Tamara Rojo to leave ENB for San Francisco Ballet

In what will come as a surprise to most, English National Ballet has announced that Artistic Director and Lead Principal Dancer, Tamara Rojo, will step down towards the end of 2022 to follow Helgi Tomasson as Artistic Director at San Francisco Ballet, where she will be its first new artistic director in nearly four decades and first woman to lead the company.

Rojo’s husband, Isaac Hernández, recently appointed a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet after previously dancing in the Company’s corps de ballet and as a soloist in 2010, will be going with her to the USA.

Rojo’s ten-year tenure at ENB has seen the company extend its repertoire enormously, both on stage and digitally, while continuing to also present great classical works. Among her major successes is the commissioning of Akram Khan’s Giselle. Many new works have come from emerging choreographers. There have also been programmes featuring all-female choreographers such as Pina Bausch and Aszure Barton. Rojo’s leadership in the expansion of ENB’s repertory won the company an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance in 2017.

English National Ballet in rehearsal for Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda
Photo Laurent Liotardo

It is surely that nurturing of new talent and the development of new works, alongside maintaining tradition that has drawn her to the attention of America’s oldest ballet company, one that also has a hugely respected school.

Indeed, just this point was made by the co-chairs of the search committee, Sunnie Evers and Fran Streets, who call her Rojo a “transformative artistic director”. They continue, “Classical ballet is evolving from a very ‘traditional’ past, and as a creative visionary, Tamara is the dynamic leader who will change and expand upon how patrons of dance will be able to see and engage with it. She is the voice of the future, and we are delighted she will be here at SF Ballet.”

Danielle St. Germain-Gordon, SF Ballet Interim Executive Director adds, “Tamara’s artistic leadership, her shepherding the creation of ENB’s new state-of-the-art home for its dancers, and her deep commitment to beloved classical ballets, alongside a demonstrated history of pushing boundaries with innovative contemporary works, particularly those by women, makes her a perfect fit for SF Ballet. I am beyond excited that she will be joining us in San Francisco.”

Stina Quagebeur, Tamara Rojo and James Streeter
in Akram Khan’s Giselle,
one of ENB’s biggest successes under Tamara Rojo’s leadership
Photo Laurent Liotardo

San Francisco Ballet also have far more performance opportunities and programmes in a year than does ENB, and a home theatre in the shape of the War Memorial Opera House, all of which one can’t help feeling may well have been a factor in Rojo’s decision. She notes, “While internationally recognized both for its performances and training, SF Ballet has a deep, year-round commitment to San Francisco audiences and the community – a dynamic community that my family and I very much look forward to joining and exploring.”

Back at ENB, Rojo also led the company into its new home in the shape of the RIBA award-winning Mulryan Centre for Dance, a purpose-built, state-of-the-art building in east London.

Always looking to the future, she introduced a number of forward-focused programmes including the internal dancer development initiative, Dance Leaders of the Future, and Ballet Futures, a children’s training programme which aims to diversify the talent pipeline.

On January 18, 2022, Rojo will make her choreographic and directorial debut with Raymonda, her first full-length ballet which English National Ballet will perform at the London Coliseum.

Rojo will remain in her post until late in the year, which should help a smooth transition. ENB will appoint an Artistic Advisory Panel to support the board in the search for a new Artistic Director, although there is no immediately obvious successor; certainly no-one steeped in British ballet and its traditions. It will be interesting to see who they go for, and the direction the company now takes.