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About the Change

Tamara Rojo
ENB Principal

by Bruce Marriott

photographer PJ Baldwin

At 23 Tamara Rojo - pronounced HRrrrocko and meaning Red in Spanish - is one of the youngest principals in the ballet world. Already she has many of the classic roles under her belt - Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Juliet - though she is not yet particularly widely known. But this is changing and in the summer when she opens the English National Ballet (ENB) "Romeo and Juliet" at the Royal Albert Hall she will become known to tens of thousands and will be seen on more than a few front pages of newspapers.

Tamara's hallmark is an impressively precise, smooth and musical technique coupled with excellent dramatic acting. In short everything that most people could wish for.

Tamara arrives all small, bright and young and speaking very good English though her Spanish syntax occasionally helps rearrange the words into a slightly odd order. Despite one of the most hectic of schedules she speaks freely and joyfully with many giggles and there is no sense that she really is in a rush and has to be elsewhere asap. Good grief at the end she even starts asking me questions about how I got into ballet. It later crosses our mind that perhaps she has her own web-site in which a series of reveling interviews with interviewers are posted!

Currently she is working on ENB Artistic Director Derek Deane's new Romeo and Juliet, for unveiling in June, and with more urgency perhaps on ENB's Mid-scale tour (one of two) which kicks off on the 14th April in Truro, Cornwall, only a few precious days away. She is part of a very strong team (including Lisa Pavane, Yat Sen Chang and Dmitri Gruzdyev) premiering "Country Garden", Christopher Hampson's new piece for the company, the progress of which we have been following. "Yes, he told me to say lots of nice things!" she says disarmingly. One is almost tempted to think that, like Hampson, she too drinks Guinness but she doesn't (and in fact does not like pubs at all).

"I didn't even audition for ENB - I thought I would never get in here!"

She finds the new piece (Country Garden) difficult, something I can confirm from sitting in on some of the working rehearsals, but wonderfully musical, and she loves the way he plays with the tempo all the time. "The good thing is to work on the music in class and rehearsals and then you can play with it.... He is a very fresh and new choreographer. I worked with him in "Perpetuum Mobile" just when I joined. He did the pdd with me and I thought he was a very good chorographer. The reviews were very good and he's lucky now that Derek gives him the opportunity now every year I think." Perhaps Sherry is her drink and he has promised her a cellar full! Joking aside she is honest and clearly wild horses would not get her to say something she did not believe.

Tamara was made a principal 3 months ago after receiving great critical acclaim for her Clara in Nutcracker and before that her Odette/Odile caused a stir within the company and among those lucky people who saw it on tour. But being made a principal was not expected; she was doing principal roles but expected to make steady progress from soloist onwards. But Deane clearly saw her gift and while others might have vacillated (and risked losing her) he made the swift decision. How was she made up? "He called me. I go up to company office and he just tell me he wanted to promote me to principal" - 'And what did you say?' - "nothing really - I said thank you!". So now you know.

"I just feel really, really nice in a ballet class. I still enjoy it..."

While she has danced many parts, Clara is an unusual role to make a name in, but in Deane's production it assumes greater significance within the context of a posh family with more than a few problems, or a "family with troubles" as she puts it. "So in reality it was a big, big role from a character point of view which make my work much easier because if it's full of things I can work with it. If it's an empty role I can't do anything with it." While the role has potential, it was certainly Tamara who made it as big as it is and in the three times we saw her she always stood out and commanded the stage.

Following the short Mid-scale tour it's then flat-out on Juliet and indeed some of the choreography is already done - the ballroom variation and the poison scene for example. "Derek is very fast. He's a kind of choreographer that thinks everything before, so when he gets there he knows what he wants, and straight away he goes to it. But he makes you think more. Its not your Juliet or the way you see it only. Its the way he thinks is the right way and the way one is to be. So you have to pull a bit and adjust."

rojo_and_bolle_romeo_and_juliet.jpg - 21.3 K
Tamara Rojo and Roberto Bolle
photographer Hugo Glendinning, courtesy of ENB
Her Romeo is Roberto Bolle? "Yes" she says wistfully and she clearly enjoys dancing with him. She is also aware that all the ladies love him ".. its easy for him he just stands there like a picture!!!" accompanied by lots of infectious giggles.

