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 London City Island space has been considered down to every minute detail, which means we can expect more opportunity, more innovation and more versatility from the already thriving company. Here, we explore the history and evolution of the English National Ballet.
English National Ballet’s new home on City Island
“The new home at London City Island, with its large, accessible spaces, will enable the company to be more involved in the local community”
English National Ballet has evolved over the years, changing its name several times. It has been known as the Gala Performance of Ballet, Festival Ballet and London Festival Ballet, before finally assuming its current moniker in 1989.
The company was founded in 1950 by Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin, two of Britain’s most famous dancers, along with the impresario Julian Braunsweg.
English National Ballet embarked on a new chapter in the summer of 2019 when it moved to a state-of-the-art new home at London City Island. It was previously based at Markova House, a small building in South Kensington named after Alicia Markova, and located close to the Royal Albert Hall.
English National Ballet
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.
From 1962, the company became a non-profit enterprise, 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.
Tamara Rojo is the current artistic director of English National Ballet and is also a lead principal dancer. She first joined the company as a Soloist in 1997, rising to the rank of Principal within a year. She went on to dance for the Royal Ballet for 12 years and became an internationally celebrated performer. Tamara was made artistic director of English National Ballet in 2012, and since then has combined her role as artistic director and lead principal dancer, an achievement that led to her being awarded a CBE for her services to ballet.
Tamara Rojo, Karolina Kuras
“Tamara Rojo combines her role as artistic director
and lead principal dancer, an achievement which saw
her awarded a CBE for services to ballet”
English National Ballet in Swan Lake, Laurent Liotardo
Each year, the company normally undertakes an extensive touring schedule, performing across several London venues and travelling to Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Southampton and international locations. Due to coronavirus restrictions, productions are currently on hold, but the company has adapted and created a digital platform called ENB at Home which offers on-demand streaming of ballet productions as well as online dance, yoga and strength classes.
The 1980s saw an important new expansion in the company’s work 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 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 the school.
English National Ballet at its new London City Island headquarters features seven dance studios, including one which is a full production studio. The previous location only had two studios; marking a vast improvement in both capacity and quality of space. These large, accessible spaces will enable the company to be more involved with the local community, with plans to expand public engagement with more classes and activity.
Words: Catriona Gray