Tamara Rojo, speaking in Madrid. :: EFE
Organised by the British Council, the artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo, gave a talk during a sold-out run of Le Corsaire in Madrid
Over 400 people clicked onto the British Council’s Spanish website last week to attend a talk in Madrid on Sunday by English National Ballet’s artistic director, Spaniard Tamara Rojo, at the Teatros del Canal. The occasion was a run of five performances of the swashbuckling ballet Le Corsaire, based on Lord Byron’s 1814 poem, with the “House Full” sign up at every one of them and queues of hopefuls hanging about for returned tickets.
Answering questions from Elna Matamoros, ballet mistress of the Compañía Nacional de Danza, and from the audience, Tamara spoke for well over an hour. She discussed her experience as artistic director - and lead principal ballerina - of English National Ballet (ENB), a job she has held for less than two years, and how she undertook the mammoth task of putting on a new production of a three-act nineteenth century ballet in barely a year.
“I looked for a classical ballet that wasn’t in the repertoire of any other British company, a ballet with masses of virtuoso dancing and with lots of roles for men (there are four main ones) as the company is very strong on male dancers. I also wanted to emphasis the dramatic aspect of the ballet.”
So together with her partner, award-winning lighting designer Neil Austin, they studied the drama of Le Corsaire every evening when Tamara, who was born in Toronto but brought up and trained in Madrid, wasn’t dancing.
Anne-Marie Holmes, who was responsible for the production, was happy to make any changes necessary but with six months to go Tamara had the courage to sack the designer and bring in Bob Ringwood, whose Hollywood credits include Batman and Troy. Together they pored over hundreds of early nineteenth century reproductions on which to base the designs. One of these, an Islamic style tracery from Act III of the ballet, was the backdrop to the talk.
The ballerina, who was a member of Scottish Ballet, ENB and the Royal Ballet before taking up the directorship of ENB in 2012, talked at length about the financing of ballet companies, something in which she is now very involved.
She had approached a number of Spanish companies for sponsorship of the performances in Madrid (the company is also coming to festivals in Granada and Peralada this summer) but they all said “no”.
“We are losing money coming to Spain, but I convinced the board that it was necessary,” she pointed out, adding, amidst laughter from the audience, that the hardest part of her job was going to so many dinners with sponsors.
The audience also heard about ENB’s latest programme, Lest we Forget, consisting of three ballets in memorial of the tragedy of World War I, this being the anniversary year.
“I thought all the companies in the UK would be doing it but we are the only one; however I felt it was necessary because it is something that is so deeply embedded in the emotional consciousness of the British people.”
In relation to her own career, the last 17 years in the UK, the obvious question was how she managed to run a company (“it’s a small company with big aspirations” - not so small in reality, with 70-odd dancers) and maintain her career as a ballerina, and whether having been a member of ENB in the past was beneficial or not.
“It helped me get a job!” she laughed. On a more serious note, however, she explained that far from being a problem it helped her get to know the dancers better - the ones who were constantly working hard to improve, the ones who warmed up properly before a performance and the ones concerned about the artistic and cultural aspects of performing, because “I don’t want dance zombies in the company,” she insisted.
Tamara explained that her future lies in the UK for a long time to come. “Spain gave me technique but the UK gave me culture,” she said.