VIENNA – AFP
The ballet academy of the famous Vienna State Opera was hit on April 10 by allegations of severe physical and mental abuse against its students, as well as sexual assault.
The weekly Falter has published the results of a detailed investigation which it says revealed ’19th century’ methods inflicted on students, illustrating the article with a picture of a student’s bloody feet after a day of training .
Established in 1771 and currently with 110 students aged 10 to 18, the academy is one of the most prestigious in Europe and attracts applicants from all over the world.
Falter said the allegations are being investigated by child protection prosecutors.
The French director of the National Opera, Dominique Meyer, told Austrian TV channel ORF that he wanted a “full explanation of everything that was wrong with this school”.
He said the teacher targeted by most of the allegations was fired in January.
The teacher, whose name has not been released, was of Russian origin and practiced “sadistic” methods on her students, according to Falter.
A former prima ballerina, Gabriele Haslinger, told the newspaper that the teacher in question had brought “Soviet exercises and tsarist teaching methods” to the State Opera.
The inquest alleges students were punched, scratched until they bled, pulled by their hair and humiliated on their physique, with some developing anorexia.
It says the students were not offered any support to ensure their psychological or nutritional well-being.
Meyer told ORF the teacher in the center of the row was verbally warned about her conduct two years ago.
“For a few months things were better, but then she went back to her old ways,” Meyer said, adding that he blamed himself for not firing the teacher sooner.
A student also filed a sexual assault complaint against another teacher, who was suspended pending an investigation.
On its website, the State Opera Ballet Academy says it pays “special attention to the physical and emotional well-being of students” and says it provides a “positive learning environment”. .
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.
The scandal will tarnish Meyer’s record as head of the State Opera, which he is due to leave next year after 10 years at the helm.
He is one of the candidates to become the next director of the Paris Opera.