The Vienna Ballet Academy is accused of inflicting severe physical and mental abuse on its students as well as sexual assault. -AFP photo
Vienna’s prestigious ballet academy is putting children’s well-being at risk, including by encouraging them to smoke to stay thin, an Austrian commission investigating allegations of abuse said on Tuesday.
The scandal erupted in April when a media report accused Vienna’s famed state opera academy of inflicting severe physical and mental abuse on its students as well as sexual assault.
The weekly Falter published a detailed investigation exposing ’19th century’ methods, alleging young dancers were beaten, scratched until they bled, pulled by their hair and humiliated over their physique, with a some developing anorexia.
Established in 1771, the academy is one of the most prestigious in Europe and attracts candidates from all over the world.
Reacting to Tuesday’s findings, the Vienna State Opera said it had already reduced the number of student performances, adding it would study the report in detail before giving a more in-depth response.
A government-backed special commission confirmed that students were receiving insufficient medical care and also found a general “disregard” for child protection.
The head of the commission, Susanne Reindl-Krauskopf, said students were advised to start smoking to stay slim and addressed with their first names and clothing sizes.
“It is clear that children and adolescents are not adequately protected against discrimination, neglect and adverse medical effects,” the report says.
He also warned that students’ training loads were not sufficiently controlled, “putting their well-being at risk”.
The three-member commission held 16 hearings, interviewing a total of 24 people.
Reindl-Krauskopf said State Opera director Dominique Meyer failed to fully assume his supervisory responsibilities.
The Frenchman, who will leave to become manager of Italy’s Scala next year after a decade in Vienna, had called for a ‘full investigation’ when the scandal broke.
Since the allegations surfaced, the academy has set up a course to teach students about nutrition and body image and has hired psychologists to support them.
But the commission rejected these measures as insufficient.
The academy has alumni who have danced for some of the most famous companies in the world, including the Royal Ballet in London, the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg and the American Ballet Theater in New York.