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Barcelona Ballet

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Saw the Barcelona Ballet last night at City Center and felt like I was back in the 1970s watching The Joffrey.. not because the company looked 40 years behind the time (it didn't), but because the air had the same excitement The Joffrey generated then. (I haven't seen the Joffrey recently, maybe they still do).

I was worried, having seen the mixed reviews, but I enjoyed the performance even from the high seats. I will say, though, that I think the last piece will not be easy to get a good video of... the energies and tensions of the performance would not translate easily to the small screen.

The bill seemed designed to answer three questions about the young company:

1. Is this new company competent in traditional ballet?

2. Will the company have lost it's star if Angel Corella retires from performing?

3. Do we really need yet another European company performing generic ballet repertoire?

Clark Tippet's Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 was there to answer the first question. The company was full of young excited energy and presented itself well. I had my doubts watching the asian soloist in the eastern european character moves, because sometimes it came off as chi-chi cute rather than character enticing... but Momoko Hirata won me over with her high energy and personal interpretation. I love when a dancer expresses themselves as well as the choreography, and she and her partner both succeeded here. I would like to support tall dancers when I see them but Corella's sister seemed to move slowly without taking advantage of the tempo to move lyrically... and yet she was my guest's favorite so... it could be one of those personal taste things.

They mounted Christopher Wheeldon's Four 4 which was designed, much like the original Pas de Quatre, as a vehicle for 4 superstar talents. It wasn't as bad as I feared from the reviews, but it was missing it's original talents. Barcelona Ballet is good, but most companies would be hard put to match the originals. I have to preface that I did not see the original and have seen most of those talents only on youtube. Still, they made nice work of it, and I thought Alejandro Virelles might have held up well against the original casting. He just floated and sang through the phrases like a muse launched arrow.

I was dreading Palpito having seen the reviews... but found myself enjoying it. I did not manage to read the description ahead of time, losing patience with the small print in the dim light, but perhaps it was better not to have. I love Flamenco, and this was not it, but it took a great deal of the aesthetics of flamenco (sans footwork) and successfully transposed them to ballet. I found the energy and attack a refreshing aesthetic after the Wheeldon. I have to confess I'm not so sold on what seems to me the non-balletic aesthetic of many recent ballet choreographies... as if it were a total change in ballet's direction than a building, and I find a lot of it kind of gimmicky in a dead end ballet off-shoot kind of way. This Palpito could be said to be the same... gimmicky and non-balletic... but it was fresh and headed in a different direction.... and, importantly, I think: no other company could dance this piece with the validity of Barcelona Ballet... I can't see San Francisco or ABT or the Royal or Paris Opera or Het National or the Russians pulling this off... these dancers "get" the flamenco aesthetic and it rings out that they are Barcelona Ballet and not Generic New European Ballet. It was exciting. It was also, like much flamenco, "over the top" for a post-modern world. We loved it (my guests, the audience around us) and it received a boisterous standing ovation. I asked my 13-year-old if she understood why the audience reaction was so strong for Corella given how few "tricks" he was performing (out in the hinterlands, the kids see "DanceMoms" and such ilk and seem to think star power is about all about acrobatics and contortionism... I wasn't sure if she'd detect stage presence without the flash)... of course, she was blown away... and explained how even doing simple things Corella seemed to have so much more energy. I enjoyed the lighting and the costume effects... at times it was very effective in transforming the space of City Center to a very different dimension.

If this company performs near you, it is worth going to see what a spanish ballet company is. They are different from the rest.

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Thank you Amy. I agree with much of what you said. I just want to add a couple of thoughts

It was in an interesting and enthusiastic audience, much like the Joffrey audiences of old (I remember those $1 days). It didn't seem to be the typical ballet audience.

Corella is a world class dancer who has been a star for a number of years, so he is in a league above the rest of the company at the moment. His focus (as in where he is looking), ability to make and hold shapes long enough to have them register (no matter what the tempo) is certainly a matter of technique and experience. He has a bag of trick to draw from that the other dancers don't have - at least not yet. Seeing the talent that was on the stage I believe that those dancers will develop with his help and be fine when he retires from dancing. Part of the reason I enjoyed the performance was because the dancers looked that they loved being there, and also because I felt that I was seeing the beginning of what could develop into a world class company.

Seeing Clark Tippet's Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 moved me for a number of reasons. IMO it is a good but flawed work that reminded me that it was a big loss to the dance world when Tippet died at the age of 37. He moved groups well, had beautiful partnering moments, used themes that he developed, was musical. The work gets a little too cluttered in places and you can find this or that flaw, but what a shame this choreographic talent never had a chance to fully develop.

By the way - you can see the last movement of this work on youtube with Ashley Tuttle and Ethan Steifel. If you watch closely you can see Angel Corella in the corps.

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Thanks, Amy and Vipa. I've been looking forward to reading the comments of our members, and your posts are a great beginning. You make me wish I had been there.

Thanks, Vipa. For the tip in the video. I'll be looking for Corella.

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Thanks Susan & Vipa,

Tha video made me remember how the first male soloist made me sit up in surprise, more alert to see what they would do next. Perhaps it is the difference between live and canned performance, but I rather think he was better than the ABT dancer in that phrase.

