Jump to content


"moral harrassment" at the Paris Opera


  • Please log in to reply
55 replies to this topic

#1 Estelle

Estelle

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,706 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 05:28 AM

http://www.liberatio...p?Article=66031

The committee of hygiene, security and working conditions of the Paris Opera (it's something that exists in all big French companies and public institutions) had commissioned a report about the working conditions at the Paris Opera to Socialconseil, an independant auditing company. The report, which has just been completed, mentions several problems (the article mentions especially the costumes section, the wigs and make-up section, and the POB school).

#2 katharine kanter

katharine kanter

    Senior Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 207 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 06:05 AM

For those who do not read French, the above posted by Estelle, corresponds to an audit on labour matters.

The Paris daily Libération quotes the following lines, with reference to the POB School - I've given the French expressions alongside, it is all terribly sensitive in this country, and I don't want to be accused of exaggerating.

This is Libération now, quoting the Report by an outside firm called "Socialconseil":

"lack of discussion about pedagogy, public humiliation of the teaching staff, offensive behaviour (indignités) to both adults and children.... denial of physical suffering (déni de la douleur), attacks on personal dignity (atteintes à la dignité), discipline by psychological terror (sic), harsh language (outrances verbales)

#3 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 08:45 AM

That's probably a very accurate description of life in a dance company, somewhat, but not much, less rigorous and unpleasant than life in the army. The Danes went through something similar in the 1980s when parents, who wanted their children to be stars, of course, complained that the training (one one-hour class a day) was too rigorous and that what their children were being asked to do (turnout, cabrioles) was unnatural. Which is true.

It may be hard to distinguish what is truly harrassment (beating people, casting couch opportunities, etc.) and what is discipline here, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

#4 Estelle

Estelle

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,706 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 10:39 AM

I hope that more details about those problems will be published. And in particular, about the POB school, it wasn't clear if "public humiliation of the teaching staff" (humiliations en public des enseignants) meant humiliation of the students by the staff (the most likely), or humiliation of the staff by the direction.

Also, I don't think that kids get in the army at 10 years old now... And while discipline is important, I think that there would be some ways to reach the same results without such a harsh and competitive atmosphere (for example the Conservatoire seems to have a less difficult atmosphere). There are quite a lot of people who are now in the company and complain a lot about the time they spent at the school (for example, Aurélie Dupont, who can't be accused to speak because of frustration :mad: )

A point which isn't mentioned in that audit, but which sounds interesting to me, is that recently a POB dancer (Delphine Moussin) complained in an interview to a magazine that there are not enough people to help the dancers stay in good help, in particular there is no nutrionist (neither at the company nor at the POB school) while the dancers or students are often told to lose weight (so they have to manage by themselves to do so, without medical advice), no ostheopathe (I don't know how to translate that)...

Last week I had also read (but I don't remember in which magazine) an article about that report, focusing mostly on the working conditions in some of the technical services of the opera. It seems that in some services, an unusually high number of people resigned, or retired earlier than planned, or asked to go elsewhere, or were on sickness leave, and that it was related to some changes of people directing the teams...

#5 Alexandra

Alexandra

    Board Founder

  • Administrators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 9,234 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 10:51 AM

Any chance it was humiliation of the teaching staff by the pupils? :mad:

I'm sure they don't go into the army at 10, but there are military schools :( (I'd read excerpts of this article and misread them; when I posted above I thought the complaints were about the company as well as the school.)

I think ballet schools should be humane, but I also think the complaints have to be taken in context -- it's not a public school, open to everyone.

Another Danish parallel. In the 1960s and '70s, there was a teacher that several of the girls absolutely loathed, and they had her for their entire school career. Four of those girls became ballerinas, and two have stated openly that she ruined their lives, nearly drove them from dance, was absolutely inhumane, etc, etc. The one story I could get from them as an example was that, one day, the teacher said to the four of them, "Fine. Keep doing what you're doing and you'll dance in the corps for the rest of your lives." The other two say they realized there were problems with other pupils, but they didn't have any. Older dancers had loved that teacher. And one of them ran into her on the street one day and asked how things were going. "These girls today, one has to be tough," she said, looking very sorry about it.

