By Laura Obiols
“Be brave, go for the wildest dream”
It is 5pm on a Monday. Tamara Rojo, Lead Principal dancer and Artistic Director of the English National Ballet (ENB) is sitting at her desk at the ENB in South Kensington after a long day of rehearsals in the studio. When we meet there is a pile of pointe shoes in the corner of her office; she explains that the company is about to go on tour again the following week.
Despite being one of the most recognised faces in the dance world, Rojo has a laidback and peaceful nature. Eloquent, serious, phenomenally clever and quick to laugh – with a great contagious giggle – her words are as well articulated as her movements on stage.
The Spanish dancer took over at the ENB in 2012, at a time of savage cuts to arts council funding, when the company was in dire straits. She shook the company up and gave it new life, bringing a new international classical repertoire to the UK, supporting the work of established and emerging artists, collaborating with contemporary choreographers – most notably Akram Khan – and even taking the company to Glastonbury.
“It has been a lot of work, many long days and sleepless nights,” she explains. “I had a clear vision. I knew the organisation well, I had been a dancer here, I understood the structure both financial and artistically and I saw the potential,” she adds. Where others saw problems – the ENB is a touring ensemble with no home theatre – Rojo saw an opportunity. “A touring company gives you flexibility, it allows you to target different audiences and it helps develop artists within the organisation. When you have a venue, you often have to rotate the repertoire so fast that you can only use dancers that are really ready; there is not time to develop talent,” she says.
In these four and a half years as Artistic Director, Rojo has managed to give the ENB a clear identity. “Bigger companies such as the American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet, even Bolshoi, share the same choreographers; you hear certain names being consistently repeated. There was an opportunity here to make a dynamic company that could be very different from others,” she says. The ENB Autumn season will include La Sylphide, Kennet MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, Romeo & Juliet and Akram Khan’s Giselle, which starts in September and is already sold out in London.
The company moves offices in Autumn 2018. London City Island will house both the ENB and the ENB School. “We will have a dance lab, not a proper theatre but a full stage with 170 seats, with lighting capabilities, a full tower and a rig,” says Rojo. This will allow the company to develop their new productions to the highest level and to meet audience expectations. “In the ballet world, companies often spend almost £2m on a production and then give themselves three days on stage because it is too expensive,” she says. “In Manchester when we did Giselle we had two weeks of previews. This is how it should be done”.
Rojo discovered dance when she was five-years-old, during after-school activities which she took part in while her mother was working. “One day, it was raining and my mum was late. The ballet teacher saw me and told me to come into the school gym. They were doing ballet and I fell in love with it. I did not know what being a ballet dancer was; I thought it was just doing ballet class and that is all I wanted to do,” she says. “If I was not a dancer, I would love to write – that would be amazing. I would love to be able to create stories but I am not sure I have the talent.”
When she is not with the ENB Rojo enjoys going to the theatre, cinema and exhibitions, but struggles to see everything she wants to see. “I always feel that I am missing out,” she says. “You constantly hear ‘You have to see this’ and you think ‘when?!’. What a struggle to have, uh?” she smiles.
Rojo decided to move to the UK after seeing the repertoire of Kenneth MacMillan. Galina Samsova, director of the Scottish Ballet, gave the dancer her first international opportunity, opening many doors. She remembers advice given to her by Michael Kaiser, Executive Director of the Royal Opera House at the time she joined. They worked together for only six months but connected straightaway. “He said to me when I started, ‘be ambitious, go for the wildest dream” and I thought to myself, ‘this is insane; you have to have a hint of realism’, but you don’t! So far I have managed to go for the wildest dream”, she says. “If you are driving an artistic organisation, be brave. Do not compromise on the ideas and do not have a hint of realism; you might have to compromise on the way of delivering them but do not compromise on the vision”.
Rojo has made a conscious effort to support the work of female choreographers – with She Said, a triple bill at Sadler’s Wells. “By the time I came to ENB, I realised I had never performed in a ballet created by a women. I thought that could not be right,” she says. “Now more and more people are looking for female choreographers. I hope no one can finish an international artistic career of 20 years of professional dance without having performed in a ballet created by a woman. I hope that never happens again”. ENB won an Olivier Award in April this year for outstanding achievement in dance and for expanding the variety of its repertoire with Giselle and She Said.
A prominent public voice in the arts, Rojo sits on many boards, such as the Arts Council England and One Dance UK, but is frustrated by the Spanish arts world. “I hope that at some point I read in a political manifesto something about culture that gives me hope,” she says. She believes that the Spanish political class, regardless of ideology, should promote arts and culture in a transparent way with an “arm’s length” consistency – culture serving society beyond a specific political agenda”. Rojo explains how revolutionary the creation of the Arts Council was in the UK after the second world war, and how policies of philanthropy and tax deductions helped balance the cuts on public funding.
“I just wish that culture in Spain had the commitment of the political class,” she says. “In the UK, and also in other countries with good models i.e. Canada, the creative industry is not only thriving but one of the motors of the country; it creates jobs and continues to grow even in crisis. It attracts tourism, it connects industries, hotels and restaurants, publishing and textiles”.
She urges Spain’s politicians to think about the benefits of art and culture to the country’s economy, its international reputation and soft diplomacy. “Even the coalition government in the UK, that had to face the biggest cuts, recognises that the arts will not be cut as it drives the economy,” she says. “I just wish our Spanish government, whatever ideology they defend, could come to an agreement on this for the benefit of Spanish society. “I can only keep saying it… again”.
Rojo mentions the lack of collaboration among Spain’s Autonomous Communities that could do better at sharing expenses when there is a company on tour, and feels there is a lack of infrastructure and vision in Spain. “We are such a musical society, we dance all the time – just think about all the festivities in the villages. People embrace art but successful art projects only happen because there is a bunch of devoted individuals that really fight for it, to the bones. When individuals disappear, the whole project disappears with them because there is no support or direction, there is no plan,” she explains.
She talks about Brexit as a sad moment for many. “We don’t really know what Brexit is and that is worrying,” says Rojo, referring to a white paper published by the Creative Industries Federation on the possible consequences¹. “Brexit will affect not only the ability to bring in talent but also in the free movement of talent that has made London the cultural capital in the world,” she says. “If I was in Spain I would take the opportunity to become the cultural capital of the world”.
At 42, Rojo is quietly winding down despite being in perfect physical condition. “There are some roles that I do not do anymore and I am happy with that. Not everyone has the luck to have this transition at the speed they choose in the manner they choose. I am very lucky,” she says. When asked about the possibility of her returning to Spain, she says she would only go back to create a National Arts Board (Consejo de las Artes) but does not envisage that happening in the short term. However, it is not her style to give up.
¹ Middlesbrough, L. (2016) The impact of leaving the EU on the UK’s arts, creative industries and cultural education – and what should be done: Brexit report. Creative Industries Federation https://issuu.com/lovemiddlesbrough/docs/creative_industries_federation_-_br/3
One decision, 64.6 million* consequences
On June 23 this year the UK made one of the biggest decisions in recent history: to leave the European Union. The real consequences for the future of the country are as yet unknown, but the result (51.9 per cent voted leave, 48.1 per cent voted remain) has had a major impact since it became public, not only for British citizens but for those born outside the country who, according to the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, make up 13.1 per cent of the UK’s population.
The morning after the referendum everyone had an opinion on what had happened. Brexit will change the current rules and affect the lives of many. Laura Gran talked to people from different backgrounds to understand their reactions to the result.
*Office for National Statistics: UK population in 2014
Place of birth:
Occupation: Director of Professional
Development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Catherine has lived in London for 28 years
“I was quite shocked to find that my family voted Brexit. I come from an Irish family, I have an Irish passport and am the child of immigrants, and very much a Remain voter, but I kind of understand it. The public in the UK is generally quite quiet and reserved but at the moment they are very angry with politicians. All the country feels that it is run too much from London, which is a very different place to anywhere else anyway. They feel unheard, they feel unlistened to, frightened about the world in general and about immigration specifically: the numbers of refugees and potential for more from places like Turkey. The translation of all of that into a referendum vote, which is a very simple ‘should we stay or should we go’, meant that those complex issues were not dealt with properly. So it is very insulting for many people to be called racist or ignorant or stupid if they voted to get out when they feel that they have reasons that are not racist, stupid or ignorant. We all have to have a think about that. My personal view is we are very very wrong to have voted that way. I feel we need to be part of Europe for all sort of reasons that include safety, security, the whole United Nations issues… We need to remember that Europe had wars before we ever had a European treaty.
Did it affect me emotionally? Very much so. I was really shocked on that day and I am probably still angry. I have Irish citizenship, I have an Irish passport, I have an EU passport and do not want a British one because I am Irish/European, which doesn’t mean I am not proud of Britain. I was born in this country but now Ireland has such a complicated problem, with the border and the peace treaty and all of that. They are going to have to put the border back in, which a hundred years ago caused a civil war. Even for my own family who live in Ireland, this is going to be huge. That as a consequence of this vote is massive. Everywhere there is an impact. I understand from a Spanish, Italian or French perspective Brexit feels big but actually even within the closest countries, this is very traumatic”.
María Jesús Rubio
and Robert Tkaczyk
Age: 33 and 35
María Jesús is Spanish and Robert is British
Place of birth: María Jesús in Ágreda, Soria (Spain) and Robert in London
María Jesús works for a PR agency and Robert works for a courier company
Location: The couple married in 2014 and live in London
María Jesús: “Cameron went to the elections promising a referendum and I think it is fair he did it. I do not think the timing was right. The result was emotionally shocking. I was not forced to move to London; I came here because it was easier and quicker than going to the United States to improve my English. Some British people think all European immigrants come to the UK because they are forced to, and that is not true. Perhaps we have better opportunities here in the way career paths go but we could also decide to move away and it would be a loss for the country. When British people go to Spain to live they call themselves ‘expatriates’, but they call Spanish people living here ‘immigrants’. That is arrogant to me.”
Robert: “I found it strange that they were willing to put the country at such an economic risk, and at the risk of losing all the best talent. For me the result is terrible. I woke up to watch the results and could not go back to sleep after Brexit was declared. I think if they go ahead with it, this country will get weaker and will isolate itself away for Europe and the rest of the world.
Brexit probably makes me more determined to move, I have seen a really unpleasant side to my own city: what people say, what people do, how they are treating each other… it is not somewhere to be happy right now. We have a problem with people who have a small island mentality.”
David John Sumpter
Place of birth:
Almería. David moved to Spain in 1985. He worked as Academic Head of various schools and colleges
“I do not think the result of the referendum will affect me personally in any way. I have been living here long enough to feel more Spanish than British. I cannot vote in general elections, but I have my pension, social security… I paid contributions for many years. I do not have dual nationality but I would apply for it if I felt it would be an advantage for me.
Sometimes some of my British friends living here in Spain ask me for advice, or practical help when the language barrier presents difficulties. I know from conversations with them that they have some concerns, especially in the area of healthcare. If Brexit were to affect health-care agreements between the two countries, they say that it might well influence their decision to live in or even visit Spain. Many of my (Spanish) ex-students are now local businesspeople. One, for example, is an estate agent, and has commented that Brexit has affected sales to British nationals. And those who put down a deposit on property prior to Brexit insisted on an extra clause in the contract giving them the right to back out and recover their deposit if the vote were to leave the EU.
There are others who work in the agricultural sector – the major business activity in Almería which, at certain times of the year, produces 70 per cent of the horticultural products consumed in the EU. The UK is a major customer. They are concerned that when the UK leaves the EU this may adversely affect these trade relations, which would have serious consequences on the area’s economy”.
Place of birth: Barcelona
Occupation: Founder of te.chie.la, an IT company he set up in London in 2015: https://te.chie.la/
Location: London, having moved with Telefónica in 2013 as a step forward in his career
“Although I had an indefinite contract, I came to London thinking I would be here for one or two years, just to improve my English, and after that I would go back to Spain. Now, though, I will not leave unless they kick us out – I guess I am comfortable here. I decided to set up my own company in the UK and not in Spain because of the legal regulations for self-employed workers. In the UK I don’t have to pay a cent if I do not have a turnover. I can also be an employee of the company and have my own salary as if I were a typical worker. In Spain I would have to pay my contribution, at least 300 euros a month, regardless of whether I earn money or not.
I agree with the decision to call a referendum because people should voice and define what they want, but I do not agree with the result. It was shocking. I think the referendum was more focused on racist propaganda than on economic figures, I am not sure people were adequately informed. At the beginning I took it badly and considered going back to Spain because I felt that the UK does not want us here. Brexit also worries me because I will need to hire people in my company and it will be difficult to do it if the UK closes its doors. What opportunities will there be in my sector if we need trained people and are not able to find them?”
Cristina Requena and Manuel Saiz
Age: 24 and 23
Place of birth: Caudete, in Albacete, and Cuenca (Spain)
Both recently graduated in Environmental Sciences
Status: They moved to London in March 2016 to improve their English
“Most foreign people who live in the UK get the jobs that British people do not want. If they wanted them, they would get the positions because they speak the language much better than us. I guess perhaps the British are tired of people who want to live here for the rest of their lives because they cannot earn a decent living in their birth countries. Perhaps they feel that we are an invasion… After the referendum I was scared of verbal abuse. I read on Twitter: ‘Europe rats, go back home’. One day on the bus the bus driver said to two girls: ‘If you are going to speak that shit language, go upstairs’. This kind of thing is shocking, but I hope things are calmer now.”
Manuel Saiz: “I have always considered English to be important in order to travel and to get a better job. We lived in London from March until May this year and will go back to the UK in October but to a smaller city, probably Manchester, because London is very expensive. I worked that period of time in the kitchen of McDonalds and none of my workmates were English so we learnt very limited vocabulary. The other problem is that we did not have the chance to make English friends so all the English we learnt was at work, in the supermarket or in dealings with the bank. The current situation does not affect me much because I do not plan to stay in the UK longer than one year.”
Two Anglo-Spanish friends, visual artist Sonia Boué and poet Jenny Rivarola, have produced a creative response to Felicia Browne’s short life. We explain their interest in her and introduce their upcoming Arts Council-funded exhibition: Through An Artist’s Eye.
Artist Sonia Boué first discovered the work of Felicia Browne at the Conscience and Conflict exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in 2014, which focused on British artists’ response to the Spanish Civil War. She was immediately taken by her remarkable and unsentimental portraits of men and women innocently caught up in the brutality of war.
Her own work on the theme of the Civil War prompted Tate Britain to invite her to take part in a video to accompany their archive of Felicia’s drawings. Now, Sonia’s fascination with her artistic output and life story has grown into a creative project for which she recruited poet and friend Jenny Rivarola. Together they have produced a sequence of paintings and poems that respond to Felicia’s life and act as a tribute on the 80th anniversary of her death and of the outbreak of the Civil War.
Daughters of Spanish exiles
Sonia and Jenny’s commitment to the project has much to do with their own family backgrounds. Both are daughters of Spanish fathers who as Republicans were exiled from their homeland at the end of the war. Both young men endured hardship in the French concentration camps, and both were lucky to escape to England to begin a new life.
Sonia’s father José García Lora became a lecturer and academic at Birmingham University, amassing an extensive collection of exile literature and arranging for Camilo José Cela to receive an honorary doctorate there. Jenny’s father José Rivarola joined the BBC World Service and, under his broadcasting name Ruiz Medina, became the voice welcomed by Spaniards who turned to the Corporation for unbiased news during Franco’s regime.
Who was Felicia Browne?
