Connect to share and comment

Lifting Spanish ballet

Angel Corella's ballet company prepares for its New York debut.

Corella Ballet performers Carmen Corella, Iain Mackay and Adiarys Almeida perform in "VII." (Courtesy of Corella Ballet)

MADRID, Spain — Angel Corella lights up the stage with soaring leaps and dazzling turns, his joyful dancing and radiant smile among the wonders of modern day ballet But to become a star, he left his native Spain in 1995 to join American Ballet Theater in New York. Classical ballet has no roots in Spain and every attempt to start a top-flight ballet company had always foundered.

Unwilling to accept the status quo, in 2001 Corella set up the Fundacion Angel Corella to lay the groundwork for a ballet school and a company in Spain. He wanted new generations of Spanish dancers to enjoy the opportunities that were denied him. The Corella Ballet Castilla y Leon made its debut in Madrid in September 2008. Thanks to the support of the Castilla y Leon regional government, which contributes 60 percent of the budget, the 45-member company now calls home the Royal Palace of La Granja, near Segovia and only an hour from Madrid. The royal family donated the palace to the foundation and a school will soon take up quarters in a new building on the grounds. Situated on the edge of a lake near the mountains, the palace resembles Versailles. “It couldn’t be more idyllic for my dancers,” said Corella, “ it looks like the setting for `Swan Lake.’”

Since its debut, the troupe has toured Spain, drawing excited crowds in every city. The Spanish may not have a ballet tradition, but they know Corella and came out to see what the world has been talking about for 15 years. But for him, the test would always be New York, his second home. He brings the company to the City Center March 17-20, with a varied and demanding repertory, including his first ballet “String Sextet,” inspired by Tchaikovsky’s "Souvenir of Florence," Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV,” a meditation on travel set to Michael Nyman’s “MGV : Musique à Grande Vitesse Musique,” and a flamenco-inspired piece by Maria Pages. “I vowed when I was young,” he said, “that I would do this. It took a crazy amount of work but here we are and I’m incredibly proud. I feel like I am bringing my child home to show my parents.”

With choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s recent departure from Morphoses, the company he founded in 2006, and the severe economic times that have hit even the most successful modern dance and ballet companies, Corella needed a lot of courage to bring his dream to fruition. “I have huge admiration for Angel,” said Wheeldon, “especially to begin on such a large scale. He’s filling an enormous void, for there are so many talented Spanish dancers. It helps that unlike American-based companies, he won government support.”