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After almost 4 decades, the San Francisco Ballet has a new director


This week, the San Francisco Ballet announced that Tamara Rojo will be its first new director in almost four decades. Also, she will happen to be its first female director. Tamara Rojo joins us now from London. Thanks so much for being with us.

TAMARA ROJO: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You are Spanish. You've been a ballerina with the English National Ballet and its artistic director. What do you hope to bring to the San Francisco Ballet? What are you looking forward to?

ROJO: Oh, I'm looking forward to a lot. San Francisco Ballet has been, in my opinion, the most creative ballet company in North America for many decades. So I'm looking forward to getting to know the company. I'm looking forward to getting to know the dancers better and to also get to know San Francisco. And I know that they have been doing a huge amount of work, also, on the Bay Area and on - you know, socially. And so I'm looking forward to learning a lot as well rather than - not only bringing my own point of view, but absorbing a lot over the next year.

SIMON: Yeah. The pandemic has been tough on the performing arts, hasn't it?

ROJO: It has been, I think, without a doubt, the most difficult time of our history.

SIMON: Boy. Well, help us understand what it's done. That's quite a statement.

ROJO: First and foremost, ballet is intrinsically a physical activity that requires many people to come together unmasked (laughter) and express their emotions and share physicality in a studio and in the theater. And so closing down for such long periods of time was very challenging for the artists who need to train every day to continue to be artists at an excellent level. In terms of financially, we all depend on the box office, on people coming to see our shows. So that completely disappeared.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather you - do I get this right? - you've been teaching virtual ballet classes from your kitchen?

ROJO: I did. I did for almost three months. I think for a dancer, being locked at home without having access to what we've known since we're 5 years old, the routine of training every day...

SIMON: Yeah.

ROJO: ...I knew it was going to be challenging. What I didn't realize was that people all over the world felt that this was a good idea in terms of getting up every morning and coming together to do ballet wherever they were. And so eventually, 4 million people joined my ballet classes. That was very moving.

SIMON: The writer Chloe Angyal said that you prioritize choreography by women and about women who are not swans and fairies.

ROJO: (Laughter) I've tried my best. You know, often in the traditional canon, some of the female roles can be very one-dimensional. They are a great opportunity for a ballerina to progress in their technique or to demonstrate that they have the technical capacity to be a principal ballerina. They are important for audiences as well. But I think as you evolve as an artist, there is a point where you also need characters that demand from you a depth of feeling and more analytical interpretation and approach. And I think audiences also enjoy those characters. So if we're going to create new work, why not try to create it about different type of people, too?

SIMON: Tamara Rojo, who will take over as artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet later this year, thank you so much for being with us. We look forward to what you do.

ROJO: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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