But Juliet is not Tamara's favourite role; "Giselle is my favourite but Juliet is getting very close. I think I just prefer Giselle because she is poor and Juliet is rich, which makes her life easier!! For me this makes Giselle more sad!". (There is much laughing.) "The rich can complain but at the end of the day they have everything. They should not be complaining so much! Giselle has nothing". I suppose at this point I should have tried to explore where Swan Queens sit in the financially slanted scheme of things... another lost opportunity!

For somebody so seemingly associated with the classical repertoire it was surprising to learn that this style of ballet is relatively new to her. For five years, until 1996, she was with Ballet de la Comunidad de Madrid, a company very much associated with its Director's distinctive repertoire. "I made the decision that I don't want to do just one kind of ballet. So I thought I need a change and I need to try a classical repertoire while I'm young and able to learn and to change myself."

We have Galina Samsova (the former Artistic Director) of Scottish Ballet (SB) to thank for getting Tamara to the UK as a guest artist; Samsova had a word, as they say, when Tamara won the Paris competition. Those in the Home Counties had the opportunity to see Tamara dance the lead in Scottish Ballet's excellent "La Sylphide" and it was one of the last things she did with them. Her contract with SB finished and the next day she was in ENB. Deane is no fool.

As she talks about these events, there is clear surprise at how things have turned out and I ask when she first realised that ballet was going to be her career. "You don't have to realise - its natural and you don't have to think about it. I just feel really, really nice in a ballet class. I still enjoy it and like the atmosphere of a ballet class. The music, the concentration and the feeling in your self. It's not that you realise you're going to be a dancer, you just wish you're going to be a dancer. You don't wish to be a principal or a star. You just wish to dance".

Aside from developing her classical side, Tamara has wider ambitions yet. "I would love to do Mats Ek. A great choreographer and I always, always wanted to go off and work with him. He doesn't even know me, but maybe one day I will be able to do it. Hope so. He is very modern in the steps and in the way of using your body - he makes you move EVERYTHING! And he uses every muscle. But the story he uses are very dramatic - its not like Balanchine way of music and steps." Ek for example had choreographed versions of Carmen and Giselle and also a ballet based on Lorca's "La Casa de Bernarda Alba" (MacMillan's "Las Hermanas" is based on the same story).

Tamara also likes Bejart. "From the dancer's point of view he is a very enjoyable choreographer. But the public doesn't necessarily like it as much as we do.! I always remember the first time (I saw him). I was 9 and went to see Bejart in Madrid. He did "Bolero" (and some other dramatic pieces). When everybody left they were singing and dancing in the street "Bolero". Waiting for the bus it was the same. I love that because he makes everybody feel happy when they left. And everybody get involved in the night."

We agree that perhaps it would be useful to start pestering Derek Deane to get Mats over to do a piece. We go on to agree that perhaps getting Maurice over would not be such a good idea. Like Deane, Bejart has very clear ideas on certain things........

Despite Tamara's wish to work with modern repertory as well as the older pieces, the list of roles she wants to do is rather more traditional than new; "Mayerling", "Manon", "Onegin", "Carmen" and "Don Quixote". Given the Spanish background the Don Q seems so right and she is said to be blistering in the wedding pas de deux: another joy to look forward to in future years.

We return to her new Juliet and the pressure upon her. "I'm not thinking about it that way... I'm really thinking it's Juliet for me and I want to enjoy it. I want a Juliet that is done on me in the same way as the Nutcracker at the Coliseum. I have not been so relaxed in my life because I knew it was well done and I knew it would be all right. Juliet will be the same. I'm trying not to read my interviews and not to believe anything. It's not because it's not (necessarily) true. But because I don't want to get to the point where I miss the point. The important thing is not the press or pictures. The important thing is to be on stage."

It's hard to cap that. You can catch Tamara, ahead of the rest, on the ENB tour from the 14th April onward - detail link below. Her first Juliet, at the Royal Albert Hall is on the 18th June.

ENB performances over next 2 months

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