8 Questions With Angel Corella

The artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet on The Nutcracker, diversity in dance, and why he’s not Simon Cowell.


Photo by Claudia Gavin

This is your first full season with the Pennsylvania Ballet, and it’s packed with works that are either entirely new or new to the company. The exception is Balanchine’s Nutcracker. Is any part of you tempted to rip it up and try something new? No, not at all. The Nutcracker is such a big part of Christmas for everyone, not only for the Philly audience, but for everyone in the world. People are so familiar with it. Nothing new has been thought about.

Why do you think The Nutcracker has been embraced so widely? Once we get to the holidays, people try to embrace what Christmas is. I remember as a child being in front of the fire, being with the family and getting presents. The Nutcracker, you automatically think of the snow, of family, of Christmas. You go to the theater and experience all of that in an hour and a half.

Your task is to revitalize the Pennsylvania Ballet artistically, though. How do you find the right balance of traditional favorites with new, challenging works? You try to have a little bit for everyone. There’s a big audience out there that enjoys The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, the Balanchine stuff. But there’s also a new audience — we’re seeing a lot of younger people who come to the theater when we do choreography that’s new and avant-garde. You have to have a balance for everyone. When I put a program together, I try to have some of each.

You’re from Spain. You’ve danced all over the world. You’re a former principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. You’re known as one of the preeminent dance talents of your generation. So why did you come to Philly? Why not? I’m very familiar with the company. I used to visit every weekend from New York, because my sister was with the company a long time ago. It’s a big responsibility; you have the lives and the careers of all these dancers in your hands. And Philadelphia is a beautiful city — you have everything a city can offer, and in 20 minutes you can be someplace serene.

You’ve talked a lot about the need to have a culturally diverse dance company. Why is that? A lot of people have the wrong idea that dance is only for certain people, a certain ethnicity, only certain people can go to the theater. Dance is part of us as human beings. People who don’t come to the theater normally, we want to see them at Pennsylvania Ballet. We have to start to break the preconceived notion that dance is only for certain people.

You’re used to bridging the high-low divide — you were a judge on the Spanish version of Dancing With the Stars, and one of the ballet’s featured works this season is centered on the music of the White Stripes. If you don’t try to reach out in many ways to many different kinds of audiences, you could die, and we don’t want that. It doesn’t mean you have to do bad things or cheesy things or compromise your artistic vision. I did a commercial for Rolex, I went on Sesame Street — they were a lot of fun, they made me popular, and then more people went to see me dance.

Speaking of being a TV judge: Are you the Simon Cowell of Spain? No, actually, I was extremely nice! They wanted me to be like that at the beginning, but that’s not my personality. It’s going to be difficult for me to be nasty.

Any chance we’ll see you dance? No. Unfortunately, I hung up my shoes in January of this year. It was really tough for me. In Spain, I had a company and did everything. It wasn’t fair to the dancers, wasn’t fair to me. At the end of the day, it’s a full-time job to be an artistic director. We have really wonderful dancers in the company — we don’t need me.

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker runs December 11-31. For more information and to buy tickets, go here.

Published as “We Want Answers” in the December 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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