LONDON — The Vienna State Opera on Friday removed all responsibilities from Simona Noja-Nebyla, general manager of its historic ballet academy. The move came just days after an independent commission said the academy had put the wellbeing of its students at risk.
The academy had given its students “insufficient medical and therapeutic care”, the commission, which was set up by the Austrian government, said in a report released on Tuesday. There also seemed to be “no awareness” that he had a responsibility for the health of his students.
The decision to effectively fire Ms Noja-Nebyla was announced in a press release on Friday by the company that oversees all Austrian federal theatres.
The commission was set up in April after allegations of physical and mental abuse at the academy were revealed by Falter, an Austrian news magazine.
Two former students told The New York Times that month that they had experienced and witnessed abuse. One, Luisa Solowjowa, said: “Many children have lost their dream of dancing. A teacher kicked her “like a soccer ball”, she added, causing her to fall and suffer ligament damage.
The commission’s report included other examples of teachers endangering the well-being of students, including humiliating them about their appearance and even encouraging them to smoke to lose weight.
The scandal was just one of many to grip the ballet world in recent years. This followed allegations of sexual harassment at the New York City Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. But it was the first big one that involved children.
The academy is also world-renowned, its origins dating back to 1771. It has 136 students, the Vienna State Opera said in a press release, many of whom come from outside Austria.
On Tuesday, the Vienna State Opera said in a press release that it had taken many steps to improve the academy, including hiring two in-house psychologists.
The committee acknowledged some of the changes in its report, but said the approach taken suggested the measures were ‘not primarily driven by the wish to ensure the well-being of children and young people’ at the academy . He called for new measures to make the school “fit for the 21st century”.
Sharon Booth, a former teacher at the academy, said in a telephone interview that she welcomed the Vienna State Opera’s decision regarding Ms Noja-Nebyla’s loss of responsibilities. “It opens up a huge chance to renew the system,” she said.
Other renowned ballet schools, such as Britain’s Royal Ballet, had introduced such measures to protect students decades ago, Ms Booth said: The academy ‘must be led into 2020 too’.