Opera ballet

Vienna State Opera’s prestigious ballet academy ‘put children at risk as part of a culture of abuse’

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 today.

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.

Some of the allegations were made by a ballet teacher who has since left the academy, who claimed some students had been humiliated and subjected to violence.

Another allegation indicated that a student had been sexually assaulted by a teacher.

Dancers from the State Opera Ballet during a dress rehearsal for the traditional 62nd Vienna Opera Ball at the Vienna State Opera in February 2018

Allegations have been made by a ballet teacher, who has since left Vienna's prestigious ballet academy (pictured in a 2017 image file), who claimed some students were humiliated and subjected to violence

Allegations have been made by a ballet teacher, who has since left Vienna’s prestigious ballet academy (pictured in a 2017 image file), who claimed some students were humiliated and subjected to violence

The public prosecutor’s office has since opened an investigation into the teacher and his two colleagues, according to the Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung.

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.

The State Opera also said some of the content in the report was “misleading” and that “some of the content in the report no longer corresponds to the current state.”

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.

Dancers of the Vienna State Opera Ballet performing in the ballroom during the dress rehearsal of the 61st Vienna Opera Ball at the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) in 2017

Dancers of the Vienna State Opera Ballet performing in the ballroom during the dress rehearsal of the 61st Vienna Opera Ball at the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) in 2017

Established in 1771, Vienna's academy (shown in a 2017 file image) is one of the most prestigious in Europe and attracts applicants from around the world

Established in 1771, Vienna’s academy (shown in a 2017 file image) is one of the most prestigious in Europe and attracts applicants from around the world

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.

The 64-year-old recently told German news agency dpa that only two teachers out of a total of 15 were misbehaving.

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.