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True brit: Wayne Eagling takes charge.

When Wayne Eagling was dancing at The Royal Ballet, his statement, "Ballet in Britain is boring," made headlines and lost friends. Now he can put his skills where his candor is. After directing Amsterdam's Dutch National Ballet for 13 years, Eagling has come back home to London to take the helm at English National Ballet. He succeeds Matz Skoog, who quit last year because of budget disputes.

Born in Canada, raised in San Francisco and trained at The Royal Ballet School, Eagling's dancing was admired for its speed and agility, fluidity and elevation, ardor and passion. Recently, he qualified his infamous remark. The leaders of dance world, Eagling now says, must not stay self-satisfied about the past or immune to what's happening around them, but continually look to the future. He proved this during his tenure at DNB, where he improved the company's style and diversified its repertoire.

"All classical companies are beginning to look alike," he said in a recent interview. "They're trying for the same results. They want to keep their own repertoire and history. They want high standards in the old classical productions. They want to find new choreographers who are great, but those are few and far between. The whole world, it seems, has jumped on the Christopher Wheeldon bandwagon." Eagling has commissioned a ballet by Christopher Hampson ("the other Christopher"), and by David Dawson, a dancer whose choreographic talents Eagling cultivated while at DNB. Dawson is currently house choreographer at Dresden SemperOper Ballett.

Eagling's first impression of ENB is that the troupe is strong. He likes the family feeling inspired by the constant touring, recognizes the strengths in his dancers, and sees no need to bring in guests. He's revived ENB's 20-year-old production of Giselle, choreographed by Mary Skeepings. "I want to strengthen the corps, get more uniformity, and work on port de bras, epaulement, and musicality," he says.

Eagling is a prolific choreographer, though he says he will not create for the company for at least three years, preferring to concentrate on leading. He has made works for many international companies, most recently Le Dieu bleu for the Kremlin Ballet in Moscow, as well as the dance sequence for Freddie Mercury and Queen's song, "I Want to Break Free." Last June, he created a delightful piece for 23 teenagers in the ballet program at Jacob's Pillow in three days--which dwindled to two because of a delayed flight.

Eagling says that he'd like to take risks with a broader repertoire at ENB. But he acknowledged it's a Catch-22 situation: You get criticized if you don't produce new works, and you end up in the red if you try to be adventurous. With no home theater of its own, ENB has to guarantee the number of tickets sold. This is not a problem with the seasonal, "in the round," productions at the Royal Albert Hall, which can accommodate 30,000 patrons in a two-week period and attracts a very different crowd from the usual ballet goers. Eagling is happy to continue this tradition, but recognizes that, while people will always come to see Swan Lake, he needs to think of other ballets that would appeal as much.

"Perhaps," he said wryly, "Pride and Prejudice: The Ballet, would bring them in!"
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Title Annotation:DANCE MATTERS
Author:Willis, Margaret
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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