10 Things You Never Knew About Ballet

By Catriona Gray
Since opening its doors in 1950, the English National Ballet has impressed, excited and entertained audiences across the country. Entering its next phase as a leading institution, the new City Island space has been considered down to every minute detail, which in turn means more opportunity, more innovation and more versatility from the already thriving company.


The company itself has evolved over the years, changing its name several times. It has been known variously as the Gala Performance of Ballet, Festival Ballet, London Festival Ballet, before finally assuming its current moniker of the English National Ballet in 1989.


At present, their headquarters are located in Markova House, a small building in South Kensington named after a famous English ballerina and located close to the Royal Albert Hall. Yet they are soon to embark on a new chapter of history, when they move to a brand-new home at London City Island.



The English National Ballet was founded in 1950 by two of Britain’s most famous dancers, Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, along with the impresario Julian Braunsweg.


In 1975, the Russian dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, staged his production of The Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum, to mark the company's 25th anniversary.
It was enormously popular, and shortly afterwards Princess Margaret became the company’s patron, a role that Princess Diana would later assume in 1989.


Each year the company undertakes a gruelling touring schedule, performing across several London venues and travelling to Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Southampton.
Last year, the company clocked up 175 performances, playing to 300,000 people across the UK.


From 1962, the ballet became a non-profit endeavour, having spent its first decade privately financed. It secured funding from London County Council, and went on to receive subsidies from the Arts Council England. This enabled the company to develop its mission to take popular ballet to a wider audience around the UK, and facilitated greater artistic licence.



Tamara Rojo is the current principal and artistic director. She first joined the company as a soloist in 1997, rising to the rank of principal within a year.
As an internationally celebrated performer, she was made artistic director in 2012, and since then has combined the two roles, an achievement that saw her awarded a CBE for her services to ballet.


The 1980s saw an important new expansion in the company's repertoire, when it became the first British classical ballet to establish an educational outreach programme.
For the first time, the audience was able to get involved, through classes and workshops, instead of simply being spectators.


This increased focus on education was cemented in 1988, with the foundation of the English National Ballet School. The company could now train young dancers in the techniques and style necessary to perform at the highest level. At the present count, a third of the dancers at ENB are graduates of their three-year course.


In the new City Island building, they will have four dance studios, each the same size as a performance stage. This large, accessible space will enable them to be more involved with the local community with plans to expand public engagement with more classes and visits.