Pennsylvania Ballet Launches Season With Help From Director Angel Corella’s Famous Friends
If Philadelphia has been called New York City’s sixth borough then Pennsylvania Ballet’s rehearsal studio is beginning to feel a lot like Lincoln Center’s annex. Just last week, you could’ve spotted international ballet VIPs Angel Corella, Charles Askegard, Kyra Nichols and Christopher Wheeldon — all walking the halls of the company’s North Broad Street space.
The ballet world may be far flung, but, among its A-listers it appears quite cozy. Corella, Askegard, Nichols and Wheeldon are all friends and colleagues who danced either with both or one of the two major American companies: New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. The company dancers are the lucky beneficiaries of all this artistic firepower imported down from New York.
Thursday launches the first season that the company’s Artistic Director Angel Corella has curated from start to finish. Since Corella was appointed in July 2014, last year was a transitional season with an inherited repertoire from Roy Kaiser, the previous director. Corella has also been busy re-arranging his artistic team. He recently hired Askegard, who danced to great critical acclaim with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as the new ballet master. Nichols, one of George Balanchine’s last muses at New York City Ballet (and the wife of Pennsylvania Ballet’s executive director David Gray), is now leading company classes and rehearsing the Balanchine ballets.
Thursday’s program, titled “Speed and Precision,” features Balanchine’s neo-classical masterpiece “Concerto Barocco” and two pieces the company has never performed until this week: Wheeldon’s thrilling “DGV: Danse a Grande Vitesse,” with music by Michael Nyman, and Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma,” with music by the White Stripes and Joby Talbot.
“‘DGV’ has intricate choreography with lots of movement, thrilling steps and lots of sparks and fireworks on stage,” says Askegard. “The Michael Nyman score is gorgeous, wonderful and driving. The partnering is very difficult, yet subtle. The ballet’s got everything.”
Wheeldon visited the ballet last week to observe how Corella has set his staging, which explores rail travel with a propulsive momentum that conjures up the sensation of great speed, grand vitesse. The Brit took a lot of notes about his work to help Askegard put the polishing touches on the piece after he left. It helps that the two have known each other for more than 15 years and Askegard knows how to get the company dancing cleanly in Wheeldon’s style.
Nichols, too, is putting her expertise to work. Many times during her 33-year tenure at New York City Ballet Nichols danced “Concerto Barocco,” a plotless ballet featuring two female leads representing the violin parts in the Bach work. “I danced the two leads, but never in the corps de ballet,” says Nichols. “I didn’t even realize what wonderful choreography they were performing behind me. This made me appreciate the ballet even more.”
The ballet is a highly technical piece with lots of fast-paced, “near-miss” choreography. “The music is beautiful,” describes Nichols. “Dancing any Balanchine work is just the most incredible thing. It flows so well together and, if it doesn’t flow, you know you must be doing it wrong.”
Corella’s opening program showcases the company’s rich Balanchine tradition and its versatility. “The dancers can go from “Chroma,” which is very modern, bending your body in all ways and then go to “Barocco,” which is classic Balanchine and then tp a Chris Wheeldon piece,” says Nichols. “It’s a big strength that they can change their style and all be so open to that.”
The rest of the season is bursting with “must-see” work, too, including “Asphodel Meadows,” which catapulted the hot, young British choreographer Liam Scarlett to fame in 2010; “Without Words,” by Spaniard Nacho Duato; “Adagio Hammerklavier,” by Dutch choreographer Hans van Manen, who’s described as the “Mondrian of ballet, the Versace of ballet and the Pinter of ballet.” Angel Corella restages the exuberant comic ballet, “Don Quixote,” this spring. He is so enthusiastic about this company premiere that he was hunting down costumes in Spain himself.
“Speed and Precision” runs October 22-25 at the Academy of Music. For more information and tickets, go to paballet.org.