At the end of last night's performance of Swan Lake, the customary retirement ceremony of confetti, flowers, and heartfelt congratulations spilled onto the stage where Angel Corella danced his final performance for ABT and, according to him, his final full length ballet. The audience refused to stop adoring him at the top of its lungs for about a half hour. He kept coming back out in front of the curtain to be pelted with flowers and cheers while beaming at the audience, waving, and clutching his heart in thanks. How can anyone be sad around this guy's smile? It's kind of hard.
Angel's colleagues formally saluted him with individual bouquets and big horseshoes made of flowers. They each walked out, one at a time, and made a presentation. Herrera, Murphy, Kent, Reyes, Dvorovenko, Beloserkovsky, Stearns, Stiefel, Cornejo, Hallberg, Gomes – authentic ABT principals – plus Jose Manuel Carreno, Angel's sister, Carmen, and artistic staff all thanked him and congratulated him. When Stiefel walked out to do his turn, the images on the stage sort of coalesced into a single image of the future of ballet instead of its recent past. Corella, Stiefel, and a few of the others - these are the people who we know will be among those guiding our beloved art form for the next few decades in their positions as directors, coaches and teachers. While we may not see Corella and Stiefel dance again after this season, we will, probably for the rest of our lives, continue to feel their impact. Corella's intensity, Stiefel's dynamic will be cultivated in others - in fact, we've already seen it happen. In a sense, it's time for Act II.
From a technical standpoint, everyone gets "a pass mark" for last night's performance. Emotions were strong; concentration, not always. Paloma Herrera as Odette/Odile was a basket case from her first step onto the stage. She soldiered through each variation and PdD when it was apparent that she just wanted to stop, throw her arms around Angel, and hold onto their partnership a little longer. Her Odette was soulful and her bourree exit at the end of Act II under the spotlight was very dramatic but her arms were not especially fluid. Her shapes in the White Swan PdD and the Act IV PdD were beautiful, bird-like; those PdDs have become the best parts of Paloma's Swan Lakes. Her lapses of form in the Black Swan PdD were a little surprising; in the fouettes she held her arms and fists like she was marking the turns in a class. She opted out of the attitude turn that usually follows the double pirouette and ends in plie. Instead she tried to crank out an initial triple pirouette, plie, and then pull in for another double pirouette. Haglund has seen her try this before and has always been disappointed with her choices. Occasionally throughout the night, the lighting caught her teary eyes. At the first bows, she finally lost her composure and had to drop her head.
The Act I Maypole Dance took on increased significance as the corps men threw off double tours to the knee with their arms saluting Corella who was perched atop the shoulders of two of them. Their salutes could not have felt more real. No doubt every one of them realized how he has benefited from working with Corella and how he might benefit from working for him, and there were those on stage who were grateful for having had the opportunity to do so. As the corps danced in its lines in Act I, Corella watched intently and approvingly as Alexandra Basmagy confidently executed her double pirouettes in unison with the other women - she was an inaugural member of the Corella Ballet in 2008. Alexandre Hammoudi had the opportunity to work for him as well. And in a most generous act for which Corella will be forever loved, he chose Sarah Lane as his Odette/Odile when his Barcelona Ballet premiered at el Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona. Last evening, she was the Spanish princess for his final performance. When the Corella Ballet premiered its production of Swan Lake in 2010, Angel chose the great Herman Cornejo to dance Siegfried, a role denied him by the contemptible littleness of Kevin McKenzie. Thankfully we have video that proves just how great a Siegfried Cornejo is, and shows just how wrong and little McKenzie continues to be.
Last evening's Benno was Gennadi Saviliev who joined ABT a few months after Corella and who, himself, is retiring this year. All night long, the two of them gave lesson after lesson on the importance, value, and delivery of mime and how you simply cannot have Swan Lake without it. Haglund hopes that when Saviliev leaves the stage, he doesn't stray far.
Corella gave a complete and nuanced theatrical performance. He so knows how to use that handsome face of his to convey the at-the-crossroads-of-life-with-my-crossbow predicament or anything else he wants to convey. It's been his ability from Day 1, as it was with Bocca. As it was with Baryshnikov. As it was with Gomes. These guys didn't plead that they needed 3, 4, or 5 years as principals in order to mature and cultivate their theater skills.
Angel's technical performance last night reflected that he had been robbed of the stage time he deserved and needed in recent ABT seasons. His energy was high but the past crimes against him took their toll on his elevation and form. But overall, he showed that he was still a cut above a number of non-retiring principals and a certain aged guest artist. The speed and acute sharpness with which he once danced the roles of Ali and the Bronze Idol will remain in our memories forever - standards by which all future comers will be measured. Angel sold an awfully lot of tickets and filled an awfully lot of theaters for Kevin McKenzie, and he deserved better treatment these past few years.
The end to the performance saw Odette and Siegfried each drop off the end of the cliff with quiet resignation. It seemed especially tragic – sadly realistic.
A note of thanks to ABT for engaging the NYCB's Arturo Delmoni as the concert master for Swan Lake so that no one in the audience was driven to commit a Bantcho Bantchevsky off the balcony during the violin solos. Do you think ABT could acknowledge Mr. Delmoni with a slip in the Playbill since he's not listed in the program? Apparently not.
The H.H. Pump Bump First Position Award, Christian Louboutin's tribute to Spanish style, is bestowed upon Angel Corella with deep thanks for 17 years of greatness.