I just don't trust the state, or business, or educational experts, studying conservatories. Practicing the piano or violin for 10 hours a day, for an 8 or 10 year old, is absolutely inhumane. But it's also absolutely necessary, and there are children who understand this and embrace the pain. (There are also those, of course, whose parents embrace it on their behalf, but that's a different story. :( )

#6 Estelle

Estelle

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,706 posts

Posted 20 November 2002 - 11:18 AM

Originally posted by Alexandra

I'm sure they don't go into the army at 10, but there are military schools :mad:  



Well, that discussion reminded me of a book I had read a while ago, "L'année de l'eveil", an autobiographical book by the poet Charles Juliet, talking about several years he spent at a military school in Aix-en-Provence at a very young age in the 1950s (such schools don't exist any more), it included some really striking examples of stupidity and cruelty (for example, the students were in unheated places, so their hands were bleeding regularly because of the cold, and they were punished because of the blood stains on the gloves. And about everything was like that... And for most of the kids, going to that school wasn't a choice. But I'm getting off-topic.)


(I'd read excerpts of this article and misread them; when I posted above I thought the complaints were about the company as well as the school.)


No, it doesn't mention anything about the dancers themselves.


I think ballet schools should be humane, but I also think the complaints have to be taken in context -- it's not a public school, open to everyone.


Well, I hope it has improved since then, but I remember articles or videos about the school made in the 1970s, and Claude Bessy used very harsh expressions with girls about 12 about their weight (like "you got awful big buttocks this summer" (tu as pris de vilaines grosses fesses cet été))- wouldn't it be more efficient to say it more gently and to offer constructive advice? I really wonder how many potential good students the school must lose every year,
because they were a bit too independent-minded or a bit too fragile (one's personality at 12 isn't very predictive of what it will be at 16) and that system drove them away... And I wonder to what extent it is linked to the scarcity of choreographers in the school's alumni. AAlso, for me it isn't a pretty sight to see 10 years old girls saying with a smile that the other students are their enemies, that if they ask them for help during a class they won't reply because each of them wants to be the best, etc.


But it's also absolutely necessary, and there are children who understand this and embrace the pain.  (There are also those, of course, whose parents embrace it on their behalf, but that's a different story. :( )


Well, what was most frightening in a TV documentary I had seen about the POB school a few years ago was the attitude of some parents. I really felt sorry for some kids, who seemed to be mostly a way for their parents to show off...

#7 katharine kanter

katharine kanter

    Senior Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 207 posts

Posted 28 November 2002 - 08:53 AM

Afraid I'd to have second Estelle here. The point she raises about no choreography, is relevant I think.

Ann Williams, in a review she did for ballet.co on a POB performance a couple of years back, referred to something like a "curious dissatisfaction" she experienced, a kind of feeling of emptiness, in the troupe, if I recall her terms.

I often feel that I am watching well-drilled, and exceptionally COMPETITIVE marionnettes - with one or two notable exceptions. The stuffing has been kicked out of them. This is not meant as an expression of disrespect for some very hard-working and disciplined people, but there has got to be something more for it to be art, rather than the Radio City Roquettes.

One always thinks of the French as irrepressible, as bubbling over with life and enthusiasm. Well, that may have been true at the POB and the School at some remote period, possibly in the year of Dante's birth, 1265 to be precise.

The POB, and the Opera School, do not give one the impression of institutions that one would want to work in, or for. There is a general atmosphere of tightness, carefulness and coldness, which is quite depressing.

Is that an objective in life ? Can that be right ?

#8 katharine kanter

katharine kanter

    Senior Member

  • Inactive Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 207 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 01:49 AM

"Socialconseil audit of the Paris Opera School"

The Paris daily "Libération" dated December 4th, has a fairly extensive report on conditions at the School.

Libération has gone out and done their own research, on top of the Socialconseil Audit. They found several students and parents who were willing to speak - anonymously.

But what is astounding, in this mealy-mouthed epoch, is that oe or two people actually give their real name. One is Alain Faugouin, osteopath, who says: "I have seen stress fractures. The children are pushed to the limit, but without strict medical follow-up. As is the case for high-level athletes, they develop pathologies, which are brushed off lightly. The watchword is "put up, or shut up" (marche ou crève). When a child returns to work after an injury, he is not gradually brought back in. Suffering is seen as making the effort wortwhile."

A dancer who left to work abroad is quoted as saying:

"psychologically, it's very rough; They smash you (on vous casse), they tell you "you'll never make it, fattie". And a mum is quoted: "The pressure on the children bears down so heavy that they're frozen stiff. They don't even report insults, because they rain down. There's anorexia, girls who have their period only at 19-20 years of age. The children are willing to put up with anything at all, because they love the ballet, so they cave in, living in fear of being sent down. Their suffering is real."

If those were isolated reports from "failures", perhaps one could simply ignore it. But when people like the étoile Aurélie Dupont too...