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If you watch closely you can see Angel Corella in the corps.
I think that's Angel Corella in the light blue tunic. He's named in the opening credits so I don't think he is in the corps.

Angel joined ABT as a soloist. He was never in the corps there.

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It's probably off-topic to say this, but I regret very much Clark Tippet's death at such a young age. I've only seen a couple of his ballets, but -- watcing the video of the Bruch, a work I've only seen once -- makes me think: This is someone who could have made a big difference to the future of classical ballet.

The Bruch Concerto should be revived more often, and for the same reason that Corella chose it for his redesigned, renamed company's NYC debut. Also, the technical demands for four couples and a corps seem within the realm of possibility for a number of regional companies.

Perhaps the Ballet Barcelona performances at City Center will give others the idea of presenting this ballet.

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If you watch closely you can see Angel Corella in the corps.
I think that's Angel Corella in the light blue tunic. He's named in the opening credits so I don't think he is in the corps.

Angel joined ABT as a soloist. He was never in the corps there.

Of course - I stand corrected.

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Thanks a lot!!

Taking into account how much Angel and all the troupe are fighting and investing to get this dream come true: Spain having a classical ballet company in such economic situation, they truly deserve worldwide ballet audience interest.

I’m happy to know you came to see them and I’m more than happy to read your comments. Proud of Barcelona Ballet dancers and please, those of you who can, do not miss Swan Lake in Detroit.

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I love Carmen dancing Wheeldon, I think that she is outstanding dancing neoclassical ballets. But I haven’t had the opportunity to see her dancing Swan Lake.

In Tippet’s blue my preferred one is Maria José Sales, she is so lyrical… the one I think better understands and transfers the essence of that pdd.

About Swan Lake, I saw different casts at el Liceu and while I enjoyed very much Aaron Robison and Sarah Lane partnered by Momoko Hirata and Ángel Corella, the couple that did me feel without breath was Momoko Hirata with Ángel Corella, I can say they were the best I have ever seen…. And the audience got crazy after the show…

I do not know what the cast will be in Detroit but I hope it is this one with Robison as Rothbard and Virelles or Radev as Benno, other dancers to keep an eye to are Yuka Iseda, Kazuko Omori, Maria José Sales, Cristina Casa, Ana Calderon… and also corps members Jonatan Díaz and Tracy Jones… and of course the great Fernando Bufala but he is recovering from an injury and he can’t dance much yet.

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Yes,I was there all week to see the NYCC performances, and of course promote the existance of the film and need for completion funding. But unlike 2010, I wasn't allowed to screen the trailer (which includes Corella-Barcelona Ballet's 2008 debut performance of "Bruch..." on the outdoor stage at the royal palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso)& performance excerpts in the lobby monitors, but instead was relegated to a 'concession booth' in a corner of the City Center main lobby and either my 9" portable dvd player, or a semi-functioning 15" laptop. But hey, a few people did come over to inquire about Angel's future, or the company's, or the film's (when they wern't asking where the restrooms were) so there was some compensation for my efforts.

Regarding the performances themselves I will say...


This was danced much as I remember, with precision, joy, and enthusiasm. And, if I remember other dancers with more verve in some sections, that's not to say the current group are worse, only phrasing differently. I still think Cristina Casa rules in the Pink--when I first saw her do it in '08-'09, she was put in last minute after Ana Calderon was injured and not only nailed that oh-so-quick menege of sautes-piques-chaines but conveyed the punch & pizazz the role required. At NYCC this time, she danced the Red, and though without Natalia Tapia's amazing extension/flexibility, still flashed across the stage. Ana Calderon, a more elegant, glowing dancer onstage, with a very strong technique and confident stage presence, was also fine in that role. Both Yuka Iseda (Aqua) and Momoko Hiratu (Pink)showcased their strong technique and control.

Regarding the lengthy Blue pdd, I agree with most comments about Carmen: Beautiful, elegant, lovely extensions, and surprising control in some things, however she DID lag behind the music on Tuesday, and overcompensated on Friday (ahead of the phrase)to correct it, before finally settling in and finding the right lyricism and tempo. But no one uses their back and arms like she does--whether classical or contemporary choreography--and that was exquisite. Maria Jose Sales is lighter and more refined--more a diamond, to Carmen's moonstone--but she doesn't have the port te bras Carmen does. However, I do think she is the more quintessential dancer in this pdd.

As others have noted, Aaron Robison and Alejandro Virelles were the standouts among the male casts of this ballet. Aaron's balon and stage presence are always notable (and noticeable), he's tall with long lines and can fill a stage easily with his vitality, energy, and intelligent awareness of technique. Virelles dances beautifully, in some ways reminding me of a young J.M. Carreno for his elegance and control; he's more lyrical than Aaron. But both Kiril Radev (he's a much more assured and stronger dancer than last I saw)and Daryon Vera (mostly partnering Carmen) were comfortable in their roles. Jonathan Diaz did look a little unsure in his pdd with Carmen, but that could be because of nerves, and/or that he was still a corps member partnering a principal and assistant AD of the company.

