The Vienna State Opera has launched an investigation and promised far-reaching reforms after allegations that students at its prestigious ballet academy were physically, mentally and sexually abused by two teachers.
“Unacceptable things have happened,” State Opera director Dominique Meyer said on Wednesday after Austrian magazine Falter published a detailed account of the alleged abuse based on interviews with students and staff.
According to the article, students at the academy were punched, kicked, scratched until they bled, pulled by their hair and subjected to a barrage of humiliating comments about their bodies. They received no psychological or nutritional support and some developed bulimia or anorexia, Falter said.
Meyer, who is in her final season in Vienna and a candidate for the direction of the Paris Opera, told Austrian broadcaster ORF that the teacher accused of most of the abuse was warned about her behavior two years ago and had finally been fired in January.
Meyer said he had ordered a “full explanation of everything that was wrong,” adding that child protection officials were also investigating the allegations and that it was “clear that a teacher s is very badly behaved here”.
A second teacher at the academy – which received a royal charter from Empress Therese in 1771 and currently has 110 pupils aged between 10 and 18 – has been accused by a student of sexual assault and suspended pending results of a survey conducted by the public of Vienna. prosecutors.
Jolantha Seyfried, a former headmistress of the school, told the magazine of a “slave mentality” at the famed institution, which attracts applications from around the world. Students were considered “just a commodity, to perform in opera”, she said.
A former prima ballerina, Gabriele Haslinger, says the sacked Russian-born teacher imported ‘Soviet-style drills’ into the school, whose alumni dance for some of the world’s best-known dance companies, including the Royal Ballet of London. , the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg and the American Ballet Theater in New York.
“Parents think they’re leaving their kids in the safest hands possible at the academy, but that’s just not true,” Haslinger said. Another former teacher, Sharon Booth, said the teacher’s teaching methods were “those of the 19th century”.
The Vienna State Opera, whose website says it “pays particular attention to the physical and emotional well-being” of students, said in a statement that its own investigation had “uncovered very unpleasant incidents, totally intolerable and which we deeply regret”.
The students affected “have our deepest sympathy”, he said. The academy aimed to build a “positive, trusting, respectful and healthy work environment” and was already implementing “significant reforms in several areas”, he added.