Many Charleston performers leave town at some point or other, typically heading to larger cities in pursuit of a dream. But a great number of them return to the Lowcountry, feeling a sense of obligation to support the art scene that fostered their talent. Hometown loyalty is not unique to Charleston — similar sensibilities are evident across the globe, particularly in the case of internationally acclaimed ballet dancer Ángel Corella.
In 1995, Corella left his native Spain, which had no classical ballet company, at the age of 19 to pursue a career as a dancer. Far away from home, he found great success serving as a longtime principal with the American Ballet Theatre and performing with some of the world's most renowned companies including the Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, and New York City Ballet. But Corella felt that same pull toward his home, and in 2008, more than a decade after leaving, he returned to Madrid to found the country's sole classical ballet company, Corella Ballet.
"It isn't easy to go to a different country and sign a contract to dance with a company. A lot of people here were finishing their training and didn't have a company to dance with," Corella says. "I thought it was my duty as a dancer and as an artist that was successful in his career to try to change the situation of the country of Spain."
Corella Ballet has been popular since its inception, attracting dancers from across the country. "It's been a big boon — everyone is talking about it," he says.
The company now has 45 members and more than 24 works in its repertoire, premiering two classical productions — La Bayadère and Swan Lake — in addition to three world premiere productions: String Sextet, Soleá, and Epimetheus. The popularity of the company is most evident during performances. Corella says, "The theaters are packed and full of very enthusiastic audiences."
In mid-May, the company embarked on an American tour, stopping in New Orleans and Seattle before arriving in Charleston for a three-night stint at Spoleto Festival USA.
The company is performing several pieces for Spoleto audiences, including DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, which was created specifically for Britain's Royal Ballet by internationally renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Corella Ballet is the only other company that has received permission to perform the work. The title translates as "high speed dance" and was inspired by the bullet train that travels from Milan to Paris.
Corella himself will also perform during the evening, joined onstage by his sister Carmen for a pas de deux entitled Soleá. Created specifically for the pair by famed flamenco choreographer María Pagés, the piece is a fusion of flamenco and classical ballet. Its choreography explores the connection between the different styles. "When people leave the theater after seeing it, they do so with a big smile on their faces," he says.
Though Corella and his dancers have been performing around the world, the company fulfills its founder's personal mission of building the arts in his homeland. "It's important to support classical music, painting, anything that comes from our history," Corella says. "You need the base of the house to continue with the roof. Without the base of the house, everything falls apart. In Spain, people were trying to run before they could walk."
His greatest source of pride, however, is the knowledge that Spain now has a blossoming classical ballet scene of its own. "We all had to wait for companies from across the world to come to the big cities in Spain," he says. But now that his company exists, he adds, "They don't have to go to London or New York anymore."