By JOCELYN NOVECK, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — In the ballet world, they call him the charming one. In fact, the word "charming" is used so often to describe Angel Corella, American Ballet Theatre's dashing Spanish star, that it seems to have become part of his name.
But anyone seeking to disprove the thesis that Corella, now 36, is eternally charming will be sorely disappointed by sitting down with him. His famously sunny smile is in ready supply. He speaks with abundant generosity of the many ballerinas he's partnered. And he seems to be in awe of the 17-year ABT career that he's been privileged to have — and is about to end.
On Thursday, in what will surely be the emotional high point of the New York ballet season, Corella will dance one final time with ABT — in "Swan Lake" — before returning to Spain to focus full-time on the company he founded and directs, Barcelona Ballet.
He will continue to dance, for now, with his own company. But Thursday will also be the last time, he says, that he dances a full-length ballet.
What? No more Romeos, no more Siegfrieds in "Swan Lake," Albrechts in "Giselle," or Basilios in "Don Quixote"?
"I think it's good to close a chapter, and not leave it vague," Corella says, relaxing in between rehearsals in a lounge at the Metropolitan Opera House. "I think it's better to say this is it."
Looking at Corella in his jeans and hoodie, it's hard to imagine he's 36. Dancers always seem to look younger than their age, and Corella has an especially boyish demeanor. But the body doesn't lie, and 36 is only four years from 40, by which point many have moved on, either by choice or necessity.
For Corella, there was also the realization that he simply needed to choose between two lives. For several years he'd been splitting his time between Spain, where he was building a classical ballet company in a country that had none, and New York, where ABT runs a demanding eight-week spring season.
Though he'd been given fewer ABT roles in the last few years, a fact that frustrated his fans, he'd been scheduled for a fuller season this spring. But a few months ago, on a trip to Tbilisi, Georgia, to celebrate the anniversary of the renowned ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, he had a few days to think.
"I realized how stressed I was," he says. "It really is impossible to do it all. I said, 'Well, it's time.'"
Corella says he initially thought he'd simply dance the upcoming "Swan Lake," and call it a day — retiring without announcement or fanfare. But ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie wouldn't accept that. "We have to have a celebration," Corella says McKenzie told him.
The fact that Corella thought he could slip away in the night indicates he might not be completely aware of the huge affection ABT audiences have for him. But he rushes to assure otherwise. "That's what I will miss the most," Corella says. "Every time I go onstage, I feel like I get a huge hug from the crowd."
Corella grew up outside Madrid, the only boy in the family, and endured the taunts of classmates in his youth — even rocks were thrown at him — because of his love for dance. (Spain is a country that reveres soccer players, he says, often at the expense of everything else.)
It was one of his three sisters, Carmen, whom he credits with dragging him out of bed at dawn to ballet classes (she is now a principal dancer at Barcelona Ballet.) The young Angel soon began winning awards, and his gold medal at a major Paris contest in 1994 led to an offer to join ABT at the age of 19 as a soloist. He arrived speaking almost no English.
"I just smiled when people said things to me in English," Corella laughs. "So everybody said I had this eternal smile. Actually, I am really very intense."
The rapport between Corella and the New York audience was immediate. Only 10 months later, he was promoted to principal, an instant star due to his extraordinary leaps and especially his stunning turns.
"I've always been very lucky with the turning," Corella says bashfully of the multiple pirouettes he can whip off — at one point in his life, as many as 30 revolutions in one turn. "We used to have contests with the other dancers, but they never let me participate," he chuckles.