English National Ballet returns to Milton Keynes Theatre with a brand new double bill from Tuesday.
Artistic director and lead principal dancer Tamara Rojo is understandably extremely busy with her duties in the top management role and the demands of being a star dancer. Fortunately for us, she still managed to find time for a chat with Georgina Butler...
Tamara Rojo is in no doubt that we need the arts in our lives – that’s why she has devoted herself to the business of ballet dancing.
The Spanish ballerina danced with Scottish Ballet and English National Ballet early in her career, before moving to The Royal Ballet for twelve glittering years. Dedicated, ambitious and articulate, Tamara dreamt of not only dancing with a world-class company but also running one.
This dream came true when she was appointed in the dual role of artistic director and lead principal dancer of English National Ballet in 2012. Upon starting the top management job, she initiated a rebranding process to sharpen the company’s identity as a distinctive troupe of incredibly versatile ballet dancers with something to say.
Five years later and the touring company, which endeavours to bring ballet of the highest quality to the widest possible audience, has found lots to say under Tamara’s leadership. It has collaborated with multiple exciting choreographers and continues to push the boundaries of what ballet can encompass and achieve. So, what does Tamara believe English National Ballet is striving to say at present?
“That the arts matter. Your life can change if you go to the theatre. It can make you experience things, feel things, appreciate things. As dancers, it’s what we want to do. We want to dance in a meaningful way. To transport people; make them think and feel and lose themselves in stories and emotions.”
The new double bill audiences in Milton Keynes will be losing themselves in consists of legendary choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpiece Song of the Earth and former Royal Danish Ballet artistic director Frank Andersen’s recreation of August Bournonville’s La Sylphide.
Song of the Earth is a powerful story of love, loss and mortality, performed to Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s haunting symphonic song cycle, Das Lied von der Erde.
The ballet combines haunting music, lyrics inspired by ancient Chinese poetry and sublime choreography to capture the fragility of life and its constant renewal. Three characters – a woman, a man and a messenger – are prominent among the twenty-strong cast, which also highlights an assortment of additional soloists.
It has been at least ten years since Tamara last danced as the lead woman - when she was a principal with The Royal Ballet - but the choreography came flooding back to her in rehearsals.
“I remembered everything as soon as I heard the music. It is just an epic piece of dance, everything is bigger than any way of dancing you have ever seen before. Mahler’s score is for an orchestra and two singers – a tenor and a mezzo. The combination of the dance, the music and the meaning of the piece is really overwhelming in a beautiful way.”
Song of the Earth’s profound message is that death awaits us all and is a constant presence in our lives, yet it is not to be feared. Tamara is certain the ballet will resonate with everyone who sees it.
“It really shows the naivety of people. We continue with life everyday unaware of how it is going to end. We just get caught up in the mundanity of life. So, we have to go to work, we have to take the dog to the vet, we have to do all our daily chores – these things are so important. Yet, suddenly, life can be over, just like that. I feel a tenderness towards people and our naivety in this way thanks to this piece of dance, I think. It makes me reflect on the meaning of our time here on this earth.”
MacMillan’s masterpiece is being featured alongside the Romantic Era ballet La Sylphide. Both works are being debuted on tour before they are performed in London and my observation of this is something Tamara responds to with zeal.
“I am very excited to be bringing this double bill on tour to Milton Keynes. I have always been of the opinion audiences outside London are just as sophisticated as those in the capital. It is so very patronising to think otherwise. I want to bring the best dance to audiences nationwide. Everyone can appreciate and comprehend it and they should have the opportunity to do so.”
La Sylphide is the tale of a mortal man’s infatuation with a beautiful, but unattainable, otherworldly being for whom he is willing to risk everything. Scottish farmer James finds himself torn between the mysterious winged Sylphide from his dreams and the woman he is betrothed to.
The 1830s classic has been devotedly recreated by Frank Andersen and his wife Eva Kloborg, both leading producers of Bournonville ballets. English National Ballet is making history this season as the first company to dance their version in the UK – but what inspired the pairing of La Sylphide with Song of the Earth?
“They are both quite mystical works and they both reflect on the meaning of life. In Song of the Earth we reflect on how relationships develop during brief moments of life. How we must enjoy each second as we don’t know what comes next.
“And La Sylphide is also about the meaning of life. James is set to marry the girl he is expected to marry and have a normal life but then another creature, a fantastical creature, makes him consider a quite different life. Should he marry or have an adventure? Should we do what is expected of us, or do what inspires us?”
Dance always inspires me and I don’t need persuading to seize a chance to see English National Ballet perform! But what would Tamara say to anyone who is still considering whether to book tickets?
“They must come! Audiences will get a very moving experience. It is a double bill that can change your life. Both works, but particularly Song of the Earth. It can make you change your life because when you leave the theatre you will be thinking: am I happy with life and what I am doing with it? If my life finished tomorrow, would I be happy with how I have spent it?
“This is a double bill of dance that is easy to understand and it is not alienating at all. The dancing evokes emotions that everyone can understand. Everyone will be touched and moved.
“Really, if people miss it, it will be very sad!”
English National Ballet’s Song of the Earth / La Sylphide double bill comes to Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday (October 17) until Saturday October 21. Book online here
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