The Barcelona Ballet returned to New York's City Center on Tuesday night with a new name, a new cohesiveness in style, new choreography, and the treasured brilliant energy of its star director, Angel Corella. This is not to say that there weren't a few problems that need to be discussed. But overall, the company, formerly known as Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon, gave a performance that showed that its artistic growth and development continue from its root structure up through the branches to the blossoming ends of its limbs.
The program opened with what was for Haglund the highlight of the evening, Clark Tippet's Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 which was created in 1987. The City Center stage is too small to display the grandness of Tippet's designs but it's large enough to make clear that the future lost a major choreographic voice when Tippet died in 1992 from AIDS at the age of 37. He really knew how to build a choreographic phrase to bring out the beauty and drama of the music.
The Barcelona Ballet dancers soared in the Bruch and displayed tidy, beautifully curved feet and legs along with unaffected and graceful port de bras. If Angel Corella can achieve this degree of harmony and style among a collection of dancers trained in a multitude of styles from schools all over the world, imagine the greatness that is on the horizon for this company when it begins producing dancers in its own school which will soon open in Figueres, Spain.
Yuka Iseda, substituting for Kazuko Omon, with Kirill Radev displayed sublime elegance and perfect coordination in the Aqua PdD. Ana Calderon and Aaron Robison in the Red PdD tugged and pulled and challenged each other with quick changes of direction and (intentionally) off-balance maneuvers. Carmen Corella and Dayron Vera in the Blue PdD were the calm and collected lovers simply enjoying the moment. Momoko Hirata and Alejandro Virelles rose to the challenges of the allegro in the Pink PdD. Virelles pulled off the successive double pirouettes with the changing arm positions with ease. All of the soloists were wonderful, but the outstanding corps de ballet was the main attraction in this ballet. A few opening night nerves were in play that included an unintentional sit-down and some difficult adjustments to the small stage, but the piece taken as a whole looked very, very pretty. The women's tutus, originally designed by Dain Marcus, were simply lovely for their layers of color and the way in which the backs were slightly longer and fuller than the fronts which gave them a trailing effect when the dancers moved.
The middle piece on last night's program was Christopher Wheeldon's For 4 which he made for the Kings of the Dance in 2006. It was not a good programming choice for a couple of reasons. First, it followed the much better crafted Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 by Tippet, and it showed Wheeldon's lack of focus and his reliance on arbitrary quirks as filler when his creativity got stuck. Second, the original interpreters (Corella, Ethan Stiefel, Johan Kobborg, and Nikolay Tsiskaridze) carried the weak choreography on their famous backs and bolstered it with their huge well-known stage personalities and their abilities to wrestle any movement to the mat for a win. The four gentlemen in the performance last night, who were unknown to most of us, couldn't make For 4 fly despite their obvious technical talents. But it certainly wasn't their fault.
The world premiere of Pálpito concluded the program. Choreographed by Flamenco specialists Angel Rojas & Carlos Rodriquez, who direct the Nuevo Ballet Espanol, to a commissioned musical and vocal composition by Hector Gonzalez, the dance incorporated different Spanish dance styles into the balletic vocabulary. From the synopsis in the Playbill:
"The story of Pálpito is about the main character who is trying to free himself from the strings that have him bound to his former role of a dancer and that keep him from advancing into the mature role in his spirit with tranquility and peace, allowing his heart to beat with a new force and inspiration preparing him to discover new horizons."
Vicente Solar's inventive and extremely colorful costumes combined elements of traditional Spanish Flamenco designs with balletic tutus to good effect. The central character, danced by Corella, transitioned throughout the piece from formal black and white attire with ruffled shirt to gradually discarding the ruffles and confining jacket to finally emerge renewed in traditional Spanish costume. His choreography, intense and contemporary, was framed by light on the stage floor. Sometimes he followed the straight path of the beam. Sometimes he reeled on a grid of light beneath his feet. Finally, he arrived rested, relieved, and at peace on his knees in a circle of light. The lighting design on the floor is important to moving the story along and may not have been in full view by those in the most forward section of the orchestra.
Perhaps Pálpito was a little self-indulgent. It's not a piece that the company could present without Angel. It is his story. It is his inner torment about giving up what has brought him our love and admiration so that he can create something greater and bigger - for us. Okay, go ahead, but let us have our grief.
Haglund was so happy to see Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 again that he's going back tonight and Friday. It's like finding lost treasure. And to see it in such fine condition after all these years – the company deserves our thanks and a black Spanish lace Pump Bump Award for the dancers who breathed such life into it: