Tamara Rojo named English National Ballet’s New Artistic Director
Spanish dancer Tamara Rojo combines talent, brains, beauty, and ambition. Her appointment as new Artistic Director is a coup for the ENB.
By Mark Monahan
This appointment – a considerable coup for ENB – marks not only the start of a riveting new chapter in British Ballet, but also the end of a cherished exisiting one. For more than a decade, Rojo has been one of the Royal Ballet’s most spectacular assets, a star principal dancer who combines talent, technique, brains, beauty, artistic ambition and interpretative brilliance in a single, unmistakably world-class package – her partnership with Carlos Acosta has been a particular delight. Especially coming not long after the sudden departure of fellow (if far younger) principal Sergei Polunin, it is
impossible not to see her imminent move as a further knock for Britain’s flagship company. And this in a year when it, too, is welcoming a new director (Kevin O’Hare) and is therefore in a similar state of flux.
But should we be surprised that the Spanish dancer is taking the top job at ENB? Not really. Educated, articulate and very bright, Rojo has beenstretching her administrative wings for some years now, already sits on the board of Arts Council East, Dance UK and the ICA, and has long been talked about as a future director of one of our leading ballet companies.
Moreover, although her first dancing job in Britain was with Scottish Ballet, it was none other than ENB (which she joined in 1997) that first made her a principal – this vote of confidence was richly deserved, and it must have left her with a great deal of enduring affection for the troupe. Besides, Rojo turns 38 this year, an age when most ballet dancers are starting to consider trading pointe shoes for character shoes, or else give up performing altogether.
Intriguingly, however, Rojo’s new role with ENB is not going to be entirely administrative. Like the then director Peter Schaufuss way back in the Eighties, she will also dance with the company, in what I imagine (there are no details as yet) will be a sort of resident-guest-principal role – and it is not hard to see why.
ENB lacks the Royal Ballet’s grand home and near-guaranteed fan-base (for that matter, even ENB’s most direct rival, Birmingham Royal Ballet, has a permanent performing home). And so, as a company that spends most of its time touring the UK, and operating at a massive loss when doing so, it invariably needs to pull out every last stop to try to put bums on seats. Rojo remains a mesmerisingly beautiful and dedicated dancer – in fact, arguably better than ever – and she cannot be unaware of the pulling power of her name, face and reputation.
It is in the realm of choreography that Rojo is a complete unknown. She is taking over from a succession of recent ENB director-choreographers (if not an unbroken one), and yet, to the best of my memory, I have never seen a single work created by her. Will she suddenly reveal a new string to her balletic bow over the coming seasons, or – more probably – will she see her role at ENB, in this respect, as entirely impresarial? The former would be a fascinating prospect to say the least, and yet, there is also much to be said for the latter approach: leaving choreography to others prevents conflicts of interest (ie a director promoting his or her creations to the detriment of others’), and can give a director more time to do just that: direct.
And, now more than ever, English National Ballet needs very close, intelligent direction indeed.
News of Wayne Eagling’s departure came both suddenly, and hot on the heels of that of the company’s managing director, and the subsequent application process for the post was hurried to say the least. Exactly like others before her, Rojo will need to keep up the spirit (and swell the coffers) of a company that exists very much hand-to-mouth and that, when on tour, has to deliver Sleeping Beautys and Swan Lakes in quantities that can sap even the hardiest performers’ pluck.
This is, then, in some ways, the toughest job in British ballet – and yet, don’t bet against the Spaniard pulling it off. Certainly, solvency will be a constant and massive issue – especially in the light of cuts to ENB’s annual subsidy – balancing front-of-house and behind-the-scenes duties will not be easy, and board-membership is of course by no means the same as directing an entire, very large, high-profile company.
But Rojo is clever, has almost incomparable clout, and did not get where she is today without vast reserves of industry and determination. Let’s not forget, either, that she inherits from Eagling a superb clutch of dancers who are currently on very fine form indeed – and might she even invite young Polunin to join them?
One wishes her the best of British (or English, perhaps) and watches with fascination.