A full-length ballet is “like a Broadway show,” according to Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Angel Corella.
It’s generally a big, splashy production with elaborate sets and costumes, familiar music, and a story that’s known or easy to follow. People are eager to buy tickets.
That’s why Corella has been rechoreographing full-length ballets, which he performed as a dancer countless times with companies all over the world. He knows what works and what he likes.
It’s also why he is bringing back Don Quixote to open the season Oct. 10 at the Academy of Music. Don Q, as it’s known, was the first ballet Corella took on in 2016, his second season leading Pennsylvania Ballet.
Corella is also presenting five world premieres this season: three by choreographers new to the company in a November program, a new full-length La Bayadère that he is recreating in March, and a new Matthew Neenan piece in April.
He’s also been chosen for a 2019 Dance Magazine Award, one of five given this year to recipients whom Dance editor Jennifer Stahl called “the living legends of our field." Stahl described Corella as “one of the most dynamic dancers in American Ballet Theatre’s history" and a “reinvigorating” force at Pennsylvania Ballet.
In an interview at the company’s studios on North Broad Street, Corella said he wants to build the company’s international reputation. He’d like to bring Pennsylvania Ballet to his native Spain, and he went to China in July both to judge the Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition and make connections for a future tour.
He sees the company touring closer to home, too. “We call ourselves Pennsylvania Ballet, but we don’t go around Pennsylvania at all," he said. "There’s a lot of great theaters in the state that we could go to.”
Corella has also set out to acquire more “productions” — costumes and sets for the ballets the company dances. First up are the sets for Don Quixote, which Pennsylvania Ballet rented from the San Diego Opera in 2016. They were built for about $1 million, but the ballet recently purchased them for about the same as the rental rate of $60,000.
“That’s one of the things that I’m trying, to create a repertoire that we can always pull out of storage and and put on stage,” Corella said.
When not in use, the newly acquired Don Q sets will be housed with productions the ballet already owns for Nutcracker, Rodeo, and Fancy Free in a hangar near Philadelphia International Airport.
The hangar also houses the Pennsylvania Ballet’s 24-foot Nutcracker Christmas tree, now being rebuilt and redecorated, at a cost of about $100,000, after its old mechanical works gave up the ghost last December.
This season’s new full-length story ballet, La Bayadère, was a controversial choice when it was announced because previous productions of the 1877 Petipa ballet have often included stereotyped caricatures of India’s people and culture. As recently as 2007, the Bolshoi Ballet was dancing parts of La Bayadère in blackface.
Corella said he has hired a consultant who specializes in cultural sensitivity in the arts to make sure his La Bayadère next spring maintains its classical magic without offending or sending the wrong message.
And there are more full-length story ballets to come. Corella said his wish list for future seasons includes The Merry Widow, Alice in Wonderland, The Snow Maiden, Coppélia, La Sylphide, and Raymonda — either with someone else’s choreography or his own reworkings.
“I think every I can sing every note” to the scores of many full-length ballets," Corella said, adding the he likes to sing the ballets when he and music director and conductor Beatrice Jona Affron are arranging music for upcoming productions.
Also on the horizon in the next couple years are expansions to the ballet’s North Broad Street campus, with six additional studios and a black-box theater where Corella hopes to host community programs.
“I think that is very important that people [in Philadelphia] feel proud that this is their company, the same way that they’re proud about the opera or the orchestra or the museums,” he said.
"I keep thinking, ‘This is not my company. I’m directing the company, but it does not belong to me.’ … It’s ultimately the city’s company.”
Pennsylvania Ballet in Don Quixote
Oct. 10-13 and Oct. 17-20, at the Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets: $35-$159. Information: 215-893-1999 or paballet.org