Pennsylvania Ballet and the role of artistic director in dance

So recently in the news is the story of Pennsylvania Ballet and their new Artistic director Angel Corella. He has fired (let’s not quibble about dancers on contract, in ballet there is an assumption that dancers will stay with their contracted company) 12 artists. Five more are walking or being pushed. This is nearly half of a company that only employs 43 dance artists. If a dancer is not having their contract renewed, it is vital to give them notice earlier rather than later so the artist can look for a new position before seasons start.


Corella, according to The Inquirer has used the following excuses for his actions:


The reasons Corella gave that contracts were not renewed included: Dancers were not chosen by choreographers for new ballets; dancers were able to dance only certain styles; dancers had trouble adjusting to the new leadership; dancers were of a height that made partnering a challenge.



“It’s always a difficult process for everyone” when contracts are not renewed, Corella said. “It’s the hardest part of being an artistic director.”



As an artistic director you are hired to come in and work with an existing company, if it isn’t something that you have built from scratch you are stepping into a pre-existing culture of work and relationships. Artistic Directors must realize that the people there are there because they also love the company and what they do. They are brought in for change and growth, and to bring fresh eyes to the work and company.


Corella’s statements about the “process” ring quite shallow when you look at the actual size of the company and the ease with which his ‘issues’ could have been addressed.


First off “dancers were not chosen by choreographers.” Well, as a freelance choreographer I have to work with who is in the room. I should have access to the entire company but that is what I have to work with. If you cannot rise to that challenge what are you doing in the business? Do you think every company is ABT? If your work has been picked up by a company you think cannot do the work you have the right to say no, if you don’t it is your job to get the work out of these artists. Grow up and do what you have been commissioned to do.


Next “dancers weren’t able to dance a certain style and the heights made partnering a challenge.” You are also a dancer and now the head of a company. Your challenge is to bring the company to a new level. I understand the ballet aesthetic varies from school to school, but this is the company you have been brought into. These dancers have been faithful to the company and deserve a chance to learn as artists and, more importantly, these are the artists you knew were there when you took the contract.


This reminds me of the debacle of Oakland Ballet. That company grew out of nothing. The dancers body shapes were not the standard, which allowed them to do early work such as The Green Table and Nijinsky’s Rights of Spring with an authenticity few companies, could claim. The dancers were incredibly loyal and it was their efforts when the company was in turmoil that kept the company afloat. The new artistic director was a disaster. She caused rifts and fired many of the dancers who had helped keep the company alive. She tanked the company in a very short time, and the board did nothing to stop her. She tried and failed to make Oakland Ballet something it was never intended to be and in so doing destroyed what she was brought in to shepherd. That company is on the mend, but has a great way to go.


Ballet companies are little fiefdoms. Most look on the dancer as a cog not an artist unless they are principals and even then it’s not always a win for the artist. The companies and boards refer to them as artists when it suits them. The culture of ballet is old, hierarchical, and hasn’t really changed in quite some time. Smaller boutique troupes, can be run quite differently. Ballet receives major funding from the state and big grants organizations and donors in the US and elsewhere. This means money is always there on some level to explore and reshape, not just hack and slash. The problem with this type of funding of tradition is no one is building tutu ballets anymore. The vast majority of new choreographers are rooted in contemporary movement. The dancer/artist today must be versatile, adaptable, and versed in as many styles as possible. This occurs far more in European companies than in the US.


Audiences for this medium are also changing. Many don’t want to be danced at, they want to feel a connection to the performer or at least be acknowledged by the performer. How ballet is performed is in need of change. It is this change that Mr. Corella could have addressed with his new company. He could have challenged them to step up to the task at hand. This appears to have been too difficult for him, so like a little tyrant he is destroying to build something out of the ashes.


“Angel’s stock answer is that certain people haven’t been on board,”



Your job as artistic director is to communicate as best you can and to build with the artists in the room. The days of Balanchine are hopefully on their way out. You build in his way at your peril. Opera and ballet are striving to remain relevant in an arts world that sees them more and more as performance that is for a certain class of people. Ballet has several advantages: there are training facilities everywhere, there is a huge sense of romance connected to it, and the skill required is high. Ballet dancers are seen as athletes, but should also be seen as artists with a voice. The same is true of opera but opera does not have the same saturation as dance.


Some amazing things are happening in both of these mediums, but change is hard and challenging. The money that these industries rely on is being challenged by more contemporary art forms that speak to a 21st century generation.


I wish the dancers/artist leaving the company all the best and I hope that Mr. Corella will learn something from this, but I doubt it.


0 Responses to “Pennsylvania Ballet and the role of artistic director in dance”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

RSS notes 4 stage blog

  • What does it mean to be represented accurately in Theatre and Film? May 27, 2018
    There have been a great many voices raised about the current trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody, which is in reality a biopic of Freddie Mercury. Without him there would be no band called Queen. Here is the official description from 20th Century Fox:   “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their […]
  • Boys in the band revival February 5, 2018
    The announcement of the revival of Boys in the Band featuring Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells. Co-stars will include Robin de Jesus, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins. Joe Mantello at the Booth Theatre will direct the 50th anniversary production. In the YouTube video promo bellow they speak of the work […]
  • Working in the world of Faire December 5, 2017
    Currently I’m working at the Great Dickens Faire in San Francisco CA. I am with the beverage department and will understudy Fred, Scrooge’s nephew in a Christmas Carol. Before I talk about what I have learned let’s look at a little history. My introduction to Faire came in the seventh grade when we had a […]
  • The State of Queer Film September 5, 2017
    The history of queer film and characters can be traced back to and before the Haze code as we have seen in the documentary The Celluloid Closet. In many ways we have progressed from these early portrayals and in many ways we have not.   Television has actually led the way with how we see […]
  • Interpretation July 10, 2017
        So I have responded to two blogs on this subject and felt like I needed to hash things out on my own turf. The subject has come up regarding several different productions and plays that I have either seen or directed myself. First I want to address two Shakespeare works that Jeremy Cole […]

%d bloggers like this: