Why every arts company needs a Tamara Rojo

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Of course, she is not the first performer to take up a managerial role. In fact, the artist who becomes a manager is particularly common in the dance world – Carlos Acosta is currently heading up Birmingham Royal Ballet and Kevin O’Hare is director of the Royal Ballet.

Certainly, the results are mixed, but Rojo’s triumphs have a historical paradigm of sorts in the career of Ninette de Valois. Having danced for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the 1920s, she went on to found the Royal Ballet and what would later become the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Like Rojo, De Valois (known in the profession as ‘Madam’) was a formidable woman. As the ballet critic James Monahan wrote in her obituary: “To the last it was Madam’s approval that blessed, and her disapproval that damned, a budding project.” Whatever the pain those in her pay endured, there is no doubt that this particular madam shaped British ballet’s reputation – and we’re still bowing to her drive, resilience and talent.

The strange thing is that asking a former performer to front an arts institution can often seem like a tremendous risk, and yet more often than not the results are tremendous. There are those such as Daniel Evans (first at Sheffield, now at Chichester) and Michael Grandage (also Sheffield and then the Donmar Warehouse) who are now not known as actors but started out as such, knowing what was needed to bring an element of pizzazz to proceedings and making their venues destinations of choice.

Then there is the star name who brings with them the cult of personality and a degree of heft that makes people take notice. Would the National Theatre have got off the ground without Laurence Olivier? His fame made the Establishment sit up and listen. Here was proof that the theatre (originally at the Old Vic theatre but later at the South Bank) was something tangible, not simply an abstract idea with unknowns scratching their beards. 

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