Tamara Red, the charismatic Spanish ballerina who directs the English National Ballet, will become artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet when its longtime director, Helgi Tomasson, resigns at the end of 2022, the company announced on Tuesday.
Rojo will be the first woman and only the fifth director to lead the troupe, the oldest professional ballet company in the United States, founded in 1933. Her appointment comes after a year of searching for a successor to Tomasson, who led the San Francisco Ballet for 37 years.
“I think this is the most creative company in North America,” said Rojo, 47, in a video interview, adding that her vision for her incorporates her interest in keeping “our art form relevant. for a younger audience who sometimes have new values and principles. “
Rojo has transformed the image of the English National Ballet in London since he became its artistic director in 2012. Founded in 1950 (under the name of London Festival Ballet) with the aim of bringing ballet to the provinces, the company has long struggled in the shadow of the Royal Ballet. and his opera house.
Rojo, who had been Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet and remained a renowned ballerina for the English National Ballet for most of her tenure, gave the English National Ballet a new international allure through innovative programming and risky orders, like Akram Khan’s “Giselle”. “His own production of ‘Raymonda’, which retains the traditional 19th century choreography but defines history during the Crimean War, is due to open on January 18.
She also led a $ 49 million fundraising campaign to build wide seat for the company – the new building opened in east London in 2019 – and partnered with Sadler’s Wells Theater which has given the English National Ballet a regular venue in London.
“She basically transformed this ship,” said Alistair Spalding, artistic director and general manager of Sadler’s Wells. “She led head-on, as a dancer and a director, was bold in the programming, took risks and made some really good choices.
“Most important,” Spalding added, “she had a vision, said, ‘This is what I want’, and found ways to make it happen.”
Rojo’s appointment is a sea change for the San Francisco Ballet, which was founded in 1933 as part of the San Francisco Opera, becoming an independent company in 1942. First directed by Willam Christensen, it was then directed by his brother Lew Christensen, who shared the work with Michael Smuin from 1973 to 1984. Since Tomasson’s arrival in 1985, the company has commissioned approximately 195 new ballets and established an international reputation for its stylistic versatility and technical aplomb.
“Helgi brought exquisite taste, an adventurous spirit, a willingness to take risks and an ability to solve problems of all kinds, to the San Francisco Ballet,” said Sunnie Evers, co-chair with Fran Streets of the research committee, and the co-chairman of the board of directors of the company. “Finding someone to fill his shoes was a daunting prospect.”
Evers said the committee was engaged in global research “inclusive of ethnicity and gender, and of people who are not necessarily standard candidates.” More than 200 applicants were contacted when they started the process in February, she said, with the list narrowing to eight in July. “We had three people of color and three women in this round,” she said. “There’s a lot of talk about white male dominated ballet, so I’m glad we weren’t.”
In a video interview, Tomasson said he had no say in selecting his successor, but hoped the person would continue to “build a great business and try new things.” Rojo, he said, “was able to elevate English National Ballet to a much higher level internationally, which I was asked to do when I came to San Francisco. She acquired new choreographies and respected the classics. So there is a bit of a comparison.
Rojo was wary of her repertoire plans for the San Francisco Ballet, saying it was too early to commit to details and that she would spend the next year learning more about the company and how it works. (Tomasson will schedule the 2022-2023 season, including a festival of new choreographies.)
“I am close to Europe and I will bring some of the flavor of my 25 years in London,” she said. “And I will continue to focus on female choreographers and bring new voices to perform the classics.” She added: “I love the way the theater in the UK works with the traditional canon, like Shakespeare, and flips it. It inspired me to invite Akram Khan to do ‘Giselle’ and I want to do more work like that.
Rojo noted that a consequence of Covid-19 had been the explosion of digital dancing. “I think the San Francisco Ballet has a real opportunity to lead in this area,” she said. “San Francisco is close to Los Angeles, a lot of filmmakers and media companies. So far we’ve just reacted to one situation, but I think the possibilities are huge.
Rojo’s husband, Isaac Hernandez, director of the English National Ballet, recently joined the San Francisco Ballet, where he danced earlier in his career.
Rojo said she would bring a “checks and balances system” developed at English National – involving the wider arts team in casting and dancer evaluations – to the San Francisco Ballet. She added, “I like transparency in leadership. I think it’s important that the dancers understand how decisions are made. (She also said that other than a few engagements this year, she was retiring from the stage.)
Evers said the search committee asked Rojo tough questions about how she would handle Hernandez’s casting and also about articles in the British press in 2018, which described complaints about the conduct of the English National Ballet.
“Tamara was not afraid to admit her mistakes and find solutions,” Evers said.
For her part, Rojo said she did not “come from a traditional ballet school established with a heritage to protect or preserve”.
“I am an alien,” she continued, “and I am interested in inviting strangers into this art form and creating the future with them, whatever it is.”