Wayne Eagling: leaving English National Ballet at short notice

Sudden and disconcerting news from English National Ballet where it's just been announced that artistic director Wayne Eagling is to step down this summer. The company gives no reason for this exceedingly short notice, which leaves them having to advertise the third most significant job in British ballet within the next few days, and a precipitate appointment procedure only weeks after the departure of their managing director.

Eagling, 61, a former star of the Royal Ballet, has been ENB director since 2005, and while heading a company of fairly stagnant and repetitive touring repertoire, has been given credit for hauling short enticing London seasons out of the hat each spring. The company is currently preparing a Beyond Ballets Russes 10-day season at the London Coliseum in late March, with ballets from the golden period of Diaghilev, such as Balanchine's Apollo and Nijinsky's L'Après-midi d'un faune, alongside adventurous new commissions on themes from that era, including an ambitious new design and staging of MacMillan's The Rite of Spring.

Next week he is masterminding a gala of Russian ballet [3] in honour of Anna Pavlova at the London Coliseum, involving stars from the great Russian companies as well as the Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet.

Last month English National Ballet lost its dynamic managing director, Craig Hassall, who quit to join the entertainment impresario Raymond Gubbay. With neither a chief executive nor an artistic director in firm view Britain's busiest touring ballet company faces a dodgy future, especially in the light of its over-reliance on populist and repetitive programming such as the current nationwide offering Strictly Gershwin (which is not strictly ballet) and The Nutcracker. 

The next artistic director has the unenviable job of handling a cut of some 15 percent in the ENB subsidy over the next three years, with over £700,000 slashed this year and next as a result of the front-loading of the reduction. Former MD Craig Hassall revealed [4] before he left that ENB lost £100,000 every week of touring the UK.

Tensions inside the company have been increasing fast in the past few years, with Eagling, Hassall and dancers all showing the strains of constantly selling a constricted repertoire. Eagling's indecisiveness in the last minutes before his Nutcracker was premiered at Christmas 2010 was captured in the BBC Four documentary Agony & Ecstasy - A Year With the English National Ballet [5].