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#MoiAussi: Paris Opéra Ballet Dancers Cite Sexual Harassment

A leaked survey reveals trouble at Paris Opéra Ballet. POB in Balanchine's "Emeralds." Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

The #MeToo movement has made its way to France's biggest ballet company.

An anonymous survey recently leaked to the French press revealed major turbulence at the Paris Opéra Ballet. The Straits Times reports that the survey was conducted by an internal group representing POB's dancers. In it, there are numerous claims of bullying, sexual harassment and management issues.

Nearly all of the dancers (132 out of 154) answered the questionnaire, but they didn't know it would be made public. (Around 100 of them later signed a statement saying they didn't consent to its release.)


The Survey Results

The survey results have brought harrowing behavior to light:

  • 90% said they did not think the company was being well managed.
  • 77% said they had experienced bullying in the workplace or witnessed a co-worker being bullied.
  • 26% said they had experienced sexual harassment on the job or witnessed a co-worker being sexually harassed.

A Lot of Unknowns

These statistics are deeply troubling, though they unfortunately don't come as a shock given the recent claims of dancer mistreatment at major companies like New York City Ballet and English National Ballet. Still, there's a lot to unpack.

Millepied choreographing on Dupont before her retirement from the stage. Photo by Agathe Poupeney, Courtesy POB.

The Paris Opéra Ballet is a major institution, and POB's recent changes of directorship complicate the accusations. Current dance director Aurélie Dupont took over when Benjamin Millepied left after a very short tenure. (He came onboard following longtime director Brigitte Lefèvre's retirement.) What's unclear is when these reported incidents of bullying and sexual harassment, as well as the management issues, occurred and how far back they go. The questionnaire did not detail who the harassment allegations were being made against, either.

However, the same article from The Straits Times mentions how the dancers used the survey to express their disapproval of Dupont's leadership style. One dancer wrote:
"The current director seems totally incompetent when it comes to management, and has no desire to acquire such skills."

Another hinted that the dancers feel less than human:

"We're human beings, not pawns they can move around as they see fit."

How Management Is Reacting

After the survey was leaked, Stéphane Lissner, the Paris Opéra's director, said the company had "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment. He encouraged the dancers who made these claims to come forward, saying he wanted to have a conversation with staff "to consider this calmly and understand what the dancers are trying to say."

That all sounds great, but even if the dancers wanted to speak out, it's unclear how they should report these incidents. An article in The Telegraph shared another revealing statistic from the survey: 87% of respondents said the process to report harassment was "insufficiently clear or private."

This begs the question: Is the zero tolerance policy just lip service, or is POB truly open to dealing with these accusations?

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