The Paris Opéra Ballet has remained mostly silent in response to the dancers' calls for reform. Photo courtesy Zipporah Films

Paris Opéra Ballet Sues One of Its Own Dancers

You'd think the Paris Opéra Ballet would be in damage-control mode after a leaked dancers' survey, in April, brought up worrying reports of harassment and mismanagement. But instead of addressing these issues internally, the French company is suing one of its own dancers in order to strip him of his union representative status and subsequently be free to fire him.

Dalloz Actualité, a French online magazine specializing in legal matters, elaborated on the lawsuit in an article published last week. The corps de ballet dancer taken to court, whom we'll call "S." to protect his identity, wasn't actually a member of the Commission for Artistic Expression, the elected group of dancers who put together the survey. He is described as a "geek" who provided technical support to ensure the validity of the results.


If you missed news of the lengthy survey, the results were grim: 108 dancers took part, out of a total of 154, and 77% of respondents declared that they have been the victim of verbal harassment or have witnessed it. 26% have suffered or witnessed sexual harassment. 90% said that they didn't consider their current management up to par, and nearly 60% believed no consideration was shown for their work.

Aurélie Dupont was a Paris Opera Ballet star before being named director in 2016. Her in Le Lac, photo by Maurizio Petrone.

Press reports sent the Paris Opéra scrambling for a response this spring. General director Stéphane Lissner appeared keen to sweep the matter under the carpet, while Aurélie Dupont, who was appointed artistic director in 2016 after Benjamin Millepied's abrupt exit and whose management skills were called into question, has remained mostly silent. In her only interview, with Le JDD earlier this month, she stated that she was "hurt" by the survey and that her track record is "very positive," adding that "any harassment is intolerable." According to Dupont, an internal audit is scheduled for next season.

It seems, however, that the POB is currently more preoccupied with retaliation than cultural change. As Dalloz reports, S. was ordered by management to hand over access to the raw data of the survey. Instead, S. transferred it to a bailiff in order to protect it (with the anonymity of respondents at stake). Around the same time, S. was appointed as a representative of one of the Paris Opéra's unions, Sud spectacle.

The company claims in its lawsuit that the appointment only came in order to prevent S. from being fired, as union reps have their employment protected in France. According to Dalloz, in response, S.'s lawyer introduced evidence showing that the threat of a dismissal procedure against his client only came after his union appointment.

The court's decision is expected on September 6. Until then, the Paris Opéra would do well to use the summer to reflect on its tone-deaf response to calls for reform within its own ranks. As a Guardian piece showed this week, ballet directors elsewhere are waking up to the need for healthier institutional practices and stronger safeguards in the #MeToo era. Suing dissenters is hardly the way to get there.

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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