Tamara Rojo, acclaimed principal dancer with the Royal Ballet and current Artistic Director of English National Ballet, issued a statement to the Guardian that will leave many ballet-goers wondering whether they've walked through the right theatre doors: She wants to bring sexy back. To ballet.
Rojo is preparing to start her first season at English National Ballet's Coliseum and notes that the program will be riveting, challenging and inspiring audiences with bursts of sensuality -- and yes, even eroticism. Programs such as the one ENB is poised to debut are a far cry from storybook ballets, such as the The Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty, which Rojo refers to as "family shows." It is evident that Rojo has more adult topics on her mind, and on stage: "These pieces are about grown-up relationships and make no apology for how complicated and raw these relationships can be."
When Ecstasy and Death begins on April 2013, the audience will be confronted with a full expansion of the human experience, including topics that rush far beyond any little girl, dainty royal, or star-crossed lover: With Petit Mortin, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, and Etudes, they are not programs fit for a princess, but rather, a somewhat controversial explosion into the grey area between passion and risk. Coincidentally, it is the same grey area that makes televised, literary, and on-screen love affairs so tantalizing; revealing enough without giving away everything, unleashing a stark emotion that will, at some point or another, exist in every individual.
Rojo's pursuit of outside-the-box sexuality in ballet, or at least her attempt to restore it, is less about the bodily indications of mature themes as it is about the challenge, for both the dancers and audiences. For each party, it severs any tie with a supposed comfort zone. Any stereotype of fragility will be stripped, boundaries will be pushed, and the influence of being alive will be illustrated.
One must wonder not whether this is the right step for ballet to take, but instead how it has not been taken before, or pushed as far as it can be pushed. Art, in most mediums, is somewhat confrontational: Isn't the goal of the artistic experience to encourage the audience, or the viewer, to go beyond predispositions and expand their horizons into new thoughts? Rojo plans to challenge her audience to stretch their understanding and interpretation, and challenge her dancers with their demonstration of integrity rather than just sheer physical capacity. This includes showcasing the men of her company, who oftentimes go overlooked in more traditionally themed works. In simplistic terms, Rojo seeks to develop a "new generation of superstars," something that will never be achieved through one-dimensional methods. Thus is the genius in her aspiration to put sensuality back on the main stage: She is showing yet another way of looking at ballet that stems far beyond tutus and tights.
Does ballet need to show its sensuality? Yes. Yes, it needs to show the power of its dancers, the complexity in which their work flourishes, and how dynamic this art can be-both innocent and erotic, thrilling and elegant. But even more so, ballet and ballet goers need to be challenged to view things in a new, electrifying light. Ballet needs its spark, its controversy -- the things that make art so deliciously taboo. The things that draw people in. And enchant them, intoxicate them... and most importantly, keep them there.