In June of this year, the Pennsylvania Ballet streamed its Front Row Festival, a free offering of recent performances from the company’s archives. The festival gave us a welcome escape and showed that the arts could still lift our spirits, even in digital form. Now, artistic director Angel Corella again dips into the archives for Director’s Choice, a free digital series of contemporary ballets including choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s Ghost Stories (2017) and Andrea Miller’s Evenings (2018) November 12 through 18, and Helen Pickett’s Tilt (2017) and Matthew Neenan’s Deco (2019) November 19 through 25.
“I wanted to do ballets that were created on us,” Corella told me. “I wanted to be more personal. That’s why it is called Director’s Choice.” The ballets were all created during his tenure as artistic director, so they show his artistic taste in choreography, and he wanted to showcase the dancers currently with the company.
The pieces highlight a variety of styles and moods. Speaking via Zoom from his home in Barcelona, Corella said that what brings people back is guessing what the artistic director will do next. He wanted a program that balanced drama with technical skill, visually striking images with a bit of humor. “For example, Ghost Stories is very visual," Corella said. "It has a lot of really beautiful, striking moments with the lights [by lighting designer Brad Fields]. Tilt is more energetic and more on the edge—it’s that rapidness; it keeps you almost on a tilted floor.” Evening is more personal, and Deco is colorful and full of humor.
Dancing like you mean it
I had favorite moments of my own in these pieces, and it turned out that Corella did, too. “Each one of the ballets has a moment, a section that sort of opened my eyes,” he said. In Ghost Stories, he said, "there is a gorgeous pas de deux between Sterling [Baca] and Oksana [Maslova].... That is breathtaking. They actually have performed it at many galas around the world.”
Evenings has two special moments Corella will watch for. “There is that beautiful solo by Albert [Gordon], but there is also that tender moment with So Jung [Shin],” he said. In the pre-performance talk, Corella recalls, Shin described that moment as “almost like she wanted to die and someone was catching her, and someone was helping her, and that feeling of an angel that is behind you that is protecting you, which is a really beautiful metaphor.”
Power in all sizes
Performances streaming November 19 through 25 bring energy and fun. In Tilt, Corella said, two solos keep him on the edge: “The energy is incredible. One is by Jermel [Johnson]. He is wearing this long vest coat in red, and the other one is done by Nayara Lopes. The two of them are so powerful in their physicality. Jermel takes off from nowhere and he does this jump with his legs open, but you don’t know where he gets the energy to do that. And that solo of Nayara, where her energy keeps going, going, going, and she just stops and runs off the stage. It’s unbelievable.”
In Deco, he will be watching for “a playful pas de deux between Katie Manger and Jackie Callahan. “The two of them are completely different dancers; one is taller and the other is shorter and very petite," Corella said. "They are so different, and yet they play with each other so well that it makes it a very colorful moment.”
The world can see you streaming
The streaming performances are available for free: viewers just sign up for access. Corella wanted to engage with the audience in these days of darkened theaters and so far, that has worked well. The Front Row Festival attracted a worldwide audience as well as local fans. “I think we had something like 7,000 connections from other countries," Corella said. "I think that, especially in the ballet world, a lot of people are hearing about Pennsylvania Ballet, but they are not able to see what we are doing because of the distance.” He expects the November archival series will again bring audiences from around the world together from their far-flung homes.
New performances of ballets like Swan Lake and Cinderella will have to wait, but, Corella says they are brainstorming works they can create with small pods of dancers. Ultimately those will have a ticket price attached to pay for the costs of the productions. But for now we can enjoy the company for free, from anywhere in the world.
I’ll be checking out Corella’s favorite moments and revisiting my own. I expect the audience will do the same: discover the moments that move or amaze them.
What, When, Where, and Accessibility:
The Pennsylvania Ballet will present Director’s Choice available digitally from November 12 through 25. Installments launch at 7:30pm EST on November 12 and November 19. For free access, register at paballet.org.
Image Description 1: Two dancers in mid-step, with soft light casting accents on them against a darkened background.
Image Description 2: A solo dancer poses, light coming from above them, with the rest of the stage mostly dark.