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

Paris Opéra Ballet Dancers Cite Sexual Harassment

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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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021