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  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  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 .
However, during his regime, Eagling won critical acclaim for introducing works by the French masters Roland Petit  and Serge Lifar , long overlooked in Britain, and for commissioning the full-length fairytale ballet The Snow Queen by Michael Corder, whose Cinderella was a past ENB success.
This summer ENB is making a vigorous push towards hooking in new audiences, with ballet classes at the Tate Britain, a version of The Sleeping Beauty for children, a hip hop collaboration with the streetdance group Flawless on the schedule and a three-nations collaboration with Scottish and Welsh ballet dancers. Eagling's final work will be to revive Swan Lake at the London Coliseum during the London Olympics period.
ENB's press release gives no clue as to the reason for the suddenness of Eagling's departure
ENB's press release gives no clue as to the reason for the suddenness of Eagling's departure, but the very short notice makes things extremely difficult for such prominent dancers as the Royal Ballet's prima ballerina Tamara Rojo who have expressed interest  in moving into directorship.
The company spokesman said there was no option to delay Eagling's departure for a managed succession and that any details of his departure were "private and confidential". She added that ENB's next three years were assured under the Arts Council settlement last year, which sees a 15 percent real terms reduction in its budget by 2015. Current dancer numbers of some 65 are not scheduled to change, however.
ENB has a record of turbulent ends to its artistic directors' tenures: Eagling's predecessor Matz Skoog was terminated ill-temperedly in the middle of the 2005 autumn season, while the previous AD Derek Deane left in a cloud in 2001 over his handling of dancer relations. However, both of those paled in drama next to the firing of Peter Schaufuss in 1990 by ENB's then chairman Lady Harlech, who had him turned out of the building. Budgets usually lie at the core of every ENB sad ending, which offers no reassurance to prospective candidates.
John Talbot, Chairman, English National Ballet, said in today's announcement: "On behalf of the Board of English National Ballet, I would like to thank Wayne Eagling for his outstanding contribution to the Company over the last seven years, a time of tremendous achievement for the Company. We look forward to working with him on many projects in the future."
Wayne Eagling's statement: "It has been a privilege to work with such a wonderful group of dancers and ballet staff. The quality of performances, variety of repertoire, critical success and the innovate work of the Learning and Outreach programs over the last seven years makes me incredibly proud of English National Ballet."
Eagling's previous career includes 13 years as director of Dutch National Ballet. As a Royal Ballet dancer he was a favourite leading man of the choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, performing the first nights of several of his ballets - tall and mop-haired, he can be seen as Romeo in the Royal Ballet's 1984 recording of Romeo and Juliet partnering Alessandra Ferri. He was an active and vocal union representative of the dancers, leading industrial action which aroused much hostility inside the Royal Opera House.
Long a favourite of newspaper gossip columns with a string of high-society girlfriends, including Isabel Goldsmith and Francesca Thyssen, Eagling married a few years ago and has a young son.