Ballyhoo at Paris Opera Ballet
A leaked survey reveals widespread claims of abuse
The talk behind the scenes of a new staging of the ballet Romeo and Juliet in Paris is not of love but of bullying and sexual harassment.
The Paris Opera Ballet has been thrown into an unwanted spotlight by the leak of an internal survey revealing widespread claims of abuse within the company. Dancers also were scathing about Aurelie Dupont, the former star ballerina who replaced Benjamin Millepied, the husband of actress Natalie Portman, as company director two years ago.
Of the company’s 154 dancers, 132 answered the questionnaire drawn up by a staff committee and 77 per cent said they had been a victim of bullying or had witnessed bullying. Twenty-six per cent said they had experienced or seen sexual harassment.
No one has accused Dupont of sexual harassment, but dancers say she is indifferent to their suffering and 90 per cent say the company’s management is “not of a good quality”.
“The current director seems to have no management competence and no desire to acquire such a competence,” one respondent says. Another says: “It’s difficult to see her, she talks little, and in a cutting way, and we can’t understand what she wants or where she is going.”
Dupont, 45, rejects the claims. “I have a lot of dialogue with the dancers but because I want to make them progress, what I have to say is not always easy to hear,” she says. The survey focused “on what is not going well and not what is going well”, she adds. “The company is radiant and our dancers have a status that makes them the envy of the world.”
Stephane Lissner, director of Paris Opera, which runs the capital’s opera houses as well as the ballet company, has expressed “total confidence in Aurelie Dupont” and says she is an “excellent director”.
He says he will establish consultations to “think calmly and understand what the dancers are trying to say”. The company has a “zero tolerance” policy towards sexual harassment, he adds, and alleged victims should speak to the management about it.
Some have suggested that Dupont’s critics are driven by jealousy. Le Figaro, which describes her as “ravishing, intelligent and as courteous as she is excellent at dancing”, says there are tensions between her and the ballerinas with whom she once danced.
“She looked after her own art with an iron fist, but she has never looked after other people,” it says.
It quotes a dancer who has backed Dupont, saying that many ballerinas say she spends her time in luxury boutiques. The dancer also says that few ballerinas listen to her instructions.
Dupont took over when Millepied resigned amid uproar over his attempts to modernise the company. She said then that he was “more American than French” and had failed to understand the culture or heritage of the ballet.
Other international ballet companies have faced allegations of harassment in recent months.
Peter Martins was forced to stand down as chief of the New York City Ballet after claims of misconduct and verbal abuse. He has denied wrongdoing and an internal inquiry reported in February that it could not corroborate the allegations made against him.
Paris Opera Ballet’s Aurelie Dupont dancing in Queensland