Palais Garnier has been the site of strikes by Paris Opéra Ballet dancers.

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Confused About Why Paris Opéra Dancers are On Strike? Here's the Gist.

When French President Emmanuel Macron proposed widespread pension reforms in December, the repercussions were felt almost immediately throughout France. In Paris, protests reverberated through the city. Metro trains halted, the Eiffel Tower was shut down, schools closed, and, at the Paris Opéra Ballet, dancers, singers, artisans and technicians went on strike.


There are 42 different pension schemes in France, many of which are tailored to the specific type of worker. The pension plan for Paris Opéra dancers dates back to the company's founding in the 1600s. It calls for retirement at age 42, after which dancers receive monthly payments equivalent to 45 to 48 percent of their top salaries, according to The New York Times.

President Macron's proposal of a universal pension plan would raise the national retirement age to 64 for all professions. Under this reform, dancers would have to continue working for an additional 22 years before receiving a pension. It would be a physical impossibility for them to continue to perform for that length of time, a fact which has been acknowledged by France's ministry of health. If enacted, these changes would likely require them to find post–performance career employment outside of the institution within which they had passed their entire adult lives, without the ease of transition provided by the current pension plan.

Eradicating this plan, in short, would be devastating for Paris Opéra's dancers, negatively impacting their health and financial stability and removing their right to a retirement commensurate with their career lifespan.

To date, the Paris Opéra Ballet has held four major protests against the proposed pension reforms. On Christmas Eve, 27 dancers took to the steps of the Palais Garnier and performed a 20-minute excerpt of Swan Lake in front of banners which read, in French, "Paris Opéra Strike" and "Culture in Danger." Paris Symphony Orchestra musicians played Tchaikovsky's famous score as hundreds of enraptured onlookers watched one of the most artistic representations of French anger over the proposed reforms.

In December, 45 shows were canceled, and the Paris Opéra reported that it has lost nearly 8 million euros in ticket sales as a result. As a result of nationwide demonstrations like these, the French government announced on January 11 that it would temporarily withdraw the plan to raise the national retirement age. Pension reform discussions will continue, and the dance world will be watching.

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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