English National Ballet announces Tamara Rojo as its new Artistic Director
This morning the news has been officially released that Royal Ballet Principal dancer Tamara Rojo has been appointed Artistic Director of English National Ballet. Is this the worst-kept secret in ballet ? In part, yes; due to an inadvertently premature tweet from a broadcaster that was picked up by twitterverse bloggers yesterday, and later the same day by someone who decided to break the embargo, and finally by some of the company dancers, but this news probably comes as no surprise to many. Rojo herself has made no secret of her desire to lead a company at some point in her career (she is a month away from 38 years, at her peak artistically and hungry, always hungry for new challenges), and with the top job at The Royal Ballet taken (by the appointment of Kevin O’Hare, following the retirement of Monica Mason at the end of this season after 54 years with the company), and having spent a couple of years dancing with English National Ballet herself, it perhaps seems a logical choice for all parties.
Rojo’s appointment follows the premature departure of English National Ballet’s out-going Artistic Director, Wayne Eagling, announced on 20th February in a statement that said, “English National Ballet announced today that Artistic Director Wayne Eagling will step down at the end of the season on 11 August 2012 as the Company’s Artistic Director. During a tenure of what will be nearly seven years as Artistic Director at English National Ballet, Wayne has developed and enhanced the Company’s artistic standards and attracted new audiences to ballet. Wayne has been responsible for reinvigorating the Company’s repertoire, for introducing new works such as Michael Corder’s The Snow Queen (2007) and David Dawson’s Faun(e) (2009) and for reviving the works of Roland Petit and Serge Lifar. Wayne has been enthusiastic in encouraging the development of new choreographers. Wayne has also introduced his own works to the Company including Resolution (2008) and Men Y Men (2009) and created his hugely successful The Nutcracker (2010) especially for the Company. John Talbot, Chairman, English National Ballet, said “On behalf of the Board of English National Ballet, I would like to thank Wayne Eagling for his outstanding contribution to the Company over the last seven years, a time of tremendous achievement for the Company. We look forward to working with him on many projects in the future.” Wayne Eagling said: “It has been a privilege to work with such a wonderful group of dancers and ballet staff. The quality of performances, variety of repertoire, critical success and the innovative work of the Learning and Outreach programs over the last seven years makes me incredibly proud of English National Ballet.”
Tamara Rojo has been preparing for this role for some years; in 2009 she shadowed Karen Kain, Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Canada (Rojo chose Canada as she was born in Montreal to Spanish parents, who relocated to Spain when she was small), and graduated with Honours in Master of Theatrical Arts and Bachelor of Dance from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid. Rojo has also attended the Dance East retreats for directors.
Rojo’s ballet career began aged 5, when she was captivated by the sound of the piano and the atmosphere of the ballet studio, and continued in Madrid under the tuition of Victor Ullate. Rojo joined Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid company at 16. In 1994 Rojo won the Gold Medal at the Paris International Dance competition and was later invited by panel member Galina Samsova to join Scottish Ballet in 1996. A year later Rojo joined English National Ballet, breaking all records at the London Coliseum dancing Clara from The Nutcracker, and was promoted to Principal shortly afterwards in 1998. In 2000, When Royal Ballet Principal Darcey Bussell was injured and unable to dance, the Artistic Director at the time, Sir Anthony Dowell, invited Rojo to perform Giselle as a guest artist with the company. Rojo later joined The Royal Ballet as a Principal at the beginning of the 2000/01 season and has been there ever since, guesting all over the world.
When I interviewed Rojo a couple of years ago, she told me that her inspirations were “my first teacher, Lola Grande, and Lynn Seymour.” She also advised hard work, travel and looking at things in new ways. She’s been busy with all three.
Making Ballet Stars
So, what can the dancers expect from their new AD ? In our interview yesterday, Rojo told me, “complete commitment. I’m going to be there 24/7 and I will also be dancing so that means that I will be feeling the consequences of my decisions as a dancer, and that will help in terms of realising whether I’ve made the right or the wrong decisions, but also in terms of applying them, in that I’m not doing things that only others have to carry out. So I hope they see that I am truly committed to the company, in the pursuit of excellence, to bring in exciting repertoire, to making stars out of the dancers of the company, to tour internationally and to continue to be an important presence on the UK dance landscape.”
If that sounds quite a handful, Rojo is nothing if not committed. Talking to her is always a conversation par excellence, and she says of her aspirations, “I do go for gold.” But what about the challenges of budget cuts, stodgy repertoire and the worrying loss of both a company Managing Director and Artistic Director that have brought us to this point ? “It’s going to be challenging in terms of the number of demands that are going to made on me, on-stage but also off-stage, and the fact that at the end of the day if I make a mistake, the responsibility is only mine.”
Another of Rojo’s responsibilities will be the perennial and sometimes contentious subjects, often in the news but rarely spoken about by those actively involved in the ballet world which adds a difficult and an unnecessary layer of opacity; for example the standard of British ballet training (good or bad?) and eating disorders, and so I asked Rojo where she stands on these issues since she won’t be able to avoid them. On eating disorders she tells me, “you know, every profession has its difficulties. It’s obvious that in ballet we work with our bodies and that it may be that in some cases it’s taken to an extreme – a personal obsession with the body – but I am still not convinced that that happens more often [in ballet] than in society in general. But if that was to happen of course that has to be dealt with, with care and with all the help that whoever is going through a tough time can get.” On whether or not the standard of ballet training in Britain is up to scratch, Rojo says, “I think that the tax payer has the right to get the best dancers, whoever they might be; from wherever they might come. So that’s what I want. I want to have a company with the most exciting, thrilling dancers on the stage.”
