Opera ballet

Ballet dancers from the Paris Opera hang up their shoes during a demonstration against pension reform

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When tens of thousands of French workers tore down tools and took to the streets to protest pension reform last Thursday, among them was a seemingly unlikely group of aggrieved picketers: ballet dancers from the Paris Opera .

More accustomed to sliding on the stages to orchestral melodies than pounding the pavement to the rhythm of furious melodies, the dancers took off their pointe shoes to defend a special pension scheme from which they have benefited since 1689 under the reign of the founder of the Opera. , the Sun King Louis XIV. .

Although this is by no means their first strike, “in 20 years with this company, this is the first time I have seen dancers in the streets”, said Alexandre Carniato, dancer and representative of the retirement troop.

Of 154 dancers employed at the prestigious opera, “we were 120 to demonstrate, from the ballet corps to the principals”, he explains to AFP.

The arts have been a major casualty of the strike, which caused the cancellation of several major ballet, opera and theater performances in Paris, disappointing tourists and locals who must book seats well in advance dear.

The Opera said 11 shows had been canceled both on its historic Garnier stage and in the modern Bastille hall since the start of the strike last Thursday, representing a loss of 1.8 million euros ( $2 million) in box office revenue.

Canceled performances include the grand classical ballet ‘Raymonda’, the modern ballet ‘Le Parc’ and a hugely ambitious new production of Borodin’s opera ‘Prince Igor’.

And it is far from being the only French cultural institution to take a hit. La Comédie-Française, France’s most prestigious theater – which also has a special pension scheme – has canceled performances as some of its employees went on strike.

– Hired at 16 –

Carniato has just one year left before the mandatory retirement age of 42 for dancers at the Paris Opera ends his career.

The limit was set taking into account the physical strain of the work, the high risk of injury and the assumption that most dancers cannot continue to perform at their best beyond a certain point. age.

“The Paris Opera Ballet is the only employer in France to train its future employees from the age of eight,” tweeted dancer Adrien Couvez, adding that work accident rates in the sector “are among the highest in France”.

From the moment a dancer “is hired by the Opera at 16, we have working days that last from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m…. The older we get, the more we worry about not being able to continue.” said Carniato.

“At 40, some already have titanium (replacement) hips.”

Carniato said he would earn a pension of 1,067 euros ($1,180) a month starting next year, which would increase what he expects to be a salary of around 1,200 if he manages to find work as a teacher.

“The biggest concern is finding a new job at age 42,” he said.

These, say the dancers, are among the reasons for the special retirement which they now fear will be removed.

But they defend a regime envied by their counterparts dancing for famous ballet companies in cities like Bordeaux or Toulouse.

“Paris Opera dancers are the only ones in France with this advantageous retirement age of 42,” tweeted Marc Ribaud, ballet director at the Nice Opera in southern France.

“All the other dancers mostly have part-time jobs with nothing at the end!”

– Musicians on strike too –

The government’s reform plan aims to unify 42 separate pension schemes into a single points-based system for all workers, which it says will be fairer, with fewer exceptions for certain sectors, including railway workers who retire earlier than most.

The French State supports half of the pension fund of the Paris Opera, or about 14 million euros per year.

In addition to its dancers, several other Opera workers are also on strike, including musicians and machine operators.

The French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, confirmed to BFMTV that the special regime of the Paris Opera was going to disappear.

“But does that mean that we will not take into account the realities of… certain professions? Of course not,” he said, without giving details.