Tamara Rojo named artistic director of S.F. Ballet

Two of The City’s major performing arts organizations are now headed by women

Reflecting The City’s prodigiously international nature, leadership of the San Francisco Ballet will pass from Icelandic Helgi Tomasson to the company’s first female artistic director, born in Quebec of Spanish parents with a stellar career developed in Spain and England.

She is Tamara Rojo CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire), 47, who has served as artistic director of the English National Ballet for almost a decade after years of dancing with the Royal Ballet.

Along with Eun Sun Kim, San Francisco Opera’s music director, Rojo’s appointment means two of The City’s major cultural organizations will have artistic leadership by women.

Rojo will join S.F. Ballet at the end of the year when Tomasson retires after 37 years of leading the company, the country’s oldest major ballet, founded in 1933.

Rojo will move to San Francisco with her husband, Isaac Hernández, who was recently appointed a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet after previously dancing in the company’s corps de ballet and as a soloist since 2010.

“I’m excited to join S.F. Ballet to add to the innovative spirit of the company and this community as we reassess what the future of ballet can and should look like, opening the best of what our artform can offer to widest possible audience,” Rojo said. “While internationally recognized both for its performances and training, S.F. Ballet has a deep, year-round commitment to San Francisco audiences and the community — a dynamic community my family and I very much look forward to joining and exploring.”

Tomasson said he is “looking forward to the innovative and forward-thinking ideas that Tamara will bring to S.F. Ballet. I am confident it will continue to thrive under her leadership.”

After winning the Gold Medal at the Paris International Dance Competition in 1994, and dancing in Madrid, Rojo danced principal roles with the Scottish Ballet and the English National Ballet. She joined the Royal Ballet in 2000, and almost immediately she was asked to replace the injured Royal Ballet principal Darcey Bussell in the title role of “Giselle.” Ignoring her own sprained ankle, Rojo learned the role in a fortnight and went on to receive rave reviews.

Through illness and injury, Rojo continued to perform major roles, had an episode of dancing with a burst appendix and returning to the stage after two weeks, only to relapse and be hospitalized again. Years later, she admitted her attitude was “completely wrong and I do not feel that anyone should do this.”

Under Rojo’s leadership, the English National Ballet won new engagements and prizes, and she was to make her choreographic debut with a Florence Nightingale-inspired version of “Raymonda,” set during the Crimean War, a year ago. Because of the pandemic, it was postponed to Jan. 18-23 in the London Coliseum.

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