A wave of sweeping change at major Bay Area arts organizations in recent years gained new momentum with Tuesday’s announcement that Tamara Rojo has been tapped as the new artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet.
The first woman to head the oldest professional ballet company in the United States, she will take over from Helgi Thomson, who turns 80 in October, at the end of 2022. His 37-year tenure has propelled the company to the top ranks of the ballet world.
“I am excited to join SF Ballet to add to the innovative spirit of the company as we reassess what the future of ballet can and should look like, introducing our art form to the widest possible audience. Rojo said in a statement issued by the company.
For the past decade, Rojo has led London’s English National Ballet as artistic director and principal principal, during which period she earned her position as one of the UK’s five major ballet companies, championing female choreographers . In San Francisco, she will take over an even more prestigious institution, entering its ninth decade, with tours, festivals, commissions for budding choreographers, the development of new works and an international reach through its haunted school.
The appointment was the result of a 10-month international search led by a committee co-chaired by Board of Trustees members Sunny Evers and Fran Streets that included representatives from the SF Ballet leadership, staff, dancers and musicians.
Born in Canada and raised in Madrid, Rojo earned a bachelor’s degree in dance/choreography at the Real Conservatorio Professional de Danza Mariamma and a master’s in dramatic arts and doctorate from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid. Her 30-year career as a ballerina included more than a decade as a principal dancer at The Royal Ballet, followed by a run as a principal at the English National Ballet in the late 1990s. He earned acclaim for his leading roles in a series of classic full-length ballets, as well as works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Kenneth Macmillan, and others.
Awarded a 2021 Dance Magazine Award, Rojo has been awarded three of Spain’s highest honours: the Gold Medal of Fine Arts (2002), the Prince of Asturias Arts Award (2005), and the Encomienda de Numero Queen de Isabel la Católica (2011). ). He has also received the Kennedy Center Gold Medal for Fine Arts (2012), an Olivier Award and the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for distinguished services to ballet.
“I am very excited that a fellow dancer will lead the company with bold vision and artistry,” said Thomson. “And I look forward to seeing the innovative ideas that Tamara will bring to the SF Ballet.”
His arrival marks a period of transition that has seen generational turnover in the Bay Area art scene, with Asa-Pekka Salonen following Michael Tilson Thomas’ galvanizing quarter-century stint as music director of the San Francisco Symphony in 2020. took over. The San Francisco Opera has created several new positions of leadership in recent years. And on Tuesday, Berkeley Rep announced that Susie Medak is stepping down from her role as managing director of the theater after a 32-year run.
In a ballet world that can feel like an extended family, Rojo arrives in San Francisco with a few relatives already. Her husband, Mexican-born dancer Isaac Hernandez, was recently appointed a principal dancer at the SF Ballet after serving in the company’s corps de ballet and as a soloist in 2010. Born in Guadalajara, he is one of 11 children of former dancer Hector Hernandez. And his brother Esteban Hernandez is the principal dancer of SF Ballet since 2019.
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