PS. RE: That YouTube clip of ABT--I believe from an original 1996 PBS telecast--Angel dances the Aqua and was already a principal dancer when this was filmed. (He joined ABT as soloist in April '95 and was promoted to principal in Aug.'96--age 20.)


Was originally created for the 2006 debut of the "Kings of Dance" whose original incarnation included Corella, Stiefel, Kobborg, and Tsiskaridze. At the time, Wheeldon said he didn't want to have a showcase of cliches and pyrotechnics, and he also tried to play against type in some instances. In Barcelona Ballet's version, all the parts changed dancers, except Angel's former role which was danced solely by Aaron Robison until Friday, when it was takn over by Francisco Estevez due to Aaron's injury in Bruch (didn't anyone elso notice the quick change halfway thru the Bruch Red pdd on Friday?)

For the first three nights of For4, Aaron's inexhaustable energy and exhuberance in the 3rd (Brown?)variation reminded me of his boss's. As did his ability to fly through the air with such conviction. (But I missed the graceful fluidity of Angel--who not only connected all the steps--adagio & allegro, but also made them sing, as well as zing.) Francisco Estevez is a more compact dancer, so this variation's phrasing was entirely different when he danced; but more prep time could have made it more relaxed and sure than correct.

Alejandro Virelles (2nd-Green) twice made my jaw drop: Tuesday, he stopped a multiple pirouette exactly facing front & center while STILL REMAINING IN RELEVE. How could he come to a dead stop, with that sort of control of momentum, without putting his heel down?! Or don't I understand the physics of torque enough? He almost did it again on Friday.

What can I say about PALPITO? I generally agree with most of the reviews--though maybe not with the extreme of the New Jersey Ledger. And on a personal note: The beginning and end were VERY much like "Celaje" from 2008, and the middle took more than one viewing (and listening of the words behind the singing) to understand.

Like many, I too found fault with the program's description/translation--something this company has always been prone to. I think they do a transliteration instead of a translation, and usually end up confusing and annoying the English-speaking audience and critics. They can get away with this in Europe, but not here, and unfortunately do not realize this yet, and how it hurts them.

Overall, I thought PALPITO was a loosely strung series of vignettes that (as the program book noted vaguely) delineated Angel's trajectory over the last 4-5 years.

The lighting and costuming was more effective conveying this than the choreography. Angel the dancer (and frustrated angst-driven entrepreneur?) was often isolated and enclosed by bars of light, tangles of light, and within a circle of light--each time breaking free with a mimed determination and, (what may be to me, who has seen it so many times), a pyrotechnic display of bravura steps that still showed his astonishing speed and prowess, but didn't move the plot (however thready) much. However, I did feel the poignancy of his lonely walk across the stage on a 'sidewalk' of light while life and love continued untouched around him as exemplified by the two couples dancing amorous & playful pdds. His predominantly black (with some white) costume also contrasted with his colorful company, and further isolated him.

There was a further change in mood with the darkened stage, black lace female corps, and lanterns--but the staging and music made me think of Paul Taylor's Piazzola work and the short slow pdd between Angel and Momoko Hirata could have been so much more with that music, but wasn't. I'm not sure if Hirata's black-lace dancer was a siren luring him, or compassionate soloist reminding him of his partnering abilities. The fouettes showed her classical abilities, hoorah, but not sure what that did for the plot--unless she was a more sedate Odile/temptress?

Eventually, Angel disappears through the blackness of the backdrop, after a long sigh and backwards glance at the audience, to emerge again in the finale of the program. Now clothed in white, he is welcomed by his affectionate sister and then joins his energized, joyous company of dancers. Hooray for a happy ending. Ok, I get it, but the journey was overlong.

(Most annoying action: Angel's jacket being repeatedly removed in each scene. Once is ok, but 3 times?!! And a quite literal removal of velcro ankle clips--ie. fetters?--was just one more example of excessive literalism.)

In fact, what I did enjoy in this work was the corps. As Amy wrote, they 'got' the Spanish sensibility behind the dances, and they conveyed that conviction quite clearly to the audience. I enjoyed watching those articulate wrists and hands; I enjoyed the hand claps, swirl of the capes, and snap of all those fans. The corps were having fun and so was I. They ladies got to play multiple roles:coquettes--(I kept thinking of the "Kit Kat Lounge" in CABARET, or the women at the 'barre' in SWEET CHARITY), and cheerleaders for their men, and finally dancers in a company. Their costumes were colorful, bright, distinctive, and ever-changing. The men got to tease and play and show off their own abilities in solos interspersed amidst the crowds. It all culminated in a rowsing finale. (Like Celaje, like DGV, like...like...like...) but the audience ate it up and served a complimentary ovation every time.

I also liked the music--especially the strings, and was fascinated by the layering of SFX: percussion, recorded voices counting, calling out steps in french and spanish, whispering, and singing of the hopes and dreams of Angel and his company.

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Not yet. There was a sort of wistful request I received, but I would have needed a longer lead time to prepare, (day of, was rather short notice) and more time & money to negotiate with the NYCC unions. But of course I would be interested to do so if a future opportunity arises.

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