Why It Matters That Women Lead

February 18, 2015

What happens when you put a woman in charge of a ballet company? Well, that obviously depends on the woman. But when she’s Tamara Rojo, you can expect some pretty great things.


Since she took over English National Ballet in 2012, Rojo’s visionary leadership and star power have transformed London’s underdog company into one of the most exciting in dance. Through coups like ENB’s critically-acclaimed collaboration with Akram Khan, Lest We Forget, and the troupe’s historic new partnership with Sadler’s Wells, Rojo is constantly testing the boundaries of what ballet is and where it is going. It was no surprise last month when England’s National Dance Awards named ENB 2014’s “Outstanding Company.” Neither was the news that ENB recently broke company box-office records in London.


Now, she’s programmed an entire evening of new work created by female choreographers: Aszure Barton, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Yabin Wang. To put that news in a little perspective, the last time The Royal Ballet premiered a piece by a female choreographer was over 15 years ago, according to Guardian critic Judith Mackrell. The last that I can remember at New York City Ballet was Melissa Barak’s Call Me Ben in 2010, and at American Ballet Theatre it was Barton’s One of Three in 2009. In a field filled with women, that’s an exceptionally long time for such major companies to go without showcasing any new work that has a feminine sensibility and point of view. 


Yet even in the post–Lean In world, this isn’t necessarily because artistic directors are overlooking talented women. Interestingly, Rojo tells Mackrell:


There are so many talented female choreographers out there, but they’re much less quick than men to accept work. Some of the women I approached had little children and decided it was too much to deal with. Some felt they were not ready for a big London commission. I find it’s the same with the choreographic workshops in the company. There’s no shortage of men who want to experiment and put themselves forward, but we have to go out to find the women.”


Hats off to Rojo for seeking them out. Hopefully her move inspires other directors to do the same—and her words inspire more aspiring female voices to step up to the challenge.