Tamara Rojo joined the elite, though thankfully growing, roster of female ballet company directors seven years ago when she took the helm at English National Ballet. Since then she's managed the even more uncommon feat of continuing to perform as a leading principal dancer for ENB while directing the company. Rojo began her remarkable career in her home country of Spain, but at 22 years old she left for the UK, dancing with Scottish National Ballet, ENB, and then The Royal Ballet, where she spent 12 years as a principal and earned international acclaim for her assured technique and passionate stage presence. Her performances, like this 2009 La Bayadère, show an artist truly in command of her craft.
This week (Feb 28-Mar. 2), English National Ballet brings Akram Khan's widely acclaimed Giselle to Chicago's Harris Theater, the company's first U.S. appearance in 30 years. Commissioned by ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo, Khan, whose work combines contemporary dance and Indian kathak, takes a revisionist approach to the classic story, replacing peasants and aristocrats with migrant factory workers and wealthy landlords. The ballet's look and sound have also been reinterpreted, with music by Vincenzo Lamagna (adapted from Adolphe Adam's original score), sets and costumes by Academy Award-winner Tim Yip and lighting design by Tony-award winner Mark Henderson.
Pointe spoke with Rojo to learn more about why she wanted to modernize one of ballet's best-loved classics—and why the risk was worth it.
George Balanchine famously said "Ballet is woman." He should have added that ballet is man, too, because it has long been defined by the traditional male-female binary. A formal challenge to the paradigm was launched in June, when Chase Johnsey was offered the opportunity to dance female corps roles in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty in London.
"I am a classical ballerina," says Johnsey, a freelance dancer who identifies as gender fluid and uses he/him/his pronouns. His ENB performance (in the mazurka and as a marchioness in the hunt scene; he also understudied a nymph) made headlines around the world and turned him into an activist for the cause—not to change classical ballet, but to open its doors to artists across the full spectrum of human gender. By hiring Johnsey, ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo put ballet's gender-exclusiveness on notice. "Our work and our company should reflect the world we live in," she stated via email. "Ballet should have no barriers; it's for everyone, everywhere."
Johnsey isn't alone. Jayna Ledford and Scout Alexander, two young transgender dancers, are training hard to break into the professional ballet world. We spoke with them about the dreams, achievements and challenges of nonbinary artists in the intensely gendered world of ballet.
English National Ballet's Emerging Dancer Award has become a highly anticipated annual event, especially since the company started live-streaming the performance around the world. The competition, which is between six up-and-coming dancers from ENB's junior ranks, is often a good predictor of bigger things to come—past winners include ENB principal Shiori Kasi and first soloist Junor Souza, as well as exiting principal Cesar Corrales, who will join Royal Ballet as a first soloist next season.
This year's competition took place Monday. Finalists Precious Adams, Fernando Carratalá Coloma, Giorgio Garrett, Daniel McCormick, Francesca Velicu and Connie Vowles performed their hearts out for a live audience at the London Colosseum, each dancing a classical pas de deux and variation, as well as a contemporary solo. (Read more about the finalists here).
Last Thursday was World Ballet Day LIVE, the official 22-hour live-stream relay showcasing companies across the globe. If you were busy (we know that you don't always have the luxury to spend an entire day watching ballet), don't fret. Many of the companies involved recorded their classes, rehearsals and interviews from the day of, and we rounded them up for you to watch at your leisure. Careful, though; there are more than twenty hours of footage included here... make sure you take a break to, you know, sleep.
First up is San Francisco Ballet with a full five hours, including rehearsal for Balanchine's timeless classic, Serenade.
The Royal Ballet's WBD stream is split into three parts. Here's the first chunk, featuring company rehearsals of a few Sir Kenneth MacMillan ballets as well as Christopher Wheeldon's Alice in Wonderland (a measly two hours and 45 minutes). You can find part 2 here and the full company class here. The video also features a quick aerial tour of London from the balcony of the Royal Opera House.
Since 2000, megastars and budding ballet celebrities alike have graced the covers of Pointe. Take a walk with us down memory lane as we recall some of the biggest names from some of our earliest issues. Whether they continue to perform or have transitioned to a position at the front of the studio, these stars have real staying power.
Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky (May/June 2001)
Then: Pegged as "Ballet's Hottest Couple" on our cover, the duo had recently joined American Ballet Theatre as principals.
Now: Though both have retired from ABT, they run a summer intensive in New York City, give limited performances as guest artists and have even designed items, like ballet booties, for Bloch. Dvorovenko also had a major role in the Starz's ballet drama "Flesh and Bone."
Svetlana Zakharova (July/August 2001)
Then: Zakharova was a young principal with the Mariinsky Ballet.
Now: She's still tantalizing audiences with her breathtaking performances of ballets like Swan Lake—but with the Bolshoi Ballet. Last year, Zakharova also became a guest artist with Bavarian State Ballet.
Tamara Rojo (November/December 2001)
Then: The Spanish dancer was a leading performer with The Royal Ballet.
Now: If someone can do it all, it's Rojo. She's currently balancing dual roles at English National Ballet as artistic director and principal dancer. Pointe even named her performance with Irek Mukhamedov in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Broken Wings one of the Standouts of 2016.
Misty Copeland (February/March 2002)
Then: Way before Misty Copeland became a household name, she scored her first Pointe cover as a promising member of ABT's corps.
Now: As ABT's first female African American principal, she's an all-around ballet superhero. Copeland has catapulted ballet into the mainstream and has championed issues like having a positive body image and diversity in dance.
Jenifer Ringer (April/May 2002)
Then: a leading principal at New York City Ballet
Now: Ringer traded East Coast for West when she became the director of the Colburn Dance Academy in L.A. If you're not one of her lucky students, you can read about her perspective in her memoir, Dancing Through It: My Journey in Ballet. And, just last year, she also spoke to Pointe about how dancers can foster confidence.
Carlos Acosta (August/September 2002)
Then: The international ballet star had loads of fans at The Royal Ballet, but Big Apple audiences were also getting acquainted with him since he'd recently appeared as a guest with ABT.
Now: He's busy leading his own company, Acosta Danza, in his native Cuba.
Paloma Herrera (December 2002/January 2003)
Then: The Argentinian dancer was wowing New York audiences as a principal at ABT.
Now: Earlier this month, Herrera became artistic director of Teatro Colón's ballet company in Buenos Aires. We can't wait to see what she does in her new position.
Ethan Stiefel (February/March 2003)
Then: Though he launched his professional career with NYCB, Stiefel was an ABT principal by the time he appeared on our cover.
Now: Stiefel had a short stint as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet from 2011 to 2014, but now, he's focusing on choreographing. His first major choreographic commission will premiere in May at The Washington Ballet.
Miami City Ballet's National Tour
Artists of Miami City Ballet in Justin Peck's Heatscape. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.
In late April at the Harris Theater, Chicagoans found Miami City Ballet firing on all cylinders, following the company's Lincoln Center debut and an engagement at Northrop in Minneapolis. Stage-filling Balanchine classics like Bourrée Fantasque, Serenade and Symphony in Three Movements struck a perfect balance between relaxed exuberance and clean execution, while seasoned stars like Jeanette Delgado and Renato Penteado shone in contemporary works by Justin Peck (Heatscape) and Liam Scarlett (Viscera), respectively. Most memorably, a dream team of 23 artists—including the irrepressible Nathalia Arja—gave a commanding presentation of Symphonic Dances, created for MCB by Alexei Ratmansky.
Former Royal Ballet principals Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta are notably one of the best couples to perform together. In this clip of Manon, it's clear that Rojo and Acosta have an unadulterated chemistry, even with the pas de deux's technically exhaustive demands.
Like Romeo and Juliet, Manon tells the story of star-crossed lovers. Though Manon and Des Grieux are fated from the start, this variation captures their love for each other through stolen glances and heartfelt embraces. Acosta showcases Rojo in every promenade and lift, underscoring his own strength and grace. From the opening saut de chat at 0:10 to the soutenu at 1:08, there is an implicit assuredness between them that makes their performance particularly special.
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It’s one thing to receive a nod of approval from your boss, but imagine how special it must feel to be validated by your fellow company members. Tomorrow, six English National Ballet dancers—Isabelle Brouwers, Jeanette Kakereka, Rina Kanehara, Erik Woolhouse, Daniele Silingardi and Cesar Corrales—will compete for the company’s seventh annual Emerging Dancer Award. And for the first time, we won’t have to await news from attendees across the pond. We can watch the action firsthand from the comfort of our own homes (slash coffee shops, office cubicles and cafeterias) when the event is live streamed Tuesday, May 17.
The Emerging Dancer Competition is a unique opportunity for young ENB dancers, chosen by their colleagues, to take center stage. Unsurprisingly, several past awardees have eventually become principals or soloists. Five of this year’s competitors are artists of the company (the equivalent of corps de ballets dancers); Cesar Corrales is a junior soloist. The men and women will each perform a solo and a pas de deux with one of their fellow competitors, with repertoire ranging from classical staples to new contemporary works.
The seven-person judging panel includes ENB artistic director Tamara Rojo, former Royal Ballet ballerina Viviana Durante and innovative British dance maker Sir Matthew Bourne. Additionally, all ENB dancers excluding principals are up for the People’s Choice Award, voted by the public throughout the season. Winners will be announced during the live stream.
In addition to the performances, tomorrow’s event promises the kind of backstage, behind-the-scenes footage we can’t get enough of. Make sure to account for time zones: 7:30pm in London means 2:30pm for East Coasters, 11:30 Pacific Time. Head to ENB’s special webpage to tune in.
At 25, Isaac Hernández is entering his prime, and he knows it. This eternally restless dancer, already a veteran of two companies, recently found a home at a third, English National Ballet. There, he has been paired with the eminent ballerinas Tamara Rojo (his boss) and Alina Cojocaru. His has been an impressive ascent for a young man who began his training in the backyard of his house in Guadalajara, standing at a homemade barre alongside 10 brothers and sisters. The Hernández clan's instructor was their father, Hector Hernández, a former dancer for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Houston Ballet and Harkness Ballet. (Isaac's brother Esteban is a dancer at San Francisco Ballet.) But even now, Isaac wants more. Not satisfied to focus solely on his career, Hernández has launched an initiative in Mexico geared toward creating opportunities for young dancers, including a tuition-free ballet school. Pointe caught up with him recently when he was in New York City.
Whether it's an oh-so fashionably late arrival to a ball or an endless line of impressively in-sync penchés, ballets know the power of a dramatic entrance. (Appropriate, perhaps, that the word “entrance" has a double meaning, depending on how you pronounce it: “an entry" and also “to enthrall.") Take a look at some of our favorite wing-to-stage moments.
Although it’s hard for me to imagine Tamara Rojo, the strong and savvy dancing director of the English National Ballet, as a helpless maiden (or to look away from those steely legs), she wonderfully captures Snow White’s sweet charm. This 2006 clip is from the balletic adaptation of the tale directed by Emilio Aragón and Ricardo Cué at the Teatro Arriaga in Spain.
Though the queen’s evil huntsmen haven’t yet attacked her, you can see how Rojo’s Snow White might incite jealousy. She darts out of the wings with an effortless manège and intersperses moments of light, playful footwork with impeccable quadruple pirouettes and picturesque poses. Beguiling and dynamic as always, Rojo commands the stage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!