#MoiAussi: 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
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.
"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?
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
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Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.