06/19/2008 02:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Angel Corella is Nothing Less than a Contemporary Baryshnikov -- So Why Are People Not Storming the Met?

photo by Pablo Hojas, courtesy of American Ballet Theater

Ballet season is in full swing here in New York and between American Ballet Theater at the Met Opera House and New York City Ballet across Lincoln Plaza in the State Theater, I'm now, like many other balletomanes, in a near permanent state of sugar shock. There are far too many dancers to name who, with their astounding athletics and deeply moving artistry, are responsible for that, but Angel Corella, whom I'm really getting my ecstatic fill of this year, is probably the most so.

I've now seen him as the high-jumping, fast turning servant Ali in Le Corsaire, the romantic Prince Siegfried in the tragic Swan Lake, and the cocky, flirtatious Basilio in the gorgeously Latin-flavored Don Quixote. Whether he's dancing the side-kick or the main character, whether he's flying around the stage in a burst of barrel turns or gazing into the eyes of his ballerina during an impossible-looking fish dive, he completely steals the show. He attains such dizzying height on his huge leaps, and his turns -- both pirouettes and whipping fouettes -- are so rapid that at times he becomes a blur (which I've seen others do with pirouettes, but never fouettes, it being extremely difficult to attain such speed on those). And he combines such bravura moves with razor sharp precision and brilliant expressiveness -- his bending a knee and undulating his body up and down, genie-like, during his Corsaire pirouettes, his landing a turning jump on one knee then putting a hand to his hip the other tossed dramatically back, matador-like, in Don Q. It's unbelievable anyone could move like this, you think as you're watching. There's got to be some trick; there's got to be someone in back pulling strings to which he's connected.

But it's not only these big virtuosity-driven classical-ballet roles that make him spellbinding. Even in softer roles like Jerome Robbins' Other Dances, a sweet minimalist duet to music made by an onstage pianist, or Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite, an elegantly understated ballroom-style series of duets and solos, he dazzles with his soulfulness, his playful phrasing and his ever so subtle yet tantalizing charm. When I saw him dance the Robbins I was sitting in the Family Circle (the mother of all opera house nosebleed sections) and when, before beginning, he smiled at the pianist, at Julie Kent his partner, and then out at the audience, it looked like he was looking right at me, the same way it appeared one night out on the crowded Plaza when I saw him standing around in a tux chatting while awaiting an opening night gala and he shined his handsome face right on me. Of course it's ludicrous to think he could see so far away in the Met, or that on the Plaza he'd choose to smile at me. But such a connection to the audience, such an ability to reach each member and make them feel special is what Anna Deavere Smith calls Presence, a necessity, indelible as it is, for being a star. And star he is; he's one of ABT's only men who'll often be pelted with bouquets during curtain call.

photo by MIRA, Tchiakovsky Pas De Deux, courtesy of ABT
"On my GOD, he's just like Baryshnikov, "I swear," enthused a woman in the cocktail line during the Swan Lake intermission. "He is; it's just like seeing Misha all over again," exclaimed her friend. "I just don't get ... this," she then said sadly, extending her arm out in reference to the low turnout that night. I'm very unfortunate in not having been in New York during the Baryshnikov era but I'm positive that there could never have been anyone better than Corella. As for why people are not flocking to the ballet right now as they did in Baryshnikov's day, I have absolutely no idea. It confounds me, honestly. People have no idea what they're missing.

ABT"s New York season runs until July 12th. Then the company will tour Japan and Korea before returning stateside. If you're in New York or one of the cities the company tours, try not to miss this marvel of a man, or any of ABT's other excellent dancers -- the princely, poetic David Hallberg; the ravishingly larger than life Veronika Part; and my longtime favorite, the warmhearted Brazilian, always dramatic, always empathetically human, Marcelo Gomes. These are the greatest in the world right now, no exaggeration.