News

Affairs & Accusations: What's Going On At English National Ballet?

Tamara Rojo. Photo by Jeff Gilbert, courtesy ENB

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:


Tamara Rojo Isaac Hernandez Hernández and Rojo rehearsing the Black Swan pas de deux. Photo by Taylor-Ferné Morris for Pointe.

Accusation: Company members say they felt uncomfortable about Rojo's relationship with lead principal Isaac Hernández—who's 16 years younger—and some say it played a part in their decision to leave.

Rojo's Response: The Evening Standard reports that Rojo seems a little bemused, if hurt, by these claims. She told the writer that Hernández arrived in London in 2015 as "a fully fledged star" and that there's "not even a possibility" of conflict because "he has won all the awards you can possibly win, so there was nowhere I could promote him." Also, she added, "I don't deal with contracts." She said the pair never made a secret of their relationship, which began a year and a half ago. "All I can say is that we've always been honest and I hoped there was no animosity towards us."

Our Take: Rojo neglected to mention the sudden departure of Cesar Corrales to The Royal Ballet in December. It's not hard to imagine that competing with the boss's boyfriend would have grown tiresome, and might have been part of the rising star's motivation to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Accusation: Sources say Rojo perpetuated a culture of intimidation by screaming at dancers in front of other company members. Others say they were given the silent treatment by both Rojo and assistant artistic director Loipa Araújo, never receiving corrections. Decisions also felt capricious: Dancers say roles and opportunities would be taken away with no explanation.

Rojo's Response: "We couldn't recognize our company in that description," she told the Evening Standard. "People had left, yes, but we felt it was explicable because a lot of change had been going on. We didn't feel it was unnatural, that there was anything to be concerned about." She said she's gone through all the issues raised with the ENB board, as well as the UK Arts Council (which funds 40 percent of the company's income) and the unions, and reports that "they were satisfied." ENB has since added new channels of communication.

Our Take: Of course, behaviors like screaming and silence aren't examples of great people skills. But they don't seem all that unusual in the ballet world. Not that that's an excuse, but if it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.

Also, we can't help asking: Rojo is known to be an exacting director, and not exactly the warmest personality—but would those qualities be taken differently in a male director? And would her relationship with someone 16 years younger seem as scandalous, for that matter?

Tamara rojo Rojo still performs with ENB in addition to directing. Here with Akram Khan rehearsing his Giselle. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, courtesy ENB.

Accusation: Dancers say they felt pressured to perform despite injury. One told Ballet Position that they hid their condition after Rojo said asking for more recovery time showed "a lack of commitment to the company." Ballet Position also reports that advice from the medical staff was consistently ignored.

Rojo's Response: When Rojo arrived as artistic director in 2012, she immediately invested in the dancers' health: She replaced the studios' sprung floors; she brought on a sports scientist, nutritionist and psychologist; and she increased physical therapy hours for the dancers.

Our Take: In the same Evening Standard feature where she lists what she's done for the dancers, Rojo appears to boast about performing even when her appendix burst while she was onstage, and how ignoring a sprained ankle led to her big break at The Royal Ballet. We need to stop glorifying these kinds of decisions. Sure, almost all dancers have performed in some level of pain at some point. But if they are being pushed—whether explicitly or implicitly—despite medical advice to rest, that needs to be addressed seriously.

Show Comments ()
Dance Training
Courtesy Rachel Hamrick

When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."

Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance on Broadway
The cast of Head Over Heels performs "We Got the Beat." Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.

Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
Just for Fun
Including, of course, Center Stage (Screenshot via Vimeo)

Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.

Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance on Broadway
In rehearsal for Dreamgirls. Photo Courtesy DM Archives.

Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.

But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.

Keep reading... Show less
What Wendy's Watching
Jeremy Pheiffer, Michael Watkiss in THEM, PC Rachel Papo

If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Stagestep's Encore hardwood flooring for full-service broadcast production facility, dance center and venue, Starwest, in Burbank, CA.

What is the right flooring system for us?

So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Catherine Conley is now a member of the National Ballet of Cuba. Photo courtesy Riley Robinson

This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.

"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
What Dancers Eat
Aguirre taking a cooking class in Thailand. Photo courtesy Aguirre

Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.

Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Florence Welch and Akram Khan share the choreography credit for Florence + the Machine's new music video "Big God." Via Instagram @florence

Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.

In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Savannah Lowery in George Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Paul Kolnik

Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.

As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.

"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."

Keep reading... Show less
Get the print edition!
Cover Story
Alice Sheppard photographed by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.

Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.

And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.

Keep reading... Show less
News
The Broadway revival of CATS. Photo by Matthew Murphy

A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.

We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways