CORELLA BALLET CASTILLA LEON in Wheeldon’s Danse a Grand Vitesse

Ángel Corella’s youthful classical company, CORELLA BALLET CASTILLA y LEON opened the new season at the Music Center with a generous mixed bill of four ballets. Two of them lean heavily on Mr. Corella’s connection with ABT, another is borrowed from The Royal Ballet and the last, a special duo–that, more than a pas de deux–created especially for Mr. Corella and his sister, Carmen Corella. Corella is hard at work bringing classical dance to Spain via his home grown company designed to give classical dancers there performance options and careers. The company now has a substantial repertory of shorter ballets as well as full length versions of  Swan Lake and La Bayadère. In name, CORELLA BALLET CASTILLA y LEON seems to offer something Spanish. Perhaps in time it will grow in the direction of its hispanidad but for now, it seems to be taking its cues from ABT with it’s mix of classics and assorted choreographers from the not too distant past and others, like Christopher Wheeldon, very much of the here and now.

The one piece on the program that did take you briefly to Spain was María Pagés‘, Solea,which is no doubt what brings many to the theater to see Mr. Corella and his company. They perform it regularly with the repertory evenings. And while the choreography aims to find some sense of shared ethos between ballet and flamenco mostly we end up feelinghow disparate those two worlds are. The piece starts out promisingly, with some of the usual flamenco signals, somber lighting, two straight-backed chairs for the dancers, and powerful down pools of lighting.  There is a long introduction backed by the guitar playing of Rubén Lebaniegos. Solea is one of the iconic forms of flamenco. In its poetry it aims to dig out gritty feelings of loss, sorrow and pain. That vision of things unfortunately vanishes quickly as the music settles into its rhythmic compas and is replaced by a joyful back and forth between Corella and his sister. It all looks vaguely like flamenco but fails to ignite with the personal intensity and fury inherent in a soleá.  Along the way we get some virtuosic dancing from Mr. Corella who burns down the house on several occasions with his turns and traveling jumps. The Corellas are both very likeable, generous dancers who also bring an obvious mutual affection to their performances. The dancing concluded with a steady blast of applause. In the end, the jury was still out on what a true marriage of flamenco and ballet might actually look like. I suspect that digging much deeper is the key. Mr. Lebaniegos was also the composer for Soleá’s score. The recorded performance included a small backing ensemble with singing by Ana Ramón and percussion by Chema Uriarte. The piece was lit by Luis Perdiguero.

The evening opened with Clark Tippet’s richly imagined neo classical, Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. It was premiered by ABT in 1987. Tippet is a choreographer of exceptional musicality. His detailed sense of the interplay between orchestra and the solo violin makes you see the music and he has an uncanny ability to dovetail the comings and goings of the corps and the ballet’s four pairs of partners. In spite of the fact that the company is powered by a fleet of classical dancers they looked nervous and slightly uncomfortable in this choreography. The men in their soloist roles at times struggled to deliver the airy effortlessness of Tippet’s romantic vision. The ballet is full of complex partnering and individual dancing that taxes everyone. The men as  a group looked terrific in an extended ensemble section in the first movement.  Mariá Jose Sales and Sergei Diyachkov were particularly fine covering the demanding partnering of the second movement.  Her deep pliés, sweeping port de bras and averted gaze played effectively in the heartfelt and somber Adagio. Also excellent, especially in the final Allegro energico were Cristina Casa and Fernando Bufalá. Casa’s traveling variation was delightful and full of calm virtuosity. The costumes by Dain Marcus were spectacular and provided the romantic rich-hued sensibility needed to dress a big neo-classical ballet. Marring things throughout, however, was the excruciatingly loud and distorted music. No amount of volume can replace a live orchestra and a ballet like this one can tend to feel adrift without real music. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the frequent applause during the dancing proved less of a distraction. The orchestra and soloist in the Bruch Concerto were unidentified in the program notes.

