Dancers around the country are shocked at big news in Pennsylvania. Highly renowned ballet company Pennsylvania Ballet will lose 17 of its 43 dancers by the start of next season, marking one of the biggest changes in the company’s 53 years.
Several weeks ago, Pennsylvania Ballet’s Artistic Director Ángel Corella announced that he will be letting go of 12 dancers from the current company by choosing not to renew their annual contract for the 2016-2017 season. Additionally, 7 dancers decided to leave the company, either for retirement or to find jobs elsewhere. However, it is far more complicated than simply old age or wanting to find new work.
Corella assumed the position of Artistic Director of Pennsylvania Ballet at the beginning of the 2014-2015 season. Before taking the job, Corella danced with American Ballet Theatre for 17 years and guested with companies including The Royal Ballet, The Kirov Ballet, and the New York City Ballet.
Due to rules of the dancer’s union, the Artistic Director was required to spend a full season with the company before renewing or terminating contracts. Since he took the job in 2014, the beginning of this season marked his second year with the company. At his first opportunity, Corella made major changes.
In total, Corella chose not to renew contracts of 12 dancers from all ranks of the company, which also lead to 7 dancers resigning. Many dancers have expressed reservations about the changes Corella is making. In addition to drastically altering the dancers, the artistic director has also been accused of destroying the legacy and traditions that the company was built on. Often referred to as the sister Balanchine company, Pennsylvania Ballet has been performing Balanchine works since the beginning. Although dancers are concerned about Corella’s changes to the repertory, he assured the public that Balanchine pieces will still be a main portion of the company’s performances.
When asked about his reasoning for the termination of twelve contracts, Corella described the hostility he has experienced in his time as artistic director. Citing examples of crossed arms and inattentiveness during rehearsal, he claims that dancers who did not accept the company’s changes were asked to leave. However, some of the company members do not agree. In an interview with the Pennsylvania Inquirer, soloist Evelyn Kocak described Corella’s actions as unjust. “Knowing how short a ballet career is, and how difficult it is to get a job elsewhere,” she explained, “everyone was professional about the changes [Corella made].” Evelyn was among the twelve dancers who’s contracts were not renewed.
This is currently a major topic in the ballet world, and many non-dancers are acknowledging the situation as well. Although change is necessary for the evolvement of any company, Corella’s actions seem almost malicious and abrupt. It is as if he came in with the intention of creating an entirely new company instead of bringing a new viewpoint to the traditional group. I am looking forward to seeing where these dancers’ careers will take them next as they leave the Pennsylvania Ballet and begin a new chapter in other companies or retirement.