It declares itself the cradle of classical dance and is among the oldest and most prestigious classical bodies in the world, known for their star dancers and little ratsthe child stars of its 300-year-old school.
When it comes to sophisticated footwork, however, Paris Opera Ballet directors found they were unwittingly in the spotlight this week.
On Thursday, French state auditors, the Cour des Comptes, lambasted 10 administrators for racking up nearly €93,350 (£80,000) in taxi bills between them in 2013 and 2014. He also criticized what which he described as the “pretty high level” of spending. on business lunches.
In its report, the auditors revealed that there had been a sharp increase in the amount spent on meals – approximately €52,000 in 2014 – by just four members of staff, and that €175,222 excluding tax had been spent on a reception “for which the establishment was unable to give an explanation”.
Among those reprimanded was star choreographer Benjamin Millepied – husband of actress Natalie Portman – who resigned in February after his plans to radically modernize the ballet repertoire were thwarted.
The Court of Auditors said it struggled to see how a car and driver for Millepied could be justified when no other manager enjoyed the same privilege. The POB insisted the costly perk had since been abolished and it had cut its taxi bill for management and guest artists by a third.
“The taxi budget was reduced by 30% in 2015 and amounts to €60,000 for 17 directors and a number of guest artists. The cost of working lunches also fell by 10% last year to €47,000 for around 20 people,” he added in a statement.
In October last year, Le Parisien reported that a staff member of the Paris Opera Ballet racked up a €52,000 bill on his mobile phone while on holiday in Spain. The man said he used the phone to send messages, make calls and update his union’s website to spread information about a strike.
In April 2015, Agnès Saal, president of the National Audiovisual Institute, was forced to resign after racking up €40,000 in taxi bills in 10 months, including €6,700 for her son, while benefiting from an official car and a driver. She has since obtained a position at the Ministry of Culture.
Millepied resigned from the dance company just over a year after joining with a promise to shake it up drastically. In a statement, he said he was leaving “solely for personal reasons” and to take more time to focus “100% on artistic and creative expression.” But it was clear all was not well after he castigated the hierarchical structure of ballet in a French TV documentary.
Millepied and Portman had brought a huge injection of glamor – and sponsorship money – to the venerable Parisian institution.
He was replaced at the head of the company by the famous French ballet dancer Aurélie Dupont. The 43-year-old singer, who started her career at the Opera School of Dance aged 11 and finished it last spring, hinted that under her the company could be more traditional .