Abuse of Power and Violence: Serious Allegations Against the Ballet Academy

Abuses of power and assaults of various kinds are said to have taken place at the famous Tanz Academy Zurich for years. Like the Swiss version of the weekly the time I mentioned with reference to conversations with former students, humiliation, humiliation, physical shame and physical violence were the order of the day. The incidents occurred between 2007 and 2021, and several teachers appear to have been involved. The attacks are said to have provoked a range of reactions among the victims, including depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and eating disorders. The rector of the Zurich Arts University of the Academy of Dance has ordered an administrative investigation. It should be completed by the end of the year. Only then the responsible bodies want to comment.

This means that the goodwill of the Zurich Foundation is about to expire. Its graduates have regularly jumped on the international stage, to the top companies from the Zurich Ballet and Stuttgart Ballet to the Prague National Ballet. The Bavarian State Ballet was also one of the clients. But for now, the two directors, Stevie Scherzer and Oliver Matz, will remain in their position. Trained at the State Ballet School in Berlin during the GDR era, her career path led her to the top of the opera house’s dance troupe. Both Scherzer and Matz were among the leading figures in East German ballet art and were almost loved by the younger generations. Whether and to what extent the former dancers, as teachers, were able to free themselves from exercises in East German training methods and the associated hierarchical management culture is an open and crucial question.

Budding dancers are still seen as a mentally and physically resilient material

At least, it’s no coincidence that her former training center, the Berlin State School of Ballet, was suspected of “me too” in 2020. The principals were fired, and the contested class remains in the legal loop. It is different in Vienna, where the cadres of the state ballet troupe were completely reorganized after allegations of abuse of power. The fact that the Tanz Academy Zurich is now the third prominent venue shows – regardless of the outcome – how much remains to be done when it comes to ballet training. In many institutions there are still teachers who are not qualified to do so. Health issues and mental and physical sensitivities remain neglected. Too often, aspiring dancers are still seen as mentally and physically resilient subjects rather than developing their personalities. Aside from dropping out and the long-term consequences, this also means that youngsters sometimes lack independence, imagination and creativity when commuting to work. The comparison with theatrical training, the demands of daily dance and what the choreographers expect in terms of collaboration is ignored.

The Department of Dance at the Munich University of Music and Theater took a step in the right direction in 2021 – a side effect of the “Me Too” scandal involving former president Siegfried Mauser. The people of Munich have issued an understandable decree that is required to train young people in self-confidence and at the same time in excellent dance. In November, they will hold a symposium to make change palatable to colleagues from other institutions. At the press conference, which coincided with news from Zurich, rector Bernd Redmann found clear words: “Dance training is making a name for itself – with toughness, discipline and an imbalance of power between teachers and students it is no longer out of history.” Indeed, a comprehensive rethinking – and needs assessment – is needed: how many children are trained, how many drop out, how many end up getting a job – and how many are left behind? Where is the classic and where is the education of contemporary dance? Change must start with honesty, openness and transparency. Otherwise the ballet gets stuck in the last loop, which began with Louis XIV: as an expression of a feudal discourse about power. Who can justify this in the twenty-first century?

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