Tamara Rojo on Becoming English National Ballet's "Overqualified Understudy"
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.
Why is it important for you to take English National Ballet to the U.S.?
We're very proud of what we have achieved, especially this production. It follows our vision of challenging the art form and respectfully questioning the classics and keeping them fresh for the audiences of today.
What was most rewarding about working with Akram?
Everything. His way of consistently developing and questioning and sharing and including everyone in the room, so that everyone's opinion can be heard and everybody brings something to the production and everybody owns it.
Tamara Rojo and artists of English National Ballet in Akram Khan's Giselle
Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB
Will you be dancing in Chicago?
I am trying to dance less, to be honest, because I think we've now gone into a phase where the company doesn't necessarily need me as a performer.
You've said you're just going to quietly stop dancing with no fanfare. Is that what's happening?
Yeah, I mean, I didn't dance in the whole autumn tour or at Christmas. Right now I don't actually have any performances planned.
Rojo in Akram Khan's Giselle
Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB
But if a role came up that you wanted, you'd do it?
My personal ambitions as a dancer have been more than satisfied. So it will only be if a choreographer thinks that I'm the right person for that particular role and will bring something nobody else can. Or if there are circumstances, like we've had in past years—all my female lead principals are mothers, which is wonderful, but that has meant we've had some gaps in the casting. So if it's necessary, then I step in. I still love performing.
Rojo and James Streeter in Akram Khan's Giselle
Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB
So you're a very overqualified understudy?
Well, that's nice of you to say [laughs]. Yes, that's basically what I am, an understudy!
What else is on your to-do list?
Oh, so much. I still believe that there's so much work to do around our classical repertoire and so many questions that need to be asked. What works can we present, in the society that we live in, without questioning them? We do have to ask ourselves, "Is the story still relevant?"
Have there been changes within the company since the claims of mismanagement last year?
It's always difficult to respond to anonymous allegations. But it was an opportunity to have even more open conversations and to say if there are concerns, we take those very seriously. I genuinely think there are few organizations that are as transparent as we are with our dancers. Every Friday we have a good discussion with the dancers about every aspect of the company: budget, planning, programming, promotions, hiring.
You're currently sharing three dancers with National Ballet of Canada (Jurgita Dronina, Francesco Gabriele Frola and Emma Hawes). How does that work?
In the same way we share Alina Cojocaru with Hamburg Ballet. We have many shows, but they are concentrated in certain periods of time, so our pattern of work can adapt to sharing artists. Artists grow by having more experiences and working with more people.
English National Ballet in Akram Khan's Giselle
Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB
It must be an exhausting schedule for them.
Well, you know, dancers want to dance! No matter how much you tell them to take their paternity leave or take a holiday or have a rest, dancers just wanna dance.
Except for the one that I'm talking to right now.
[Laughs] Yeah, funny that!
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.