Bal­ly­hoo at Paris Opera Bal­let

A leaked sur­vey re­veals wide­spread claims of abuse

The Australian - - ARTS - ADAM SAGE

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

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