Stanton Welch’s Clear is set for eight dancers, seven men and one woman.  It was created as a response to the Trade Tower attacks and was developed in conjunction with ABT. Clear uses chamber music by Bach, the Concerto for Violin and Oboe (c minor) and two other concerto movements to create a five-movement suite. All the music and performances were unidentified and untitled in the program. The program opened with a miscue in the recorded music, which was quickly covered. Welch’s contemporary ballet idiom works well with these concertos. Much of the movement begins and ends with the dancer’s backs in full view. It is as if the dancing is imagined from the point of view of a second upstage audience. I found it a stretch to see Welch’s self-identified point of view: an homage to family and love. And while the partnering with the lone woman comes across as touching and deeply sympathetic the dancing is more easily seen as an abstract expression of connection.

Welch sets up situations that, in the end, feel incomplete and perhaps that is his intention. His use of a pasted together score leaves the ending feeling wanting and the physical forces, unbalanced. The woman remains under represented in the mix. What is arresting is Welch’s movement itself. It is easy to like his turns with the dragging foot, finishing in fifth position. The isolations in the torso, scooping arms and the men moving in a phalanx are also effective. The slow movement–Duo, danced by Aaron Robison and Jonathan Díaz–is a sinuous dialogue that echoes in independent counterpoint the conversation between the oboe and violin. They are finally joined by Carmen Corella to conclude the section. Dayron Vera and Carmen Corella are featured as the Principle Couple. Vera, a Cuban trained dancer, is rough edged but emotional; Corella projects a cooler demeanor. In this performance I felt mostly her distance from the men. The section titled Trio offered the cleanest ensemble dancing in the piece. The dancers were Yevgen Uzlenkov, Toby Mallit and Fernando Bufalá. Bufalá especially was remarkable for his lofty jumps and a coolness that suited the music. The flesh-toned costumes by Michael Kors were simple and helped give the dancers a sense of quiet anonymity. The recorded music was aggravatingly loud.

Wheeldon’s ballet DGV: Danse á Grand Vitesse, which concluded the evening is a huge piece packed with dancers and movement. The ballet is set to MGV: Musique á Grande Vitesse (1993) by Michael Nyman and was commissioned for the French high-speed rail line. The choreography was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 2006.  The set for DGV is a kind of industrial landscape with the stage stripped bare to the back wall. A scrim of metallic looking sheeting creates a barrier through which the dancers enter. The casting is oddly similar to the Bruch Concerto in that a corps of dancers is pitted against a solo group of four pairs of partners. But Wheeldon is decidedly in the modern ballet Euro Zone here with exaggerated and eccentric movement that never lets up.

I liked this minimalist music very much. It is a large orchestral score full to the brim with rhythmic excitement and but I found its reflection in the choreography verging on the exhausting, if only because there was so much of it. This is apparently a train from which there is no disembarking. It is impressive as an ensemble piece and you have to admire a company that can manage the refinements of the Bruch Concerto and the torque driven movement of DGV in the same evening. The women looked hot and powerful in tiered leotards, toe shoes and bare legs. The style riffed on a kind of sexy action figure look. Jean-Marc Puissant was responsible for both the sets and costumes. Jenifer Tipon designed the lighting. The musical performance of MGV was not identified in the program.

 

In a minimalist piece you expect repetition, of course, and in some instances, as in a section where the four couples rush toward the audience and the men return upstage carrying their partners, you are swept up into the repeated movement it in a delightful sort of way. At other times the action feels labored and running low on ideas. DGV has several sections. One section is danced in silence. The music resumes for a finale which barely seems to fit on the stage. Dayron Vera and Carmen Corella were powerful as one of the featured couples as were Cristina Casa and Fernando Bufalá. Casa showed both her strength and a daring sense of partnering.

 

The applause was generous for both DGV and for Mr. Corella, who took a final bow with his company.  He has done a remarkable job creating a new company that offers so much. Spain, in the midst of tough times, has managed a winning bet with its support for  Corella Ballet  Castilla y Leon.

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