, Corella Ballet’s repertory showcases variety and the necessary talent to adapt to each of those styles with care and integrity.  For information about the company and how to purchase tickets, please check the UW World Series website: