While you might think of dance as a primarily visual art form, performances engage us on multiple levels. Our ears take in the score, the artists' breathing patterns, fellow audience members' reactions, and the physical percussion made by the dancers' footfalls and partnering. All of this information is available to audience members with limited to no vision, and when it comes to providing them with the rest, there are multiple approaches being refined by experts in the field generally referred to as "audience accessibility."
Growing up with a father who's a swim coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, Emma Hawes was in the water almost from the time she was born. From ages 6 to 12, she swam competitively.
"I would have two swim practices a day during season, then go to ballet class," says Hawes, who's now a first soloist at both National Ballet of Canada and English National Ballet. "It was pretty normal for me since my parents are both athletes." (Her father is also an avid cyclist and triathlete; her mom was a competitive runner.)
While swimming gave Hawes stamina, dance helped her body awareness in the pool. "I was able to make fine-tuning adjustments—like rotating the angle of my forearm—because of ballet," she says.
In the six years since taking over as artistic director at English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo, 44, has been lauded for revitalizing the company. She has presented classics danced with gusto alongside contemporary commissions, including a radical reworking of Giselle by contemporary/kathak choreographer Akram Khan, setting the story in a community of migrant factory workers. ENB brings Khan's Giselle to Chicago's Harris Theater, Feb. 28–March 2, the company's first trip to the U.S. in 30 years.
Fans of the sublime English National Ballet first artist Precious Adams were probably excited to see her image splashed across the company's website in a promotional image for an upcoming production of Swan Lake.
But those who took a closer look were met with a disappointing reality: Adams, who is the only black woman in the company, is not listed on the principal casting sheet for the production.
We might have gotten a little bit carried away with this year's "Season Preview"—but with the 2018–19 season packing so many buzzy shows, how could we not? Here are over two dozen tours, premieres and revivals that have us drooling.
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaim for over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.
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The March 1958 issue of Dance Magazine included coverage of the previous year's Dance Magazine Awards, one of which went to Dame Alicia Markova.
Markova danced the title role in the first British production of Giselle. Photo by Walter E. Owens, Courtesy DM Archives
British ballet fans have been in a tizzy over Tamara Rojo lately.
Last month, a number of current and former English National Ballet dancers made anonymous claims of mismanagement to The Times, blaming Rojo for the fact that a third of the company's dancers have left over the past two years. The blog Ballet Position followed up earlier this month with further accusations, and Rojo responded in a feature in the Evening Standard yesterday.
Until this all came out, Rojo had really only been covered in recent press as someone who'd transformed ENB into a darling of the ballet world with her forward-thinking repertoire.
So what's all the drama about? We broke it down:
For demanding, vulnerable performances, the mental warm-up and wind-down is unique to each artist. Three dancers share how they get in the zone, and come back to normal life afterward:
In a sheer red slip—dirt-covered and exposed—the Chosen One frantically pleads with the community encircling her, wildly dancing until she at last succumbs to an inevitable death. Part of Pina Bausch's haunting Rite of Spring, this solo is one of the most vulnerable in dance.
"When I perform this role, there is no acting, my struggle is very real—it becomes very spiritual," says Tanztheater Wuppertal dancer Tsai-Wei Tien. "I squeeze everything I have into those final moments."
A truly unguarded performance electrifies the stage and connects deeply with the audience, in a way that surpasses even the most flawless technical prowess.
By now, you're probably as obsessed with the artists on our 2018 "25 to Watch" list as we are. But how do we decide who makes it? One answer is: carefully. Another: It's a long, long process.
This fall, English National Ballet wunderkind Cesar Corrales graced the cover of our sister publication, Pointe, and spoke about searching for new ways to grow at ENB. Yet today ENB announced that after three years with the company, Corrales has decided to leave to join The Royal Ballet as a first soloist.
Corrales rose swiftly through the ranks at ENB; he was promoted to principal this past summer at just 20 years old. He was best known for his highly charismatic performances which inflected roles such as Ali in Le Corsaire, Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet and Hilarion in Akram Khan's 2016 re-imagining of Giselle.
There are many ways in which to be a great dancer, but there's no denying that precocious virtuosity is often the most eye-catching. For Cesar Corrales, his fail-safe talent for effortlessly explosive jumps, plus pirouettes that could seemingly spin for infinity (but which stop at exactly the moment of his command), have marked out the 21-year-old as one of the most exciting young dancers performing in the UK.
On the cusp of a new performance season, our calendars are chock full with shows we're dying to see. But it can be hard to know where to start with a season filled to bursting with promising premieres, tours and revivals. We've picked 12 shows that should definitely be on your radar.
The Olivier Awards were this weekend, and (though you might not have noticed with all of the hubbub over Harry Potter and the Cursed Child practically sweeping) three of our dance world faves snagged well-deserved awards for some very diverse programming.
Misty Copeland doesn't typically spend her days balancing on demi-pointe in lace-up sneakers, wearing the briefest of running shorts and a T-shirt knotted jauntily above her hips. But Under Armour's series of “I Will What I Want" ads presents a portrait of this artist as an athlete—in the brand's athletic wear. And for the makers of the campaign, that sends exactly the right message.
“We are a disruptive brand: We look at things in a different way. We see women athletes as coming in all shapes and sizes, and Misty, to us, is part of that," says Under Armour vice president of marketing for its women's division, Heidi Sandreuter. “She doesn't fit a traditional mold. She allows us to represent a broader spectrum of athleticism."
English National Ballet and Sadler’s Wells partner together.
ENB in rehearsal. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.
Two of the biggest forces in British dance are teaming up. Leading performance center Sadler’s Wells has announced that English National Ballet, spearheaded by ballerina Tamara Rojo since 2012, will become its first associate ballet company this spring, performing two seasons each year. The idea was sparked, says Sadler’s Wells CEO and artistic director Alistair Spalding, by a conversation with Rojo. “We have the same beliefs in the art form, the same way of looking at it,” he says.
As part of the arrangement, Sadler’s Wells will co-produce new work and financially support ENB’s seasons at the venue. For ENB, the partnership is a boost to both finances and creative morale. Praising Sadler’s Wells’ “long tradition of presenting innovative repertoire,” Rojo said she hoped the move would “enable us to perform bold works, many new to English National Ballet.”
Beyond cultivating new dances, Sadler’s Wells will play host to mixed bills that have proved difficult for ENB to sustain at bigger venues and on tour. ENB’s first program in March will include works by William Forsythe, John Neumeier and Jirí Kylián. A revival of the company’s recent Lest We Forget program, which includes Sadler’s Wells associate artist Akram Khan and Russell Maliphant’s first works for the company, follows in the fall. Khan will return in 2016 to choreograph a new Giselle. But there will be no Nutcracker at Sadler’s Wells: ENB will continue to perform its repertoire of classics at other venues in London, including the Coliseum.
ENB may be Sadler’s Wells’ first associate ballet company, but the crossover of Rojo’s artistic vision fits in with the venue’s ethos. “The distinctions between genres are becoming grayer and grayer,” says Spalding. “The questions we ask are, Where is ballet now? Where is it going? How can we help it thrive?”
A Dance the Dream event in Houston. Photo by Russell Hancock, Courtesy Dance the Dream.
While addressing thousands of Americans at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. went off script and improvised a passage of the speech that became momentous in civil rights activism: “I Have a Dream.” To celebrate its 50th anniversary, filmmaker Richard Karz has produced The Dream@50, a yearlong international festival of art contests and musical performances by artists like Usher. It also features Dance the Dream flash mobs, led by choreographers such as Jenna Lee, of English National Ballet, and Mourad Merzouki, of Compagnie Käfig. The festival, which has taken place in more than 30 cities, from Beirut to Boston, culminates in Los Angeles and Seattle this month. Karz says the flash mob is central to his mission. “We are doing these events in public settings, surrounded by daily life, to illustrate that this is about breaking down racial divisions,” he says. “But it’s also about breaking down boundaries between art and dance and real life.”
L.A. Dance Project member Julia Eichten will lead L.A.’s flash mob, danced to Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” and an arrangement of H.B. Barnum’s “Heaven Help Us All.” It will be performed by over 100 local dance professionals and students, and since Eichten pre-released a video of the dance through YouTube and social media, she says it is expected to gather an audience of 5,000 to 10,000 people “who will get to dance right alongside the professionals and students.” Eichten hopes the choreography will speak to the city’s cultural diversity. “L.A. has such a wide spectrum of nationalities, so we really want to celebrate that through dance and music,” she says. “Togetherness is what Dr. King was an advocate for, despite different views or even violence. I would like to think that through this project we can help create a little harmony for us all to share in.”
Amy O’Neal is choreographing Seattle’s flash mob. For remaining celebration dates, see thedreamat50.com.
Rojo in costume for Life is a Dream, by Fei Bo. Photo by Matthew Karas.
It’s not every prima ballerina who is willing to share her stage with a live goldfish, and Tamara Rojo chuckles in remembering her unusual partner in Life Is a Dream (choreographed by China’s Fei Bo). Now, months after premiering that work, the dancer finds herself in the proverbial goldfish bowl, being scrutinized by ballet watchers worldwide as she takes on a new challenge—that of artistic director of English National Ballet. Seen as the toughest job in British ballet today, the position sits at the head of a company that has no London-based theater, tours the country extensively, and has serious funding restraints. But Rojo is a woman who loves challenges.
Tamara Rojo is one of the world’s great ballerinas, a true superstar. Her dancing ignites stages with her quicksilver technique, elegant plasticity, supple and eloquent back, and natural beauty. But overall, she is renowned for her remarkable dramatic skills that draw out the very core of her characters. She is beloved around the globe, her friendly manner and disciplined dedication making her a most welcome guest in top companies and at star-studded galas. She has been a member of The Royal Ballet for 12 years, filling the Royal Opera House auditorium with an adoring public. Now 38, she is at the peak of her career—that moment when technique comes so naturally that concentration can be focused on ever deeper interpretation.
It’s also a time when her audiences expected to be watching her for a good many more years. So it was no wonder that the announcement of her departure from the famed company was heralded with disbelief and the fear that she was going to give up dancing to sit behind a desk and attend meetings. However, Rojo strongly refutes the idea, saying she plans to perform as well as direct. She has made it known to ENB that she intends to be in the studio as much as possible and that participating in daily class comes before any meetings.
But there also arises the question of past experience to prepare for such a job. Despite various qualifications, she has never headed even a small company before, and it’s a very long jeté from performer to director. So what kind of leader will she make?
“I’m very committed, hard working, and hopefully inspirational,” she answers. “I have clear ideas of what I want to see done, but I also will listen. I plan to have an open-door policy for everyone in the building, as I want to know their views.” But will she be strong enough to confront the notorious ENB Board, recognized for hiring and firing all too frequently in the company’s recent history? “It’s the board’s responsibility to see that the company is run properly,” she replies diplomatically. “I will take notice, but I will certainly stand up for my dancers on artistic matters.” She doesn’t feel that being a woman will make it harder to direct, and trusts that she was appointed because she was deemed best for the job. She will rely on her international connections and strong vision for the company to inspire top-notch choreographers, composers, and designers to come work with her.
At right: Photo by Matthew Karas.
Rojo’s decision to leave The Royal Ballet has not been totally unexpected—it was just somewhat sooner than predicted. She has never hidden the fact that she has been grooming herself for a directorship role. Writing in Dancing Times two years ago, she admitted that these thoughts had long been churning in her mind. Recognizing that she had to be prepared if and when a job came up, she has taken every opportunity to learn the hows, whats, and wherefores.
Well educated in her native Spain, she continued to study, receiving her BA in dance and her master’s in scenic arts in Madrid. She is resident guest teacher at The Royal Ballet School, gives master classes, is an eloquent speaker and advocate for dance, and has received various international honors in ballet today, including a Laurence Olivier Award, a Benois de la Danse, and the Kennedy Center Gold Medal for Fine Arts, presented by King Juan Carlos I of Spain. She spent a month shadowing Karen Kain, artistic director of National Ballet of Canada, observing every department of that company (arranged by DanceEast in England); she has also visited Cirque du Soleil, which has revitalized the art of the circus. Both these experiences gave her new insights and fuelled her desire to become an artistic director.
In 2011, The Royal Ballet announced a search for a new director to take over from retiring Dame Monica Mason. Rojo applied, though claims she had no expectations. She says, however, that it was invaluable to go through the process of applying and being interviewed. (Kevin O’Hare, a former Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancer and Royal Ballet administrative director, took over in July.) Then she got wind last fall that the ENB Board had asked director Wayne Eagling to resign (for reasons still unclear). The dancers, appreciative of his effort to establish a company of top technicians, petitioned and he kept his job—but not for long. In early 2012, he was again asked to leave, and this time the order stood. After a somewhat hurried application process, Rojo’s name was the one bandied about by speculators, so there was little surprise when the announcement was finally made.
As Odette with The Royal Ballet. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH.
Rojo has spent most of her working life attached to British companies. After training in Spain with Victor Ullate, she danced first with Scottish Ballet, but sped to stardom when she joined ENB in 1997 under the direction of Derek Deane, who choreographed his massive in-the-round productions of Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet on her. Her departure to The Royal Ballet came after stepping in as guest artist for an injured Darcey Bussell in a performance of Giselle. An instant success, Rojo was offered a contract. In 2000 she joined as a principal, quickly becoming a favorite with the Royal Opera House audience.
“I always said that one day I wanted to go back to ENB. It was my first home and I had such a feeling of family there.” Yet she knows she will face enormous challenges. “While I want thinking dancers as well as excellent technicians, my vision for the company reaches further. It’s all about protecting and retaining our ballet art and also having the foresight to reach out and keep it relevant in today’s world. The company must continue to be creative.”
At left: As Juliet in MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Dee Conway, Courtesy ROH.
She will find the repertoire at ENB very different from that at the Royal, where there are constant changes of programs. ENB does things in chunks: Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty had already been planned for the fall season, and there will be at least 40 performances. Rojo sees this positively, saying that it will give everyone a chance to shine. The company offers many excellent productions and performs them well, so it is a mystery as to why their houses are not full. “We obviously need to advertise more!” she surmises.
Because there will be a 15 percent cut in subsidy from Arts Council England during the next three years, balancing the books as brilliantly as she balances on pointe is another challenge she will have to face. Dancers at ENB help with fundraising and visibility by performing at private functions for sponsors and supporters. Does this, wonders Rojo, bring new people in? When asked if potential viewers are perhaps put off by the expense of ballet tickets, her hackles raise. “I am sick and tired of journalists writing that ballet is an elitist art form, that it’s too expensive for the average family. People are willing to pay thousands for football! Journalists have to stop whining on about costs and tell their readers that they’re going to have the evening of their lives!”
During her time at ENB, she plans to stage works that will develop the company to their full potential, and to invite guest artists. Speaking of her own dancing partners, she singles out Carlos Acosta, with whom she will always be associated. Their performances would metaphorically set the National Grid on high alert as they sparked off each other, taking audiences into their world. Jonathon Cope also was a favorite, especially in MacMillan’s Mayerling and Song of the Earth. And of course there was the goldfish! The Chinese choreographer brought it into the studio after a few days of rehearsing in Beijing, saying Tamara needed a partner. “When I danced the piece again at the Youth America Grand Prix gala in New York this year, I was given the most enormous fish—it was absolutely huge. Very American!”
With Carlos Acosta in MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy ROH.
For all her strengths, does the bright, intelligent, thoughtful ballerina admit to any foibles? “Well, I am terribly organized,” she giggles. “Leanne Benjamin, with whom I have shared a dressing room, always kids me about my well-planned and tidy setup at my dressing table. But sometimes I intentionally muss them all up—though it’s only for a moment before I have to put everything back in place.”
Along with self-discipline, Tamara Rojo possesses the energy, drive, ambition, talent, and profound love of her art to succeed in her new role. She should make a demanding yet sympathetic director, one whose ultimate aim is to further the art of classical ballet.
Photo by Matthew Karas.