Tamara Rojo is stepping down as artistic director at the English National Ballet after 10 years, leaving behind a colourful legacy of pioneering productions and accusations of favouritism.
Described as ‘the greatest dance actress of her generation’ by the New York Times, Rojo, 47, assumed the prestigious role in 2012 after first joining the company as a dancer in 1997.
Rojo, who will join the San Francisco Ballet as its first female artistic director, is credited with championing female talent, having created more than 40 works by women choreographers as well as staging visionary performances.
However there have also been controversies. Rojo, who was born in Canada to Spanish parents, found love with Isaac Hernandez, the ENB’s lead principal dancer who is 16 years her junior.
Tamara Rojo is stepping down as artistic director at the English National Ballet after 10 years, leaving behind a colourful legacy of pioneering productions and accusations of favouritism. Pictured, Tamara with her boyfriend Isaac Hernandez, lead principal dancer at the ENB
Rojo, who was born in Canada to Spanish parents, found love with Isaac Hernandez, the ENB’s lead principal dancer who is 16 years her junior. Pictured, the couple on stage in 2017
When news of their relationship first emerged more than three years ago, there were accusations that Isaac, a former child prodigy, had been given unfair preferential treatment due to his relationship with Rojo.
For her part, Rojo said they had made no secret of their relationship and it was ridiculous to suggest she had let her personal feelings for the strapping Mexican dancer interfere with her professional commitment.
Hernandez will move to the San Francisco Ballet as a dancer. The couple will also be joined by their 10-month-old son, Mateo.
‘Every working mother needs a solid family frame around her, whatever shape that is: you need a partner and you need to know that your child is cared for,’ Rojo told The Times of their joint decision.
‘We are a family, and for me to take on the next challenge I very much needed and wanted to have my family come with me.’
After starting dance classes at the age of five, Rojo trained at Madrid’s Royal Professional Conservatory of Dance and made her professional debut in 1991 with the Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid.
Rojo joined the ENB in 1997, leaping from soloist to principal in seven months, dancing the roles of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Clara in The Nutcracker. Above, in London in 2004
In 1996, she was invited to join the Scottish Ballet where she caught the eye of Derek Deane, then English National Ballet artistic director.
She joined the ENB in 1997, leaping from soloist to principal in seven months, dancing the roles of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Clara in The Nutcracker.
After a two-year stint at the Royal Ballet, Rojo was drawn back to the ENB by its democratic approach to the artform.
‘While other companies were created with a view to being exclusive or high end, ENB was always about sharing the best ballet to the widest possible audience, wherever they are, whatever their means,’ she told The Times. ‘I thought that was extraordinary.’
In 2012 she was promoted to artistic director as well as lead principal dancer and was lauded for her vision and risk-taking.
On her promotion to artistic director, Rojo described her desire to promote more female gaze in the art form, saying ballet directed by men is comparable to pornography.
Tamara Rojo wants more female choreographers for her company, after saying that because of the many male directors in dance, ‘Like in porn, it shapes the way you look at things’.
The 39-year-old dancer and director said that relationships are often shown from a male perspective and that she wants to see certain issues ‘approached by women on stage’.
Miss Rojo said that men often approach dance choreography in a ‘more physical’ way by starting with the steps, rather than women who often begin with the ’emotional landscape’.
‘Very often we see relationships approached from a male perspective,’ she said.
In 2012 Rojo was promoted to artistic director as well as lead principal dancer and was lauded for her vision and risk-taking. In 2016 she was awarded a CBE for services to dance in the Queen’s New Year Honours. Pictured, early in her career with the English National Ballet
‘Like in porn, it shapes the way you look at things. It tends to be a more physical approach. Men start with the steps. I find women start with the emotional landscape.
‘They say, ‘This is the situation, let’s find a language for it’. With men, it tends to be, ‘this is the language’, and then you try to work out the situation through the steps.’
In 2016 she was awarded a CBE for services to dance in the Queen’s New Year Honours.
Sometime in 2016 she and Hernandez began a relationship.
The pair first met at a gala in Mexico when he was 14 and she 30. Almost a decade later, they met again when he came to London to see his younger brother graduate from the Royal Ballet School, and she invited him to perform with her at the London Coliseum.
