Tamara Rojo
Tamara Rojo | Credit: Karolina Kuras

Tamara Rojo has been named artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, to succeed Helgi Tomasson at the end of the year, when Tomasson retires after 37 years in that position.

Rojo, 47, is CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) and 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 music organizations will both have artistic leadership by women. SF Ballet is the country's oldest major dance company, founded in 1933.

Tamara Rojo in "Don Quixote"
Tamara Rojo in Don Quixote | Courtesy of Tamara Rojo

Rojo plans to 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 SF 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 the widest possible audience,” Rojo said, in accepting the appointment.

“While internationally recognized both for its performances and training, SF 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 SF Ballet. I am confident it will continue to thrive under her leadership.”

Born in Quebec of Spanish parents, Rojo’s family moved back to Spain when she was four months old, and she started dance training at age 5. After winning a gold medal at the Paris International Dance Competition in 1994, and dancing in Madrid, Rojo performed principal roles with the Scottish Ballet and the English National Ballet.

She joined the Royal Ballet in 2000, and almost immediately was asked to replace the injured Royal Ballet principal Darcey Bussell in the title role in Giselle. Ignoring her own sprained ankle, Rojo learned the role in a fortnight and went on to receive rave reviews.

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 January 18-23, 2022, in the London Coliseum.

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

Prompted by her own injuries, and an infected bunion that required surgery, Rojo and her father invented and marketed a device to stretch pointe shoes in order to reduce pressure on bunions.