Posted on March 22, 2012
In an extraordinary letter sent to Dancing Times, a group of ballet lovers and supporters of English National Ballet, who have asked to remain anonymous, wonder about the reasons behind the resignation of ENB’s artistic director, Wayne Eagling. Titled “Why Waste Wayne?”, the group also questions the judgement of ENB’s Board of Directors. We publish the letter here in full…
Why Waste Wayne?
Dear Editor –– Lady Harlech, the former Chair of English National Ballet, once said: “The ENB Board was a shambles… they behaved pretty badly.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… The recent removal of Wayne Eagling from the artistic directorship of ENB demonstrates an inept lack of judgment by the current Board. It is well known in ballet circles that Eagling was forced to “resign” and is gagged to say nothing about how the Board has treated him – so much for the accountability of a publicly funded arts organisation. The Board also refuse to state publicly – or even to members of the company – its reasons for dismissing Eagling, and so they might, for if they did they would have to hang their heads in shame.
What planet do the Chair, John Talbot, and his colleagues live on? Most companies would give their swan’s eggs for a director of such quality, vivacity and imagination. Let’s check the record, seeing as the Board seems to have lost its copy. Eagling gave us a beautiful and magical new production of The Nutcracker to replace the previous monstrosity. He has invigorated the repertoire with a series of unforgettable programmes and revivals – works by Roland Petit, Serge Lifar’s Suite en blanc, Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, and an excellent Ballets Russes season. The wonderful dancers he has nurtured will only stay if they have interesting work. The Board must also be deluded to junk someone worthy of the lineage of great choreographing directors – where do they hope to find someone of equal choreographic greatness? His Resolution is a masterpiece. Eagling is an important contributor to the task of reconstructing lost works and preserving ballet’s history – witness the marvel he achieved with The Blue God. We could go on and on. Wake up Mr Talbot – you have a real gem here.
In artistic terms, ENB is riding high thanks to Wayne Eagling. At the recent Emerging Dancer Award a film was shown espousing the company’s achievements and their “exciting” one-act ballets, many choreographed by Wayne! The message was, “We have never had it so good.” The company and dancers love him (they protested when the Board tried to oust him last year), and the audience adores him. The company is in great shape – and this is the thanks Eagling gets? There is now a culture of fear within the company – staff and dancers loathe the way Eagling has been treated, but are too frightened to protest publicly for fear of victimisation.
The Board’s reasons for firing Eagling are nowt short of a scandal, and the Arts Council needs to scrutinise this decision and precipitate its reversal. Personality clashes, lack of understanding of artistic people, and spiteful revenge drive this decision – and that is no way for a Board to behave, especially where public money is involved. Allegedly, there had been a behind-the-scenes power struggle between the former managing director, Craig Hassall, and the artistic director, and the Board’s loyalties lay with Hassall. Seemingly, the Board was biding its time since Hassall resigned from his position late last year. The real problem appears to be that “money people” and semi-aristocrats get to run our arts companies (Talbot is a donor through his company). These individuals seem to buy their way onto Boards and, whilst everyone is grateful for their vital financial support, are they really qualified to take care of a ballet company? Talbot is a corporate restructuring practitioner. We suppose his “restructuring” tendencies means chucking out Eagling! What a nerve. And with the greatest respect, who exactly is the Baroness de Mandat Grancey?
The word on the street around Markova House is that this Board simply doesn’t “get” Eagling. They want ENB’s artistic director in a smart suit, all buttoned up like a corporate restructuring practitioner. They fail to understand that creative, artistic people are different. They dislike Eagling’s public image: the pipe smoking, messy hair, casual manner, chaotic eleventh-hour creativity as shown on the recent television series “Agony and Ecstasy”. They do not appreciate that the post of artistic director needs someone who can act as a leader of artists, not someone more suited to submitting a planning application at Wormington-on-Sea Golf Club! Seeing as this Board cannot understand, appreciate and work alongside an artistic temperament, it is they who are in the wrong job, not Eagling. Hassall, reportedly, even had the cheek to describe Eagling as a “misfit” – nay Mr Hassall, it is you, Talbot and his Board who are the misfits at ENB. Hassall and the Board wanted to run ENB as a commercial business, but Eagling understands the true nature of subsidised theatre in that you have to balance popular classics with new and interesting repertoire, pushing artistic boundaries to justify the subsidy and ensure the company does not stagnate. Ballet Boards have an increasingly poor reputation with ballet enthusiasts, as they seem so out of touch with artistic realities.
We call upon the Arts Council and Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, to examine this decision – and if English National Ballet’s Board cannot justify legitimate reasons for its actions, we request that it be sacked for incompetence and Eagling immediately reinstated. We ask that anyone who feels the same should write to: John Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org, Cate Canniffe, Arts Council Dance Director London at email@example.com, Janet Archer, Arts Council Dance Director UK at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Alan Davey, Arts Council Chief Executive at email@example.com.
If Lady Harlech was Carabosse, Talbot has cast himself as Koschei. Lady Harlech did have one good idea, though: “I could make a new Board.” If only she were around now to do the same. We salute you Wayne and thank you for everything you have given ballet audiences. The fact that your Board is blind to your greatness does not diminish your achievements, and we all know what happens to Koschei in the end – his delusions of power are shattered by truth. –– Yours sincerely,
Group of Dismayed Ballet Lovers and English National Ballet Supporters
Click here to see further Letters to the Editor on English National Ballet and Wayne Eagling