‘To be able to dance with Tamara …’ he has said of that moment. ‘In what reality could I have imagined that?’ And he added: ‘I told Tamara when I agreed to come that I wanted them to push me.
‘And Tamara takes that very seriously. That woman is an incredible dancer who pushes you to your best level.’
But, having been taken on as lead principal with ENB in 2015, what began as a professional relationship became a romantic one late the following year.
In a 2018 interview, Rojo spoke about Hernandez for the first time, saying that he felt ‘perfect’.
Rojo, who will join the San Francisco Ballet as its first female artistic director, is credited with championing female talent, having created more than 40 works by women choreographers as well as staging visionary performances. Pictured, on stage at the Royal Ballet in 2006
‘The age gap doesn’t seem to be in our relationship, other than being in a positive way,’ she said. ‘But we are dancers, so most of our experiences are shared.’
While that may be the case, other dancers with the ENB claimed that their relationship left them feeling the opposite: excluded.
‘I personally always got along with Tamara until her relationship with Isaac,’ a male dancer told the Daily Mail at the time. ‘It created a weird, uncomfortable atmosphere.
‘The problem was not them being a couple, the age difference or him getting good roles, which he deserves because he is a great dancer. He gets a sense of pride and cockiness from being with Tamara, and he shows it.
‘In her choosing to dance with him rather than others, it can appear as if there was a conflict of interest there.
‘A number of dancers have left in the past two years. I don’t know why. Maybe out of jealousy. Some had expected to be at the ENB for years.’
Others in the world of ballet rallied to support Rojo, claiming that dancers move on for a variety of reasons and that high quality replacements have been found for those who have left.
Rojo will this month make her choreographic and directorial debut with Raymonda, her first full-length ballet which English National Ballet will perform at the London Coliseum
‘If it was a premiership football team, I would argue that this manager is doing pretty well on the transfer market,’ wrote one. Another ballet-lover, commenting on news of the row online, said: ‘She’s doing an extraordinary job and I’m not surprised that makes some who cannot keep up disgruntled.
‘The complaint about the relationship whiffs of sexism — and quite frankly, none of us would ever have a love life if we didn’t date within our profession.’
Asked to comment on the claims of former staff, a spokesman for the ENB said at the time: ‘English National Ballet is a hard-working, highly ambitious company, and in the last five years we have seen a remarkable artistic transformation which has been met with critical and audience acclaim.
‘This is a company that we are so proud of. Ballet is a demanding art form — and in recognition of this, we have worked with Tamara from the start to implement improvements across the company for dancers and all who work here.
‘We take the safety and wellbeing of our dancers and everyone who works with us extremely seriously.
‘We are committed to providing a safe environment, free of harassment and bullying of any sort, and we respond to any specific concerns that are raised, and we regularly review our processes to take into account things that change, or ideas for better ways of doing things.’
Rojo will this month make her choreographic and directorial debut with Raymonda, her first full-length ballet which English National Ballet will perform at the London Coliseum.
The story, usually set during the Crusades, will take place in the Crimean War, drawing on the spirit and work of the women supporting the war effort, including Florence Nightingale.
Announcing her decision to leave the ENB, Rojo said: ‘It has been an honour to have led this extraordinary company for the last 10 years.
‘I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved together, from the tremendous talent working within and alongside the Company, to creating and moving into the amazing new building we now call our home, to the off-stage communities we have established with our education and engagement work.
‘English National Ballet’s fundamental aim to bring world-class ballet to the widest possible audience has always resonated with me.
‘It is the reason the Company has been a part of my life for so many years, from performing here as a dancer early in my career, to returning as artistic director in 2012.
‘It has been a privilege to be the custodian of English National Ballet and as I prepare to hand over the reins, I am confident that this world-class company which is at the forefront of ballet’s growth and evolution with a much-deserved place on the international stage, will continue to flourish and thrive.’
In a statement, The English National Ballet said: ‘After 10 years of incredible leadership and creativity, Tamara Rojo CBE will be stepping down as artistic director of English National Ballet.
‘Tamara leaves in late 2022 to take up the role of artistic director at San Francisco Ballet.’