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A Chat with Tamara Rojo As She Receives Santander Award

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A Chat with Tamara Rojo on the occasion of her being presented with the Santander Bank Foundation Award for Anglo-Spanish Relations



On the early evening of June 5th, a few members of the press gathered at the Spanish Embassy in London for an informal chat with prima ballerina and Artistic Director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo.  Her long black dress, contrasting with her luminous white skin,  and her long jet-black hair were in stark contrast to the opulent surroundings of the drawing room at the embassy.  She wore no jewellery at all, so that you were just drawn to those dark, expressive eyes when she looked at you directly, which is also how she answered her questions.  It is always a pleasure to be in the company of this open, honest and very intelligent woman who has done so much for the arts both in England and in Spain, and as such was very proud and delighted to be receiving this award, only the second recipient to do so. The prize was a sculpture by Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias and 10,000 euros, which Tamara donated to The Healthier Dancer Programme (promoted by Dance Association UK), a research programme into the improvement of dancers’ health and wellbeing.   Once we were seated on the plush sofas,  the questions began (much of the chat was in Spanish, so what follows is the English bits and a bit of the Spanish that I understood).


How was your first year as AD, and what surprised you most?

Well, it’s been tough as there was a lot to do.  But it has also been some of the biggest joy in my life.  I couldn’t believe how wonderful this company is.  The biggest surprise is how everyone around the dancers, the people behind the scenes, are so wonderful, and believe so much in ENB.  As for the dancers, they are just fantastic.  So hard working and full of belief.  One of my favourite moments of the year is a photograph, taken by a dancer, of me watching a performance from the wings.  I have a huge smile on my face because I was just so happy to see those amazing dancers performing so well.


What has been the toughest part of the job so far?

Inevitably in these tough economic times, money is always the big problem, and much effort has to be spent in finding financial support for the company.  Some Spanish companies in London are interested in supporting ENB and we are in discussion with some of them.   Also, it is a very busy job;  I start very early in the morning so that means if I’m physically tired, I’m mentally tired too....and I need to try and make the right decisions on a daily basis. But I’m used to it now!


Do you intend to keep dancing in addition to doing the AD job?

Oh yes, for now.  I will stop dancing slowly.  If I’d just stopped suddenly it would have been very bad for my body and very bad for me.  I have people I trust who will tell me when I should stop dancing certain things, and then stop altogether. 


You have an amazing new poster for the company.  What has been the reaction?

Well, as with anything new or different, it’s been varied.  But I wanted this to be a very different approach;  I wanted to show that dancers aren’t only beautiful princesses and princes, but are also intelligent, dark and complicated.  Vivienne Westwood, the designer, was amazing.  I can’t believe I could just pick up the phone and ask her to be involved, and she jumped at the chance.   I really want this company to have its own identity, and be different, and that’s what we’re working on. 


You’ve invited some world-class guest artists to ENB this past season….will you continue to do so?

Oh yes.  As a young dancer, I learned so much watching guests who I was lucky enough to be onstage with.  I want to give the ENB dancers the same opportunities to learn from some of the world’s best dancers.


You’ve been quoted in the press today as saying that the arts in Spain is ‘corrupt’.  Is that true?

First of all, I want to categorically deny saying this.  It was a very long interview from which my words were, as is often the case, taken out of context.  In Spain, the arts are largely based on individual people. They succeed because of the character of the Spanish people, who are hard-working and believe in themselves.  In England we have good quality people too, but in addition there is sustained investment;  the governments understand that art is an intrinsic part of the human being.  We also have bodies like the Arts Council, which is so important.


What is the current situation in Spain with regard to dance, and training the next generation of dancers?

There are excellent Spanish dancers in many companies around the world.  They are very talented and work very hard.  I was very lucky to be young and start dancing when I did.  Spain has excellent teachers and schools, but the economy is affecting schools and companies, making things difficult at the moment. 


A few years ago, you shadowed National Ballet of Canada AD Karen Kain for a few months.  Did this experience help you in your first year as AD of ENB?

Oh yes, very much so.  Karen helped me so much, and both she and the whole company were so open and transparent.  I was invited to all Board meetings and other meetings, and given all the information they had.  I learned not only about the artistic aspect of running a company, but the business and financial side as well.  I will always be grateful to them. 

There is also Dance East, which is such an important forum for artistic directors from around the world.  All the directors talk to each other, exchange ideas and advice and even dancers.  We are going to be doing an exchange with Queensland Ballet, for example.  Dance East is really marvellous.


This first season has been very successful for you artistically.  You’ve shown some very eclectic programmes.  Will you continue to do this, and will you commission new, contemporary works to attract a younger audience to ballet and dance?

Yes, definitely.  But it’s not only young people I want to attract to the company, it’s older people too.  Older people love the arts, but may not know so much about dance, and I want older people who are new to ballet to come along as much as I want younger people to come.  There is no age involved, I would just like to add to the audience we already have, new and different people.


Do you ever see yourself moving back to Spain?

Not in the near future.  I have my contract at ENB, and hope to be there for a few years to come.  I will take the company to tour there soon, I hope.  I would like to spend more time there, but I am too busy here in London!

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