Tamara Rojo: The ballet-dancer-turned-artistic-director on her burst appendix, the Bolshoi acid attack and elitism


I was hooked on ballet from an early age I was five, watching a class all dressed in pale-pink led by a thin, beautiful teacher dressed in burgundy. She was so different from the other teachers at my school, who were nuns. My parents didn't want me to do ballet, so I insisted until they gave up: I used crying and all the manipulative tricks little kids have.

Being a principal dancer was lonely I was only 18 when I moved to Glasgow, as a principal at the Scottish Ballet and I was a principal at the Royal Ballet, too. I didn't hang out with the rest of the company – as a principal dancer, you rehearse on your own, as you have more responsibilities. I led a reclusive life; I didn't go out, because I was so exhausted. In that environment, it wasn't easy to make friends.

Glasgow was a dark place It was so cold and it rained every day, so it felt a little miserable at first. I'd just moved away from home [Rojo grew up in Spain] and lost my boyfriend, so the melancholia I felt seemed to fit the city. It was so gloomy that I would switch on every light in every room of the flat. In Madrid, where I trained, even the winter sun looked amazing and the sky was always crystal-clear.

I felt a pressure to carry on after my appendix burst I was performing as Clara in The Nutcracker, while principal dancer at the English National Ballet, in 2002. [Rojo was rushed to hospital and following treatment was advised to take six weeks' rest.] I didn't want to stop or be away from the stage. I came back after two weeks and the management said, "Are you sure you are OK to perform?" And I said yes. I should have said no. [Rojo subsequently returned to hospital.]

What goes on at the Bolshoi reflects the state of Russia [A dancer confessed to ordering an acid attack on the company's artistic director.] The problem with the Bolshoi is the powers that lie behind it. Dancers are not just dancers; they are often friends of ministers, who give them patronage, so it's not a healthy environment of artistic criteria that's at work, but a network of people pushing their protégés – which is unfair, and can become violent.

Access to culture should be a human right Culture defines us as human. It allows us to express ourselves, it's the way we learn about history, it's the way we understand the culture that we live in and it creates a connection between us all. The arts cuts have an impact on this ability, and for the English National Ballet, it means we sometimes can't go to places that we've not been before, or we're more conservative about the works we introduce.

Ballet is not elitist It's for, and by, young people, so it reflects our society today and it's actually the cheapest art form – you can get tickets for £10. Yes, some pieces may be 100 years old, but the philosophical arguments contained in them are eternal.

We still do the ballet classics for economic reasons But performances such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker are also important as a first door for many people who otherwise wouldn't try watching ballet. I also think they are a way to measure the quality of a company and a dancer. But yes, running them constantly can become repetitive.

I never rest enough It's what my boyfriend [Olivier award-winning theatre-lighting designer Neil Austin] says. It's because I'm so driven that I never switch off. He's says to me, "Take a day off!" But I don't think I'll be able to stop until the day I retire.

Tamara Rojo, 39, is the artistic director of the English National Ballet. Its 'Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev' is at the London Coliseum from Thursday to 27 August (ballet.org.uk)

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Chief Executive

£28, 700: Whiskey Whiskey Tango: Property Management Company is seeking a brig...

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?