Justin Peck, Liam Scarlett, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon: They're among the hottest young choreographers in ballet today. And Pennsylvania Ballet will dance their works and more next year in a blockbuster-packed season, artistic director Angel Corella announced Monday.
This is the sort of world-class programming that dance fans anticipated when Corella was hired in the fall.
"I was incredibly lucky to have danced with all these companies around the world," he said in a recent interview, naming American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet, La Scala, the Australian Ballet, and others. "I was able to see all these choreographers in the first place.
"I would like to have the best I've seen out there" come to Philadelphia, he said, "and the ones the audiences react the best to. Because, let's face it, I'm not creating this season just for me." He also noted a desire to have programming that supports his dancers' artistic development.
"Angel knows a lot of these people, and he's been working in such a range of repertory," executive director David Gray said of the list of choreographers. (Gray's interim appointment was made permanent March 5.) "He kind of wants to make something of a statement of what's out there."
But Corella had only six months to put together next year's program, and choreographers are often booked two years out. So he chose the people he would like to hire in a year or two to make a new ballet, and asked to use their signature pieces.
The results are a breathtaking array of work in a season designed to impress - a Matthew Neenan world premiere, a North American premiere, seven company premieres, and six company favorites. Seven of the new ballets are signature works from some of the hottest choreographers working today.
The lineup includes the company premiere of McGregor's Chroma, made for the Royal Ballet; Nacho Duato's Arenal, created for Nederlands Dans Theater; and Peck's Chutes and Ladders, made for Miami City Ballet.
Wheeldon created several works for Pennsylvania Ballet, including Swan Lake, performed earlier this month. The company is getting two more: DGV, created for the Royal Ballet and nominated for an Olivier Award, and For Four, created for four of the world's top dancers - including Corella. Modern dance choreographer Trisha Brown's O Zlozny/O Composite was created for the Paris Opera Ballet.
Corella stresses that he is not a choreographer, but he is planning to strip Don Quixote down to its original Petipa choreography and then add a more authentic Spanish flair for what is being billed as a company premiere.
Liam Scarlett's Asphodel Meadows, also created for the Royal Ballet, will be a North American premiere. Poulenc's music is described as a dialogue between two pianos, and the dance mirrors that.
The season will also include four signature Balanchine ballets: Serenade, Four Temperaments, Concerto Barocco, and, of course, Nutcracker. It will reprise Jerome Robbins' fun Opus Jazz, a ballet in sneakers. And it will revive Adagio Hammerklavier, created in 1973 for the Dutch National Ballet and set to Beethoven.
"They're world-class choreographers," Gray said of the lineup. "We are world-class, but we just happen to have a local address. There's no reason we can't be world-class. We are going to be able to perform in any level in the world."
In order to pique interest beyond Philadelphia, Corella favored ballets that have not been seen on the East Coast of the United States. If New Yorkers want to see a particular piece, they will have to come 100 miles south.
"If you don't blow them away in the theater, they don't tend to come back," Gray said of the audience. His view of the company is that "everything we do should relate to the dream of dance," whether it's audiences enveloped in the dream of what's on stage, dancers getting to dance dream ballets, or children dreaming of dancing.
With that in mind, a new children's ballet was commissioned for Pennsylvania Ballet II to dance. Former BalletX dancer Colby Damon will be setting a Jungle Book ballet on the young dancers.
How is all this funded?
"By doing a lot of fund-raising," Corella said. "I put on a few pounds already by having a million dinners and a million lunches."
He said he was already programming years out, thinking that if a world premiere was planned for 2017, the company should start fund-raising now.
Gray noted that, even with the new ballets, 2015-16 will cost about the same as the average season - about $12.5 million to $13 million. Corella, he noted, knows how to stretch a dollar, after running the Barcelona Ballet on a shoestring budget.
"When we were first talking, I tried to explain that the organization is not financially strong, and he said, 'If you don't have money, you can do amazing things. You go to the junk yard, you find cups, you spray them silver, and suddenly you have a chalice.' "
It's next season when Corella will really put his mark on the company. The 2014-15 season was programmed before he arrived. But he made changes to the season opener, and the dancers themselves have been changing, as he coaches the ones he inherited and three new ones: soloist Oksana Maslova from Ukraine, and corps dancers Mayara Pineiro from Cuba and Russell Ducker from England. He plans to continue hiring new dancers and guest artists both locally and internationally.
"It's a new era," Corella said. "We're trying to bring all the greatest choreographers out there, the best dancers, and to offer to the world the best the company can be doing."