It is the romance that has shaken English National Ballet: Tamara Rojo, the artistic director, dating a dancer 16 years her junior.
But Rojo has defended her relationship with Isaac Hernández, the dashing lead principal, and declared that she can “highly recommend” taking up with a younger man.
Last month, it was reported that the company has lost a third of its dancers in two years. Alongside allegations of bullying and harassment, there were complaints that the relationship between Rojo, 43, and Hernandez, 27, was a conflict of interest that had “changed the dynamics of the company, and not for the better”.
In her first interview about the row, Rojo, dismissed the criticism and said she had given Hernández no special treatment.
“He has won all the awards you can possibly win, so there was nowhere I could promote him,” she said, pointing out that he was a “fully fledged star” before arriving at ENB. “There is not even a possibility of conflict.”
Rojo said she had not ruled out marriage or children with Hernández and, when asked how she felt about the age gap, replied: “Lucky. He makes me feel lucky. He’s amazing. I highly recommend it.”
She added: “In many ways he’s more grown up than me. In a strange way he felt perfect, like a good relationship should feel. The age gap doesn’t seem to be in our relationship, other than being in a positive way.”
Her comments are unlikely to quell dissent at the company.
The Ballet Position website quoted anonymous dancers who said Hernández had become “cocky” about his status, turning up late for classes. Fellow dancers fear he acts as a “second pair of eyes ready to report back” to Rojo. “It makes people feel very uncomfortable and stops dancers talking freely among themselves,” it was claimed.
Rojo said she was taken aback by the criticism. In an interview with the Evening Standard, she said: “All I can say that we’ve always been honest and I hoped there was no animosity towards us.”
ENB dancers have also complained of feeling bullied into working while injured. But Rojo said: “We couldn’t recognise our company in that description. People had left, yes, but we felt it was explicable because a lot of change had been going on. We didn’t feel it was unnatural, that there was anything to be concerned about.”
Rojo was appointed artistic director in 2012 after 12 years as a Principal at The Royal Ballet, and continue to perform as Lead Principal. She trained in her native Spain. Hernández, from Mexico, was previously with the San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet.
He was 14 when he first met Rojo at a gala in Mexico. “Of course I was always dreaming that maybe one day I would be able to dance a full-length ballet in London with her,” he said shortly after joining ENB in 2015.
A year later he said: “It’s important to be in a place where the director has your best interest at heart. Many now understand that what’s best for the dancers is also good for the company. It’s convenient for them to have happy dancers.
“I feel that Tamara is giving me the opportunity to be the best dancer I can be.”