Vienna Ballet Academy removes leader's power after abuse scandal

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Vienna Ballet Academy removes leader's power after abuse scandal
Competitors run by the State Opera during the 36th edition of Vienna Marathon on April 7, 2019 in Vienna. JOE KLAMAR / AFP.

by Alex Marshall

LONDON (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- The Vienna State Opera on Friday removed all responsibilities from Simona Noja-Nebyla, the managing director of its historic ballet academy. The move came just days after an independent commission said the academy had endangered the well-being of its students.

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 issued Tuesday. There also seemed to be “no awareness” that it had a responsibility for its students’ health.

The decision to effectively dismiss Noja-Nebyla was announced in a news release Friday by the company that oversees all Austria’s federal theaters.

The commission was set up in April after allegations of physical and mental abuse at the academy were revealed by Falter, an Austrian newsmagazine.

Two former students told The New York Times that month that they had been the victims of and witnesses to abuse. One of them, Luisa Solowjowa, said, “Many children have lost their dream to dance.” A teacher once kicked her “like a football,” she added, causing her to fall over and suffer ligament damage.

The commission's report included further examples of teachers jeopardizing students’ well-being, including humiliating them about their appearance and encouraging them to smoke to lose weight.

The scandal was only one of several to affect the ballet world in recent years. It followed sexual harassment allegations at the New York City Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet. But it was the first major one that involved children.

The academy is world renowned, tracing its origins to 1771. It has 136 students, the Vienna State Opera said in a news release, many from outside Austria.

The Vienna State Opera said in a news release Tuesday that it had taken many measures to improve the academy, including recruiting two in-house psychologists.

The commission acknowledged some of the changes in its report but said the approach taken suggested the moves were “not primarily motivated by the wish to ensure the well-being of the children and young people” at the academy. It called for further action 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 Noja-Nebyla’s losing responsibilities. “It’s opening a huge chance to renew the system,” she said.

Other renowned ballet schools, like Britain’s Royal Ballet, introduced such measures to protect students decades ago, Booth said, adding that the academy “needs to be led into 2020, too.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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