Inside Wayne’s world at English National Ballet

THE English National Ballet is in limbo after the sudden resignation of artistic director Wayne Eagling.

The announcement of his departure on Monday in London closely follows the resignation of Australian Craig Hassall, the company’s managing director, who quit early last month to join the company of entertainment impresario Raymond Gubbay as chief operating officer.

Eagling’s resignation came with polite praise from the chairman, John Talbot – “outstanding contribution… reinvigorating the repertoire” – but behind the scenes there have been tensions in the company because of financial constraints and disagreements between Eagling and Hassall.

Eagling became artistic director at the end of 2005, while Hassall joined six months earlier after a long career with arts organisations including the Sydney Theatre Company, where he was deputy general manager.

The tensions between the pair also triggered the resignation in September of Carole McPhee, the Australian-born board member who was a former chief executive of the company.

Twenty-two dancers from the English National Ballet are contracted for a season in Sydney in June. Last month in London, Eagling told The Australian he would accompany the dancers on the tour and gave no indication that he was on the way out.

Speaking at his South Kensington office, he told me of plans for a co-production of ENB and the Mikhailovsky Ballet of St Petersburg, saying “it seems to be a sensible way forward. You share the cost of certain things, like the National Ballet of Canada and Royal Ballet did with Alice in Wonderland.”

Eagling also discussed his “differences of opinion” with Hassall, saying: “Craig just felt he wanted to be No 1.”

In 2005, when Eagling arrived, Hassall had overall authority at the company. Eagling then successfully lobbied the board for equal management authority with Hassall. “They didn’t want to change that, but I said it would cause problems (if they didn’t) because whenever there’s an artistic problem I will give my opinion, and if people don’t like it they will go to him. And it turned out that way (anyway),” he said.

“They changed the hierarchy so that I was no longer reporting to Craig and I think he resented that so it became a difficult time for Craig.”

Asked whether the next managing director would be on the same level as himself, Eagling replied: “That’s what I am hoping.”

Eagling said the financial position of the company had improved. “When I arrived,” he said, “we were half a million pounds in the red and now we are pound stg. 4 million ($5.9m) in the black.”

Nevertheless, the new managing director and artistic director of the company will be faced with a 15 per cent cut in subsidy from Arts Council England during the next three years.

“From what we’re getting and what we were asking, that’s pound stg. 2m over three years,” Eagling said. While it was “not enough to kill us off in terms of doing some adventurous things”, it put the time scale back in his plans for new works.

Last night, Hassall denied he resented Eagling. At ENB, he had enjoyed the “commercial, populist side of the company”, and was keen to keep it accessible to a wide audience. This put him in conflict with Eagling, who Hassall believed was “a misfit” at ENB.

This article first appeared in The Australian on 22 February, 2012

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Wayne Eagling