Author: Roslyn Sulcas
Via The New York Times | November 18, 2016
Article recommended by Karla Castillo from Mexico, collaborator of Arttextum’s Replicación
LONDON — Artistic director, star ballerina, lobbyist, wrangler, psychologist, spokeswoman. Tamara Rojo, the artistic director of English National Ballet, is one busy woman.
Ms. Rojo, 42, a Spanish-born former Royal Ballet principal dancer, has been in her current job for four years, and she has made a startling difference to English National Ballet — a London touring company of 67 dancers that has no home theater and has struggled for a long time to establish its identity in the shadow of the Royal. On Tuesday, her company began a sold-out run of Akram Khan’s critically praised “Giselle” at Sadler’s Wells. Ms. Rojo commissioned the piece last year, part of her risk-taking approach.
She is also the company’s marquee ballerina (along with a fellow Royal Ballet alum, Alina Cojocaru), somehow managing to keep up her technical form and artistry while acting as a one-woman visionary, manager, cheerleader and glamorous high-profile ad for her organization.
Does she sleep? “As a dancer, you learn focus,” Ms. Rojo said.
Looking pale and slightly drawn, Ms. Rojo, even so, appeared full of energy in an interview earlier this month at the company’s headquarters near Royal Albert Hall. Every day, she said, involves a juggling act between dancing and directorial duties, with her attention constantly pulled among the needs of her dancers, administrative meetings and performing.
There are few female ballet company directors, but Ms. Rojo knew it was a job she wanted. “You can have a much wider impact on society as a director, than a dancer,” she said. “I think ballet can be so much more ambitious, do so much more, than it does now.” Since succeeding Wayne Eagling in 2012, she has worked that ambition, commissioning works from three relatively unknown female choreographers, and a war-themed program from Mr. Khan, Liam Scarlett and Russell Maliphant. She has also programmed challenging works by William Forsythe and Pina Bausch.
And last year, she formed an association with Sadler’s Wells that has given English National Ballet a London base to showcase its contemporary work. That is “the kind of risk-taking that a touring ballet company can’t otherwise do in this climate,” Debra Craine, the chief dance critic for The London Times, said in an email, referring to Britain’s recent cuts in arts financing.
Ms. Rojo has a narrow path to walk between popular appeal and artistic innovation. English National Ballet (called London Festival Ballet until 1989) was founded in 1950 by the British ballet stars Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin with the aim of taking ballet to the provinces. The troupe still has a touring obligation, and with subsidies at a much lower level than those of Royal Ballet, it depends on box-office certainties like “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and an annual “Nutcracker.” (The company’s annual budget is about $19 million, with $7.5 million coming from Arts Council England, a government body.)
“I’ve seen so many directors come through E.N.B. over the years — some of them with visionary ideas,” Judith Mackrell, a dance critic for The Guardian, said in an email. “All were defeated by cautiousness of the board and by the company’s remit from Arts Council England to deliver ballet to the regions.”
Ms. Rojo, who danced with English National Ballet for three years before joining Royal Ballet in 2000, doesn’t mean to lose. “I actually saw advantages in most of the things people thought of as problems,” she said. “Touring means you can really build young artists by giving them proper time onstage. And the beauty of rivaling the Royal is that we can really create an identity of our own. How should we look at the classical repertory and perform it today?”
Ballet has been her passion since she was 5, Ms. Rojo said, when she first glimpsed a class (“it was a revelation”) after school in Madrid, where she grew up. Her parents were not well off and made sacrifices to send her to an excellent ballet school, run by Victor Ullate, whose company she joined at 16. After winning the Paris International Dance Competition in 1994, she left Madrid to join Scottish National Ballet, where she spent just six months before being approached by Derek Deane, then the director of English National Ballet.
She didn’t think about directing a company, she said, until Spain’s government approached her in 2006, when she was with Royal Ballet. “The president wanted something like an English National Ballet for Spain, a touring company, and he wanted to know what it would cost, what infrastructure would it need, would I take on?” Ms. Rojo said. “I felt it was too early for me, but I began to do the research, and I realized that I wanted to know as much as possible about how to run a company.” (The Spanish government did not go ahead with the project.)
Ms. Rojo later participated in training for future artistic directors, shadowing Karen Kain at the National Ballet of Canada. When the Royal Ballet directorship opened in 2011, she was a front-runner, although the job ultimately went to Kevin O’Hare. Ms. Rojo said she was relieved. “A few years later, this position became available,” she said, “and I knew what I could achieve here.”
Ms. Rojo is a leader, said Alistair Spalding, the artistic director of Sadler’s Wells. “She is out there, looking for ideas, making things happen, looking for connections, a brilliant networker,” he said. “Despite the financial restrictions, she has been able to be more fleet of foot than she would have been at the Royal. The challenges for her are to raise enough money, and keep audience numbers up.”
Ms. Rojo’s big challenge will be raising money for the company’s planned 2018 move from its current cramped location to new headquarters it will share with English National Ballet School in Canning Town, East London. It will cost about $30 million, she said. As well as doubling studio capacity, the new building will have a production studio with a stage and full lighting and sound capability. (The stage is big enough for run-throughs, but the theater has a capacity of just 170.)
“Today, a ballet company will invest on average 1.8 million pounds” — $2.25 million — “on a new production, then give themselves two days onstage because it’s just too expensive,” Ms. Rojo said. “Compare that, again, with theater and its weeks of previews. But it’s the same audience. Right now, we are asking them to somehow bear with us, and I don’t want that. I want you to be moved and impressed and intrigued and overwhelmed. I want audiences to have the highest expectations.”
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