Tag Archives: Wayne Eagling

Will Fortune Favour The Bold?

English National Ballet gave the ballet world a jolt last week with the announcement that Royal Ballet principal dancer Tamara Rojo would take over as Artistic Director from Wayne Eagling when he steps down in the autumn of this year. However, at 37 and at the height of her dancing powers, she will be a director who still performs with the company. This has been done in the past successfully – Vladimir Malakhov, for example, is at the helm of Staats Oper Berlin and still performing; that?s not to say that it is always a winning formula. English National Ballet is a company that is fighting for survival as it is, with a dedicated and experienced director – how they will fare with a leader who needs time to do class, rehearse and sew her pointe shoes, remains to be seen.
It is no surprise that Ms. Rojo ended up as a company director. A few years ago she shadowed Karen Kain, Director of National Ballet of Canada and she has been very vocal in the past about her leadership ambitions. Indeed she has admitted that she applied for Monica Mason’s job as director of The Royal Ballet, so not only is she ambitious, those ambitions are lofty ones.
A director who is still dancing brings a lot to the table: they are in touch with the needs of dancers on a daily basis and have a full appreciation of training needs, the rigours of performing and the emotional investment it takes. So, for the dancers, having a director who is also a sympathetic colleague will be a boon. But a ballet company is far more than its dancers, and a director who is spreading herself thinly might not be the salvation a company like this need.
From watching Ms. Rojo performing over the years, and from what I have gleaned from interviews she has given, she is an intelligent, ambitious and fearless woman with a deep understanding of her artform: all attributes that go towards making her an ideal candidate for artistic director of a ballet company. However, I cannot shake the feeling that it is too much, too soon. Delegation will be the name of the game here, as the artistic staff of English National Ballet will have to take more responsibility than before, to cover the shortfall that Ms. Rojo’s own dancing career must surely result in. I’m not saying that she’s being selfish in taking this job and still wanting to dance, but merely that her ambitions may be tripping her up; her dream of leading a company from the wings being realised before she’s ready to relinquish her role of leading it from the stage.
Undoubtedly, Rojo’s international reputation as a dancer will open more doors for English National Ballet and hopefully it will attract new audiences and sponsors. It is a bold move on the part of the board and also Rojo herself, but we know what they say about those who are bold, so hopefully fortune will be on their side.  Here is a case of a series of events happening at just the right time; we just don’t know if all the elements will work until it hits the ground. I sincerely hope it does, because it could be spectacular.

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It’s Tough At The Top

The majority of dance company directors have served their time as senior dancers, whether in the company they now head, or another. If history has taught us anything it’s us that being a good dancer has little bearing on one’s capacity as an effective director. There is no well-worn track to such a position; most directors take their own route, but the most successful ones are those that strike the right balance between being responsible, savvy, sensitive and knowledgeable.

Taking on the role of director means both taking care of  and carrying forward the vision of those that have gone before; every decision must be made with the interests of the former directors in mind, while keeping an eye on the current artistic climate and taking informed steps towards the future. This is the reason so many companies have former dancers at the helm; they grew up with the repertoire and have a thorough knowledge of it in its context: As well as knowing the ballets in the company history, for more established companies there will be a certain style that is inherent – this will always be evolving and for someone that has come of age alongside that style, there will be an innate knowledge of what direction in which to take it, keeping an eye on the training and coaching the dancers receive. Suitable casting and promotion will also be informed by this knowledge. Two examples of this type of journey to artistic direction are Peter Martins of New York City Ballet and Monica Mason of the Royal Ballet – both were dancers in their respective companies for their entire careers, and then worked their way through the ballet staff ranks, taking with them a lifetime of knowledge. Wayne Eagling, director of English National Ballet, came from outside the organisation, but his experience as a dancer in the Royal Ballet and as director of Het Nationale Ballet would have given him a broader frame of reference. Either way, a thorough understanding of the art form, and to an extent the heritage of the company, is of paramount importance if the director is to take it on an appropriate trajectory.

Dancers are sensitive creatures; although they can be tough when it comes to their work, long days looking in the mirror means a soft-touch can go a long way. A career as a dancer will, hopefully, leave one with a lasting memory of the daily anguish that tends to go hand in hand with being under constant scrutiny. Once a dancer retires, their dancing life remains imprinted on their mind and body – for a dancer that goes on to direct, this imprint will inform their every decision. They will have peoples careers in their hands, and will have to remember what it is like to be in such a precarious position. They are also in the important position of being responsible for giving generously of their knowledge, passing on what they have learned to another generation; this is most important for those directors involved in coaching roles they themselves have danced. The director is someone to whom every member of the company looks for leadership – they should never forget what it is to be a dancer, or they run the risk of being unable to communicate sympathetically with their dancers.

Aside from the human and artistic understanding that is demanded for such a position to be effective, the role of director is also one of management. Knowledge of the organisation is required; in bigger companies there is a specific hierarchy, among both dancers and administration. While some of the more prominent organisations will have dedicated staff for the purpose, the areas of funding, philanthropy, outreach, development and marketing need to be  considerations in taking a company forward in the competitive world of the arts. With dance companies being such public entities, the director is the one that will take the backlash of any failures: the position requires someone decisive, resolute and at ease with the fact that every decision made will have its detractors.

It’s hard to imagine a recruitment advertisement reading: “Wanted: Artistic Director. Must have in depth knowledge of company heritage, repertoire, coaching and arts administration. Parental warmth and clinical decisiveness needed on an ad hoc basis”, but this might just sum up what is needed.

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