The Evil Imp

Pas De Rojo

Dance companies do not make an appearance in the national press news pages that often. If they do it’s because the company is doing something stupid or the paper is running a fawning profile to fill up space in the culture section. Step forward English National Ballet, the company’s director Tamara Rojo and dance writer Graham Watts, all firmly ensconced in the stupid category.

Central to this story is a piece from the London Times on January 27 that alleges professional misconduct at English National Ballet;

“English National Ballet has lost a third of its dancers in two years amid claims of verbal abuse and a hostile working environment, with some former dancers claiming they felt pressured to work while injured, The Times has learnt.”

In addition to the hostile work environment claims there is also something on a more personal note concerning Ms. Rojo’s relationship with one of the company’s dancers, Isaac Hernández;

“Current and former employees have said they felt uncomfortable with Ms. Rojo’s romantic relationship with the senior dancer Isaac Hernández and feared perceptions of a possible conflict of interest could have influenced the recent departures and compromised the organisation.

According to the sources and to documents seen by The Times, ENB’s management was made aware of dissatisfaction with the culture and concerns about the relationship between Ms. Rojo, 43, and Hernández, 27, a direct subordinate.”

The Times goes on to report that the company has failed to address the concerns of the dancers and cites conversations with more than 10 sources who are not named in the piece. A follow up from January 30th by the same authors reveals that Arts Council England, who provide more than £6Million per year in annual funding to ENB, have asked the company what steps they have taken to investigate the claims.

Will Nobody Think of the Writers

Graham Watts (officially titled on his personal website as Graham Watts, BA, HonFRIBA, HonRICS, HonMBIAT, HonFBEng, HonFFB, FRSA, MIMgt) is a dance writer who used to be an Olympic fencer (whut? Ed!)

Mr Watts, who is not at all pleased at the accusations leveled against a national ballet company of note, took to his Facebook page to explain how these heinous remarks could not possibly be true. After blustering for hundreds of words and several paragraphs about how ENB is awesome because they have shown works by a long line of the Usual Suspects™ (think, MacMillan, Forsythe, Kylian, Maliphant, Blah Blah) and those works received positive reviews from lots of old men, including himself presumably, he gets to the meat in his sandwich of discontent.

“So, let’s come to the central allegation, which suggests a conflict of interest due to the relationship between Rojo and Hernandez. Granted that it is an unusual situation, in business, for a director to be romantically linked with an employee; but as the article makes plain, it is not at all uncommon in the arts.”

As far as Mr. Watts is concerned, the arts not subscribing to standard professional practices is not really a problem. He seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that making this claim is little more than a damning indictment of the arts “do whatever you want because nobody cares” mentality. There are very obvious reasons why relationships between employees and the boss are a bad idea, but we will get to those later on.

Mr. Watts continues apace, claiming that Mr. Hernández, the dancer, is fully deserving of all that he has achieved because, once again, the critics have spoken and they declared him to be “one of the five most outstanding dancers in the UK in 2017”. In Mr. Watts’ mind, and the mind of the other critics in this world, that really does mean something.


As the Facebook posts nears its whimpering end Mr. Watts demands to know who the sources for this story are, using scare quotes around that word to make it appear as if those people aren’t real, a common tactic of one Donald J. Trump. Stating;

“Many people will not agree with me. I ask the “sources”, who are you? If you had an ounce of the courage that Ms. Rojo has to stand up and be counted then I might respect your views. “

As mentioned above, the journalists at The Times cite “more than 10 sources” for their piece but Mr Watts, as he rambles on in the comments on his post, doesn’t appear to understand the difference between confidential sources and anonymous sources. If the source is anonymous then nobody knows who it is, not even the journalists in question and before they go to print, so to speak, there is a huge amount of due diligence that needs to be undertaken beforehand to verify the information being given.

A confidential source is known to the journalist but requests anonymity usually fearing a professional backlash should their name become known. Given the volume of spiteful bullshit on display in Mr Watts post and the comments, that request for anonymity appears to have been a wise choice. We can only imagine the character assassinations that would take place if the dancers names ever became known.

If a single source comes forward with information then you haven’t got much to go on, two sources and you’re still on shaky ground but more than 10 corroborating sources is a slam dunk unless you believe they are all engaged in some X-Files like, convoluted conspiracy to bring down Tamara Rojo and the higher echelons of management at ENB.

Don’t Do It

The most striking thing about this debacle is the stupidity of all involved. The very fact that Ms. Rojo, Mr. Hernández and the management and board at ENB don’t see it as a problem that there is a romantic entanglement between a boss and an employee damns them all.

It doesn’t matter what Isaac Hernández skill set is, he will be the dancer that got to where he is because his girlfriend is also his boss. Ms. Rojo is the AD who gave prominent roles to her boyfriend and the management at ENB are the ones who left a publicly funded dance company open to litigation from dozens of dancers claiming discrimination or constructive dismissal because the boss is sleeping with one her dancers. And before anybody kicks off, this is all the same no matter the gender of either party.

Should their relationship go south, which of course never happens, and Mr. Hernández is either sacked or his contract is not renewed then Mr. Hernández could sue for constructive dismissal, Ms. Rojo is sacked for bringing on said litigation and then she sues ENB for letting her cause all of this mess in the first place. Upper management is sacked by the board and then the board resigns because the whole thing has become idiotic and ACE has imploded from the shock of it all. You could make a ballet out of that and nobody would believe it was real.

The simple solution is that Mr. Hernández just goes and works somewhere else, it’s ballet, it doesn’t matter where you go they all do the same thing anyway and think of all the air miles they will rack up keeping their love alive! (…..? Ed!)

As to the other matter of abusive working practices? Maybe Mr. Watts and his commenting army can lead the charge demanding an immediate investigation by an independent outsider appointed by the DCMS. To do that, however, their heads would have to be extracted from the sand, or whatever place they happen to be stuck.

Note: There are no links to the Times articles because they are behind a paywall.

[ Graham Watts on Facebook ]

Top Photo by Craig Kohtz