What does she hope to learn in this, her first management role ? “I hope I’m going to learn how to carry out an idea, because we are all full of great ideas and I have really great aspirations.”
Rojo will sever all links with The Royal Ballet, the company she has danced with for more than a decade and where she has been a guest teacher at the school, because at English National Ballet the AD of the company is also AD of the school. “I think that it comes together, which is a good thing because I think both a school and a company have to have a common vision for what kind of dancer you want, because hopefully you want the dancers that go through the school to end up in the company, and so my full-time dedication will be ENB.”
Dancing with challenges
Beyond the evident challenges, I’m keen to know what Rojo is looking forward to. There must be some fun to be had, surely ? “Just working with dancers, I always find it really good. And hopefully making them proud. I want the dancers to feel extremely proud of the company and extremely proud to be part of it. I’m also really looking forward to working with creators and to have repertoire created for ENB as much as possible.”
What shape might that repertoire take ? “A mix of everything. ENB is, in essence, a classical ballet company. It was created to bring the best quality classical ballet to the nation and it will continue to be that but classical ballet today is not only Sleeping Beauty, it’s a big range of things. Do you consider Forsythe classical or is Forsythe classical until the 1990’s and then it’s something else ? It’s not so clear-cut, so I’m really looking forward to experimenting a little bit with that; with what is classical ballet today.”
Rojo told me that she hoped, “because they [the board] agree with my artistic vision, it’s not a question of confronting anybody but rather a matter of carrying out what I presented in the interview process, I guess, it should be quite plain sailing.” In conversation with Rojo, you cannot deny her passion for ballet and her eloquence in delivering that passion. It has always been evident in her dancing – it is not without good reason that she been called the dance actress of her generation. When you think of your most memorable performances, chances are that Rojo will figure. Juliet, Manon, Odette and Giselle to name four chances.
Rojo’s diplomatic skills and perhaps to a degree her patience in delivering her vision year on year in line with English National Ballet’s board remain untested, and no-one could argue that previous AD’s in fairly rapid succession have found that a difficult, ultimately impossible balance, but that is no reason to doubt Rojo. It is so encouraging to speak to someone so firmly immersed in their passion for & knowledge of ballet - empowering, even – and for that Rojo should be absolutely supported in her vision to take the company and its dancers – and let’s not forget the audiences - to new heights. Maybe she’ll learn along the way, make the odd mistake, but that’s life. Who hasn’t ? And Rojo is living proof that determination, hard work and looking at things in new ways can take you on an unmissable journey.
The press release heralding Rojo’s appointment reads :
English National Ballet is delighted to announce that Tamara Rojo will take over as Artistic Director in September 2012 for the start of the Company’s new season. Tamara brings with her a wealth of experience both as a dancer and board member of many of the UK’s most prestigious arts organisations.
Tamara will be an innovative and creative artistic leader for English National Ballet which continues to take ballet of the highest quality to audiences in all regions of the UK and around the world at affordable prices. Tamara’s appointment starts an exciting new chapter in the company’s long and distinguished history.
“I am honoured to have been asked by the board of English National Ballet to be their next Artistic Director. I have very fond memories of my time as a dancer with English National Ballet and nothing could make me prouder than to return to this internationally respected company, with its wonderful dancers and invaluable legacy in bringing dance to the nation. I am particularly excited about working with young British choreographers, building strong relationships with our audiences in the regions, and exploring opportunities across other art forms” says Tamara Rojo.
Tamara Rojo’s first Principal appointment in the UKwas at English National Ballet, and it was at English National Ballet that her reputation in the dance world began to grow. The Times named her “Dance revelation of the year” after her performances as Clara in Derek Deane’s The Nutcracker. She has since gone on to perform around the world, and is currently Principal Dancer at the Royal Ballet, and one of the world’s most in demand ballerinas. Tamara is a strong voice in the dance world; she sits on the board of Arts Council East, DanceUK, theICA, the Anglo-Spanish Society and is keen to nurture young talent as a guest teacher at the Royal Ballet School.
“English National Ballet is very happy to welcome Tamara as the new Artistic Director. We look forward to the continuing success of the Company which has thrived under Wayne Eagling’s Artistic Direction over the last seven years. Tamara will use her world wide reputation and creative vision to form inspiring collaborations throughout the UK and the world. She is looking forward to developing, mentoring and showcasing young talent within the Company, and building the profiles of those who are already performing at the highest level.” John Talbot, Chairman of English National Ballet.
As well as her role as Artistic Director, Tamara will also dance with the Company using her internationally renowned reputation and loyal fan base to reach new audiences for English National Ballet across the UK and the world.
English National Ballet will be announcing plans for the 2013 season under the new leadership of Tamara Rojo later this year.
Watch Tamara Rojo’s Fusion Journey