Growing up in Madrid, Angel Corella was just one of countless students subjected to reading “Don Quixote” at a young, uninterested age.
“It’s almost trauma for all the kids because it’s such a long book,” Corella, now the Pennsylvania Ballet ’s artistic director, recalled last week during a break from rehearsals.
“The teacher would read aloud and then call on someone to continue, so you had to be following the reading or he’d give you a zero. So it was very stressful, and it’s a novel that most of us know by heart. If you ask any Spaniard, I’m sure that they’ll be able to recite the beginning of ‘Don Quixote.’”
Choreographer Marius Petipa’s ballet adaptation has long since eclipsed the Cervantes novel in Corella’s experience. He’s performed the piece countless times as principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and as a guest artist with elite ballet companies around the world. Now he brings “Don Quixote” to the Pennsylvania Ballet for the first time in a new adaptation that he hopes will bring the flavor of his native Spain to Philly audiences.
“Most of the ballet’s productions are beautiful, but they focus a lot on the dancing,” Corella said. “I wanted to spend time on the costumes and sets to transport everyone that comes to see the ballet, so that when the curtain goes up they actually feel like they’re in a town in Spain. The color of the stones, the color of the costumes, the light that is very different in Spain — I wanted to make sure that it looked as authentic as possible.”
To realize that ambition, Corella spent the summer in Barcelona, riding his Vespa to old shops where he purchased shawls, fans, castanets and headpieces that have become an integral part of the production.
While Corella made his debut as artistic director during the 2014-15 season, this year is the first that he programmed completely in his new position. He used the opportunity to plan what he calls his “dream season,” with “Don Quixote” both a nod to his heritage and a show that he hopes will appeal to a wide-ranging audience.
“It’s a fun story, a comedy, but at the same time there’s a lot of virtuoso dancing. It’s a story about how love conquers all with a lot of great music. It’s actually a better ballet for kids than ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s the perfect ballet for everyone.”