A trades union delegate, Camille Fallen, describes it as a "school of submission" (école de soumission). "Everything rests on fear, the terror (sic) of being sent down, whether as a child, a parent, or a staff member. The very thought of breaking the law of silence creates extreme anxiety amongst many. Is Obedience to coercive behaviour the proper method, nowadays, for training an artist ?"

#9 Mel Johnson

Mel Johnson

    Diamonds Circle

  • Moderators
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 5,311 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 03:37 AM

I wonder if the Opéra school is teaching ballet students, or recruits for the Légion Étrangère, where an actual motto is "Marchez ou Crevez!" (March or croak!);)

#10 Estelle

Estelle

    Platinum Circle

  • Foreign Correspondent
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,706 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 04:26 AM

Some links to the articles in "Libération":

http://www.liberatio...p?Article=71711

http://www.liberatio...p?Article=71712

http://www.liberatio...p?Article=71713

and an article on yahoo.fr about that topic:

http://fr.news.yahoo.../202/2vn5j.html

and one in "Le Figaro":

http://www.lefigaro....05.FIG0005.html

#11 BW

BW

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,048 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 04:51 AM

Very interesting discussion. Thank you for posting on this. I am wondering if there may be a way to read these articles in English? Perhaps there is a translation function somewhere? I'm sure you, Estelle and Katharine, don't have enough time to do it all!

It certainly does sound as though there is more to the complaint than a tough teacher or two. :(

#12 vrsfanatic

vrsfanatic

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 664 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 05:01 AM

I was fascinated to read the first article about the situation in Paris. Well, actually I had it translated to me. Is there a way to post the link to this last article that Ms Kanter has discussed?

It actually sounds to me like what hit the US about 15 years ago in our schools. We teachers, of a certain generation and older, remember the days when we were chastised to the point of humiliation and fear, quite regularly as students. I know I was left with many scars, without a doubt. However as a teacher, for more than twenty years, I would have to say even though I know I make a very big effort not to publically or privately humiliate a student, it is part of the teenage psyche to react in a protective manner when corrected. There have been misunderstandings with students regarding corrections even though I have made a very big conscious effort not to correct in a way that could be interpreted as heartless, humiliating or fear inducing. The part that we as a teacher cannot be responsible for is the different personalities of people in general. We can try our hardest to read our students, but there are times that we will be misunderstood. Just as students could be misunderstood. To a certain extent it is life in general. Children will be confronted with various personalities in their adult life. They will either survive or they will not. Hopefully they will not have to suffer too many tyrants or people in power who are abusive. No one should have to endure that humiliation, but to a certain extent we all know what it is to get our feelings hurt and children tend to dwell on this more than adults.

I survived the Russian way of communicating in school. Some teachers were brutal, most were not! I can say this for the US also. We deal on a daily basis with nasty phone solicitors, shopkeeper, sales people, toll booth attendants. Let's face it there are some nasty people in this world. It does not make the POB School a hot bed of snakes because perhaps there are some nasty people working there.

The point I am trying to make I suppose is that there is always room for improvement, everywhere. No where is ideal. No matter how hard we try to build the students self respect there will always be those who misunderstood somewhere, something! I do not know POB, but I do have to question such inquires into the inner workings of an organization. There will always be examples because there will always be a dissatisfied customer. And a dissatisfied costumer is not necessarily one who is on the low end of the totem pole. I am not sure if there is a way to teach ballet to the highest level without some bruises to the ego, psyche, and body. The facts are people are different from each other and they always will be!:eek:

As for the nutritionist and osteopath/chiropractor...they need to look into these issues.

#13 vrsfanatic

vrsfanatic

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 664 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 05:23 AM

BTW! I like Alexandra's question! Has anyone looked into that.:D

What about the poor teachers and their self esteem?:(

#14 BW

BW

    Platinum Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,048 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 05:29 AM

Good points, vrsfanatic, in re the teenage psyche and its sensitivity!

Isn't it odd how ballet school can be such a microcosm of life? Although I am sure some lives are better than others.;)

As for the teacher's feelings - I would NEVER want to be in their shoes, when that teenaged sensitivity turns to ciriticsm!

#15 vrsfanatic

vrsfanatic

    Silver Circle

  • Senior Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 664 posts

Posted 05 December 2002 - 05:38 AM

Thanks Estelle for the links!:(


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users


Help support Ballet Alert! and Ballet Talk for Dancers year round by using this search box for your amazon.com purchases (adblockers may block display):