This emotional connection to the Spanish Civil War has been an important influence in Sonia and Jenny’s project on Felicia Browne. The British artist was born in 1904 in the London suburb of Thames Ditton. After studying at the Slade School of Fine Art and in Berlin just before the Nazis came to power, she became politically active and dedicated much of her time to encouraging working women to fight for better conditions.
In summer 1936 she set off with a friend on a road trip to Spain. The exact purpose of their journey is not known. For Felicia, she certainly intended to paint and draw. And both were interested in the People’s Olympiad in Barcelona, planned as a counterpoint to the official Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin.
Neither knew that on their arrival in Barcelona in July, the Civil War would begin. Felicia volunteered to support the Republican cause and was shot by fascists during her first mission, while trying to help an injured comrade.
About the exhibition
The exhibition Through An Artist’s Eye, will lead visitors through seven key stages of Felicia’s life, from her origins in England to her tragic death near the Aragon front. Each stage is represented through a painting by Sonia and a poem by Jenny. Exhibited alongside will be some of Felicia’s own work and excerpts from the extraordinary letters that charted her fateful journey. The exhibition will include a video about the project.
EVENTS PROGRAMME & BOOKING
Friday 30 September 6.30pm
Marx Memorial Library, 37A Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0DU
Thursday 6 October 6.30pm
All Saints Church, Market Place, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1JP
Exhibition Opening Event:
Saturday 8 October 12.00 – 2.00pm
All Saints Church (Weston Green), Chestnut Ave, Esher KT10 8JL
The exhibition runs until October 29.
For more information and to book for an event, follow this link:
Supported by the Arts Council and the Instituto Cervantes London.
By Duncan Wheeler
In April 2016, the third-third edition of the academic cycle of Almeria’s Classical Theatre Festival took place in the neighbouring coastal resort of Roquetas de Mar. The brain child of secondary school teacher and theatre practitioner Antonio Serrano, the University of Almeria took on a more active role this year. Noelia Iglesias Iglesias, a rising star of a new generation of Spanish philologists championing a performance-based approach to Golden Age drama, co-ordinated the academic programme, complemented by the opportunity to watch a series of theatrical productions including Lope de Vega’s recently discovered play, Mujeres y criadas, staged by the Madrid based Fundación Siglo de Oro and co-directed by Laurence Boswell, former associate director at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I was delighted to accept an invitation to deliver a keynote address on the casting of actresses in male roles in recent English- and Spanish-language productions of Golden Age drama. As a result of actresses being allowed to perform on the Spanish Early Modern stage, their classical tradition features a range and depth of female roles absent from the Shakespearean canon. There is, therefore, less of a perceived need for the kind of cross-dressing casting that has been increasingly prevalent in the UK over recent years; I am, for example, thinking of Maxine Peake’s performance as Hamlet in 2014. Having said this, the most commercially and critically successful Spanish production of a classical play to be staged in recent years had Almodóvar regular Blanca Portillo take on the role of Segismundo in Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño, the play often referred to as “the Spanish Hamlet”.
A beautiful seventeenth-century castle hosting an exhibition of costumes made by Cornejo tailors for theatrical productions, television series and period films such as El perro del hortelano and Shakespeare in Love providing a fitting setting for convivial debate around the issues raised by the performance of classical drama in the present-day, alongside issues of theatrical exchange between Spain and the United Kingdom just days before the twin centenaries of the respective deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare. Scholarships were provided for undergraduates from Andalusia’s state universities to attend, whilst we were collectively billeted in the Hotel Playacapricho. Honouring its name, it was the first and I fear last time I’ve seen bingo in the swimming pool coincide with spirited discussions on extant editions of seventeenth-century manuscripts. I certainly can’t envisage this happening in Stratford-upon-Avon anytime soon, more’s the pity.
Duncan Wheeler is Associate Professor in Spanish at the University of Leeds, and Visiting Fellow of St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. His publications include Golden Age Drama in Contemporary Spain: The Comedia on Page, Stage and Screen (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012). He is Hispanic Editor for Modern Language Review, and Series Editor of the book series Spanish Golden Age Studies for Peter Lang International Publishers. Jornadas de Teatro Clasico in Almeria