It is an inspiring display of grace, precision, teamwork, and athleticism. It is more: for those who would allow themselves to be swept along with it, it is an emotional, even cathartic experience. I’m speaking, naturally, of baseball.
It is nothing I could have anticipated, but my experience of the Corella Ballet Castilla y León’s debut Spoleto performance became strangely entwined with the Gamecocks progress against Georgia thanks to the gentleman seated behind me in the Galliard. Before the performance he spoke, loudly, of nothing else. With the game continuously updating on his iPhone, during each intermission he let everyone in ear shot know how the Gamecocks were getting on. Clearly, Mr. Baseball was serving out a sentence for some relationship misstep, but in defense of every other red-blooded male whose wife/girlfriend/dominatrix may have dragged them to see the “belly danglers” he made it plain that his attention would remain staunchly, defiantly elsewhere. Pity really, because he missed a very satisfying evening full of grace, precision, and athleticism unfolding right in front of him.
Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 led off the evening. It’s an interesting choice since it does so little to reassure us that Corella is well on its way to establishing a reputation based on its own merits rather than Ángel Corella’s well-deserved star power. While Bruch’s music simmers along moodily at first, working its way toward a flowering springtime verve, Clark Tippet’s choreography here is fussy and ungainly compared to the rest of the evening’s offerings. The unadorned stage and straightforward illumination don’t help. Much like a vacationer’s holiday snapshot, the work feels tepid, self-evident, and there is no great delight in it save for Momoko Hirata who shimmers into the foreground with her eye-grabbing spirit, ease, and elegance. Hirata’s performance effectively laid the groundwork for optimism about what lay ahead.
Raising those nascent hopes a further notch, Christopher Wheeldon’s For 4 gave four male dancers an opportunity to engage in a bit of manly athletic competition. Dayron Vera, Fernando Bufalá, Yevgen Uzlenkov, and Aaron Robison each emerged from the silhouetted ensemble opening and flung himself into the task of dancing solo against his background lighting, which was color-coordinated to their costumes: red, green, cordovan, and blue. Abounding in complex jumps and demonstrating acres of base-stealing attitude, Wheeldon’s choreography manages to pull off a showy piece that is both competitively vigorous and collaborative, a showcase of aerobic endurance and nimble control.
The competitiveness remains, but the mood shifts entirely, when the curtain rises on Ángel Corella and his sister Carmen’s intense pas de deux, Soleá. Seated on wooden stools in a single spotlight glow, the pair appear as a single complex form. The music, by Rubén Lebaniegos, gradually sets them off on their own excursions, but that first image of their togetherness lingers and gives their interaction a charming glow of sibling rivalry. Famed flamenco dancer María Pagés has created a stunning balletic tribute, not so much to her own dance form but in a curious way to the Spanish soul, the heart of a culture tied inextricably to familial alliances above all else.
In Soleá, Ángel displays no-holds-barred passion and spinning pyrotechnics. Carmen is a dazzling counter to him, suggesting flamenco forms with gestures and hints, smiling at and taunting her brother with the best, most profoundly exasperating, sisterly aplomb.
Soleá is a show-stopper. All eight or so minutes of it. The standing ovation the Corellas received for their achievement was nearly as long.
Mr. Wheeldon’s DGV (Danse à Grande Vitesse) has been called the best closing ballet of the last few decades. Corella Ballet take full advantage of the work. Michael Nyman’s music kicks things into high gear from the start — a sort of Philip Glass Koyaanisqatsi on steroids, relentlessly driving the ensemble to the peak of their powers. Dramatic lighting and a stage set of flat metallic forms suggesting tempest-tossed stones add to the thrilling effect. DGV is the piece that, at last, gives the corps de ballet something juicy to reach toward, and they rise to the occasion decisively.
Sadly for Mr. Baseball, the Gamecocks eventually went down in defeat. The Corella Ballet, however, struggled from an uneven start to conclude with an impeccable triumph.